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NBC Worries Hussein's Ouster Could Be "Setback" for Women -- 4/23/2003


1. NBC Worries Hussein's Ouster Could Be "Setback" for Women On the one hand, Saddam Hussein's "regime brutalized women" with "rape, torture, even beheadings," but on the up side, reporter Mike Taibbi contended on Tuesday's NBC Nightly News, Hussein was a feminist pioneer in the Middle East since "his secular government also gave women more rights than their counterparts in many other Islamic countries."

2. Jennings Stresses Greenspan's Doubts About Bush's "Huge Tax Cut" In briefly noting how President Bush has decided to nominate Alan Greenspan for another term as Fed Chairman, ABC's Peter Jennings managed on Tuesday night to squeeze in a reminder of how "not long along Mr. Greenspan said the President's plans for a huge tax cut would do little to stimulate the economy."

3. NPR Host Goes on Far-Left Rant Against Bush & Pro-War Media In a recent speech NPR anchor Bob Edwards showcased how NPR sees the world through a left-wing prism where the greatest threats during war are radio stations which play patriotic music and reporters who pose softball questions to the President. Edwards went into a tear about how present events remind him of "blacklisting" and the "Red scare." Edwards adopted the anti-war complaint about how "many Americans feel they're getting propaganda from the so-called embedded journalists in Iraq." He complained about how reporters at President Bush's press conference went way too easy on him. "The press didn't wait until the intern scandal to ask tough questions of Bill Clinton," Edwards insisted, "so why is the incumbent getting a pass?" He listed the questions he would have posed, virtually all from the far-left.


NBC Worries Hussein's Ouster Could Be
"Setback" for Women

On the one hand, Saddam Hussein's "regime brutalized women" with "rape, torture, even beheadings," but on the up side, reporter Mike Taibbi contended on Tuesday's NBC Nightly News, Hussein was a feminist pioneer in the Middle East since "his secular government also gave women more rights than their counterparts in many other Islamic countries."

Following the media habit in the early 1990s of lamenting the negative impact of the fall of communism on women because of the loss of the "safety net," including day care service and abortion access, NBC News seems to be first out of the box in fondly recalling the wonders Hussein bestowed upon women -- at least those he did not have raped, tortured or beheaded -- a feminist nirvana in the sand that could soon end thanks to Shiite religious fervor unleashed by the U.S. invasion.

Taibbi's story, based around the fears of a Western-dressed woman who runs an Iraqi telecommunications firm, also aired on MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann. Taibbi failed to address the wealthy woman's complicity or ties to the Ba'ath party, a connection or approval that must exist at some level given her high position and wealth.

NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw teased at the top of his April 22 program: "The women of Iraq: With Saddam out of power why are some worried a new government could set them back?"

Brokaw introduced the subsequent story, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "NBC News 'In Depth' tonight. In the aftermath of the war on Iraq, new anxieties for some of the country's educated, successful women. Although many may be glad to be rid of Saddam Hussein, many are also worried that a new government could set them back. In Depth now, here is NBC's Mike Taibbi."

