2. CBS Skips Own Poll on Prison Photo Over-Coverage, NBC Takes Up
3. Networks Bury England's Claim that Tactic Elicited Valuable Info
4. CNN's Brown Worries Media Haven't Been Negative Enough on Iraq
5. NBC's Prime Time ER Takes Swipe at Bush, Gushes Over Molly Ivins
Is Peter Jennings spiking any al-Qaeda/bin Laden tie to the beheading of Nick Berg? On Wednesday night, ABC's World News Tonight ran a story about the terrorist for whom the videotape of the murder claims responsibility, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, but ABC neglected to make any mention of his role in al-Qaeda. In focusing on al-Zarqawi, ABC was just catching up with CBS and NBC. But on Tuesday night those two networks had explicitly linked him to al-Qaeda and/or bin Laden.
CBS's David Hawkins explained how "al-Zarqawi, thought to be leading al-Qaeda operatives in Iraq, is one of Osama bin Laden's top lieutenants." NBC anchor Tom Brokaw reported that the perpetrators "could be directly linked to Osama bin Laden" and Richard Engel explained: "The executioner, identified by the Web site where the video was released, as none other than Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Osama bin Laden's top commander in Iraq."
But that night, Tuesday, on ABC, however, Jennings avoided holding al-Zarqawi culpable as he referred to "several questions about why it was done and by whom" before reporter Brian Ross noted how "the men on the tape claim they are part of an al-Qaeda-connected cell run by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi" but, Ross cautioned, "U.S. officials tell ABC News tonight they cannot confirm that" responsibility for the murder.
Jumping ahead to Wednesday night, ABC dropped its doubts about al-Zarqawi's responsibility as Jennings asserted that al-Zarqawi, "who's claimed responsibility for Mr. Berg's murder, is one of the most wanted men in Iraq -- at least by the United States."
Reporter Jonathan Karl noted how the video was titled "Abu Musab al-Zarqawi slaughtering an American" and how "today, intelligence officials analyzing the video, say the people wielding the knife could easily be Zarqawi." But Karl didn't utter a syllable about al-Zarqawi's ties to al-Qaeda and bin Laden, which is especially odd since Brian Ross has done so on numerous previous occasions and a photo caption for a picture of al-Zarqawi, on the ABC News Web site, declares: "An undated photo of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian who is considered one of the top al Qaeda lieutenants still at large." That photo accompanies a Web version of a February 9 Martha Raddatz story about a memo al-Zarqawi wrote asking for al-Qaeda help in killing Americans inside Iraq. To see the photo caption: more.abcnews.go.com
Jonathan Karl began: "The video of Nick Berg's murder was entitled 'Abu Musab al-Zarqawi slaughtering an American.' Today, intelligence officials analyzing the video, say the people wielding the knife could easily be Zarqawi, a Jordanian who has already claimed credit for at least 25 terrorist attacks in Iraq. People who try to track Zarqawi say the message read by the murderers is certainly consistent with his message."
3:30pm EDT May 13:
After one night of leading with the beheading of Nick Berg, on Wednesday night the broadcast network evening newscasts returned to leading with multiple stories on the prisoner abuse topic, starting with Senators and Congressmen viewing more pictures and videos. CBS's Rather soon trumpeted how a new CBS News poll found "public support for the war in Iraq has fallen to its lowest level yet" and "the President's overall job approval rating in the latest poll is at a new low, 44 percent." But Rather skipped how the survey discovered that a majority don't want any more prisoner abuse pictures to be released and 49 percent believe the media have spent too much time on the prisoner abuse story, compared to a mere 6 percent who think it's been under-covered.
NBC, however, 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."
A quick flavor of the prisoner abuse hype Wednesday night. ABC's Pete Jennings touted: "After seeing the pictures, one Senator said, 'I don't know how the Hell these people got into our Army.'" Dan Rather teased: "Tonight, outrage as more shocking prisoner-abuse images are seen for the first time by members of Congress, but not the public."
