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CyberAlert -- 09/24/2001 -- Americans 1st, Journalists 2nd

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Americans 1st, Journalists 2nd; Bush Scolded for Invoking God; Bin Laden: "Hope for Suffering People"; Bill Maher on the Defense

1) Americans first and journalists second, at least for now. CBS's Dan Rather pledged to give the government "the benefit of any doubt" because "I want to fulfill my role as a decent human member of the community and a decent and patriotic American." The VP of NBC News urged his staff to be careful not to report any secrets which may place the U.S. military in danger.

2) More media plaudits for Bush's speech on Friday's morning shows. He even won over Bryant Gumbel, who conceded "the President did well in his speech," and Juan Williams, who gushed on Fox News Sunday: "I just thought he was spectacular."

3) "Invoking God, saying God's on our side, we need to keep this secular," Newsweek's Eleanor Clift lambasted President Bush in reviewing his address to Congress.

4) NPR's Nina Totenberg denounced the "silly season of thinking that there is really no need for a federal government" as she used the terrorist attacks as an opportunity to spout off about how they demonstrate the necessity for the federal government.

5) A Friday night ABC News special featured a journalist who claimed people "suffering in the world, seeing their children die of preventable disease" support Osama bin Laden because he represents "the hope for suffering people of a solution to their suffering."

6) After the initial video showing celebrating Palestinians no one dared record more video. The Weekly Standard revealed the Palestinian threat: "Anyone who tried to film or photograph cheering Palestinians after that first disastrous bit of footage was released might have gotten himself killed."

7) Bill Maher has gone on a media offensive to explain his characterization of Americans as "cowards" for "lobbing cruise missiles from 2000 miles away." But ABC's Washington, DC affiliate dropped his show as Sears joined FedEx in pulling its ads.

8) A sign the U.S. is getting back to normal: The Miss America pageant on ABC featured contestants delivering banal liberal political pronouncements about campaign finance reform, gun control and the environment.


Correction: In the rush to transcribe network comments after President Bush's Thursday night speech to Congress, the September 21 CyberAlert quoted Howard Fineman as referring to "movie director Frank Kaplan" and Tom Brokaw citing "Evan R. Murrow." Those names should have read Frank "Capra" and "Edward" R. Murrow.

1

CBS's Dan Rather pledged to give the government "the benefit of any doubt" in the early days of this crisis and the Vice President of NBC News has promised to put patriotism ahead of putting out news which may place Americans in danger.

While Rather declines to wear a flag or ribbon on the air because, he asserted, "I have the flag burned in my heart, and I have ever since infancy," on CNN on Saturday he promised: "I want to fulfill my role as a decent human member of the community and a decent and patriotic American. And therefore, I am willing to give the government, the President and the military the benefit of any doubt here in the beginning."

Last week, USA Today quoted a memo from NBC News Vice President Bill Wheatley in which he urged his staff to "please take great care to make sure that our broadcasts don't inadvertently pass along information that could prove helpful to those who would do harm to our citizens, our officials and our military."

During a taped interview with Howard Kurtz aired at about 6:45pm EDT on September 22, as a mini-Reliable Sources show, Kurtz asked Rather if he fears "a danger" that "journalists would be reluctant to criticize the Bush administration and the Pentagon for fear of a public backlash?"
Rather replied: "I think that's probably true, but I think what is more important -- and let me again just speak for myself -- that particularly in the early stages -- and I would continue to say these are the early stages -- that it is less a fear of backlash. Listen, I've had backlash -- man, have I ever had it -- and a lot of times justified. I'm not afraid of backlash. What I want to do, I want to fulfill my role as a decent human member of the community and a decent and patriotic American. And therefore, I am willing to give the government, the President and the military the benefit of any doubt here in the beginning. I'm going to fulfill my role as a journalist, and that is ask the questions, when necessary ask the tough questions. But I have no excuse for, particularly when there is a national crisis such as this, as saying -- you know, the President says do your job, whatever you are and whomever you are, Mr. and Mrs. America. I'm going to do my job as a journalist, but at the same time I will give them the benefit of the doubt, whenever possible in this kind of crisis, emergency situation. Not because I am concerned about any backlash. I'm not. But because I want to be a patriotic American without apology."