From Baghdad, Dateline NBC regular Taibbi began: "When Baan Aziz [sp a guess] talks -- for example, about the war damage to her telecommunication company's new installations -- the Iraqi men she deals with listen very carefully. She has spoken with unbroken confidence to high-ranking officials in the Saddam regime and to hospital administrators now."
Baan Aziz, wearing a Western woman's suit, recalled in English: "They took me seriously, and they still take me here seriously."
Taibbi: "She has a decidedly Western flair -- a young, educated and successful Iraqi woman, but anxious, too. For while the end to the Saddam regime means a return to long-denied freedoms for all Iraqis, it may also mean at least a temporary rollback of some hard-won freedoms for millions of Iraqi women. This is why. [over video of Shiite rally] The loudest elements of Iraq's Shiite majority are pushing early and hard for the controlling voice in any new government, a government that could impose more conservative restrictions on how women live. While Saddam's regime brutalized women -- rape, torture, even beheadings -- his secular government also gave women more rights than their counterparts in many other Islamic countries."
Aziz: "We are different than Afghanistan, of course, because I think we are more open country."
Taibbi: "In fact, two in five university students here are women, nearly half the doctors, and Baan is among many women with key positions in business, health care and government. Women vote and only wear traditional dress -- the hijab and scarf -- if they choose to. She can't believe any of that will change."
Aziz: "They are people. You have the right way to approach, you will succeed. Whatever they are."
Taibbi: "Even as a woman?"
Aziz: "And I expect any, I mean, yeah, even."
Taibbi: "But university professor Saad al-Hassani, a Shiite who has studied his own culture, thinks Baan could be in for a rude awakening."
Professor Saad al-Hassani: "I think this lady actually would have a very difficult time, in case that we have a government dominated, of course, by the Islamic rule."
Taibbi, over video of a party in a very nice looking house: "But Baan, a modern woman who doesn't mind fudging her age -- around 30, she told us, though it slipped out at her birthday party later on that she's actually 32 -- told us the real issue isn't who's running the country, it is still just the old battle between the sexes."
Aziz: "It's not related to the Islam. This is not related. This is related, I think, to the men-"
Taibbi: "Just men and women?"
Aziz: "Yes."
Taibbi: "Mike Taibbi, NBC News, Baghdad."

For a bio of Taibbi, sans a photo however: www.msnbc.com

Taibbi's story reminded me of journalists in the early 1990s bemoaning the demise of communism and assuming worse lay ahead. Some of the winning and runners-up quotes in the MRC's "Bring Back the Iron Curtain Award" category in the Best Notable Quotables of 1990 and 1991:

+ "This is Marlboro country, southeastern Poland, a place where the transition from communism to capitalism is making more people more miserable every day....No lines at the shops now, but plenty at some of the first unemployment centers in a part of the world where socialism used to guarantee everybody a job." -- CBS News reporter Bert Quint on the April 11, 1990 CBS Evening News.

+ "Communism is being swept away, but so too is the social safety net it provided....Factories, previously kept alive only by edicts from Warsaw, are closing their doors, while institutions new to the East, soup kitchens and unemployment centers are opening theirs...Here are the ones who may profit from Poland's economic freedom. A few slick locals, but mostly Americans, Japanese, and other foreigners out to cash in on a new source of cheap labor." -- Reporter Bert Quint on CBS This Morning, May 9, 1990.

+ "These refugees have been told little about the realities of life in the West, including the fact that some people sleep on the street...They will soon learn that jobs are hard to find, consumer goods expensive, relatives in Albania will be missed. Many refugees, according to experts, will suffer from depression, and in some cases, drug abuse." -- ABC's Mike Lee on what's facing fleeing Albanians, July 14, 1990 World News Tonight.

+ "Ten months after the new Germany merged, women in the eastern sector are coming to the stunning realization that, in many ways, democracy has set them back 40 years." -- Los Angeles Times staff writer Tamara Jones, August 6, 1991.

+ "Inefficient as the old communist economy was, it did provide jobs of a sort for everybody and a steady, if meager, supply of basic goods at low, subsidized prices; Soviet citizens for more than 70 years were conditioned to expect that from their government. Says a Moscow worker: 'We had everything during [Leonid] Brezhnev's times. There was sausage in the stores. We could buy vodka. Things were normal.'" -- Time Associate Editor George J. Church, September 23, 1991.

+ "Like many other women in what used to be the German Democratic Republic, she worries that political liberation has cost her social and economic freedom...The kindergartens that cared for their children are becoming too expensive, and West Germany's more restrictive abortion laws threaten to deny many Eastern women a popular method of birth control....East Germany's child-care system helped the state indoctrinate its young, but also assured women in the East the freedom to pursue a career while raising a family." -- U.S. News & World Report special correspondent John Marks, July 1, 1991 news story.

+ "But most of his fellow countrymen do not share John Paul's concept of morality...many here expect John Paul to use his authority to support Church efforts to ban abortion, perhaps the country's principal means of birth control. And this, they say, could deprive them of a freedom of choice the communists never tried to take away from them." -- CBS News reporter Bert Quint on the June 1, 1991 Evening News.

