2. Brokaw Frets That Prison-Abuse Coverage Blocking Kerry's Message
3. Lauer Fails to Press Ted Kennedy About His Outlandish Claims
4. ABC's Sawyer Picks Up on England's Claim Tactics Saved Lives
5. On JAG, Reporters Want Grieving Mother to Say Bush Lied on Iraq
ABC's Peter Jennings continued on Thursday night to refuse to link Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the terrorist in Iraq believed to have decapitated Nick Berg, to al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden. Other network anchors weren't so reluctant. CBS's Dan Rather noted how Berg's life "intersected" with the "notorious al-Qaeda figure" before CBS reporter David Martin declared that al-Zarqawi "is the notorious al-Qaeda operative." Tom Brokaw asserted on the NBC Nightly News that "al-Zarqawi is considered to be a close ally of Osama bin Laden" while John Seigenthaler, anchor of The News on CNBC, referred to how al-Zarqawi is "thought to be a close ally of Osama bin Laden."
Jennings, however, described al-Zarqawi only as a "suspected terrorist leader." In the subsequent story, Brian Ross downplayed any active connection as he relayed how "U.S. and European officials say Zarqawi ran an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, but now runs his own terror network with extensive connections."
But leading one to suspect that Jennings insisted that Ross make any link less definitive, that was a far cry from how on Thursday's Good Morning America, in a story on how U.S. intelligence officials are examining for clues the video of the beheading of Berg, Ross had asserted: "Zarqawi is the man known to be the al-Qaeda chief inside Iraq who's blamed by the U.S. for many attacks there."
So, in the morning al-Zarqawi was "the al-Qaeda chief inside Iraq," but through Jennings' filter a few hours later Ross had downgraded al-Zarqawi to a guy who once ran "an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan" and who is now on his own.
Not even the headline in Jennings' favorite U.S. newspaper swayed him. "C.I.A. Says Qaeda Militant Decapitated American," read the New York Times headline over a story, by reporter Douglas Jehl, posted online on Thursday. See: www.nytimes.com
For more on Tuesday and Wednesday night labeling of al-Zarqawi, when CBS and NBC also then were not reticent about noting the linkage, see the May 13 CyberAlert: www.mediaresearch.org
A full rundown of Thursday night, May 13, broadcast network evening show descriptions of al-Zarqawi:
-- ABC's World News Tonight. Peter Jennings announced over a photo of al-Zarqawi: "This is a picture of the man who the United States now believes is responsible for the murder of Nicholas Berg, the American civilian in Iraq whose death was recorded on videotape. Some intelligence officials say the suspected terrorist leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was the murderer himself. Zarqawi has claimed responsibility for at least 25 terrorist attacks in Iraq. With more on his status in the eyes of Washington, here's ABC's Brian Ross."
The Bush administration made his son travel across the world to a war zone?
Ross concluded: "There is a $10 million reward for Zarqawi, and the search for him is now focused on Baghdad. U.S. officials tell ABC News they believe Nick Berg was murdered in Baghdad last Saturday. Within hours, his headless body was found hanging from a bridge less than a mile from U.S. headquarters. Brian Ross, ABC News, New York."
-- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather led his broadcast: "Good evening. Who was Nick Berg and what was he doing in Iraq? Questions are multiplying tonight about the 26-year-old American who was beheaded by his Iraqi kidnappers. Various accounts of Berg's activities from his father and from U.S. and Iraqi officials contradict one another. Add to that, now, an amazing coincidence, as Berg's life intersected with two notorious al-Qaeda people, figures. CBS's David Martin has the latest on the life and death of Nick Berg."
Martin began: "Voice analysis of the gruesome tape of the execution of Nicholas Berg has convinced the CIA the masked man who reads a statement vowing revenge for the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners, then pulls his sword and cuts off the young American's head, is the notorious al-Qaeda operative, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The U.S. military had already posted $10 million reward for Zarqawi for having orchestrated some of the deadliest terrorist attacks in Iraq."
After Martin outlined how, as recounted in the CBSNews.com version of his story, "the FBI questioned Berg in 2002 after a computer password Berg used in college turned up in the possession of Zaccarias Moussaoui, the al Qaeda operative arrested shortly before 9/11 for his suspicious activity at a flight school in Minnesota," Martin concluded his on-air report: "It is a stranger than fiction coincidence: An American who inadvertently gave away his computer password to one notorious al-Qaeda operative, is later murdered by another."
-- NBC Nightly News devoted just a short item, read by anchor Tom Brokaw, to the subject: "CIA officials have concluded that the executioner, pictured here, in the grisly videotaped decapitation of American Nicholas Berg was, in fact, the terrorist leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. al-Zarqawi is considered to be a close ally of Osama bin Laden and is believed to be behind more than a dozen high-profile attacks in Iraq."
