2. Olbermann Sees Politics in Terror Warning, "From McCarthy..."
3. ABC Fuels "Wag the Dog" About Bush, But Dismissed it for Clinton
Correction: The August 2 CyberAlert stated: "Comedy Central's Daily Show will be repeats this week: Re-runs on last week's Tuesday through Friday night programs taped in Boston." That's what the show's Web site listed, but it turns out to be inaccurate. A new Daily Show aired last night and I assume new shows will run all week. Meanwhile, Bill Clinton is still scheduled to appear on tonight's (Tuesday) Late Show and Dennis Miller on tonight's Tonight Show.
Kerry's non-bounce doused by CBS. Four years ago, on the Monday after the Democratic convention, August 21, CBS Evening News anchor Bob Schieffer introduced a full story by trumpeting how "a CBS News poll out tonight shows that Al Gore got a big boost from the Democratic convention. He's up ten points and is now in a dead heat with George W. Bush." But this year, after a CBS News poll found no bounce for John Kerry as he held at 49 percent, the CBS Evening News didn't find their discovery to be newsworthy. Not a syllable about it on Monday's CBS Evening News, though a Monday headline on CBSNews.com declared: "CBS Poll: No Bounce for Kerry."
ABC anchor Elizabeth Vargas passed along how an ABC News/Washington Post poll found "one of the smallest bounces for a challenger in 32 years," but in his story on the poll, Dean Reynolds stressed how Kerry "has gained ground on a number of issues."
Near the very end of the 10pm EDT CNN Sunday Night, anchor Carol Lin introduced CNN political analyst Bill Schneider for "a look at the bounce that didn't happen" for Kerry. Indeed, in the poll conducted July 30-31 Bush actually gained three points compared to a week earlier while Kerry lost a point. Monday's Inside Politics devoted a segment to the phenomenon with Schneider stressing how few undecided voters there are to be bounced. For Monday's USA Today story on the poll: www.usatoday.com
(The ABC/Washington Post poll and CBS News poll were conducted July 31-August 1, and so their results were not available until Monday, August 2. The CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll continued for a third day, August 1, with three day results released on Monday.)
"Polls Show Tight Race With a Few Gains for Kerry," read the headline over a Tuesday New York Time front page story summarizing the three polls. Reporter Adam Nagourney related: "It was the smallest post-convention bounce enjoyed by any challenger since George McGovern was nominated in the middle of the night by a divided Democratic Party in Miami in 1972, said Frank Newport, the editor in chief of the Gallup Poll." See: www.nytimes.com
Monday's CBS Evening News, however, did acknowledge their poll, just on another question, as Jim Axelrod, in a story on Kerry's claims that Bush is encouraging terrorists, noted how, by 41 percent to 28 percent, registered voters have more confidence in Bush than Kerry to handle terrorism. Axelrod reported: "With today's CBS News poll showing a big advantage for President Bush on handling terror, Senator Kerry reminded voters he had called for an intelligence director months ago. Polling numbers like those may explain why Senator Kerry went on the offensive today, blaming the President for policies, that in the Senator's words, actually encourage the recruitment of terrorists."
For the CBSNews.com rundown of the CBS News survey: www.cbsnews.com
On screen, ABC showed in their July 22-25 poll Bush led 50 to 46 percent amongst registered voters and in their July 30-August 1 sampling Kery rose to 49 percent with Bush dropping a bit to 47 percent.
Reynolds began with the positives for Kerry: "Post-convention bounce or no bounce, John Kerry has gained ground on a number of issues. He's opened big leads on the handling of health care, education, and even the economy as a whole. Indeed, among those who see the economy as the number one issue, it's Kerry by almost two-to-one [60 to 33 percent], after a virtual tie before the convention."
Indeed, amongst "likely voters" Kerry's "six-point edge slips to an insignificant two points -- 49 percent for Kerry, 47 percent for Bush and 2 percent for Nader, a net (and at very best slight) six-point shift toward Kerry from the pre-convention poll," ABC News polling analyst Gary Langer wrote online. See: abcnews.go.com
MSNBC's Keith Olbermann devoted an entire segment Monday night on his 8pm EDT Countdown show to speculation that Bush re-election politics were really behind Sunday's threat warning. Olbermann argued: "History tells us Presidents have exaggerated threats to the public safety to gain political advantage or simplify complex needs of strategy. Ask Lyndon Johnson. Ask William McKinley. Do we need to ask George W. Bush?" Olbermann soon threw in Joe McCarthy in the pantheon President Bush is supposedly following, "from Joe McCarthy to Lyndon Johnson's manipulation of the Gulf of Tonkin, our politics have been filled with politicians who have created a kind of evil twin to FDR's famous phrase, 'We have nothing to fear but fear itself.' All of that seems particularly relevant when the Secretary of Homeland Security changes the threat level three days after his boss' challenger accepts the nomination of the rival party."