As with those who survived communism, it may well be a tough adjustment for some to a new world of freedom, personal responsibility and the burden of making electoral choices, and those who want to establish a theocracy may pose a genuine threat, but in the end I'd bet that a few years from now virtually no one will look back upon the Hussein years as the good old days.

Jennings Stresses Greenspan's Doubts
About Bush's "Huge Tax Cut"

In briefly noting how President Bush has decided to nominate Alan Greenspan for another term as Fed Chairman, ABC's Peter Jennings managed on Tuesday night to squeeze in a reminder of how "not long along Mr. Greenspan said the President's plans for a huge tax cut would do little to stimulate the economy."

Jennings announced during the April 22 World News Tonight:
"President Bush said he's going nominate Alan Greenspan for another term as Chairman of the Federal reserve Board. He has been there since 1987. It was not thought to be a sure thing. Not long along Mr. Greenspan said the President's plans for a huge tax cut would do little to stimulate the economy. The Chairman had surgery today for an enlarged prostate."

NPR Host Goes on Far-Left Rant Against
Bush & Pro-War Media

The world through National Public Radio's left-wing prism where the greatest threats during war are radio stations which play patriotic music and reporters who pose softball questions to the President. A couple of weeks ago, in a speech reprinted in Sunday's Louisville Courier-Journal, NPR Morning Edition host Bob Edwards delivered quite the leftist rant.

Ruing media ownership concentration, citing efforts to boycott the Dixie Chicks and a radio station consultant's advice to clients to play patriotic music, Edwards went into a tear about how "we've had ugly periods in our history having to do with blacklisting of people our politicians didn't like," such as the "Red scares" in the 1950s when "creative people went to prison, had their careers ruined, their marriages broken up, and, yes, there were suicides, all because politicians found communism, or rather the fear of communism, a fruitful political issue." Edwards lectured: "You do not want to return to that era. Witchburning is an ugly chapter in our history. It should not be revived, even if it's good for business."

Apparently, in Edwards' world, there was nothing to "fear" about communism.

In a rich bit of irony, the NPR host castigated "the lack of diversity among broadcast owners." Edwards also adopted the standard anti-war complaint about how "many Americans feel they're getting propaganda from the so-called embedded journalists in Iraq" and regretted how a radio station posted links to a bunch of groups supporting the troops while only featuring "links to two peace groups."

Edwards complained about how reporters at President Bush's last press conference went way too easy on him. "The press didn't wait until the intern scandal to ask tough questions of Bill Clinton," Edwards insisted, "so why is the incumbent getting a pass?"

He then listed some of the questions he would have asked. None, no surprise, came from the right and virtually all came from the very far left. Two of Edwards' proposed questions: "Mr. President, you're asking for $76 billion to pay for this war, and you'll probably go back to Congress to ask for more. Given the fact that there'll be severe deficits for as long as you are President, why not let your tax cut slide?"

And Edwards would have lectured: "How did you expect to win international approval for your plan to invade Iraq when you have repeatedly told the rest of the world that the United States is ready to act alone in virtually every field, as witnessed by your withdrawal from international treaties and agreements having to do with the environment, war crimes and other matters that the rest of the world considers important?"

Edwards would come no less from the left when there is no war: "In more peaceful times I'd be likely to ask about labor laws, media ownership concentration, freedom of information, government secrecy, suspension of civil liberties, the environment, energy, corporate corruption and most assuredly health care reform."

Sounds like the listing of the issue topic areas on Web site of left-wing Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean.

Romenesko ( www.poynter.org ) on Tuesday highlighted the Louisville Courier-Journal's running of Edwards' comments. The paper explained: "Edwards was inducted on April 8 into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame. That same day, he gave the annual Joe Creason Lecture at the University of Kentucky. This article is adapted from that address."

Now, from the April 20 Louisville Courier-Journal, under the headline of "The Press and Freedom: Some Disturbing Trends," an excerpt from Edwards' diatribe:

....An individual or a corporation used to be limited to five stations nationally and no two in the same town. Today, a single company, Clear Channel, owns more than 1,250 stations across the country and is out buying more. One of the stations it owns is WHAS, the clear-channel, 50,000-watt boomer that I can hear in Washington when the atmospherics are right. I used to listen on my way to work at 1:30 in the morning, just to hear a little bit of home. But now the man doing the overnight program on WHAS is nowhere near Louisville, and he may never have stepped foot on Kentucky soil in his life. He's doing a program -- from somewhere -- for all the Clear Channel stations....