That prompted Kurtz to wonder: "Well, speaking of patriotic Americans, there is a bubbling controversy in the business, as you probably know, about whether journalists on the air should wear these little lapel flags. NBC's Tim Russert did it on Meet the Press. ABC News has barred its people from doing that. Does it seem to you that journalists who show the flag are being patriotic, or are they somehow kind of turning it to cheerleaders for team USA?"
Rather insisted that he has "no argument with anyone who does it," but he doesn't because "it doesn't feel right to me. I have the flag burned in my heart, and I have ever since infancy. And I just don't feel the need to do it. It just doesn't feel right to me. And I try to be -- particularly in times such as these -- and I have tried to be in touch with my inner self, my true inner self, and I tried to listen. And my inner self says you don't need to do that. But I have absolutely no argument with anyone else who feels differently."

Last Wednesday USA Today quoted a memo from an NBC News VP in which he urged his staff to be careful to not give away any secret military information. In his September 19 "Inside TV" column, Peter Johnson revealed:
"Loose lips sink ships. That famous World War II admonition has been invoked by NBC News, which warned its correspondents and producers Tuesday to take care in their reporting because 'that old saying has new meaning.'
"NBC News executive Bill Wheatley told staffers via memo that 'it's now time to be extremely cautious about what we report. Please take great care to make sure that our broadcasts don't inadvertently pass along information that could prove helpful to those who would do harm to our citizens, our officials and our military. Let's be careful about reporting specifics of presidential travel, of security arrangements, of secret military plans, troop movements and the like.'"

Some hopeful signs that some media leaders see themselves as Americans first and journalists second.

2

George Bush earned more plaudits from network reporters and analysts on Friday morning and over the weekend for his Thursday night address to Congress, though Bryant Gumbel bizarrely worried if it would be wise to "spend the entirety of what's earmarked for Social Security surplus to fight this war?" (See the September 21 CyberAlert for post-speech analysis from Thursday night: http://www.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2001/cyb20010921.asp)

-- ABC's Good Morning America, September 21. Charles Gibson opined: "I've covered a lot of presidential speeches to the Congress, but last night, a speech like no other in my lifetime....That was an extraordinary night."

Diane Sawyer closed the show, MRC analyst Jessica Anderson noticed, by conceding: "I was so moved by the paragraph of the President's speech, where he said, 'Great harm has been done to us. We've suffered great loss. In our grief and our anger we have found our mission and our moment to move forward.'"

-- CBS's The Early Show. Bush even won over Bryant Gumbel, who acknowledged: "It really galvanized the nation. The President did well in his speech."

Interviewing Senator Majority Leader Tom Daschle, however, Gumbel returned to quaint concerns, MRC analyst Brian Boyd observed. Gumbel pressed Daschle: "You said in your remarks after the President's speech that Congress stands ready to give the President whatever he wants or needs in this war on terror. Are you supportive of the President's willingness to spend the entirety of what's earmarked for Social Security surplus to fight this war, if that's what's necessary?"

-- NBC's Today. Matt Lauer inquired of Tim Russert: "Tim, did the President do what he had to do last night?"
Russert affirmed: "Absolutely Matt. It was an excellent speech and a very important one. We're a country on the verge of war, on the brink of recession. It was important that the President and Commander-in-Chief rally the nation last night. He did just that."

-- FNC and Fox. On FNC's Fox and Friends, MRC analyst Patrick Gregory noted, reporter Brian Kilmeade gushed: "It must have been so hard to keep your emotions in check, especially a man in President Bush who says that he wells up easily. I saw the passion, saw the focus, the determination, and the compassion. It was as good a speech as I've ever seen in my life, especially when you talk about addresses to the nation from the President."

