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CBS Showcases Thomas: "Why Did You Really Want to Go to War?" --3/22/2006


1. CBS Showcases Thomas: "Why Did You Really Want to Go to War?"
Unlike ABC's George Stephanopoulos and NBC's Kelly O'Donnell, on the CBS Evening News Jim Axelrod featured the far-left question from Hearst Newspapers columnist Helen Thomas at Tuesday morning's presidential press conference. Thomas blamed Bush for deaths and charged that he employed subterfuge to launch a war: "Your decision to invade Iraq has caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis. Every reason given, publicly at least, has turned out not to be true. My question is: Why did you really want to go to war?" Axelrod set up Thomas by pointing out how Bush "did something he hadn't done in three years: Call on the often combative dean of the White House press corps, Helen Thomas." While O'Donnell and Stephanopoulos didn't air the question from Thomas, they did run a soundbite of part of Bush's answer to her. Axelrod also showcased his question to Bush, one based on the questionable premise that someone who shows up outside a hotel where the President is to speak is anything but a motivated antagonist: "I spent a fair amount of time in front of that hotel in Cleveland yesterday talking to people about the war, and one woman who said she voted for you said, 'You know what? He's losing me, he's been there too long, he's losing me.' What do you say to her?"

2. Helen Thomas on CNN: U.S. Has "Killed So Many Innocent People"
Following her accusations against President Bush during Tuesday's press conference (see item #1 above), CNN's Wolf Blitzer invited Helen Thomas aboard The Situation Room. Thomas admitted that before Tuesday's encounter she had "sort of" apologized to President Bush for her condemnation of him as "the worst President ever." However, it didn't take long for Thomas to affirm her characterization and resume her attacks on the Bush administration, which she slammed for "encouraging all of the horror that's going on. We have killed so many innocent people."

3. To Gregory's Consternation on Today, Ingraham Scolds War Coverage
Appearing on Tuesday's Today with James Carville, radio talk show host Laura Ingraham colorfully, and much to the consternation of fill-in co-host David Gregory who loudly disagreed with her as the two got into an animated argument, criticized media coverage of Iraq: "The Today show spends all this money to send people to the Olympics....All this money for 'Where In the World Is Matt Lauer?' Bring the Today show to Iraq. Bring the Today show to Tal Afar. Do the show from the 4th ID at Camp Victory and then when you talk to those soldiers on the ground, when you go out with the Iraqi military, when you talk to the villagers, when you see the children, then I want NBC to report on only the IEDs, only the killings, only, only the reprisals." Gregory shouted over her: "Wait a minute Laura! Wait a second! If you want to be fair. First of all the Today show went to Iraq. Matt Lauer was there, he reported there." Yes, and in an embarrassing moment for NBC, a soldier denounced media coverage. On Wednesday morning, NBC's Richard Engel rejected Ingraham's premise: "Iraqis I speak to say, actually, most reporters get it wrong. The situation on the ground is actually worse than the, the images we project on television."

4. CNN Headline News Ties "V for Vendetta" Dictator to Bush
The CNN Headline News channel show Showbiz Tonight led Monday night with controversy over the movie "V for Vendetta," and stomped hard on the idea that it was directed at the Bush administration. Host A.J. Hammer began with a promo: "On Showbiz Tonight, the war in Iraq, the war on terror and the hottest movie in America. The shock and awe over 'V for Vendetta.' And the controversy. Is art imitating life? A political thriller where the hero is a terrorist. Is that really such a bad thing?"


CBS Showcases Thomas: "Why Did You Really
Want to Go to War?"

Unlike ABC's George Stephanopoulos on World News Tonight and Kelly O'Donnell on the NBC Nightly News, on the CBS Evening News, Jim Axelrod featured the far-left question from Hearst Newspapers columnist Helen Thomas at Tuesday morning's presidential press conference. Thomas blamed Bush for deaths and charged that he employed subterfuge to launch a war: "Your decision to invade Iraq has caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and


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Iraqis. Every reason given, publicly at least, has turned out not to be true. My question is: Why did you really want to go to war?" Axelrod set up Thomas by pointing out how Bush "did something he hadn't done in three years: Call on the often combative dean of the White House press corps, Helen Thomas." While O'Donnell and Stephanopoulos didn't air the question from Thomas, they did run a soundbite of part of Bush's answer to her.

