CyberAlert -- 06/07/2002 -- Dan Rather Obsessed with "Timing" of Bush Speech
Dan Rather Obsessed with "Timing" of Bush Speech; Conservative Concerns About Big Government Raised; Rooney Conceded Liberal Bias, Rather is "Transparently Liberal"
1) Dan Rather was obsessed with applying nefarious motives to the timing of President Bush's prime time address. He led with it in prime time and on the CBS Evening News: "President Bush moved to take the spotlight away from the hearing" into FBI failures "and capture the headlines by suddenly asking for national television time tonight." MSNBC, CNN and NBC also raised the timing, but they at least treated it as a subject to be noted only after first examining the substance of and reaction to the proposal.
2) CBS, CNN and NBC all raised questions from the right about the wiseness of creating another government department and, in NBC's case, specifically how "conservatives" will react. Dan Rather pointed out that Bush had "talked about making the government smaller, and here you have a situation where he appears to be making it larger." CNN's Paula Zahn sought assurance from Andy Card that the cost of the department would not grow.
3) 60 Minutes commentator Andy Rooney conceded that Bernard Goldberg is on target about liberal media bias. "I thought he made some very good points," Rooney told CNN's Larry King on Wednesday night. Rooney admitted he has "a liberal bias" since "I'm consistently liberal in my opinions," adding that he considers Dan Rather to be "transparently liberal."
Timing is everything, at least to CBS's Dan Rather, who obsessed on Thursday night with applying nefarious motives to the timing of President Bush's prime time national address to propose consolidating several agencies into a unified Department of Homeland Security.
MSNBC, CNN and NBC also raised the legitimate subject of the timing of Bush's announcement, but they at least put it in its proper place, treating it as a topic to be noted only after first examining the substance of the proposal, how Congress might deal with it and how the bureaucracies involved will react to it. ABC News refrained from fretting about the timing.
Rather opened CBS's coverage at 8pm EDT with an overwrought assessment of how Bush was just trying to distract attention from how badly the FBI and CIA performed:
Rather added: "It should be noted that making Homeland Security a Cabinet post was not President Bush's idea. He's giving in to congressional pressure."
Rather earlier conveyed the same sentiment on the EDT/CDT feed of the CBS Evening News, declaring: "President Bush moved to take the spotlight away from the hearing and capture the headlines by suddenly asking for national television time tonight."
MSNBC's Bob Kur was almost as obsessed as Rather, MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth observed. Kur, anchor of the 8pm EDT hour, inquired of Newsweek's Howard Fineman: "There will be questions about the timing of this. There are already. This announcement comes on the very day there's the first public hearing in Congress into the lead up and the possible mis-steps in the lead up to 9/11. What about the timing?"
Later, when White House Chief-of-Staff Andy Card told Kur that "this is not something new that the President just thought of, he's been working toward this for some time," Kur argued: "All laudable goals, Mr. Card, but as you know, already today some critics are saying there is a question of timing here, that the President is trying to just deflect attention away from the pressure the administration has come under, that the President wanted to do this probably on the first day that these hearings went public and were nationally televised. So I guess the question-"
Russert admired the timing, remarking on MSNBC: "Well, it was imperative, in the view of the White House, that the President preempt, if you will, the discussion that's going on in Congress and around the country, about who knew what and when. And I think he moved up, accelerated this announcement of a restructuring of government by a few weeks in order to be in living rooms tonight as the lead story as opposed to testimony on Capitol Hill. This has been in the works a long time, make no mistake about it, but the timing was exquisite, if you would."
Other networks put a much higher priority on the substance of the proposal than fretting about ulterior motives.
Not until well after Bush finished speaking, for instance, did CNN's Paula Zahn ask Card: "Some have questioned the timing of the President's announcement. Some basically alleging that the President made this announcement sooner than he wanted to to deflect attention away from those congressional hearings that you've been involved in. Is there any truth to that?"
Over on NBC in prime time, only after interviewing Tom Ridge and talking with Russert did Brokaw get to the timing with his second question to Lisa Myers: "This came on a day, Lisa, when Colleen Rowley was having some pretty harsh things to say about the FBI. The Director, Robert Mueller, was up there taking some pretty tough questions. It probably wasn't coincidental that the President made this announcement today."
Earlier, on the EDT/CDT feed of the NBC Nightly News, David Gregory concluded his preview story: "As for the timing of today's announcement, officials say the rollout was originally planned for next month but was accelerated to blunt criticism that the administration didn't do enough to prevent the 9-11 attacks."
Brokaw later asked Russert: "That hearing today and the other hearings, of course, part of the political context of the President's announcement tonight. Even Republicans on Capitol Hill are saying that had something to do with the timing of all of this." Russert agreed: "Absolutely Tom, this accelerated today's announcement. There's no doubt about it, the President felt compelled to come forward with a bold reorganization of the United States government."
But for CBS the timing wasn't a factor to report on amongst many issues, it was the most important fact of all. Rather led the prime time coverage:
Rather soon asked John Roberts on the White House lawn: "John, this seemingly came up all of a sudden, and we know that the Bush presidency has been, and this is intended to be a compliment, extremely well-disciplined about such things. Has this, in fact, been in the works for a long while? Or was it something, suddenly they said listen, you know, we better do something to offset these public hearings in Congress."