Later, on the May 12 CBS Evening News, Rather relayed: "Public support for the war in Iraq has fallen to its lowest level yet. In a CBS News poll out tonight, 29 percent say the war is worth the cost in lives and money. Despite the Iraqi prisoner abuse revelations, more than half [53 percent] still say Defense Secretary Rumsfeld should not resign. Support for President Bush's handling of the overall war on terror, long his strong point, has fallen nine points in the past two weeks, to just over 50 percent [from 60 to 51 percent] The President's overall job approval rating in the latest poll is at a new low, 44 percent."
Rather ignored how his own poll found that the news media are out of step with much of the public. An excerpt from the summary of the CBS News poll conducted on Tuesday, without its usual New York Times partner, as summarized on CBSNews.com:
THE NEWS MEDIA: SHOULD THEY RELEASE THE PICTURES?
Nearly eight in ten Americans say they are following the story of abuse of Iraqi prisoners closely (with 42 percent following it very closely), but it appears many of them may wish the story had never been broadcast or reported.
A bare majority says the news media should have released the photographs of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, but 43 percent say they should not have. And when it comes to releasing the remaining pictures, just 37 percent say that should be done. 57 percent would rather the rest of the pictures never be released.
SHOULD THE MEDIA HAVE RELEASED THE ABUSE PHOTOS?
SHOULD THE MEDIA RELEASE THE REMAINING PICTURES?
There are partisan differences when it comes to opinions about the release of the photos (Republicans are more likely to oppose their release); there are also gender differences. Women are more likely than men to oppose the release of more photographs.
Nearly half the public think the news media has spent too much tine covering the story -- just about as many say the coverage has been about right or has been too little.
THE PRISONER ABUSE STORY: THE NEWS MEDIA HAS SPENT...
END of Excerpt
For the full rundown of the poll results: www.cbsnews.com
Tom Brokaw set up a story, as taken down by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "NBC News 'In Depth' tonight, high exposure for those photos of abused prisoners in Iraq. Have the media gone overboard? We have two reports tonight. In a moment, how the Arab media have been reporting this story. But first, the debate in this country over how much exposure is too much. NBC's David Gregory begins our 'In Depth' reporting tonight."
Gregory began with brief clips from newscasts: "The prison abuse story has not just led the news, it has dominated."
On Wednesday morning's Today, the MRC's Geoff Dickens noticed, following the same Cheney clip ("I'd say there are a lot of equities involved here besides just satisfying the desires of the press that want to have more pictures to print."), reporter Norah O'Donnell noted the political implication of the media's news judgment: "Now the widespread outrage over the prison abuse scandal has pushed opposition to the war to an all-time high and has pushed the President's approval ratings to an all-time low."
As for how much attention the ABC, CBS and NBC weekday evening newscasts paid to the prisoner-abuse matter, Andrew Tyndall, the source Gregory cited, pointed out in his report for the May 3-7 week: "The unraveling crisis led every newscast on each network. It was the year's second-biggest Story of the Week (122 min v 134) behind only last August's electricity blackout."
For a hint of the obsession, Tyndall's run down for the "Top Ten" stories for May 3-7, in minutes, on ABC's World News Tonight, the CBS Evening News and the NBC Nightly News: 1 Iraq: PoWs abused by US military guards: 122 2 Iraq: U.S.-led forces' combat continues: 21 3 2004: John Kerry campaign: 11 4 France terrorist cell: Moslem Brotherhood: 7 5 Unemployment: 5.6% rate in April: 7 6 Iraq: terrorists hold foreign workers hostage: 7 7 Prescription drug costs: discount card program: 6 8 Female sexual dysfunction, libido problems: 6 9 Pentagon contractor Halliburton profiled: 5 10 Madrid train bombs: Oregon lawyer detained: 4
The above rundown, which I received by e-mail from Tyndall, has not yet been posted on his Web site: tyndallreport.com
On Wednesday, the MRC released a Media Reality Check report by the MRC's Tim Graham, "Prison Abuse Trumps Saddam's Mass Graves? MRC Study: NBC Devoted Ten Times More Airtime to U.S. Humiliations Than Saddam's Mass Murders." See: www.mediaresearch.org
Buried in a clip aired on Wednesday's CBS Evening News from PFC Lynndie 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."