Axelrod also showcased his question to Bush, one based on the questionable premise that someone who shows up outside a hotel where the President is to speak is anything but a motivated antagonist: "I spent a fair amount of time in front of that hotel in Cleveland yesterday talking to people about the war, and one woman who said she voted for you said, 'You know what? He's losing me, he's been there too long, he's losing me.' What do you say to her?"

For an archive of Thomas' columns: www.thebostonchannel.com

NBC Nightly News viewers heard this response from Bush to Thomas, though reporter Kelly O'Donnell made no reference to Thomas and didn't show her: "I didn't want war. To assume I wanted war is just flat wrong."

Viewers of ABC's World News Tonight saw a shot of Thomas as George Stephanopoulos played a clip of Bush as she repeatedly tried to cut him off: "To assume I wanted war is just flat wrong, Helen, in all due respect. Hold on for a second, please. Excuse me, excuse me. No President wants war."

[This item was posted Tuesday night on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org. To post your comments, go to: newsbusters.org ]

CBS and Axelrod aired only part of Thomas' "question." Her rant in full at the 10am EST press conference:
"I'd like to ask you, Mr. President, your decision to invade Iraq has caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis, wounds of Americans and Iraqis for a lifetime. Every reason given, publicly at least, has turned out not to be true. My question is, why did you really want to go to war? From the moment you stepped into the White House, from your Cabinet -- your Cabinet officers, intelligence people, and so forth -- what's your real reason? You have said it wasn't oil -- quest for oil, it hasn't been Israel, or anything else. What was it?"

The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video for the March 21 CBS Evening News story:

Anchor Bob Schieffer: "President Bush laid out the most impassioned defense yet of his war policy during a White House news conference today. He said he still believes victory in Iraq is possible, and he said if he didn't believe that, he would have pulled the troops out already. Even so, he again urged patience, and today he gave us the reason why. Here's White House correspondent Jim Axelrod."

Jim Axelrod: "President Bush made it clear today there will be American troops in Iraq when he leaves office. It will be his successor's job to bring them home."
Bob Dean of Cox, to Bush: "Will there come a day when there will be no more American forces in Iraq?"
George W. Bush: "That, of course, is an objective, and that will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq."
Axelrod: "It was a passionate and feisty George Bush. Today he did something he hadn't done in three years: Call on the often combative dean of the White House press corps, Helen Thomas."
Helen Thomas, at press conference: "Your decision to invade Iraq has caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis. Every reason given, publicly at least, has turned out not to be true. My question is: Why did you really want to go to war?"
Bush: "I think your premise, in all due respect to your question and to you as a lifelong journalist that, you know, I didn't want war. To assume I wanted war is just flat wrong, Helen, in all due respect. Hold on for a second, please. Excuse me, excuse me. No President wants war. Everything you may have heard is that, but it's just simply not true."
Axelrod: "The President's appearance today is part of a concerted effort to rally support for the war, the reason for a speech just yesterday in Cleveland."
Axelrod to Bush at press conference: "I spent a fair amount of time in front of that hotel in Cleveland yesterday talking to people about the war, and one woman who said she voted for you said, 'You know what? He's losing me, he's been there too long, he's losing me.' What do you say to her?"
Bush: "I am confident, I believe, I am optimistic we'll succeed. If not, I'd pull our troops out. If I didn't believe we had a plan for victory, I wouldn't leave our people in harm's way. And that's important for the woman to understand."
Axelrod: "Even while acknowledging growing public concern, this was clearly a President projecting no doubts of his own. He gave Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld a strong vote of confidence and said U.S. commanders grow more effective by the day."
Bush: "So this is a war in which we change tactics. It's a war in which we've adjusted and learned lessons in the process of the war."
Axelrod: "Rumsfeld wasn't the only member of his team to get a vote of support. Mr. Bush flatly rejected recent suggestions that some of his staffers need replacing."
Bush: "I've got a staff of people that have, first of all, placed their country above their self-interests. And we've dealt with a lot. We've dealt with a lot. We've dealt with war, we've dealt with recession, we've dealt with scandal, we've dealt with Katrina. I mean, they've had a lot on their plate, and I appreciate their performance and their hard work, and they've got my confidence."
Axelrod concluded: "No replacements, but when pressed if perhaps the President was going to add someone new to his staff, perhaps to smooth over relations with Congress, he said, 'I'm not going to announce it right now.' So stay tuned, Bob."

