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CyberAlert -- 08/06/2002 -- CBS & NBC Hyped How Clinton Gave Bush Anti al-Qaeda Plan

CBS & NBC Hyped How Clinton Gave Bush Anti al-Qaeda Plan; Public Grades for Media Have "Tumbled"; More Democrats Trust CNN; CNN's Grade Worth a "Spanking"

1) CBS and NBC on Monday night jumped on a Time story about how the Clinton administration provided a plan to fight al-Qaeda which the Bush team ignored. Dan Rather declared: "Veterans of the Clinton administration say the Bush team didn't take their al-Qaeda warnings and plans seriously enough." NBC anchor Stone Phillips announced: "There is a new published report tonight that the outgoing Clinton administration gave the Bush White House a ready-made plan for attacking al-Qaeda that was ignored."

2) The public's grades for the news media have "tumbled" since a post September 11th spike, a new Pew Research Center poll discovered. The poll found that "the news media's rating for patriotism...has plummeted 20 points" while "the number who believe news organizations are politically biased has increased by 12 points." On "believability," Democrats trust CNN and the broadcast networks more than self-identified Republicans. While believability fell for all networks, CNN led in credibility while FNC tied ABC News.

3) Unlike his colleagues earlier in the day, on Monday's Inside Politics CNN's Jeff Greenfield acknowledged that while in the Pew survey "37 percent give CNN high marks on credibility," that's "not as high as" as where the assessment for CNN stood four years ago. John King quipped that if he got a 37 percent grade as a child he "might have gotten a spanking." Greenfield skipped over how CNN anchor Aaron Brown was ranked next to last on "believability" -- only ahead of Geraldo Rivera.


1

CBS and NBC on Monday night jumped on a Time magazine cover story about how the outgoing Clinton administration provided a plan to fight al-Qaeda which the Bush team failed to implement until after the 9-11 attacks. "The battle over history," Dan Rather teased at the top of the August 5 CBS Evening News before declaring: "Veterans of the Clinton administration say the Bush team didn't take their al-Qaeda warnings and plans seriously enough."

Rather set up the story by referring to how "controversy is swirling over what did or did not happen concerning terrorism in the early months" of the Bush presidency. Rather ominously intoned: "The controversy centers around serious questions raised by a counter-terrorism expert who worked for Presidents Reagan, Bush Sr., and Clinton."

Over on the NBC Nightly News, fill-in anchor Stone Phillips led with the Time-relayed Clinton spin but at least added how the Bush side denies the storyline: "There is a new published report tonight that the outgoing Clinton administration gave the Bush White House a ready-made plan for attacking al-Qaeda that was ignored. Not true, says the Bush camp."

On both networks the subsequent stories, by Bill Plante on CBS and Andrea Mitchell on NBC, conveyed the Bush team's denials that they fell down on the job, insistence that the Clinton policy was less a plan than a set of ideas and how the Clinton people never implemented an anti-al Qaeda policy while in office. NBC's Mitchell, for instance, noted that Bush officials pointed out "that the Clinton White House did nothing for more than two years until it ran out of time and left office." But that was all in stories which had Bush team fecklessness as their theme. Bill Clinton
NBC Nightly News claimed that Clinton "gave the Bush White House a ready-made plan for attacking al-Qaeda that was ignored"

In contrast, FNC emphasized the lack of a concrete plan or action by the Clinton administration. Jim Angle, anchor of Special Report with Brit Hume, introduced a story by Major Garrett, who was fresh from CNN: "There's a major new episode in the Washington blame game. A report in Time magazine charges that the Clinton White House presented the incoming Bush administration with a plan for defeating al Qaeda, but that it took the new President and his aides eight months to move on it. But an official deeply involved in counter-terrorism planning during the Clinton years says that is false, that there was no such plan and there was rather a set of proposals the Clinton administration had been studying for two years but had not acted on."

(Monday morning, of the three broadcast network morning shows, only CBS's The Early Show devoted an interview segment to the Time story. Jane Clayson interviewed Time reporter Massimo Calabressi and displayed more skepticism than Rather would later in the day toward the Clinton spin. One of her questions: "So if this plan was so extensive and so important to the Clinton administration why didn't they follow through on it themselves?")

