CyberAlert -- 09/19/2001 -- What Jennings Really Said

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What Jennings Really Said; Bill Maher Launched a Screed Against Missile Defense & Tagged Americans as "Cowards" for Using Missiles

1) Media Reality Check. "September 11, 2001: What Did Jennings Say? ABC Anchor Never Insulted Bush During Crisis Coverage, But Did Label His Day Trip 'A Little Strange.'"

2) Jennings on why some hate America. What he actually said over video of celebrating Palestinians.

3) ABC's Bill Maher used the tragedies as a hook to launch into a liberal screed against missile defense, drug laws and all religions. And he denigrated Americans and the U.S. military as "cowards" for launching missiles instead of invading on the ground: "We have been the cowards. Lobbing cruise missiles from 2000 miles away, that's cowardly."

4) A lengthy RealPlayer clip of Dan Rather's emotional appearance with David Letterman is now up on the Late Show Web page.


Since the September 11 terrorist attacks the Media Research Center has received quite a few complaints about what Peter Jennings said during the hours after the tragic incidents. The quotes cited, however, fit into one of three categories: never uttered, distorted or taken out context. We will not compound the erroneous claims by repeating them here.

One assertion, that before President Bush spoke in the early afternoon, Jennings said that the country looks to the President during tragedies to be reassuring to the nation and "some Presidents do it well, some Presidents don't," is accurate. But that's a reasonable point which hardly justified much of the venom against Jennings, especially since after each appearance by Bush during the day Jennings praised his performance.

Below is the text from a Media reality Check distributed by fax this afternoon, titled, "September 11, 2001: What Did Jennings Say? ABC Anchor Never Insulted Bush During Crisis Coverage, But Did Label His Day Trip 'A Little Strange.'" The MRC's Rich Noyes wrote it after scanning through all 17 hours of Peter Jennings in the hours after the terrorist attacks. MRC analyst Ken Shepherd helped transcribe portions.

To access the Adobe Acrobat PDF of the Media Reality Check, go to:

Now the text of the September 19 Media Reality Check. (Note: All times approximate and are EDT):

Amid the horrible pictures and beyond-belief carnage last Tuesday, some ABC viewers thought they heard Peter Jennings take a couple of cheap shots at President Bush, and they let us know about it. Jennings was on the air for 17 hours, from shortly after 9:00 am EDT through 2:00 am the next day. Media Research Center analysts reviewed tapes of the entire awful day, and found no insults or disrespectful comments by the ABC anchor, although he did fret about why the President had not returned to Washington in the middle of the day.

-- 9:30 am: After the President made a statement in Florida, Jennings described him as "clearly shaken," and summarized him as having said "the two things which a President must say at a moment like this: terrorism will not stand...and God bless the victims and their families."

-- 12:36 pm: "I don't mean to say this in melodramatic terms, but where is the President of the United States?" Jennings wondered aloud when he realized that Air Force One should have already landed outside Washington, DC. "Pretty soon the country needs to know where he is."

-- 12:50 pm: Learning that Bush had been diverted to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, Jennings remarked, "None of us should be surprised at what's happening. First of all, the Secret Service is a huge, powerful, authoritative organization which takes the President's safety...with deep and profound seriousness." On the other hand, "the President and his response to this is also part of the psychological package because the country looks to the President on occasions like this to be reassuring to the nation. Some Presidents do it well, some Presidents don't."

-- 12:57 pm: Traveling with the President, ABC's Ann Compton reported on Secret Service fears for his safety. Jennings said soon the country will "expect him to be back in Washington, to send not just a message to those of us in the nation who look to the President for some sense of political and national stability, but also to the other parts of the world where these enemies of the United States, of whom we've talked quite a lot about today, at the moment must surely think they have the United States on the run, to some extent....The President needs to be on station."

-- 1:15 pm: After the taped statement that the President made in Louisiana was played, Jennings reacted positively: "The President could not have spoken more accurately in that final remark -- here a great nation is being tested -- and the President reassures the nation and anybody else in the world who will hear this, that the nation will pass the test." He then praised America: "I recognize that it's one man's opinion...[but] I think what people in most parts of the world believe, that as horrible as this is for the United States and its citizens, the United States continues to be unquestionably the leadership of the world and the example in the world of freedom and democracy."

-- 2:25 pm: "Where's Mr. Bush?" Jennings asked Claire Shipman in Washington, DC. She reported that while "he wants to come back home, his security team does not feel it is safe right now." Learning that the President would be taken to a secret, secure location, Jennings admitted that "[we] don't know where the President is going to go next. Seems a little bit strange."

