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CyberAlert -- 05/17/2002 -- Networks Apoplectic About a White House Cover-Up

Networks Apoplectic About a White House Cover-Up; CBS and NBC Ignored How Congress Knew; White House Should Have Refused Comment?; Blood in Water at Press Briefing

1) NBC's Tom Brokaw demanded: "What did the President know and when did he know it in the days before 9/11?" CBS's Dan Rather painted a White House somehow backtracking out of a cover-up as they "spent this day trying to explain what President Bush knew about terror threats" and "why the President never shared what he knew with the public." ABC's Peter Jennings portrayed widespread concern around the nation: "All over the country today people are wondering whether the White House knew more about the possibility the country would be attacked by Osama bin Laden's terrorists."

2) CBS and NBC highlighted how Democrats criticized the Bush team for not acting on or revealing earlier the intelligence report about how a hijacking was one of several possible methods of attack, but as both ABC and FNC pointed out, the congressional intelligence committees were privy to the same warnings.

3) Tim Russert reported that people in "the intelligence community are very troubled the way the White House handled this," which may well be accurate, but Russert suggested that if the administration refused comment the issue would have died. By putting out a public statement, Russert insisted, they "only opened the floodgates." But can you imagine the media outrage over a cover-up if the White House refused to comment?

4) White House reporters were in full scandal and cover-up detecting mode during Thursday's White House press briefing, especially ABC's Terry Moran, CBS's John Roberts and CNN's John King.

5) On TV tonight: On NBC's Law & Order: SVU a murder linked to payoffs by the Catholic church to cover-up sexual abuse by a priest. On ABC's 20/20: Bryant Gumbel and his girlfriend.


Update: The May 16 CyberAlert described how Allison Janney told David Letterman about how she gets stripping lessons from fellow actress "Sheila Kelly" who holds them in her home. Her last name is spelled "Kelley" and she's probably best-know for playing "Gwen" on L.A. Law. A former Hollywood resident and CyberAlert reader alerted me to how Kelley has a Web page devoted to her in-home classes, complete with class times, a newsletter and a Los Angeles Times story about her unusual use of her home office with a pole: http://www.sheilakelley.com/stripping_home.htm

1

That al Qaeda posed a threat to the United States and could use any one of several means of attack was common knowledge before September 11th, and the failure of appropriate government agencies to properly decipher and collate clues in order to realize the specific threat posed may well be a proper route of inquiry, but the broadcast networks on Thursday night exaggerated the import of one briefing given to President Bush in order to hold him personally responsible.

If the networks give this much attention to every memo or document including an interesting nugget given to a reporter by a congressional staff member as Congress collects documents from agencies, we'll be hearing of nothing else for months.

As occurred on the morning shows on Thursday, ABC and NBC reporters on Thursday night again employed the phraseology that harkens of a scandalous cover-up: "What did he know and when did he know it?" For details about Thursday morning coverage, see the May 16 CyberAlert Extra: http://www.mediaresearch.org/cyberalerts/2002/cyb20020516_extra.asp

Indeed, Tom Brokaw led the NBC Nightly News by demanding: "What did the President know and when did he know it in the days before 9/11?" Brokaw maintained: "At the White House tonight, it is all hands on deck as the administration tries to cope with a storm of criticism boiling up from the news that in August of last year, a month before 9/11, the President had on his desk an intelligence report that warned of airline hijackings and mentioned Osama bin Laden by name."

On CBS Dan Rather painted a White House somehow backtracking out of a cover-up: "The Bush administration spent this day trying to explain what President Bush knew about terror threats before the September 11th attack on America, why the President never shared what he knew with the public..."

ABC's Peter Jennings portrayed widespread concern around the nation: "We're going to begin in Washington, because all over the country today people are wondering whether the White House knew more about the possibility the country would be attacked by Osama bin Laden's terrorists."

As also happened on the morning shows, the subsequent stories ended up contradicting the over-hyped introductions as the reporters fully outlined the White House explanation from Ari Fleischer and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice about how hijackings were just one of several potential threats and that the threat was too general to be made public, an action that just would have shut down commercial aviation.

More about how ABC, CBS and NBC opened their Thursday night, May 16 newscasts:

-- ABC's World News Tonight. From Minneapolis-St. Paul, Peter Jennings teased at the top of the show: "On World News Tonight, the White House admits President Bush knew before September that Osama bin Laden was plotting to hijack planes. Was there enough information to make a difference?"

Jennings then set up the lead story: "We're going to begin in Washington, because all over the country today people are wondering whether the White House knew more about the possibility the country would be attacked by Osama bin Laden's terrorists."

From the White House, Terry Moran asserted the revelation in the page and a half memo triggered a lot of questions which "put the White House on the defensive."

Moran concluded: "One question stalked officials here today: Why did it take so long for all this information to come out? The answer, Peter, is that officials say it is only now as Congress ramps up its investigation into the events leading up to September 11th that officials here are building their record of what the President knew and when he knew it."

-- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather teased up front: "Damage control. White House officials insist the President never received any specific warning of the 9/11 attacks, but Congress wants to know who knew what after CBS News uncovers the presidential intelligence briefing in August that has been kept secret."

Rather introduced the top story: "The Bush administration spent this day trying to explain what President Bush knew about terror threats before the September 11th attack on America, why the President never shared what he knew with the public, and why the President and U.S. intelligence could not, did not, in the phrase of the day, connect the dots and possibly prevent the attack..."

John Roberts concluded from the White House by lecturing: "While few people are convinced that the attacks on America could have been thwarted, many people are upset that the White House kept the contents of that briefing secret for so long. In repeated questions to officials from the President on down, asked whether or not there were any signs that 9/11 might have happened, not one of them mentioned that August briefing."

-- NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw's opening teaser: "Connecting the dots: What did the President know and when did he know it in the days before 9/11? New disclosures and questions tonight about U.S. intelligence and the terrorist hijackings."

Brokaw proceeded: "Good evening. At the White House tonight, it is all hands on deck as the administration tries to cope with a storm of criticism boiling up from the news that in August of last year, a month before 9/11, the President had on his desk an intelligence report that warned of airline hijackings and mentioned Osama bin Laden by name. On Capitol Hill, Democrats and Republicans alike are asking tough questions, and the President sent his national security advisor out to present the White House defense."

In a story a few minutes later, Jim Miklaszewski reported that two days before 9/11 President Bush was given a plan to wipe out Al Qaeda, an NSC directive which ranged from diplomacy to military operations and included going to the Taliban to convince them to turn over bin Laden.

2

CBS and NBC highlighted how Democrats on Capitol Hill criticized the Bush administration for not acting on or revealing earlier the intelligence report about how a hijacking was one of several possible methods of attack, but as both ABC and FNC pointed out, the congressional intelligence committees were privy to the same warnings.

"On Capitol Hill," NBC's Campbell Brown highlighted, "Democrats railed against the White House for not admitting sooner there were concerns about a hijacking."

CBS's Bob Schieffer showcased Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's call for an investigation and how "now Daschle says the President must tell Congress exactly what the CIA told him." Schieffer never mentioned how both Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee had access to the same analysis as the President. Instead, Schieffer moved on to the problem of poor coordination amongst government agencies and how they collect more data than they can analyze, such as stacks of tapes of conversations sitting at the Justice Department.

On the May 16 NBC Nightly News, Brown intoned, as taken down by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "On Capitol Hill, Democrats railed against the White House for not admitting sooner there were concerns about a hijacking."
Tom Daschle: "Why did it take eight months for us to receive this information?"
Brown: "The Sunday after September 11th, here's what Vice President Cheney told NBC's Tim Russert:"
Dick Cheney, September 16: "Now, there had been information coming in that a big operation was planned, but that's sort of a trend that you see all the time in these kinds of reports."
Tim Russert: "No specific threat?"
Cheney: "No specific threat."

The newest news about the briefing hardly contradicts that, but Brown didn't acknowledge that as she moved on to wider issues: "Yet today even Republicans are raising concerns, asking why weren't warnings like the one from an FBI agent calling attention to suspicious foreigners enrolled in a flight school shared between intelligence agencies."
Richard Shelby: "Today I can tell you that the FBI has got some culpability, in my judgment."
Brown concluded: "Tonight lawmakers are plowing ahead with a full scale investigation, and White House officials say they'll cooperate."

ABC's Linda Douglass noted how Democrats saw a political opening with House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt asking what the White House knew, when, and what was done about it and Daschle demanding to know why it took eight months for Senators to learn of the warning, but she soon clued viewers into what CBS and NBC ignored: That relevant Senators did know. Douglass first stressed Democratic denials of full knowledge:
"Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee acknowledged they did receive information from the CIA last summer at the same time Mr. Bush was briefed. But they said they did not know what the President knew."
Senator Carl Levin: "So called broader document in our files at Intelligence does not have the, any references to hijacking."
Douglass, however, countered: "But the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee stood by the President. He said the CIA Director did tell the Senate committee last August that al Qaeda terrorists could hijack an airplane."
Senator Richard Shelby: "He had warned the intelligence committees on more than one occasion about the same thing he told the President."
Douglass noted: "Senator Shelby said the information was so vague there was little authorities could have done."

Over on FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume, Carl Cameron uniquely let viewers know that the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said his members knew all about it. After running soundbites of Daschle and Gephardt whining about White House secrecy, Cameron observed:
"But the Republican Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who went out of his way to avoid accusing the Democrats of playing politics, said lawmakers did have the information."
U.S. Rep. Porter Goss: "Mr. Gephardt said that we didn't have information. In fact, we do have it. And it's just apparently that Mr. Gephardt didn't know about it."
Cameron: "And Trent Lott, the Republican leader over in the Senate, said lawmakers in his body knew it as well."
Lott: "There is no question that the intelligence committee in the Congress and the administration had reason to suspect that hijackings were a possibility..."

Referring to Senator Shelby, Cameron added: "And the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee confirmed that lawmakers got similar information within just 24 hours of the President's briefing."