After a piece on Bush having a meeting to look at Iraq options, Dan Rather set up the CBS Evening News story, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth:
"The President came to the White House meeting after campaigning for Republicans in Pennsylvania. He is heading for a vacation in Texas. As he does so, controversy is swirling over what did or did not happen concerning terrorism in the early months of his presidency. The controversy centers around serious questions raised by a counter-terrorism expert who worked for Presidents Reagan, Bush Sr., and Clinton. CBS's Bill Plante reports on this from the White House."

Plante explained: "White House officials are fighting back against charges that they dropped the ball after taking office by ignoring Clinton administration plans to roll back the al-Qaeda terrorist network. At issue, a Time Magazine report that Richard Clarke, head of counter-terrorism in the Clinton White House, had a plan for military action against al-Qaeda, which the new Bush administration did not treat as a top priority, but instead buried in the bureaucracy for eight months. The Bush White House says there was no plan, just a series of ideas which had not been implemented by the Clinton administration."
Sean McCormack, National Security Council spokesperson: "During the transition, the Clinton administration did not present a comprehensive new plan to topple al-Qaeda."
Plante: "A senior administration official involved in counter-terrorism planning says that four days after Mr. Bush's inauguration, his national security advisor asked for a review of counter-terrorism policy, including al-Qaeda. In March, President Bush asked for a comprehensive plan to take down al-Qaeda. The White House claims that was a major turning point in U.S. policy -- eliminating al-Qaeda, not simply rolling it back. On September 4th, senior officials signed off on the plan. On September 10th, it was sitting on the national security advisor's desk. Daniel Benjamin, a former counter-terrorism official in the Clinton administration, argues there was indeed a plan to pursue al-Qaeda but that Bush officials weren't much interested."
Daniel Benjamin, former White House Counter-terrorism Official: "A number of initiatives that were under way either lost speed or were side-tracked, and valuable time was lost."
Plante: "Benjamin, the author of a book on the rise of religious terrorism, charges the Bush administration failed to understand the new terrorist threat of mass casualties."
Benjamin: "And when the Clinton administration officials told the incoming officials this, they met with some, shall we say, skepticism."
Plante concluded: "The big question in all this back-and-forth blame game, could 9/11 have been prevented? In the end, both sides agree, probably not. But even the suggestion makes the Bush White House hypersensitive. Dan."

Maybe they are "hypersensitive" because of how enthusiastic the networks are to highlight Clinton team spinning which blames the Bush team for anti-terrorist failures.

Over on the August 5 NBC Nightly News, anchor Stone Phillips asserted: "There is a new published report tonight that the outgoing Clinton administration gave the Bush White House a ready-made plan for attacking al-Qaeda that was ignored. Not true, says the Bush camp. NBC's chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell with more now on the escalating blame game in the war on terror."

Mitchell began with the Bush denial: "The Bush White House today strongly denies it delayed a Clinton administration plan to attack Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda until it was too late to prevent the September 11th attack because it resented the Clinton team. Today the President again gave himself high marks for combating al-Qaeda."
George W. Bush: "Now, we're making good progress in the war against terror. We've hauled in over a couple of thousand of them."
Mitchell outlined the Clinton spin relayed by Time: "But in its cover story, Time Magazine repeats allegations first reported by the Washington Post last January that when George Bush took over from Bill Clinton, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice refused to accept her predecessor's anti-terrorist strategy because she considered the Clinton officials quote, 'feckless and naive.' The Clinton options including increasing covert aid to the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, enlisting support from Uzbekistan, lifting sanctions against Pakistan, dramatically increasing the intelligence budget. President Bush's advisors did not sign off on similar options until last September 4th. Rice gave them to the President on September 10th, one day before the attacks.
Mitchell then countered with the Bush spin: "But tonight a senior Bush official says there was no Clinton plan to attack al-Qaeda, only options developed after the 1998 embassy bombings in Africa, and that the Clinton White House did nothing for more than two years until it ran out of time and left office. As the two administrations traded charges tonight, a leading Republican Senator suggested it doesn't help anyone."
Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA): "I don't know that it's useful to turn back the clock and blame anybody, but if so, it wouldn't be the Bush administration. It would be the Clinton administration."
Mitchell concluded: "Tonight even a Bush official says there were no easy choices for the Clinton team, and none of the strategies would have prevented September 11th."