-- 3:35 pm: "What are you doing in Nebraska?" he asked Compton after Bush arrived at the Strategic Air Command. ABC's George Stephanopoulos explained the President would have all of his capabilities in the secure bunker.

-- 5:05 pm: With the President en route to Washington, Jennings said "the Secret Service can be accused, can be accused on occasion, of overreacting and having its way, and even bullying on occasion, but it always -- this particularly true in the wake of the assassination of President Kennedy -- always says to the public and those people who wish to resist, 'Well, what would you have us do? Do you remember President Kennedy's assassination, the attempt on President Ford?' And so, in some respects, it's hard to fault them for moving the President around the country today, even if you were inclined to do so, because the degree of uncertainty that has existed in much of the country as well as overseas today has been very, very intense."

-- 6:55 pm: As Bush's helicopter landed on the White House lawn, Jennings sympathetically offered that "there's nothing that this President, this new and young President, could ever have imagined was going to occur on his watch which would test his leadership qualities so, and he is going -- and how he responds, how he accommodates the country's frustration, how he accommodates the country's anxiety and anger, and how he responds or finds a way to respond and -- as we have said many times -- to whom, will mark George Bush however it goes, one way or the other."

-- 8:30 pm: Before the President's Oval Office address, Jennings recounted, "I think most of you know that the President has been on something of a strange journey, today.... ABC's Ann Compton was with him all day and told, talked all day about the struggle between the security and the political apparatus whether the President would get back to Washington. Well, the President is back in Washington now and there has been no time in his presidency, and there may never be a time like this again, when it has been so important what he says to the country because I think we all know at moments like this the country looks to the President of the United States for understanding, for, for knitting the country together. And some Presidents do it brilliantly and some do not."

-- 8:37 pm: After the speech, Jennings factually reviewed its major points with Stephanopoulos, then added: "And then I thought, by the way also, if I may add, that this President particularly, who feels so strongly about his Christianity, felt it a good time to say, to quote those lines from Psalm 23, 'Even though I walk,' or, 'Yea though I walk through the valley of death, I fear no evil because God is with me.' And that will just sit so appropriately, I believe, in the minds and the sentiments of many Americans tonight."

-- 9:25 pm: Claire Shipman related that complaints about Bush's absence from Washington were coming from Capitol Hill. She told Jennings "there was a little bit of grumbling in Washington, some members of Congress frustrated that they weren't hearing from the President, that the President wasn't back in Washington, but the leadership says that they absolutely understand why the President was traveling around the country today."

-- 9:45 pm: Interviewing New York Governor George Pataki, Jennings remarked: "You said yourself you talked to President Bush and to Vice President Cheney. We'd gotten the impression that, for a while today, Mr. Cheney was the only person left in the White House."

-- 11:50 pm: "It's been an extraordinary day for the President," Jennings declared before a story by Compton about the security envelope that surrounded Bush for most of the day. Compton told him: "For the President, it was also an unusual day. We haven't seen this man tested by fire, and we saw George Bush take the full brunt of everything today." Of the President's Oval Office speech, Jennings said that although "he and his staff didn't have an enormous amount of time to work on it, it seems, in large measure, to have satisfied people all over the nation tonight in terms of what he actually said."

-- 1:45 am: Nearing the end of his 17-hour day, Jennings again reviewed the major points of the President's speech to the nation: "Whatever people's individual appraisal of the political record of George W. Bush, it is pretty clear, I think, from what we're getting around the country today, that the President hit the mark, that where America looked out and saw the face of evil, this attack, with total indifference to who was involved -- innocent civilians in every case, the heart of the military establishment in one case, innocent passengers, the vast bulk of whom were civilians, on board commercial aircraft today -- the President said the world could look then at the United States and see the best of democracy at work."

END Reprint of Media Reality Check


A CyberAlert bonus: What Peter Jennings said during ABC News live coverage, at about 12:30pm EDT on September 11, over video of celebrating Palestinians. This is the passage which generated some erroneous claims about how Jennings had supposedly justified the terrorist attacks.

MRC analyst Patrick Gregory tracked down what Jennings really said and took it all down. Read it and judge for yourself. I think you'll find that while he reflected moral equivalence in saying both Israelis and Palestinians each see the other as guilty of terrorism, as if the Palestinian claim is just as valid, he did not justify the attack on the U.S.