Helen Thomas on CNN: U.S. Has "Killed
So Many Innocent People"

Following her accusations against President Bush during Tuesday's press conference (see item #1 above), CNN's Wolf Blitzer invited Helen Thomas aboard The Situation Room. Thomas admitted that before Tuesday's encounter she had "sort of" apologized to President Bush for her condemnation of him as "the worst President ever." However, it didn't take long for Thomas to affirm her characterization and resume her attacks on the Bush administration, which she slammed for "encouraging all of the horror that's going on. We have killed so many innocent people."

[This item is slightly modified from a posting, by the MRC's Megan McCormack, Tuesday night on the MRC's NewsBusters blog. See: newsbusters.org ]

The interview with Thomas aired at 5:15pm EST, and re-aired during The Situation Room's 7pm EST broadcast. Blitzer noted that it was the first time in three years that President Bush had called on Thomas at a press conference. Blitzer referenced Thomas' comments with a reporter from the Torrance, California Daily Breeze where she said of President Bush, "This is the worst President ever. He is the worst President in all of American history."

(The January 29, 2003 CyberAlert recounted: President Bush "is the worst President in all of American history," Hearst Newspapers White House reporter Helen Thomas proclaimed at a Society of Professional Journalists awards event in California. See: www.mediaresearch.org )

Blitzer wondered: "You can't really blame him, if, if you're calling him the worst president, for saying, you know what, I'm not going to call on her."
Thomas: "Oh, I agree with you...I wasn't, I wasn't surprised that he didn't call on me."
Blitzer: "...Did you talk to him privately or something? Did you meet him?"
Thomas: "No, not really. But I sort of felt bad for the things that I had said that were not supposed to be transmitted, I sort of apologized."

The niceties didn't last long, however. When Blitzer asked Thomas if the President had satisfactorily answered her question on his "real" reason for going to war in Iraq, Thomas started parroting Democratic talking points:

Blitzer: "Did you accept his answer, namely that he didn't come into the presidency believing he was going to go to war against Saddam Hussein, but after 9/11 his world view changed?"
Thomas: "It doesn't, it doesn't parse. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. It certainly had -- it was secular, it was not tied to al Qaeda. I think he wanted to go into Iraq with -- he had all the neo-conservatives advising. That's the top of their agenda for Project for a New American Century. First Iraq, then Iran -- then Syria, then Iran, and so forth."

Thomas' harshest attacks on the administration came when Blitzer asked her if President Bush was "worse" than President Nixon:

Blitzer: "Let's get back to this issue, being the worst President ever, and you covered a lot of Presidents, going back to President Kennedy. Worse than Richard Nixon?"
Thomas: "Well, I think, what this President has done is really strike a match to the tinderbox that we all know as the Middle, Middle East. And I think that Nixon's crime, so-called, was the abuse of government power. In this case, in the case of the President and his cohorts, I think they have really spread war throughout the Middle East. They have really encouraged all of the horror that's going on. We have killed so many innocent people, I mean-"
Blitzer: "But you can't forget 9/11. Three thousand people died."
Thomas: "But the Iraqis didn't do it. I mean, how can you, why, why don't you go bomb some other country, I mean, if you have no reason. This is, I, I don't believe in preemptive war, and it certainly is against international law."