Time headlined its story by Michael Elliott: "Could 9/11 Have Been Prevented?" The subhead: "Long before the tragic events of September 11th, the White House debated taking the fight to al-Qaeda. It didn't happen and soon it was too late. The saga of a lost chance."

Online, a headline announced, referring to what Clinton operatives say they left for the Bush team: "They Had a Plan."

Elliott stressed how the delay caused by the Bush team's policy review "came at a cost." Elliott wrote in the August 12 issue:
"The winter proposals became a victim of the transition process, turf wars and time spent on the pet policies of new top officials. The Bush Administration chose to institute its own 'policy review process' on the terrorist threat. [Richard] Clarke told Time that the review moved 'as fast as could be expected.' And Administration officials insist that by the time the review was endorsed by the Bush principals on Sept. 4, it was more aggressive than anything contemplated the previous winter. The final plan, they say, was designed not to 'roll back' al-Qaeda but to 'eliminate' it. But that delay came at a cost. The Northern Alliance was desperate for help but got little of it. And in a bureaucratic squabble that would be farfetched on The West Wing, nobody in Washington could decide whether a Predator drone -- an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and the best possible source of real intelligence on what was happening in the terror camps -- should be sent to fly over Afghanistan. So the Predator sat idle from October 2000 until after Sept. 11. No single person was responsible for all this. But 'Washington' -- that organic compound of officials and politicians, in uniform and out, with faces both familiar and unknown-failed horribly."
"Could al-Qaeda's plot have been foiled if the U.S. had taken the fight to the terrorists in January 2001? Perhaps not. The thrust of the winter plan was to attack al-Qaeda outside the U.S. Yet by the beginning of that year, Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi, two Arabs who had been leaders of a terrorist cell in Hamburg, Germany, were already living in Florida, honing their skills in flight schools. Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar had been doing the same in Southern California. The hijackers maintained tight security, generally avoided cell phones, rented apartments under false names and used cash-not wire transfers-wherever possible. If every plan to attack al-Qaeda had been executed, and every lead explored, Atta's team might still never have been caught.
"But there's another possibility. An aggressive campaign to degrade the terrorist network worldwide -- to shut down the conveyor belt of recruits coming out of the Afghan camps, to attack the financial and logistical support on which the hijackers depended -- just might have rendered it incapable of carrying out the Sept. 11 attacks. Perhaps some of those who had to approve the operation might have been killed, or the money trail to Florida disrupted. We will never know, because we never tried. This is the secret history of that failure."

For Time's lengthy cover story: http://www.time.com/time/covers/1101020812/story.html

2

The public's grades for the news media have "tumbled" since a post-September 11th spike in November, a new Pew Research Center for the People and the Press poll discovered. The poll, released on Sunday, found that "the news media's rating for patriotism, which stood at an all-time high in November (69%), has plummeted 20 points" while "the number who believe news organizations are politically biased has increased by 12 points, to 59 percent" -- right back to where it stood pre-September 11th.

On "believability," Democrats trust CNN and the broadcast networks more than self-identified Republicans. Pew reported, "For example, 45 percent of Democrats say they believe all or most of what they see on CNN, compared with 32 percent of Republicans, and there is a similar credibility gap with respect to the network evening news programs." Republicans and Democrats, however, "are equally likely to say Fox News is credible."

Overall, within the margin of error, Fox News beat out NPR which was the least credible. 23 percent said they "believe all or most" of what they hear on NPR while 24 percent said that about FNC -- the same number earned by ABC News, which was only a point behind NBC at 25 percent. But while FNC was only down two points since May of 2000, ABC News has plummeted six points from 30 percent in 2000.

CBS was most positively evaluated by 26 percent with CNN topping the category at 37 percent, but as with all the networks, that's down from earlier surveys.

While "fewer than one-in-five give MSNBC's Brian Williams and Fox's Brit Hume high marks for credibility," they both beat out the 14 percent who "say they completely believe CNN's Aaron Brown." Only Fox's Geraldo Rivera, at 9 percent, is less believable than Brown.

Some excerpts from the Pew report, followed by some more detailed "believability" numbers. From the overview page:

A July Pew Research Center survey of 1,365 adults shows that the public's grades for news organizations have tumbled since November, on measures ranging from professionalism and patriotism to compassion and morality. Just 49% think news organizations are highly professional, down from 73% in November. If anything, the news media's rating for professionalism is now a bit lower than it was in early September, shortly before the terrorist strikes (54%).