The comment came in her interview conducted in Fayetteville, North Carolina on Tuesday with a reporter from KCNC-TV, CBS's Denver affiliate. All the soundbites from it I saw elsewhere covered only her insistence that she was following orders from "the chain of command." ABC's World News Tonight on Wednesday, for instance, ran only this soundbite from her: "Told to stand there, give a thumbs-up, smile. Stand behind all of the naked Iraqis in the pyramid. Take the picture."
Dan Rather on Wednesday night set up a series of clips from her KCNC-TV session without highlighting her claim about how those detained provided valuable information which saved the lives of Americans. He explained how England "is now telling her story about what she says happened at that prison outside Baghdad. She spoke at length in an exclusive interview with reporter Brian Maas of CBS Denver affiliate KCNC-TV. England said the photos were taken with the knowledge, consent and approval of higher-ups."
After comments from England matching Rather's set up, CBS played this clip of England: "They were like keep it up, we're getting what we need. They'd come back and they'd look at the pictures, and they'd state, 'Oh, that's a good tactic, keep it up. That's working. This is working. Keep doing it. It's getting what we need."
And soon Rather ran this from England: "It got the information, and some of it was reliable, some of it was future attacks on coalition forces. We don't feel like we were doing things we weren't supposed to, because we were told to do them. We think everything was justified because we were instructed to do this and to do that."
* Web Update,
3:30pm EDT May 13:
CNN's Aaron Brown worried on Tuesday night that the media have been too favorable to the Bush administration and too inclined toward good news in covering the war in Iraq. Without posing an equivalent question from the right about over-coverage of prisoner-abuse or how Iraq war coverage has been too negative, he asked former CBS and NBC correspondent Marvin Kalb: "Do you think, I mean this is a criticism that we get a lot particularly from the Left, that we in the media generally have not been aggressive enough in reporting on bad news and that we have been too willing to accept the administration's message on good news?"
(On Monday night Brown did bring aboard National Review's Jonah Goldberg to expound on media irresponsibility in covering the prisoner-abuse matter. See: www.mediaresearch.org )
The MRC's Ken Shepherd provided a rundown of Brown's questions:
-- Brown: "At the time the strategy chosen to deal with Watergate went by the name of the 'modified limited hangout' option. We don't know the name of the one today but we do know we're pleased to see Mr. Kalb who has some thoughts on the subject. Welcome. Nice to have you with us tonight....I know you believe that we in the media were slow to come to the story. Will you give us this that until we saw the pictures, all of us saw the pictures, reporters, Congressmen, secretaries of defense, we didn't really understand the story?"
-- Brown: "Is it, do you think, I mean this is a criticism that we get a lot particularly from the Left, that we in the media generally have not been aggressive enough in reporting on bad news and that we have been too willing to accept the administration's message on good news?"
-- Brown: "Let me ask you what I fear really is the money question in all this today. Given the events of today, the execution of this young American, given the likelihood that more pictures are not simply out there, but are going to come out, ought we publish?"
Another NBC entertainment program has taken an election-year swipe at President Bush. Tonight (Thursday), ER, which revolves around doctors and nurses working in a Chicago hospital, concludes its tenth season on NBC, but last week two of the characters decided they could not name their baby "George" because it was "the name of the current occupant of the White House." Later in the show, another of the characters was thrilled to hear from a liberal Bush-hating columnist: "Molly Ivins gave a kick ass speech!"
[MRC Research Director Rich Noyes submitted this item for CyberAlert]
Also last week, on NBC's Today show, ER star Noah Wyle confessed that when the show debuted during the big congressional battle over the Clintons health care plan in 1994, "we all sort of altruistically hoped that the stories that we were telling were gonna affect some sort of positive change in the health care system." But, he complained, "what we've seen over the last ten years is a serious deterioration in the landscape of health care."