Jennings at about 12:30pm EDT:
"Now that's the Palestinian President, Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Yasser Arafat who as I think everybody who watches the news or reads the news these days understands is in a very very bitter war with the Israelis, and in which terrorism has been a factor. Palestinians see what the Israelis do to them as terrorism, and certainly the Israelis and much of the world see the Palestinian and other suicide bombers who've attacked inside Israel to be terrorism of the most gruesome order. No question about that, and so we should not be surprised as on previous circumstances, to see Chairman Arafat, expressing his condolences, but other Palestinians, who believe the United States is responsible for what Israel is doing to the Palestinians or at least complicit and is certainly supplying the Israeli's arms will be happy to see this attack on the United States today. So take a look at a scene from Jerusalem not too long ago in which there is some celebration, that the powerful United States has been harmed, has been seen to be vulnerable, has been hurt I suppose in the broadest sense of the word.
"And the people who go off to do this sort of thing both in the Middle East tonight must remember that a vast majority, of the, vast majority of the population of the Middle East now, in all countries is under 21, much of it under 15, certainly under 17, and the kind of intensity and intention if one presumes this is terrorism, one [inaudible] this terrorism has come, had its genesis or had its roots somewhere in the Middle East, or at least in people who are opposed, have, are just filled, brimming with anger at the United States, and we are now becoming more experienced with the notion that there are young men for the most part, who are prepared to blow themselves up along with everybody else in terms, if they can be, if they can be a service to the cause and they believe, they believe as do some people believe about Islam, that they will, by sacrificing themselves gone to another place.
"It's an unfair comment on Islam in some respects, but it is certainly a motivating factor that the hatred of the United States, and the hatred of the United States as a patron of Israel, whether you're from Afghanistan, or whether you're from Iran, Iraq, or inside the Palestinian territories is so intense at some levels, and has become more intense in recent months, that nobody will be, very many people will not be surprised at this attack today though like everybody else will be amazed at the magnitude and success of it."


Far from the deference to the victims and healing efforts shown by the CBS and NBC late night shows, ABC's Bill Maher, on Monday night's Politically Incorrect, used the tragedy as a hook to launch into a liberal screed against missile defense, drug laws and all religions. He also denigrated Americans and members of the U.S. military as "cowards" for launching missiles instead of invading on the ground: "We have been the cowards. Lobbing cruise missiles from 2000 miles away, that's cowardly."

The vicious criticism of the U.S. military prompted FedEx to pull its ads from the show.

After telling viewers that one of four guest chairs would remain empty for the week in honor of Barbara Olson, who was killed on the plane which hit the Pentagon as she was flying to Los Angeles to, among other things, tape an appearance on Politically Incorrect, Maher launched into this diatribe:
"We need to let our government know we can't afford a lot of things we used to be able to afford, like a missile shield that will never work for any enemy that doesn't exist. We can't afford to be fighting wrong and silly wars: the Cold War, the drug war, the culture wars -- busting television producers at the airport for taking funny mushrooms to Las Vegas while the terrorist-looking guys with the knives get right on. We have to outgrow childish and antiquated stuff real fast."

Maher kept firing at missile defense: "They [the government] have believed in a religion, if you will -- which I think is the root cause of this whole problem -- but there's lots of religions, and one them is that a missile shield in space is going to protect us, which is ridiculous. That's, you know, we left the front door open and we, you know, we guarded the roof."

Does anyone think that if these thugs had a nuclear missile they wouldn't launch it at the U.S.?

MRC analyst Jessica Anderson noted that Maher denounced religion as the core cause of the tragedies: "Religion is extremist. It's extreme to believe in things that your rational mind knows are not true. I mean, they want to know what's on this black box from these flights. I'll tell you what it is. It's a guy in Arabic going, 'God is great,' at the moment of the impact. That's what on the black box -- save your trouble, you don't have to find it."

Panelist Dinesh D'Souza challenged Maher: "But you said religion is believing what you know isn't true. Do you know that God does not exist?"
Maher replied: "I believe God exists, but they believe, as we believe, a lot of stupid Muslim tricks and a stupid Christian tricks, okay? They believe a lot of things, and it's such a fundamental belief, that if the other guy doesn't agree with you, he's got to go, and we're guilty of the same thing."

D'Souza later argued: "Bill, there's another piece of political correctness I want to mention, and although I think Bush has been doing a great job, one of the themes that we hear constantly is that the people who did this are cowards."
Maher: "Not true."
D'Souza: "Not true. Look at what they did."
Maher: "We're the cowards."
D'Souza: "First of all, you have a whole bunch of guys who are willing to give their life. None of 'em backed out. All of 'em slammed themselves into pieces of concrete."
Maher: "Exactly."
D'Souza: "These are warriors."
Maher: "Right."
D'Souza: "And we have to realize that the principles of our way of life are in conflict with people in the world, and so, I mean, I'm all for understanding the sociological causes of this, but we should not blame the victim. Americans shouldn't blame themselves because other people want to bomb them."
Maher then charged: "But also, we have been the cowards. Lobbing cruise missiles from 2000 miles away, that's cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, not cowardly -- you're right."