To Gregory's Consternation on Today,
Ingraham Scolds War Coverage

Appearing on Tuesday's Today with James Carville, radio talk show host Laura Ingraham colorfully, and much to the consternation of fill-in co-host David Gregory who loudly disagreed with her as the two got into an animated argument, criticized media coverage of Iraq: "The Today show spends all this money to send people to the Olympics....All this money for 'Where In the World Is Matt Lauer?' Bring the Today show to Iraq. Bring the Today show to Tal Afar. Do the show from the 4th ID at Camp Victory and then when you talk to those soldiers on the ground, when you go out with the Iraqi military, when you talk to the villagers, when you see the children, then I want NBC to report on only the IEDs, only the killings, only, only the reprisals."

Gregory shouted over her: "Wait a minute Laura! Wait a second! If you want to be fair. First of all the Today show went to Iraq. Matt Lauer was there, he reported there." Yes, and in an embarrassing moment for NBC, a soldier denounced media coverage. On Wednesday morning, NBC's Richard Engel rejected Ingraham's premise: "Iraqis I speak to say, actually, most reporters get it wrong. The situation on the ground is actually worse than the, the images we project on television."


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A video clip of a bit of the animated back-and-forth between Gregory and Ingraham, in both Real and Windows Media formats, as well as an MP3 audio clip, will be added by the MRC's Michael Gibbons to the posted version of this CyberAlert: www.mediaresearch.org

In the meantime, I've already posted the video and audio on the MRC's NewsBusters blog, in an item by Mark Finkelstein: newsbusters.org

At a quieter moment during her Tuesday appearance, Ingraham urged: "The IEDs, yeah, cover it, cover the bombs, cover the difficulty but give a broad picture of what's happening in that country. It's a disservice to our troops and it's a disservice to everything that this country's about."

The home page for Ingraham and her radio show: www.lauraingraham.com

The February 23 CyberAlert reported on how on MSNBC's Scarborough Country, Joe Scarborough gave time to conservative radio talk show host Laura Ingraham to relay her experiences talking to American troops and doing her show in Iraq, and what she saw that contrasts with the predominantly negative view of the Iraq War as reported by the mainstream media. Scarborough found that her words confirmed the sentiments of e-mails he has received from U.S. troops in Iraq about how "there is a huge disconnect from what Americans are hearing in the media and what they're seeing on the ground over there," which is "misleading the American people on how things are really going in Iraq." Ingraham began by passing on the "great respect and admiration between American military trainers and their Iraqi counterparts," and the "important cooperation between average Iraqis, who are giving more tips to American and Iraqi forces than ever before." For details: www.mediaresearch.org

NBC's Matt Lauer Last August NBC did indeed send Lauer to Iraq for a few days to check in occasionally with live reports from Iraq. One proved pretty embarrassing, as recounted in the August 18 CyberAlert: Matt Lauer sure seemed to have gotten an answer he didn't expect when a soldier in Iraq took a shot at the news media. Live from Camp Liberty in Iraq in the 7:30am half hour of Wednesday's Today, after one soldier told Lauer morale is "always high," Lauer countered that there are "people at home wondering how that could be possible with the conditions you're facing and with the attacks you're facing. What would you say to those people who are doubtful that morale can be that high?" Captain Sherman Powell retorted: "Sir, if I got my news from the newspapers also, I'd be pretty depressed as well." Lauer gave him a chance to expound: "What don't you think is being correctly portrayed?" Powell answered that "we are very satisfied with the way things are going here and we are confident that if we're allowed to finish the job we started we'll be very proud of it and our country will be proud of us for doing it." See: www.mediaresearch.org

For video of that, in both Real and Windows Media formats, go to this item on the MRC's NewsBusters blog: newsbusters.org