Two days later, during the roundtable segment on Fox News Sunday, the generally liberal Juan Williams proclaimed: "I thought he really did a stellar job."

Williams proceeded to assert that Bush looked a bit weak in his first few post-attack appearances as "statements from the President weren't inspiring," but "man, I tell you, on Thursday night I just thought he was spectacular. I thought he was reassuring and inspiring to the American people. In terms of his political fortunes and his ability to conduct this war, I think he has set himself in a supreme place."

3

You can always count on Newsweek's Eleanor Clift for the contrarian liberal view and she came through on the McLaughlin Group. She complained about Bush's address to Congress: "Invoking God, saying God's on our side, we need to keep this secular."

Clift warned on the McLaughlin Group aired over the weekend: "I thought the President's speech had perfect pitch for a domestic audience, but I think there was some major errors when you're talking about an international audience. Invoking God, saying God's on our side, we need to keep this secular. We don't need to join it as a holy war. Secondly, he should have pointed out that this government has protected Moslems in Kosovo, in Bosnia, and to make it really clear that this is not a war against Islam."

On her second point, as John McLaughlin might say, she stumbled onto the truth about how several recent U.S. military deployments have protected Muslims.

4

NPR's Nina Totenberg over the weekend used the deadly terrorist attacks as an opportunity to distort the position of conservatives as she claimed the attacks demonstrate the need for the federal government.

On Inside Washington, the show carried by many PBS affiliates as well as the CBS affiliate in Washington, DC, Totenberg asserted:
"We have gone through I think a kind of, what I would call a silly season, of thinking that there is really no need for a federal government. When in fact the federal government fought the Civil War, solved the Great Depression, fought the First and Second World Wars, won the Cold War. And now we're going, I think, some of the state's rights stuff is going to subside and we're going to find out why we are not just a loose confederation of states but a republic and a federal national government and that's what this period is for."

Those who have questioned the role of the federal government, however, have done so in areas other than national defense and criminal justice. Conservatives and libertarians see those as the federal government's most important or only roles, other than providing for a currency.

5

More than one newspaper columnist or professor has tried to put the burden on the United States for provoking the terrorist attack by consuming so much of the world's resources while the poor are left behind around the world. I've not seen such views espoused on network television (not counting PBS or Arab guests on Nightline), but Friday night's ABC News special, aired before the two-hour multi-network telethon, gave time to one writer who broached that reasoning as he rationalized the hopelessness fueling the terrorists.

Richard Rhodes, whom anchor Peter Jennings identified only as "a journalist and an historian," claimed people "suffering in the world, seeing their children die of preventable disease and of malnutrition" support Osama bin Laden because he represents "the hope for suffering people of a solution to their suffering."

The September 21 ABC News special, America Fights Back, featured a series of soundbites from writers and media figures, such as Tom Clancy, Shelby Steele and Ted Turner, with their observations about the terrorist attacks.

Rhodes was amongst the dozen or so and he insisted: "These acts didn't come out of nowhere. People are suffering in the world, seeing their children die of preventable disease and of malnutrition. Such people look for leaders and heroes and saviors. And unfortunately they aren't all Gandhis, the leaders and the saviors that they look for. Osama bin Laden and his ilk represent the hope for suffering people of a solution to their suffering. What do we as Americans have to put in place of that? I think we have to look beyond retaliation and realize that the problems that plague the Middle East are our problems."

That reasoning sounds eerily like the excuse given to rationalize why some of the poor in the U.S. commit crimes.

6

Wonder why you haven't seen much video since the day of the terrorist attacks of Palestinians celebrating it? The Weekly Standard magazine disclosed last week that "anyone who tried to film or photograph cheering Palestinians after that first disastrous bit of footage was released might have gotten himself killed."

Catching up with an item from a week ago, an excerpt from the Scrapbook in the September 24 edition of the Weekly Standard:

Perhaps the most disgusting images following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were the ones of Palestinian men, women, and children dancing in the streets in east Jerusalem, celebrating the death of thousands of Americans, yelling, "God is great," and enjoying some celebratory sweets.