Rather had earlier led the CBS Evening News: "Good evening. Congress held its first open public hearing today on U.S. intelligence foul-ups, blunders and failures, and it was not a pretty picture. President Bush moved to take the spotlight away from the hearing and capture the headlines by suddenly asking for national television time tonight to announce what the White House calls a quote, 'major reorganization,' of the U.S. government. It would give the new Office of Homeland Security expanded authority and make it a cabinet position. CBS's John Roberts begins our coverage from the White House. John?"
ABC's Terry Moran suggested a very good reason for that secrecy, explaining during ABC News prime time coverage: "There was a very specific incident that drove this secrecy surrounding this process, that was a few weeks ago when Governor Ridge started looking at the possibility of reorganizing the responsibilities to control and secure America's borders. As soon as his proposals hit what's called the inter-agency review process -- when it went to the Cabinet departments -- it leaked."
So, the secrecy journalists are so upset about is their own fault.
Amazingly, CBS, CNN and NBC all raised questions from the right, after President Bush's national address, about the wiseness of creating another government department and, in NBC's case, specifically how "conservatives" will react to the proposal.
CBS's Dan Rather noted the complaint that government always creates a new bureaucracy to solve a problem as he pointed out to Tom Ridge that Bush had "talked about making the government smaller, and here you have a situation where he appears to be making it larger." CNN's Paula Zahn sought assurance from Andy Card that the cost of the department would not grow.
If only network journalists expressed such concern for spending on other programs and proposals for new entitlement plans, such as having Medicare pay for prescriptions.
NBC's Tim Russert informed Tom Brokaw that conservatives are "opposed to the big government. But I think in this case people realize that this is dead serious business. This is life or death. This is not tax cuts. This is not Social Security. This is the essential makeup of our nation."
Brokaw asked Lisa Myers to tell him what she's "hearing from the Republican side, especially the more conservative members, about the creation of this new agency." Myers noted that while "conservatives are not thrilled about creating another agency," one of them "said to me today, 'I'm a heck of a lot more worried about terrorists right now than I am about a few more government bureaucrats.'"
-- CBS News following Bush's speech. Dan Rather's first question to Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge reflected a concern about growing the size of government:
Ridge explained that it would not be a new and larger bureaucracy, just a consolidation of current ones.
After inquiring about "the accountability for these failures of the FBI, the CIA, and some of these other agencies both before and immediately after September 11th," Rather worried about the size of the proposed new department: "Governor, administration sources indicate that your new department will have almost 200,000 employees and a budget of over $37 billion. Now, how do you streamline intelligence and anti-terrorism activities with an organization that large and with that much money?"
Rather conveyed a similar concern to Senator Joe Lieberman: "And to those who want this to succeed but say, well, it's a typical Washington deal just to create another Cabinet position, throw money at the problem, you say what?"
-- On CNN, Paula Zahn sought assurance from Andy Card that the costs would not cost taxpayers more money: "I know your administration's referred to this as an agency with a, that it will be budget neutral. Can you really assure the American public this evening that this change will not cost them more in taxpayers' dollars?"
Card offered no such assurance, saying the goal is to protect people, though the plan will "probably" save money through consolidation.
A few minutes later, Zahn posed the same question to Senator Charles Grassley.
-- NBC News. Tom Brokaw expressed concern to Tom Ridge: "With 176,000 employees and a budget of $37 billion, by anyone's definition this is massive addition to the bureaucracy of Washington. What's to keep intelligence information from getting lost in that just as it did within the FBI and the CIA?"
Brokaw asked Tim Russert about how conservatives will react: "Everything in Washington happens in a political context, Tim. What about the conservatives?"
Brokaw raised the same subject with Lisa Myers on Capitol Hill: "Lisa, what are you hearing from the Republican side, especially the more conservative members, about the creation of this new agency."
At least it's "Clintonian spin" for a federal government policy proposal and not to hide a President's personal peccadillos.
King asked, in a transcript checked against the tape by the MRC's Ken Shepherd: "What did you make of Bernard Goldberg's book, critical of television liberal bias, and especially harsh on some of your folks at CBS?"
A lot more people outside, and probably even inside, CBS News see Rather as the real "jerk."
About the only person Dan Rather is not "transparently liberal" to is Dan Rather himself.
[Web Update: For the June 12 Wall Street Journal, Bernard Goldberg penned a column about Rooney's admission: "Ever Notice Liberal Bias?"
Goldberg recalled that Rooney was talking about "the same Dan Rather who was all over me like a hound on a hare, as he might put it, when I wrote in 1996, on this very page, that 'The old argument that the networks and other 'media elites' have a liberal bias is so blatantly true that it's hardly worth discussing anymore.' I was a correspondent at CBS News at the time and the op-ed started the TV version of World War III. I was taken off the air for several months; there was even talk that CBS News might fire me for uttering such blasphemy.
To read's Goldberg's op-ed piece in full:
From the June 6 Late Show with David Letterman, the "Top Ten Things India and Pakistan Agree On." The Late Show Web page: http://www.cbs.com/latenight/lateshow//
10. Saber-rattling is an excellent way to impress the critics
9. The FBI dropped the ball when it failed to predict Joey would fall in love with Rachel on "Friends"
8. Don't buy extended warranty on nuclear warheads -- it's a rip-off
7. Bathrooms at U.N. are never as clean as they should be
6. A solid Christmas album could put Linda Ronstadt back on the charts
5. You can really save a buck or two by calling 1-800-COLLECT
4. Robin Williams is better in comedy roles
3. "Survivor: Kashmir" has the potential to be the most exciting one yet
2. Liza's latest marriage -- 6 months, max
1. The Nets don't have a chance in hell
-- Brent Baker