With "4th Year of War, Can Bush Claim Victory?" on screen, David Gregory set up his March 21 session, with Carville in-studio and Ingraham via satellite from Washington, DC, as taken down by the MRC's Geoff Dickens:
"So is America getting a fair picture of what's actually happening in Iraq. Our next two guests certainly aren't shy about sharing their own opinions. Democratic strategist James Carville is the author of Take It Back and Laura Ingraham is the host of the nationally syndicated Laura Ingraham Show. She was in Iraq last month to broadcast the first national radio show back here to the United States. Good morning to both of you."
James Carville: "Morning, morning."
Laura Ingraham: "Good morning David."
Gregory: "James let me start with you. You heard the, the questions the President was asked in Cleveland yesterday. Is the problem for this President and for top administration officials the public doesn't believe what they say anymore, that they feel they're disconnected from the reality of the war?"
Carville: "I'm not sure the public cares what they say anymore. I think that might be the lesson this weekend. I'm not totally prepared to go there but I think that, that the public is starting to shut down. I think they've formed an opinion of this war. They go out there and say things are going great. Former Prime Minister Allawi who was our favorite candidate in the election says, 'what are they talking about we are in the middle of a civil war?"
Gregory: "But how can you say the public doesn't care? The public expressed a view that they want troops out."
Carville: "Well I, well I think they care, I think they care about the war. I don't think they care what the administration says because they come out and it's the same thing. 'It's the press' fault. Oh things are going better in Tal Afar than you think.' And I don't think they, they, they think that they're sort of in touch with reality or that they're gonna change anything. That's, I mean the public is, no they care desperately about the war and what's going on."
Gregory: "Right. But Laura, Laura what's your take on this, because obviously the White House has made a determination that speaking about the war candidly as they can is what's important now and yet it's clear that the President's having a hard time being heard."
Ingraham: "Well here, here's what I think David. I think with all the resources of networks like NBC. The Today show spends all this money to send people to the Olympics, which is great, it was great programming. All this money for 'Where In The World Is Matt Lauer?' Bring the Today show to Iraq. Bring the Today show to Tal Afar. Do the show from the 4th ID at Camp Victory and then when you talk to those soldiers on the ground, when you go out with the Iraqi military, when you talk to the villagers, when you see the children, then I want NBC to report on only the IEDs, only the killings, only, only the reprisals. When people are on the ground whether it's recently, David Ignatius of the Washington Post, whether it's recently-"
Gregory: "Okay but, but Laura let's be, hold on, let's be-"
Ingraham: "Let me finish David because you got, you guys are, no, no, let me finish, let me finish-"
Gregory: "Wait a minute Laura! Wait a second! If you want to be fair. First of all the Today show went to Iraq. Matt Lauer was there, he reported there."
Ingraham: "Did he do a show, did you do a show from Iraq?"
Gregory: "Okay and we, and we've got a bureau there so-"
Ingraham: "Yeah. David, David to do a show from Iraq means to talk to the Iraqi military to go out with the Iraqi military, to actually have a conversation with the people instead of reporting from hotel balconies about the latest IEDs going off. It is very difficult in Iraq. People are struggling-"
Gregory: "And you, and you think Iraq is safe enough to, have you been there long enough to venture outside the hotel balconies?!"
Ingraham, as NBC put up on screen a photo of Ingraham with troops in Iraq: "David, yes I did. I wasn't in a hotel balcony I was out with the U.S. military and it can be done in any part of the country. It is dangerous in the Sunni triangle-"
Gregory: "So, so Lau-"
Ingraham: "-but NBC and networks of the United States..."
Gregory: "-Okay hold, hold, Laura, Laura, I get, I get, I get the point. I get the, I get the anti-network point. James the argument is that the media simply-"
[Carville laughs]
Ingraham: "It's not funny."