The jarring scenes -- so at odds with the familiar images of aggrieved Palestinian victimhood that are a staple of international news broadcasts -- infuriated Americans, and, for a different reason, the Palestinian Authority. Frantic apologists for Yasser Arafat, who have spent years toiling in the propaganda vineyards, saw their long work souring before their eyes. Yasser Arafat rushed off to give blood for shipment to America -- and the gesture got him almost no credit. By the end of the week, though, some media sympathizers were cluck-clucking that too much had been made of this footage, that the video is atypical -- that, after all, we have been shown the same images over and over.

But there's a good reason for this last fact, that also does no credit to the Palestinian Authority. Anyone who tried to film or photograph cheering Palestinians after that first disastrous bit of footage was released might have gotten himself killed. Hence AP footage of similar celebrations in Nablus was never released.

According to the AP, which protested to the Palestinian Authority, Arafat-allied Tanzim militia made death threats to an AP cameraman who recorded the Nablus footage. "Several Palestinian Authority officials spoke to AP in Jerusalem urging that the material not be broadcast. Ahmed Abdel Rahman, Arafat's cabinet secretary, said the Palestinian Authority 'cannot guarantee the life' of the cameraman if the footage was broadcast." This is why no one has yet seen the AP's video of the Nablus rally, which reportedly numbered 4,000....

END excerpt

7

ABC's Washington, DC affiliate has, at least for now, dropped Politically Incorrect from its schedule in the wake of host Bill Maher calling Americans "cowards" for "lobbing cruise missiles from 2000 miles away." But Maher has been trying to explain that he meant no insult toward the military.

On the September 17 Politically Incorrect last Monday, the first show since the terrorist attacks, Maher recalled the U.S. response to previous terrorist attacks and contrasted that with how the terrorists a week earlier had killed themselves: "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."

Maher opened his Wednesday night, September 19 show, with a statement about how that comment was not aimed at the military but at political leaders. To read it and more about his initial comments, refer back to the September 19 CyberAlert. Scroll down to the end of the item for the "Web Update" in brackets to read Maher's subsequent statement as posted by MRC Webmaster Mez Djouadi: http://www.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2001/cyb20010919.asp#3

By phone on Friday's The View, the daytime ABC show, Maher elaborated on his defense, as taken down by MRC analyst Jessica Anderson:
"On my show, we talked about this and I do apologize to the military who took it the wrong way. If anyone thought that I was talking about the military being cowards, I certainly wasn't. I think that was a flame that was deliberately fanned by some people, but nobody on the night we did the show thought that's what I meant and that isn't what I meant. I meant that as a country, especially as a government, in the past, we knew this terrorist threat was coming and we didn't do enough to stop it. We didn't really want to get into the sewer and kill the rat, and I think we're paying the price for that now. And I don't think what happened last Tuesday had to happen if we had been more alert and more stout in fighting this enemy previously, and I don't think this country wanted to do that. They bombed our embassies in Africa a couple of years ago, and all we did -- that's what I was saying -- all we did was lob cruise missiles at a pharmaceutical factory....
"I think the problem we face now in America and on our show, and honestly, I don't even know if we can do our show anymore, because I see everything that people say, the guests are petrified to speak because everything now has to stand this litmus test and you can't have an open -- and our show has always depended on having an adult conversation where you can say anything."

A few hours later on NBC's Tonight Show Maher recalled that he had asked if America can change to address terrorism. He then ruminated, "But I forgot to ask: Can I change? Can my show change? Because being provocative, which is what we do -- and thinking outside the box and thinking the unthinkable and just throwing it around like that -- that's what we've always done. But these are more sensitive times and the country has been through a national trauma and I have to tell you, Jay, the idea this week that I added somehow to this trauma just makes me feel awful and I am miserably sorry about doing that and I mean that from the bottom of my heart because I love my country."