Arianna Huffington, who once pretended to be a conservative, immediately claimed that Americans are just as guilty of killing the innocent: "Absolutely, Dinesh that is such an important point. When you talk about the American idea and the American way of life, all, you know, worth dying for. But let us not forget how many innocent civilians we killed when we bombed Yugoslavia to rubble because we did not want to have a single American soldier die, and now we have over 5,000 innocent civilians die because we were cowardly when it came to our military personnel, and that goes across the board -- to Iraq many parts of the country where we bombed innocent civilians."

(Maher did sneak in one actually politically incorrect comment: "Political correctness, in my view, was always about pretending that certain things were when they weren't, and we pretended, for example, that the next terrorist could just as easily be Swedish. That's political correctness. Well, we can't afford that anymore, can we, folks? I mean, the people who hate us aren't Swedish; they're not even North Korean. The people who hate us are the ones who blew up those planes and the ones who do it next time, and it could be even worse, they're going to be from the same group, so don't we have to change our ways and put political correctness out to pasture?")

FedEx has pulled its ads from Politically Incorrect, the Houston Chronicle reported on Wednesday. CyberAlert reader Lara Mahaney alerted me to how in the September 19 Houston Chronicle Mike McDaniel reported:
"Federal Express ordered its ads removed from the ABC late-night series Politically Incorrect on Tuesday after the show's host referred to recent U.S. military actions as 'cowardly.'
"After receiving complaints from around the country, including Houston, Federal Express reviewed Monday's edition of the show and decided to act, company spokesperson Carla Richards said.
"Richards said she did not know how many complaints the company received, but that they were of sufficient quantity to merit the actions the company took.
"'The (30-second) ad that runs during that show has been pulled for the indefinite future,' Richards said."

To read the entire Houston Chronicle story, go to:

It's gratifying to learn of such a reaction from a U.S. corporation to such an outrageous comment.

[Web Update: On the Wednesday night, Septembr 19, Politically Incorrect, host Bill Maher began with this statement:
"I have to address Monday's show. And I should clarify a few things that were said.You know, this show has always been off the cuff. That's the beauty of it. It also causes problems, because you say things which you need to explain more. But you know, these are sensitive times, and I should've been more clear when, in a discussion of how we have in the past conducted our war on terrorism, I said: 'We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away.' And the problem there is the word 'We.' I think. It's indistinct, and I should've been more clear.
"So let me be very clear now. In no way was I ever intending, because I never think this way, to say that the men and women who defend our nation in uniform are anything but courageous and valiant. And I apologize to anyone who took it the wrong way, sincerely. And I'll get to that. But my criticism was for the politicians mostly, who, fearing public opinion, have not allowed the military to do the job which they are absolutely ready, willing and able to do. And now that they can, I have no doubt they will do what they have always done and get the job done.
"A lot of people now think that patriotism means just marching in lockstep and shutting up.
And I'm sorry, but, you know, when the same terrorists who committed this heinous crime against our country a week ago, those same people, when they blew up two of our embassies in Africa three years ago -- I know it's Africa, and I know that's a long way away, but that was still -- hundreds of people died, and embassies are American soil.
"And our political response was to blow up a pharmaceutical factory in the Sudan, from far away. And I am not unpatriotic to question how our government has handled this situation in the past. Patriotism does not involve shutting up, it involves speaking out."]


If you feel dirty after reading Maher's political screed about missile defense, religion and how we Americans are the real "cowards," remind yourself of Dan Rather's very contrasting appearance the same night on CBS's Late Show with David Letterman.

As detailed in the September 18 CyberAlert, Dan Rather praised President Bush as "Giuliani-esque" for saying, "Osama: Dead or alive." Later on Monday's Late Show he volunteered for the war effort: "George Bush is the President. He makes the decisions and...wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where." An emotional Rather broke down twice as he recalled the heroic work of the firefighters and recited a stanza from "America the Beautiful." For more extensive quotes and a brief video clip, go to:

The Late Show has now posted an extensive excerpt of Rather's appearance, maybe even all of it, in RealPlayer format. Go to:

Tonight on the Late Show: ABC News reporter John Miller. NBC's Tonight Show will have Arnold Schwarzenegger. -- Brent Baker

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