It's kind of a cruel, ironic joke. The rise of cable TV and the Internet were supposed to democratize the media and give us many voices and numerous points of view. Instead, market forces and deregulation have clobbered diversity. The networks and cable channels have the same owners -- Hollywood studios, mainly -- and the most popular Web sites for news are those of news organizations firmly established before the Web was spun.

We are currently a nation at war and the free flow of information and ideas is never more important than it is at times like these. But monopolies choke that flow, allowing only the information and ideas that facilitate that other flow -- the flow of dollars into their pockets.

As exhibit A, I give you the Dixie Chicks, one of the hottest musical acts in the country -- or at least they were until one of the Chicks, in a bit of anti-war fervor, said they were ashamed that the President is from Texas. The backlash against the Chicks for making that remark is fine if it comes from ex-fans who say they won't buy any more records by the Dixie Chicks. The marketplace is a respectable forum for freedom of expression. The Chicks have a right to their opinions. Music fans have a right to tell the chicks to go to hell and to boycott their concerts and refuse to buy their records. Free speech is never really free -- it always costs something. But here's what's wrong with this picture. The backlash against the Chicks is spearheaded not by fans, but by Clear Channel Radio, owner of 1,250 radio stations. Clear Channel is based in Texas. Clear Channel loves George W. Bush. Clear Channel would like the administration of George W. Bush to remove all remaining restrictions on the ownership of media properties. That is exactly what the Bush administration is considering....

But back to Clear Channel, which daily tells Bush and Powell that it loves them. Is Clear Channel's move on those Dixie Chicks an expression of patriotism or a business decision? Should Clear Channel have the right to ban the Chicks from its 1,250 stations? I think what individuals do is fine -- burn the CDs if you want. What industry does is another matter. Clear Channel can say the Dixie Chicks are tools of Saddam if it wants to, but it should not be allowed to kill the livelihood of any recording artist based on politics.

We've had ugly periods in our history having to do with blacklisting of people our politicians didn't like. I won't spend a lot of time telling you about what actors, directors, producers, journalists and others went through in the Red scares of the 1940s and '50s. Creative people went to prison, had their careers ruined, their marriages broken up, and, yes, there were suicides, all because politicians found communism, or rather the fear of communism, a fruitful political issue. Ladies and gentlemen, you do not want to return to that era. Witchburning is an ugly chapter in our history. It should not be revived, even if it's good for business.

Here's Exhibit B, taken from a story in The Washington Post of March 28. A Cleveland company called McVay Media describes itself as the largest radio consulting firm in the world. McVay developed a memo to its client stations advising them on how to use the war to their best business advantage. Called a "War Manual," the memo says the stations should "Get the following production pieces into the studio NOW...patriotic music that makes you cry, salute, get cold chills! Go for the emotion....Air the National Anthem at a specified time each day as long as the U.S.A. is at war."...

Thirty-one years ago, I worked at WTOP, the all-news station in Washington. According to the Post article, WTOP's Web site featured links to the following websites: Thankthetroops.com ("Ways to Help Troops," "Sign Up to Thank Military," "National Military Family Association," "U.S. Central Command"), the home pages of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard and the Department of Defense, the Stars and Stripes military newspaper, and email support to military. Another box read: "Support Our Troops. Send a greeting, a thank-you card or a donation." Balancing all that were links to two peace groups.

As for television, here's what the Post article had to say:

"The influential television news consulting firm Frank N. Magid Associates recently put it in even starker terms: Covering war protests may be harmful to a station's bottom line. In a survey released...on the eve of war, the firm found that war protests were the topic that tested lowest among 6,400 viewers across the nation. Magid says only 14 percent of respondents said TV news wasn't paying enough attention to anti-war demonstrations and peace activities; just 13 percent thought that in the event of war, the news should pay more attention to dissent."

Here again, the lack of diversity among broadcast owners is a factor in what information gets to the American public....