Gregory: "-doesn't get it. But, but Iyad Allawi who's the, the Prime Minister, former Prime Minister said there's a civil war."
Carville: "Right, right. I think he's the former Prime Minister, we'll just stipulate for the moment that he's on the ground. Okay? He's somebody on the ground."
Ingraham: "No he actually isn't, James."
Carville: "Excuse me Laura, excuse me for speaking while you were interrupting. Now we can stipulate he's on the ground. 72 percent of the American troops say they want to get out of there within a year. I assume that they're on the ground also. Alright? Martin Van Creveld who is the foremost military historian in the world says this is the most foolish military operation since Caesar Augustus in 9 B.C. invaded Germany. I assume he knows what he's talking about. Now the truth of the matter is we're there. It's not the media's fault that we're there. It wasn't the media that said that we would be greeted as liberators. It wasn't the media that said it was in the last throes. It's the administration that's made this policy. Why don't they come to us instead of bashing the media and blaming everybody and say, 'Look we're gonna change our policy. We're gonna bring people together. This is what we're gonna do.' Because this, all this, 'it's all the fault of NBC that this,' there are 80 reporters have been killed over there."
Ingraham: "No, James, James, James that's a little trick. That's your little trick and it's-"
Gregory: "Let me, let me redirect this guys. Let me redirect this to, to get off the media point."
Ingraham: "Yeah let's, let's get off the media."
Gregory: "Laura, Laura let's talk about the fact that we're going into the fourth year of this war. If you were advising the President, if he wanted your advice on this. You walk into the Oval Office what do you tell him now about how to redirect this effort?"
Ingraham: "I don't, I don't. I think what we're doing now in Iraq is maybe finally the right thing. The Iraqi military is taking over more of the battle space. If James had spent more time in Iraq and less time talking about how the administration is a disaster on every level he'd have a different view, I promise you. James is a smart guy. If he were there he would see it. The Iraqi military is taking over the battle space. The Iraqi military is stepping up. The Iraqi people are starting businesses across the, across the country with all of the threats of reprisals and all of the difficulty. That stands for something. That should be celebrated and that should be covered. The IEDs, yeah, cover it, cover the bombs, cover the difficulty but give a broad picture of what's happening in that country. It's a disservice to our troops and it's a disservice to everything that this country's about."
Gregory: "James let me-"
Ingraham: "Standing with people who are being oppressed and being targeted. Zarqawi wants us to go into civil war there. He wants that."
Gregory: "Okay, alright. My, my specific question James is the President wants your advice. Year Four, he's down in the polls on Iraq. What do you tell him?"
Carville: "I would say what George Will said in an excellent column Sunday, said. Mr. President nobody, because there's not gonna be a blossoming democracy that's gonna be a beacon for the world or anything like that. It's certainly not in, in the next couple of years. Talk about the consequences of failure. A regional civil war. What it could mean? You know it's not working sir, you gotta change things, you got to, you got to, you know you got to consider, maybe partitioning the country at some point. They want to be, put heat on the Iraqis. Tell them that we're not there forever, you have to take more and more control of your own country."
Ingraham: "They are taking more control."
Carville: "But I think that, that's what they have to do. All of this press bashing and this, this is silliness. About 80 reporters have died over there. And is the coverage been perfect? No but the truth of the matter is, is that by the Iraqi's own estimation they're in the middle of a civil war. We shouldn't deny facts. We shouldn't attack messengers. We should deal with facts on the ground. That's what they've refused to do. That's what their allies refuse to do. It's all this flopping around, and it's the media's fault. It's all the same stuff."
Gregory: "Alright. Debate to, to be continued. James Carville, Laura Ingraham. Thanks very much for your views."
Ingraham: "Thanks."