Washington Post reporter John Harris soon told Olbermann that, with regards to Howard Dean's claim that politics was behind the warning, "I don't think was an outlandish thing for a lot of Democrats to be thinking."
MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth took down Olbermann's plugs for his upcoming August 2 segment:
-- "Later, we'll look in depth at those tentative, fingers-crossed doubts expressed in some quarters about these warnings. Could they contain a political component? The first litmus test of that, what the counter-terrorism pros think of this."
-- "Our number four story: The politics of terror, if any. It still risks great political capital to suggest politics might play a role here. We will take that risk next."
-- "Straight ahead: Terror warnings and politics. History tells us presidents have exaggerated threats to the public safety to gain political advantage or simplify complex needs of strategy. Ask Lyndon Johnson. Ask William McKinley. Do we need to ask George W. Bush? Next."
-- Olbermann finally arrived at the segment: "Since 9/11, it has been a dangerous thing, even career-jeopardizing, to question warnings about prospective terror attacks. As late as yesterday, Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman questioned the sanity of anybody who would think that any politician would ever exaggerate a threat to national security just for political gain. But in our fourth story on the Countdown, given this nation's history, shouldn't we be required to at least ask that question? From the anti-Catholic Know Nothing Party of the 1850s to the Palmer Raids of the 1920s, from Joe McCarthy to Lyndon Johnson's manipulation of the Gulf of Tonkin, our politics have been filled with politicians who have created a kind of evil twin to FDR's famous phrase, 'We have nothing to fear but fear itself.' All of that seems particularly relevant when the Secretary of Homeland Security changes the threat level three days after his boss' challenger accepts the nomination of the rival party, and in so doing, throws in a live plug for the incumbent."
Picking up on an August 2 CyberAlert item about how ABC anchor Don Dahler recalled on Sunday night how "the last press conference that Secretary Ridge made happened to fall right after Senator Edwards was announced as a vice presidential candidate" and "there are those who are already saying that the timing" of the new warning "smacks of politics," and how ABC anchors of twice before in the past six weeks ago attributed a Bush re-election motive to warnings, the MRC's Tim Graham documented how, although ABC has regularly implied the potential political motivations for terror alerts, including one the day before the first anniversary of 9-11, ABC journalists dismissed "Wag the Dog" scenarios for Bill Clinton's 1998 military attacks on Afghanistan, Sudan, and Iraq as "unthinkable," "purely cynical," and likely to provoke a political backlash.
On September 10, 2002, ABC reporter Terry Moran prodded then-White House spokesman Ari Fleischer at an afternoon briefing shown on CNN and FNC: "Can you assure the American people that this elevated threat alert is not part of the administration's effort to convince people that the danger is such that military action against Iraq is necessary?"
By contrast, when President Clinton bombed targets in Afghanistan and Sudan days after admitting adultery with Monica Lewinsky, Ted Koppel mourned in an August 20, 1998 prime-time ABC special that an ABC poll which found 30 percent believed in a Wag the Dog strategy: "Those are the times we live in...I have to assume that there is a sense of embarrassment among all of us. Let me just speak for myself. I have sense of embarrassment that we are even raising questions like this at a time like this." In a concluding commentary, Koppel added: "This, the President tells us, was one of those few exceptions, one of America's rare opportunities to fight back. To doubt his word on this occasion may cross our minds but is, in the final analysis, unthinkable."
Later on that evening's Nightline, ABC reporter John Donvan also suggested the "unthinkable" line, interspersed with Clinton soundbites: "On a day when the U.S. president orders the shedding of blood, what could be more purely cynical than to suggest that it is part of a charade?...To call it an attempt by Bill Clinton to sound like a leader again....To dismiss it as a way to shift the focus....To change the subject away from her. True, had the President not ordered military attacks this morning, Monica Lewinsky, back before the grand jury, would have led the news this evening. But linking the attack to the testimony, that would be unthinkable, right? Apparently not, not on the airwaves."
On December 16, 1998, President Clinton began a series of air strikes on Iraq just as the House of Representatives was planning to take up an impeachment debate. In this case, ABC's Good Morning America slapped at conservatives the next morning who suggested a political motivation behind the sudden (and brief) Clinton war on Iraq:
-- Then co-host Kevin Newman asked Defense Secretary William Cohen: "You're a former Republican Senator, sir, and you know that usually when this happens, politics ends at the water. But yesterday there were several very senior Republicans who suggested that this was, or questioned the motives of this particular attack. I'd like to know what your thoughts are about that. Does it trouble you that there is not the usual support?"