Many Americans feel they're getting propaganda from the so-called embedded journalists in Iraq. Without question, the embedding program has been a PR bonanza for the military....

Young people don't have to know all the particulars of the Iran/contra scandal, but they should know that there is an International Monetary Fund, and they should know what it does. Apparently, many do -- because the IMF can't have a meeting these days without hordes of U-2 fans storming the building demanding Third World debt forgiveness.

If the young are getting their news only from MTV, who can blame them? Where are the role models for something better? Well, apparently not among the White House press corps.

Did you see that news conference last month? First of all you should never miss a George W. Bush news conference because they are as rare as comet sightings. This President has been in office for more than two years and he's held exactly eight news conferences. At the same point in his presidency, George Bush the elder had held 58 news conferences. Of the current President's eight news conferences, only two have been in prime time.

But last month's news conference was remarkable for more than the fact that it happened at all. Reporters were ushered into the East Room in pairs -- summoned two-by-two, like the animals boarding Noah's Ark. Once the news conference got underway, the President did not recognize reporters who raised their hands. Instead, he called their names from a list prepared by news secretary Ari Fleischer, the man who told reporters after Sept. 11 that they should watch what they say. When CNN's John King attempted to ask a question, the President told him to wait because, the President said, "This is scripted." Then he called the next name on his list: John King. Then he taunted King for daring to ask a multi-part question. Among the names not called -- and perhaps not on Ari's Fleischer's list of approved questioners -- were the reporters from Time, The Washington Post, USA Today, Newsweek and Kentucky's own Helen Thomas, who for decades has had the distinction of asking the first question and then closing the news conference by saying, "Thank you, Mr. President," which became the title of her autobiography. But Helen is no longer a reporter. She's now a columnist, paid to give opinions, and one of her recent opinions is that George W. Bush "is the worst President ever." Clearly, she did not watch what she said. Another White House tradition, the follow-up question, also appears to be history.

We can fault the President and Fleischer for all that -- and I certainly do -- but they are only part of the dynamic. You can't hold a press conference without the press, yet President Bush nearly did. Where were they that night? Some of those whose names were called might have bothered to ask a decent question. With the nation about to enter a war that's decidedly unpopular everywhere but here, no one asked the hard questions. Instead, the President was asked if America should pray. He was asked if he worried in the wee small hours of the night. The first black reporter to get a chance to question the President since his decision to support a rollback of affirmative action asked him, "How is your faith guiding you?" One critic said this was the journalistic equivalent of, "Mr. President, you look great today. What's your secret?"

So, Bob, think you can do better? Well, yes, I do. So here's what I would ask the President of the United States if he were here tonight.

"Mr. President, you're asking for $76 billion to pay for this war, and you'll probably go back to Congress to ask for more. Given the fact that there'll be severe deficits for as long as you are President, why not let your tax cut slide?"

"You offered an attractive bribe to Turkey in exchange for permission to use Turkey as a base from which to invade Northern Iraq. Was the vote of the Turkish parliament to refuse the offer an example of the democracy you're trying to establish in the Middle East?"

"How did you expect to win international approval for your plan to invade Iraq when you have repeatedly told the rest of the world that the United States is ready to act alone in virtually every field, as witnessed by your withdrawal from international treaties and agreements having to do with the environment, war crimes and other matters that the rest of the world considers important?"

"Mr. President, at your news conference last month, you mentioned the Sept. 11 attacks no fewer than eight times, even though no one asked you about Sept. 11 -- they were asking you about the invasion of Iraq. The Sept. 11 attacks were carried out by al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden. Will you please elaborate on the connection, if any, between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, who, if his videotapes are to be believed, has about as much affinity for Saddam Hussein as you do?"

"Mr. President, you have spent billions of dollars on homeland security to see the nation's capital paralyzed by a North Carolina tobacco farmer driving his tractor onto the Mall. Did [Homeland Security] Secretary [Tom] Ridge miss a memo or two?"

"Does pre-emptive military action without provocation set a bad example for other countries who can claim actual provocation? India and Pakistan over Kashmir, for example. Greece and Turkey over Cyprus. South Korea, provoked almost daily by North Korea."