This morning, Wednesday, NBC's reporter in Iraq, Richard Engel, rejected Ingraham's contentions. Gregory, again filling in as a co-host, set up Engel's report: "On Close Up this morning reporting the war in Iraq. The media have come under a lot of fire for the way we show the violence in Iraq and report on it. Tuesday President Bush said the insurgents in Iraq know that deadly attacks there will wind up on TV here, on the TV news at home. So is the U.S. media focusing too much on the negative and ignoring the positive stories in Iraq? NBC's Richard Engel has been covering the events in Iraq since before the war even began. Richard, good morning."

[Graphic: Missing The Good In Iraq?]
Richard Engel, from Baghdad: "Good morning, David. There are a lot of myths and misperceptions about what reporters are doing and not doing here in, in Iraq. So this morning we put together a report to try and show what they can do and some of the challenges that we face. Everyday in Baghdad reporters suit up, flak jackets are part of the uniform here. Just this week a bomb killed Iraqi police in front of our bureau. We went to report from the scene but the before heading out I practiced what we would be doing with our crew."
[Clip of Engel in flak jacket talking with his team]
Engel: "So we would be faster and limit our exposure on the street. The roadside bomb was hidden in this manhole. Iraqis see everyday these kinds of attacks and assassinations. For the U.S. military's perspective on the war we joined embeds becoming part of a unit for a day, a week or more."
[Clip of Engel shaking hands with driver of HUMV]
Engel setting up clip from previous story: "Often it's quiet until: [Engel lying by the road] "There is still a lot of fire coming at us. It's exploding."
Engel: "But more is going on here than bullets and IEDs. Just this week NBC News interviewed Iraqi officials, visited hospitals, playgrounds and Iraqi homes. But reporting on everyday life is increasingly dangerous. That's because life here is getting more dangerous. When my colleague Don Teague tried to do a story about the re-opening of a school:" [Video of bomb going off during interview] Even daily tasks are a risk. NBC News acting bureau chief Carl Bostic [sp?] was heading to pay bills when he almost drove into this." [Video of bomb going off]
Carl Bostic: "I felt that, that this was it."
Engel: "Another major threat is kidnapping. Nearly 40 reporters have been taken hostage so far. Three, including American Jill Carroll are still being held. So foreign reporters often have to rely on the phones and our network of Iraqi reporters to go where we cannot. But even staying in our office can be dangerous."
Man: "We need a doctor."
Engel: "And like several media organizations the NBC News bureau has been bombed, twice. Increasingly the challenge is not to find stories, there are plenty of them here, but to find ways to report them and live to tell the tale. Dave."

Gregory: "Richard, follow-up question here based on something the President said in his press conference yesterday. Speaking of the insurgents he said, quote, 'They're capable of blowing up innocent life so it ends up on your TV shows,' speaking to reporters in the front row there in the press room yesterday. Based on your reporting and your experience do you think insurgents in Iraq are sophisticated enough? Are they in tune to news coverage here?"
Engel: "Absolutely. They are certainly watching the news coverage. They have active propaganda divisions within the insurgent groups and certain attacks are clearly designed to grab attention, to grab headlines and to be put on the, in the headlines. However most of the attacks here happen very far away from the cameras, particularly in this period of sectarian violence. Most of these assassinations happen at night and are not done for the media's benefit but because there is a violent insurgency underway here, David."
Gregory: "Richard, bottom line. What's your gut check? Do we miss the overall story about what's going on in Iraq or does security remain the overall story?"
Engel: "I think the security problem is the overall story and most Iraqis I speak to say, actually, most reporters get it wrong. It's, the situation on the ground is actually worse than the, the images we project on television, David."
Gregory: "Richard Engel in Baghdad this morning, thanks very much."

CNN Headline News Ties "V for Vendetta"
Dictator to Bush

The CNN Headline News channel show Showbiz Tonight led Monday night with controversy over the movie "V for Vendetta," and stomped hard on the idea that it was directed at the Bush administration. Host A.J. Hammer began with a promo: "On Showbiz Tonight, the war in Iraq, the war on terror and the hottest movie in America. The shock and awe over 'V for Vendetta.' And the controversy. Is art imitating life? A political thriller where the hero is a terrorist. Is that really such a bad thing?"

[This item, by the MRC's Tim Graham, was posted Tuesday afternoon on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org. To share your views, go to: newsbusters.org ]

Is this a rhetorical question? Or is Hammer auditioning for al-Jazeera International?