Over the same period, the news media's rating for patriotism, which stood at an all-time high in November (69%), has plummeted 20 points. While 49% say the news organizations "stand up for America," 35% believe it is too critical of the country. A majority once again believes news organizations do not care about the people they report on; in November, a 47% plurality viewed the press as compassionate. The trend is similar for the public's assessment of the news media's morality, fairness and accuracy, all of which have returned to pre-Sept. 11 levels....

[T]he number who believe news organizations are politically biased has increased by 12 points, to 59%.

As in the past, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to see the media as politically biased, but there has been a bigger shift on this issue since November among Democrats and independents. Solid majorities in both groups (57% of Democrats, 56% of independents) now see the media as biased; just 42% of Democrats and 40% of independents said that in November. Nearly seven-in-ten Republicans (69%) say the media is politically biased, a smaller increase from 61% last November....

END of Excerpt

For more: http://people-press.org/reports/display.php3?ReportID=159

An excerpt from the page on the credibility of news people and outlets:

The public's evaluations of the credibility of major news organizations has remained fairly stable over the past two years. Among major TV outlets, the ratings are unchanged or show a slight decline. CNN continues to be rated the most believable television news source, with 37% of Americans who are able to rate it saying they believe all or most of what they see and hear on CNN. This represents a modest slip in credibility from a peak of 42% in 1998.

The three major broadcast networks are rated about equally in terms of believability: roughly one-in-four say they believe all or most of what they see on ABC, NBC and CBS. This represents a slight decline for all three networks: from 1996 through 2000 roughly three-in-ten gave network news the highest rating for believability. As in previous years, network news magazines are rated slightly better than the news organizations themselves. One-third (34%) give CBS's 60 Minutes a high rating for believability, 31% give the same high rating to ABC's 20/20, and 28% to NBC's Dateline.

The ratings of local TV are similar to the networks, with 27% saying they can believe all or most of what they see on their local newscasts. Credibility here has dropped from 33% and 34% in 2000 and 1998, respectively.

Fewer Americans are able to rate MSNBC and the Fox News Channel. Among those who can rate them, 28% give MSNBC high marks for believability, and 24% say the same about the Fox News Channel. C-SPAN receives high believability ratings from 30% of those able to rate it.

The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer is less well-known than commercial evening news programs, but its credibility ratings are comparable among those who can rate them. The NewsHour is rated highly by roughly one-quarter of the public -- 26% say they can believe all or most of what they hear on this show. Ratings for National Public Radio are slightly lower (23% say they believe all or most of what they say).

Not surprisingly, there is a partisan dimension to evaluations of media credibility. Republicans tend to be more skeptical of most media sources, with the notable exception of the Fox News Cable Channel. For example, 45% of Democrats say they believe all or most of what they see on CNN, compared with 32% of Republicans, and there is a similar credibility gap with respect to the network evening news programs. Republicans and Democrats, however, are equally likely to say Fox News is credible (28% and 27%, respectively)....

Among news magazines, U.S. News and World Report receives slightly better marks for credibility than Time or Newsweek. Among those who can rate the magazines, just over a quarter (26%) believe all or most of what they read in U.S. News and World Report, compared with 23% for Time and 20% for Newsweek. Believability ratings for both Time and Newsweek are slightly lower this year than in 2000 or 1998....

Despite modest believability ratings for their network news programs, Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, and Peter Jennings remain the most trusted figures in television news. By comparison, the best-known cable news anchors -- Brian Williams, Brit Hume and Aaron Brown -- and cable talk hosts -- Larry King and Bill O'Reilly -- are seen as significantly less credible.

More than a third of those able to rate them say they believe all or most of what the broadcast network anchors say, and only about one-in-five give these news figures even modestly negative ratings for credibility. Other well-known network personalities, such as Diane Sawyer and Ted Koppel, get similarly high marks for believability.

In addition to being less visible, cable news anchors also are not seen in as favorable terms by those familiar with them. Fewer than one-in-five give MSNBC's Brian Williams and Fox's Brit Hume high marks for credibility, and just 14% say they completely believe CNN's Aaron Brown.

One of the most recognized cable news figures -- talk show host Larry King -- gets decidedly mixed reviews. While 18% say they believe all or most of what King says, almost as many (16%) say they believe almost nothing. But this is an improvement for King; six years ago 27% said he was not credible, and only 11% gave him high marks.