3

Tim Russert reported Thursday night that people in "the intelligence community are very troubled the way the White House handled this" and that if the administration "had simply stated I'm sorry, we do not comment on the President's intelligence briefings," the issue would have died. But by putting out a public statement, they "only opened the floodgates."

It may well be true that people in the intelligence community are upset by how the White House reacted to the memo someone gave CBS News, but it's preposterous to think that a "no comment" would have prevented the massive media coverage. Imagine the additional media outrage over a "continuing White House cover-up of what they knew and when they knew it" if they had followed Russert's advice.

On Thursday's NBC Nightly News, Russert told Tom Brokaw:
"Tom, sources I've spoken to in the intelligence community are very troubled the way the White House handled this last night. They believe if the White House had simply stated I'm sorry, we do not comment on the President's intelligence briefings, they could have at least gotten down to the Senate hearings and testified before closed door sessions. But the fact that the White House put out a public statement with some detail in it only opened the floodgates, and they are extremely, extremely troubled by it. In fact, some folks within the Bush White House are also troubled the way the matter was handled last night."

Russert should be more troubled by the irresponsible media coverage which has made such a big deal about such a minor revelation about such an important topic on which journalists should be especially careful to not irresponsibly impugn officials.

4

White House reporters were in full scandal and cover-up detecting mode during Thursday's White House press briefing, especially ABC's Terry Moran, CBS's John Roberts and CNN's John King. MRC analyst Ken Shepherd noticed.

Some of the exchanges during the May 16 briefing which took place just past noon EDT on May 16:

Terry Moran: "But, Ari, post-9/11 when hijacking had taken on that word, new context, new meaning, several administration officials including, as you just pointed out, the President of the United States himself, was asked about, 'What did the White House know?' And the President, when asked said we had intelligence hits. He didn't say, 'and you know, we had a warning about hijackings.' Why not? Why didn't he level with the American people about what he knew?"
Ari Fleischer: "The President did level with the American people and so did Director Tenet. So did all people that I've seen. I have several statements from government officials exactly about what the government knew and what was said before September 11th.
Moran: "None of them used the word 'hijacking' though. Vice President Cheney when he spoke on Meet the Press on the 16th of September said-"
Fleischer: "Again, Terry, I think it's a fair point that you raise but the simple answer is that you are using the post-September 11th knowledge of what a hijacking could be and applying it to August, prior to September 11th, and changing what was then the traditional understanding of what a hijacking represented, it was a total, it was a total sea change."
Moran, interrupting Fleischer: "These questions were asked after September 11th. These questions were asked after September 11th of the President, of the Vice President, of you yourself and no one in the White House said 'yes, the information had come in that al-Qaeda was-'"
Fleischer: "Because that information, as I indicated at the top of the briefing, that information was so generalized, it did not contain any information specific to using airplanes as weapons exactly what took place on September 11th. That was the generalized nature of the information, which puts it in a totally different category, and again, the sense pre-9/11 of what a hijacking represented was how that information was heard and understood."

John Roberts of CBS News jumped in: "But even in hindsight why didn't someone come forward and say, by the way we had information about the hijackings?"

A bit later Roberts asked again: "Just on Terry's question. If the warning about potential hijackings by Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda was what his intelligence officials said led this administration so quickly to suspect Osama bin Laden in the September 11th attacks, why would administration officials when asked if they had any inkling that something like this could happen, nobody said, 'by the way, we had a warning about potential hijackings at the hand of al-Qaeda?'"

CNN's John King eventually joined the pack: "Let me try this one more time. So if the hijackers on September 11th had hijacked those planes and shot the passengers, somebody after the fact might have said, 'Damn, we had this generalized briefing, I wish we knew more.' But because they flew them into buildings and killed the people, nobody said, 'Damn, we had this generalized information, I wish we knew more?'"
Fleischer: "John, unfortunately, the threat of hijacking is not new. What was new was the manner in which this was done post, on September 11th."
King: "That doesn't answer the question. Why did nobody mention, nobody's trying to blame anybody, but why in eight months has nobody said 'there was this general mention of the possibility of a hijacking, I sure wish we knew more?'"
Fleischer: "Because the hijacking information was so general it did not include any information about the use of airplanes as they were done on September 11th. Ron, last question."

5

Tonight on NBC's Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, an episode "ripped from today's headlines." As listed on NBC's Web page for the show:
"When Detectives Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Stabler (Christopher Meloni) are called to the scene of a murder in a church, they find that Bobby Douglas (guest star Sean Dugan), the young man responsible for the crime, had been receiving payoffs from the church to cover up his sexual abuse by a priest. Bobby is still in contact with one priest from his youth, Father Michael (guest star Eric Stoltz "Mask"), who is accused of child molestation by Bobby as he attempts to place the blame of his crime on the church that took advantage of his innocence."

NBC's Web page for Law & Order: SVU: http://www.nbc.com/Law_&_Order:_Special_Victims_Unit/index.html

> And tonight on ABC's 20/20: Barbara Walters interviews Bryant Gumbel and his girlfriend, Hilary Quinlan. -- Brent Baker


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