MRC's Michelle Humphrey tipped me off to the story. Hammer explained: "All right, let me tell you what happened this weekend. America had a big choice of movies. Here's the one they made No. 1: 'V for Vendetta.' This is a movie all about terrorism. This is a movie that raises some serious and unsettling questions about who should really be called a terrorist. One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. A movie that has chilling allusions to everything from September 11 to government spying to terror bombings to the war in the Iraq. It's a movie that opened just as we crossed yet another disturbing milestone in the struggle to end the seemingly unending war in Iraq. It`s enough to make critics and Showbiz Tonight ask, what's going on here?"

Correspondent Jason Carroll began: "He's America's newest box office hero, an elusive terrorist who's not afraid to use violence to make a point... 'V for Vendetta' is earning a lot of buzz and, as America's No. 1 movie, a lot of bucks for its look at a totalitarian society in the year 2020. In the movie, America has fallen into civil war following the war in Iraq, a war that, in real life, marks its third anniversary this weekend." Carroll then showed a clip of President Bush speaking up in Cleveland Monday for the war effort, and then blurs his face into the dictator of the movie, and makes a connection: "In 'Vendetta,' a power mad leader uses fear mongering and intimidation to rule society with an iron fist."

But Carroll's America post-Iraq setting is all wrong. As the official movie website explains, the film is "Set against the futuristic landscape of totalitarian Britain." Not George Bush's America.

Carroll continued with excitement at the new sensation:
"While a masked man named V stokes rebellion by unapologetically blowing up buildings. And guess what? He`s the hero."
Paul Dergarabedian, Exhibitor Relations: "V is, in essence, a terrorist and getting his way through assassination, through terrorism. But the movie is so effective in what it does, you`re actually rooting for this character."
Carroll: "That's right. America is flocking to a movie where the main character can arguably be described as a terrorist... Controversial? Of course. So 'Showbiz Tonight 'just had had to ask the film's co-star, Natalie Portman, is any resemblance to real life purely intentional?"
Portman denied any explicit link: "Because it happened in an imaginary world, there's so many different real-life historical and current events that you could connect it to, that it really sort of respects the audience to interpret it for themselves. It's not like this is what you should think."

But Carroll went on to make the linkage to Bush again anyway with old "many people" refrain:
Carroll: "What many audiences are interpreting, is a movie that some say strongly parallels what's going on today. In the real world, you have wiretaps, suicide bombings, and the post-9/11 language of a leader who uses tough talk to rally the people against terrorism."
Bush soundbite from September 20, 2001: "Whether we bring our enemies to justice, or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done."
Carroll: "Some say you can hear that language in 'V for Vendetta.'"
Dictator in the film: "Gentlemen, I want this terrorist found. And I want him to understand what terror really means."

At this point, a little balance emerged. Washington Times film critic Christian Toto brought a more conservative take to the story: "If you talk about terrorism enough, then you could get the public to buy into the military plans you have. So I think from that perspective, it plays sort of into the worst fears of the people on the left who are critical of the Bush administration." He added that "there haven't been many movies that really critique the terrorists that are out there today, the real-life terrors. You don't see many movies with them as a villain or with them as the focal point. You'll more often see critiques of our government."

At story's end, it gets stranger, when Carroll acknowledged the reality he denied earlier in the story, that the filmmakers weren't bashing Bush: "'V for Vendetta' was written by the guys who brought you 'The Matrix.' And the film makers are quick to point out that 'Vendetta' is based on a story that wasn't aimed at President Bush's government but rather, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Still, it is the modern world that audiences are connecting to 'Vendetta.' And it's probably safe to say that the film makers are not complaining...And 'V for Vendetta's' box office success helped add a new spark to a grimly modern debate."

Hammer concluded: "'V for Vendetta' made almost $26 million this weekend. So a lot of people [are] getting out there and getting that message."

-- Brent Baker