-- Newman sounded the same notes in an interview with Henry Kissinger: "This is, as I said, such an extraordinary time for a military campaign. I mean, on the very day that it looked like the President was about to face impeachment by the House of Representatives, this military campaign went on. It was also an extraordinarily personal day in the reaction of some of the Republicans on the Hill. Did you have to conduct foreign policy in that kind of milieu, when so much, when there's so much bitterness and so much personal animosity, it seemed, against the President?"
-- Then co-host Lisa McRee to Senator=. John McCain: "Trent Lott was very publicly skeptical of the motive and the timing. Is that harmful to your party for him not to be completely in support of a military operation at this time?" McRee asked ABC pundit Bill Kristol: "Trent Lott, very publicly skeptical of the timing and the attack itself. Bad form?" And to pundit Cokie Roberts: "There is a new poll, Cokie, 30 percent feel he was trying to delay the impeachment vote, but 62 percent of the Americans believe he felt that what he was doing was right. That skepticism the Republicans have had, don't they have to keep it under their hat, or face a backlash?"
In one news update, reporter Karla Davis suggested: "The stalling of the impeachment process infuriated some Republicans, who immediately questioned the timing of the military strike. However, the incoming Speaker of the House Bob Livingston took a far less combative tone."
In the Bush era, the "combative tone" about the political motivation of national-security moves begins with ABC reporters instead of Republican leaders.
A reprint of item #1 in the August 2 CyberAlert:
Politically-inspired terror warning? Barely four hours after Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge announced specific terrorist targets in New York City and Washington, DC, ABC anchor Don Dahler recalled how "the last press conference that Secretary Ridge made happened to fall right after Senator Edwards was announced as a vice presidential candidate" and "there are those who are already saying that the timing smacks of politics." Richard Clarke, now an ABC consultant, rejected the notion, but nonetheless rebuked Ridge for how Ridge went "out of his way to praise President Bush's programs today in the press conference and I thought that was inappropriate."
Following the lead story on the Ridge announcement about a fresh terror threat, a 2pm EDT Sunday announcement carried by the broadcast networks, World News Tonight/Sunday fill-in anchor Don Dahler did a brief Q &A with Richard Clarke, the former White House counter-terrorism czar who wrote a book castigating the Bush team.
Dalher: "We can't forget, of course, this is an election year. The last press conference that Secretary Ridge made happened to fall right after Senator Edwards was announced as a vice presidential candidate. There are those who are already saying that the timing smacks of politics. You're not one of them?" Clarke: "No, Secretary Ridge did go out of his way to praise President Bush's programs today in the press conference and I thought that was inappropriate in a press conference about warning, but this is real..."
This wasn't the first time that the anchor of World News Tonight had charged that a political motive was behind a terror warning:
-- On the July 8 broadcast, Ted Koppel added a nefarious twist in reporting on Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge's warning that al-Qaeda plans an attack in the U.S. soon to impact the democratic process. The warning led all three broadcast network evening newscasts and while CBS anchor John Roberts and NBC anchor Brian Williams played it straight, Koppel stressed how there was "no information on what to expect, precisely where, when or how" and relayed that the lack of a change to the threat level "led some critics to wonder out loud why the warning was being issued in the first place. Is the government simply trying to reassure the public that it's on the case or," Koppel asked in implying a larger political agenda to scare the public, "does the information actually serve a greater purpose?" See: www.mediaresearch.org
-- After all the media kvetching over the failure to connect the dots pre-9/11 you'd think that journalists would resist undermining high government officials who act on the side of caution to prevent a potential mass murder of civilians. But not ABC's Peter Jennings, who on Monday night [June 14], after noting how Attorney John Ashcroft announced a Somalian man had been charged with plotting to place a bomb in an Ohio shopping mall, gratuitously added: "Over the last three years Mr. Ashcroft has made several dramatic announcements about terrorist plots in the U.S., and it is hard to verify them because the evidence is held in such secrecy." See: www.mediaresearch.org
END Reprint of August 2 CyberAlert item
On Monday's Good Morning America, the MRC's Jessica Anderson noticed, Diane Sawyer raised Dean's charge with Tom Ridge.
Sawyer: "Yesterday former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean raised some real skepticism about these announcements, saying in part that he feels that politics is being played. I'm going to play a quick clip of what he said yesterday."
Ridge dismissed the allegation.
-- Brent Baker