Maher's explanations came too late or were not enough to satisfy Albritton Communications-owned WJLA-TV in Washington, DC, which pulled Politically Incorrect from its line-up and replaced it with Inside Edition on Thursday and Friday night. Sears has also joined FedEx in pulling its ads from the show.

A Saturday, September 22 Washington Post story reported the decision of the local ABC affiliate. An excerpt from reporter Paul Farhi's story:

"Politically Incorrect" has apparently lived up to its name. WJLA-TV, Channel 7 in Washington, has pulled the late-night talk show off the air indefinitely after host Bill Maher said this week that the U.S. military has been "cowardly" for attacking enemies from afar.

The station dropped Thursday's program and planned to do the same last night in response to Maher's remarks. The ban will continue "on a day-to-day basis," said Chris Pike, WJLA's president and general manager.

WJLA, Washington's ABC affiliate, was at least the third station to suspend the weeknight program. ABC stations in Des Moines and Sioux City, Iowa, also have done so. Sears and FedEx canceled their ads on the show this week as well....

In an e-mail sent to viewers who complained [about the "cowardly" remark], Pike wrote, "We at WJLA were also offended by the insensitive remarks....At this time of great sorrow in our nation, and our community specifically, we have tried to maintain the highest level of sensitivity in our local news coverage, on-air promotion and advertising. Although we strongly defend the right of free speech, Mr. Maher's ill-timed comments demonstrated a lack of feeling for the victims of this tragedy."

The station has received "many" phone calls and e-mails of complaint, and some in support of Maher, said Pike....

Maher issued an apology earlier this week, saying in a statement, "In no way was I intending to say, nor have I ever thought, that the men and women who defend our nation in uniform are anything but courageous and valiant, and I offer my apologies to anyone who took it wrong."...

For the Washington Post story in its entirety, go to: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A7142-2001Sep21.html

8

On a more lighthearted note, you know America is getting back to normal when the Miss America pageant on ABC features contestants delivering banal liberal political pronouncements.

During Saturday night's contest, a final five contestant proclaimed her support for campaign finance reform and, because she sees "several stories...everyday about eight-year-olds who accidentally shoot their sibling," gun control. And the eventual winner declared herself an "environmentalist" as she boasted that her state is the "leader in environmental protection."

Host Tony Danza asked Miss District of Columbia, Marshawn Evans: "Marshawn, I'm also a political animal. I really, it makes me a little crazy sometimes, but my big issue is campaign finance reform. What do you think about that?"
Evans answered: "Well, I think we do need campaign finance reform. I think that there's a lot a lot of people who would like to run for elected office but they can't because they don't have to the money to do so and I think if we had reform we'd be able to have more people who truly cared about their positions being elected [to] office."

Later, each contestant received 30 seconds to explain their platform. Evans advocated "investing in youth for a safer future." Danza challenged her: "If one is a strong advocate of gun control, what do you say to a father who loves to hunt and teaches his son, an eight-year old, that it's every American's right to won a gun?"
Evans replied: "I do believe that it's every law-abiding citizen's right to own a firearm. At the same time I would probably tell that father about a story, several stories that I hear everyday about eight-year-olds who accidentally shoot their sibling. And we have to realize that although we do have the right to own firearms we have to have responsible gun control legislation and responsible gun control ownership. So I would advocate for not only reducing the access of firearms to young people, but also promoting safe gun control through gun safety locks as well."

At the top of the show the eventual winner, Miss Oregon, Katie Harman, boasted that her state is "America's leader in environmental protection." Later in the show she affirmed: "Just being an Oregonian and seeing how beautiful the surroundings are, absolutely I'm an environmentalist. I want to preserve our nation's beauty and Oregon is a perfect representation of that."

Hey, there are just so many hours of Brian Williams, Lester Holt, Bill Hemmer, Aaron Brown and Linda Vester you can watch. I needed a break and just my luck that I tuned in to the Miss America pageant only when contestants were uttering political comments.

I missed the whole swimsuit segment, er, I mean, "lifestyle and fitness" category. Honest. But there's always the videotape. -- Brent Baker


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