"And speaking of North Korea, Mr. President, who is the worse dictator -- Saddam Hussein or Kim Il Jong?"

"Kim is weeks away from turning North Korea into a nuclear power if he hasn't already done so. Saddam only dreams of becoming a nuclear power, so why is he a bigger priority than Kim? And why don't you send your so-called precision bombers to take out the one plant in North Korea that you know to be a potential source of nuclear weapons?"

"When I interviewed your wife, Mr. President, she said the best byproduct of ousting the Taliban from Afghanistan was the liberation of Afghan women. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told me the same thing when I asked him what the U.S. achieved in its war in Afghanistan. If the liberation of Arab women is so important to your administration, then why is the United States not invading Saudi Arabia?"

"Sir, would you say your policy of non-involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is working out? If so, for whom?"

"Is it possible that the war in Iraq will result in regime change in Great Britain?"

Well that's just a sampling of the questions I'd ask, though in more peaceful times I'd be likely to ask about labor laws, media ownership concentration, freedom of information, government secrecy, suspension of civil liberties, the environment, energy, corporate corruption and most assuredly health care reform.

Now why are the tough questions not being asked? Do journalists wearing their flag lapel pins on TV not want to appear unpatriotic in time of war? The answer is yes. Av Westin said it very well last month. Av Westin goes back to the glory days of network television news. He was a producer at CBS for 20 years and a producer at ABC for 21 more years. He said, "Since 9/11, the press has been watching the opinion polls almost as much as the administration, which explains why it has taken quite a while to assume the kind of normal adversarial relationship, much less the kind that was rampant during the Clinton years and the Nixon years." He added, "There is a considerable amount of self-censorship going on in terms of pushing government officials on certain topics. But I've always believed our job was to ask questions that need to be asked, regardless of official reaction or public opinion."

He's absolutely right. Being popular might be good for business at a time when newspapers are losing readers and TV networks are losing viewers. And the owners of today's media, who are business tycoons, not journalists, would like us to be good representatives of the corporate brands. But that is not our job. We are supposed to be surrogates for the public -- the eyes and ears of citizens who don't have the access we have....

The press didn't wait until the intern scandal to ask tough questions of Bill Clinton, so why is the incumbent getting a pass? The country deliberately decided not to have a king. We show the President some deference because of the office he holds. We call him "Mr. President." It is NPR policy never to refer to an incumbent President by last name only. He is "President Bush" or "Mr. Bush" -- but never just "Bush." Yet he is not a king. He is a citizen temporarily serving us, living in our house, drawing our pay, spending our money and acting in our name. We have the right and, yes, the duty, to expect him to perform at a high standard. If we don't do this, we're performing below the standard that should be expected of us....

END of Excerpt

For the entire, much longer, piece: www.courier-journal.com

For a bio and picture of Edwards: www.npr.org

On his letters page, Romenesko has posted a retort from WHAS Radio news anchor Chris Chandler. An excerpt:

....It's awfully rich for Mr. Edwards to condemn WHAS for carrying a syndicated overnight program, when his very own livelihood depends upon hundreds of local stations carrying his golden tones for several hours each morning, thereby displacing the very hometown personalities whose absence he otherwise decries....

Mr. Edwards' attack upon Clear Channel's supposed political leanings is, to use his words, a "cruel, ironic joke" -- coming from a man whose own network finally apologized in February for airing a report (an entire year earlier!) suggesting, with no evidence or law enforcment sources quoted, that anti-abortion activists had carried out the 2001 anthrax attacks. Apparently this brand of liberal reactionism is tolerated -- or even expected -- at NPR. But I feel quite confident in saying if any WHAS or Clear Channel newsman had carried on Mr. Edwards public diatribe against President Bush, which has now been delivered in both spoken and published form, he would be quickly and rightfully disciplined. If Edwards can deliver a speech like that and still expect to be taken seriously as an objective observer the next morning, somebody really should give him this message: those who live in government-subsidized glass houses really shouldn't be throwing stones.

END of Excerpt

For Chandler's letter in full: poynter.org

Kentuckians must be proud to know they gave both Edwards and Helen Thomas to the nation.

-- Brent Baker