Fox News' Bill O'Reilly is seen as slightly more credible than King, although O'Reilly is not nearly as well known. Among those who are familiar with O'Reilly, 22% say they believe all or most of what he has to say, while just 13% believe almost nothing. His Fox colleague Geraldo Rivera, who is more widely recognized than O'Reilly, is seen as far less credible. People who believe almost nothing of what Rivera says outnumber those who find him highly credible by four-to-one (36% to 9%)....

END of Excerpt

For more, with tables showing all the numbers for the above-cited journalists: http://people-press.org/reports/display.php3?PageID=629

For the believability assessments, Pew asked respondents to rate journalists on a scale of 4 to 1, with "4" representing "believe all or most" and "1" being "believe almost nothing." While fewer than ten percent said they did not have enough knowledge to rate the broadcast anchors, that percent soared to around 50 percent for the cable anchors.

Of those familiar with MSNBC's Brian Williams, now only on CNBC, from 4 down to 1 he earned these evaluations:
19% 46% 27% 8%

For FNC's Brit Hume:
16% 43% 33% 8%

For CNN's Aaron Brown:
14% 40% 35% 11%

Geraldo Rivera, who only 12 percent did not rate, was stuck at the bottom:
9% 20% 35% 36%

NPR was in the cellar in the network and program assessments, getting a "4" from 23 percent, just below the 24 percent earned by Fox News and ABC News.

3

CNN's Jeff Greenfield acknowledged on Monday's Inside Politics that while in the Pew survey "37 percent give CNN high marks on credibility," that's "not as high as" as the assessment for CNN stood four years ago. Anchor John King quipped that if he got a 37 percent grade as a child he "might have gotten a spanking."

In pointing out how "the three broadcast network evening news anchors scored highest; Geraldo Rivera was at the bottom," Greenfield, however, skipped over how Aaron Brown was the next lowest rated, 13th out of 14 network figures assessed.

A Media Reality Check "Quick Take," which was distributed as a CyberAlert Special on Monday afternoon, highlighted how CNN anchors and on Sunday night and Monday morning kept stressing, without mentioning that their rating had fallen, how the Pew poll found that "CNN continues to be rated the most believable television news source."

As the MRC's Rich Noyes wrote, CNN failed to mention "that CNN's overall 'credibility' rating of 37 percent was lower than it was in earlier polls (42% found CNN credible back in '98, for example)."

For the August 5 Media Reality Check, "CNN Turns Bad News Poll into All-day Marketing Campaign: Public Gives Anchor Aaron Brown Low 'Believability' Score," go to: http://www.mediaresearch.org/realitycheck/2002/fax20020805.asp

To access the Adobe Acrobat PDF version: http://www.mediaresearch.org/realitycheck/2002/pdf/quick0805.pdf

Greenfield partially corrected CNN's oversights during his "Bite of the Apple" commentary on Monday's Inside Politics. Up front he noted: "Before 9-11 59 percent of Americans said the media were biased. Last November that number had dropped to just 47 percent. Now, it's right back to where it was: 59 percent."

Greenfield soon relayed: "The highest rated TV outlet on believability: CNN. 37 percent give CNN high marks on credibility, though not as high as they did four years ago. 60 Minutes, a close second. Fox News, next to last. And lowest of all, National Public radio, NPR. That may reflect a strong belief among many conservatives that NPR tilts left."

But he skipped over CNN anchor Aaron Brown's poor showing on believability: "On individual TV newscasters, the three broadcast network evening news anchors scored highest. Geraldo Rivera was at the bottom."

For Brown's specific numbers compared to others, see item #2 above.

After Greenfield finished his piece, fill-in Inside Politics anchor John King realized the poor showing for all of the media, even the top-assessed CNN. He quipped: "Although nice to be on top with that 37 percent, but if I got that grade as a child, might have gotten a spanking."

Let's at least spank Brown.

> Tonight, Tuesday August 6, CBS will be repeating the July 19 Late Show with David Letterman on which Ted Koppel conceded: "So much for the smartass news anchor." For what prompted that remark: http://www.mediaresearch.org/cyberalerts/2002/cyb20020722.asp#5

> August doldrums already hitting the morning shows which are digging deep for story ideas? A segment on today's Good Morning America: "Supermodel whose house burned down." -- Brent Baker


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