A day after the NBC Nightly News devoted a story to how many believe the media have "overblown" the Iraqi prisoner abuse topic, the program led again with it as anchor Tom Brokaw insisted that "the investigation and the controversy over American abuse of Iraqi prisoners continued full-throttle." But a few minutes later, Brokaw fretted about how "the prison-abuse story has made it difficult for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry to define his message," a problem illustrated by how just as Kerry was "speaking about veterans' health care, the cable news networks covered Secretary Rumsfeld's visit to Iraq."
Both CBS and ABC did updates on the prisoner-abuse matter, but the CBS Evening News led with the CIA blaming Abu Musab al-Zarqawi for the beheading of Nick Berg and ABC began with Rumsfeld's surprise trip to Iraq.
The May 13 CyberAlert reported how on Wednesday night NBC gave voice to how "some Republicans argue enough is enough. The story and the outrage, they say, is overblown." David Gregory recounted how "the debate over how much attention the prison abuse scandal should get is playing out on talk radio programs across the country. The beheading of Nick Berg, that's torture, many said today, and is a far cry from what a small number of soldiers did to Iraqi prisoners." See: www.mediaresearch.org
The "new information" was a photo, showing some military intelligence people around some Iraqi prisoners, which a lawyer for an accused soldier gave to NBC. To see the picture: www.msnbc.msn.com
Later, Brokaw lamented: "In this country, the prison-abuse story has made it difficult for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry to define his message. Just today as Kerry was speaking about veterans' health care, the cable news networks covered Secretary Rumsfeld's visit to Iraq. So how is Kerry finding a message and an audience in the midst of this scandal?"
Kelly O'Donnell provided a piece on how Kerry is sticking by his weekly themes, health care this week, but they aren't getting any media attention as he is largely avoiding making any comment about the prisoner abuse story where the media are focused.
NBC's Today interviewed Senator Ted Kennedy Thursday morning on the Iraq war, but Matt Lauer failed to press him to defend his Monday comments on the Senate floor about Abu Ghraib prison: "We now learn that Saddam's torture chambers reopened under new management -- U.S. management." On CNN's American Morning, however, Soledad O'Brien did ask Kennedy about that allegation, suggesting some thought he was "way over the line on that." He replied: "That's a part of the Republican attack machine, and I reject it." And Lauer didn't challenge Kennedy when he ludicrously charged that "we have seen the greatest fall from grace for the United States that we have seen in the history of this country."
[The MRC's Tim Graham submitted this item to CyberAlert after Geoff Dickens transcribed much of the Today interview.]
Lauer began his session with Kennedy, who was in his Senate office for the 7am half hour interview, by softly by asking for reaction to the news of Donald Rumsfeld's trip to Baghdad: "What do you make of this trip?...Does his trip help to repair the damage that's been done recently?"
Kennedy soon suggested: "This is just a continuation of disaster after disaster in terms of Iraq policy. We have gone from the most respected nation in the world in terms of human rights, we've lost that position. We are the most hated nation in the world because of this disastrous policy in the prisons." As Lauer began to ask about new prison images, Kennedy wound up by wildly suggesting: "We have seen the greatest fall from grace for the United States that we have seen in the history of this country."
Lauer sought no follow-up on this ahistorical notion (This scandal is worse than slavery? Lynchings? FDR turning back a ship full of Jews from Nazi Germany? Ted's brother abandoning those caught in the "Bay of Pigs" fiasco? The My Lai Massacre? Etc.), and instead moved on to why Kennedy wouldn't look at the new images the Pentagon is showing to Congress. From there, he relayed the Thursday New York Times scoop that CIA interrogators tried to scare top al-Qaeda operative Khalid Sheikh Mohammed into thinking that he might drown during questioning. Lauer asked if Americans are no better than al-Qaeda: "Do you feel that we risk blurring the line between ourselves and the people we're supposed to be protecting U.S. citizens from?" That's hardly a tough question to a liberal Democrat.
If Lauer had wanted to be a tough interviewer, he wouldn't have failed to ask Kennedy for clarifications or apologies for his Monday comments on the Senate floor about Abu Ghraib prison: "We now learn that Saddam's torture chambers reopened under new management -- U.S. management." On CNN's American Morning on Thursday, however, where Kennedy came aboard a bit after 9am EDT, CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien did ask Kennedy about his remarks: "There are some critics who say you went way over the line on that, and in fact, that was a woeful exaggeration. How do you respond to that?"
Kennedy replied: "That's a part of the Republican attack machine, and I reject it. What we should have done is knocked down that prison when we occupied Iraq in the first place, or changed it and altered it, and changed it into a community, a school, or a training education center."
Update. On Thursday's Good Morning America, ABC's Diane Sawyer raised how Private Lynndie England claimed that prisoner treatment tactics led to information which saved lives. The May 13 CyberAlert pointed out how, buried in a clip aired on Wednesday's CBS Evening News from England, one of the soldiers charged with mistreating Iraqi prisoners (she's the one in the photo smiling and pointing at a man's genitals), was her claim that their tactics "got the information, and some of it was reliable, some of it was future attacks on coalition forces." But, the CyberAlert noted, others had not picked up on her claim.