Hollywood's anti-Bush electioneering is not a new phenomenon. Last month, a front-page story in the New York Times acknowledged how characters in prime time "have progressed beyond the typical Hollywood knocks against Washington politicians to calling out the president directly or questioning his policies." Reporter Jim Rutenberg singled out two NBC shows as incorporating anti-Bush dialogue into their scripts: Whoopi, a ratings-challenged sit-com starring Whoopi Goldberg, and Law & Order, a crime drama that's currently TV's longest-running series.
In one episode of Whoopi, as documented at the time by CyberAlert, Goldberg delivered an anti-Bush screed when the President, played by a lookalike, appeared at the Manhattan hotel she owns to use the facilities. Goldberg's character complained: "I can't believe he's in there doing to my bathroom what he's done to the economy!"
For details on that episode, and to read excerpts from the New York Times story on how Hollywood's liberalism is finding it's way into prime time scripts, see the April 6 CyberAlert: www.mrc.org
A couple of weeks ago, Goldberg was one of a cavalcade of liberal celebrities who participated in the pro-abortion "March for Women's Lives" in Washington, D.C. In a speech broadcast on C-SPAN, Goldberg screamed "never again!" as she held up a coat hanger. She argued: "There is a war going on....It's a war on women. Access to family planning, sex education, abortion -- it's been attacked and restricted. Explain to me how if you do not have family planning you can bitch about abortion!" She also preposterously charged: "The government continues to slash and destroy critical family planning." For details: www.mrc.org
Now, back to the May 6 ER. On the season's penultimate episode last Thursday, "Dr. John Carter" (who is played by Wyle), was talking with his pregnant girlfriend "Makemba" (played by Thandie Newton), whom he met while he spent several months in Africa. The two are discussing baby names when Carter suggests the name "George." Makemba sneeringly laughs at the very idea. "George?" she asks. Carter inquires, "You don't like George?" Makemba is derisive. "Oh, please," she scoffs. Carter explains, "I like George. He's the name of the first President of the United States. The quiet Beatle." But Makemba retorts: "The current occupant of the White House" Carter admits, "Well, no name is perfect."
Towards the end of the same episode, the writers inserted an adulatory mention of Molly Ivins, the liberal syndicated columnist known for her venomous Bush-bashing. A number of the ER doctors and other hospital staffers are gathered at a graduation ceremony for the medical students. "Dr. Susan Lewis" (Sherry Stringfield) is sitting and is joined by "Dr. Luka Kovac" (Goran Visnjic). Kovac asks Lewis, "What did I miss?" Lewis, excited and smiling, tells him: "Molly Ivins gave a kick ass speech!" But Kovac, who is from Croatia, is unimpressed. "Who?" he asks.
For more about ER, including pictures and bios of the major cast members, check NBC.com's page for the show: www.nbc.com
On NBC's Today show on May 6, ER star Noah Wyle showed how he has become an open advocate when he appeared in a taped segment to insist that the United States does not provide adequate health care.
NBC entertainment reporter Jill Rappaport treated the make-believe doctor as some sort of an expert: "For ten years Noah Wyle has played Dr. John Carter on the award-winning drama ER. Now the actor is bringing the lessons learned from Chicago's fictional emergency room into real life." She added: "Wyle is the national spokesperson for Cover the Uninsured Week and hopes to draw attention to the growing number of Americans living without health care coverage."
An excerpt from that report, as caught by the MRC's Geoff Dickens:
Rappaport: "I know this is something that has been so important to you and really has taken up so much of your time and really tugged at your own heartstrings."
Rappaport: "That's hard to believe."
NBC then ran a piece of the ad featuring Wyle: "44 million people in America have no health insurance. That's 44 million people. 8 out of 10 are from working families. They're farmers, teachers, small business owners..."
Back to Rappaport: "That was just staggering to me, Noah, to think that 44 million Americans and 8.5 million children have no health care coverage."
For a picture and bio of Wylie: www.nbc.com
-- Brent Baker