Sawyer did Thursday morning. After a 7:30am half hour interview segment with members of England's family and attorney, the MRC's Jessica Anderson noticed, Sawyer set up an interview with Democratic Senator Dick Durbin:
When Durbin rejected the idea that the ends justify the means and asked if we are "prepared to walk away from over a half a century commitment to the Geneva Conventions? I hope we aren't," Sawyer wondered: "Even if it saved the lives of American soldiers?"
For the May 13 CyberAlert item on how CBS handled England's contention: www.mediaresearch.org
On last Friday's episode of JAG, the CBS series revolving around a group of Navy lawyers, the mother of a Marine killed in Iraq is accosted by reporters who, she complains, "just want to know if I think the war is wrong now that I've lost my son. And I try to tell them how proud he was to serve his country and they just want to know if I think the President was lying about the reasons we went into Iraq." And when the uncle of the killed Marine wonders if his death was "worth it," a star of the show convincingly argues: "Fighting a new enemy now, sir. We're sending a new message: Attack us and we'll come after you. You can't hide. So was your nephew's death worth it, sir? I'll say this, it won't be if we don't stay the course."
The May 7 JAG opened with a mother, "Mrs. Smithfield," learning that her Marine son, "Joe," was killed in Iraq. As her daughter, "Susan," walks into her high school a group of reporters hound her with questions about her brother's death, such as: "How do you feel about it Susan?"
Mrs. Smithfield, the mother, reaches out to "Commander Harmon 'Harm' Rabb," a star of the show played by David James Elliott. As the two talk in her living room, she recounts for him how reporters have been bothering her (JAG did not have any scenes of this questioning): "The calls started the night the casualty assistance officer came to the house. A reporter named Sean Parker called at three o'clock in the morning. He said he wanted to send a news crew by for a live interview for the 7am news. I told him that I would give him a statement but that I needed a few hours to compose myself. He wanted to me catch off-guard, commander. He wanted tears. My grief is my own."
As the two sit on her sofa, she pleads for Harm's help: "I want you to help me find a way to talk to these reporters, commander. I want them to know Joe for the man he was and not the headline that they want him to be. I try to talk about Joe and they just, they just want to know if I think the war is wrong now that I've lost my son. And I try to tell them how proud he was to serve his country and they just want to know if I think the President was lying about the reasons we went into Iraq."
Harm subsequently visits reporter "Sean Parker" at fictional station WPZY-TV, channel 8, in Washington, DC. Parker makes it clear that he won't be satisfied with tears and memories: "A few canned sentiments doesn't mean diddly-squat. 'My son Joe was the most wonderful boy in the world, everyone loved him, he's proud to give his life for his country.' That's just not news."
As Parker spoke he points at a TV with scenes of destruction in Iraq, and this text on screen: "Iraqi Resistance Continues."
Later, outside of the TV station as Parker walks to a van, Harm offers him an F-14 flight if he agrees to do a story in which Mrs. Smithfield can talk about her son's life and dedication, not politics.
At the wake at the Smithfield home, a retired Marine General who is the uncle of the killed Marine, asks: "Tell me something Commander, was it worth it?"
After the burial at the cemetery, reporter Sean Parker approaches Mrs. Smithfield and she offers to tell him about her son.
The program then ends with a moving montage of home video scenes from the killed Marine's life, such as going to the prom and opening Christmas gifts, ending with him, in his Marine uniform, standing beside his beaming and proud mother.
For a look at David James Elliott, who plays Commander Harmon 'Harm' Rabb: www.cbs.com
His Internet Movie Database page: imdb.com
Reporter Sean Parker was played by actor J.C. MacKenzie, who I recall from his role as one of the lawyers on the short-lived, mid-'90s ABC series, Murder One. His bio: imdb.com
And for a picture of him: imdb.com
Another new episode of JAG airs tonight, Friday, on CBS at 9pm EDT/PDT, 8pm CDT/MDT.
Flashback to the February 10 CyberAlert: CBS dramas on Friday and Saturday night delivered contrasting takes on U.S. intervention in Iraq. On Friday's JAG, in which the U.S. is hauled before the International Criminal Court, a soldier decides that after he saw how Saddam Hussein treated the Iraqi people he realized that he had an "obligation" to be there. The Secretary of the Navy proclaims that "when we fight we don't fight for land or oil or money or to impose our will. We take up arms against violent men who threaten our freedom and the freedom of others." The next night on Hack, however, a soldier is distraught over killing an innocent family in Iraq. A woman who learns this charges: "Thank you Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld. Screwing up Iraqi lives and American lives." She lectures: "This war is about money. We're not freeing a people, we're opening a new market. It's the same old story, the poor man fighting the rich man's war...." www.mediaresearch.org
-- Brent Baker