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Nets Blame Stance on Iraq, Not Immigration, for McCain's Setbacks --7/11/2007


1. Nets Blame Stance on Iraq, Not Immigration, for McCain's Setbacks
Tuesday's CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News blamed Republican presidential candidate John McCain's reduced fundraising and low rank in the polls, which led two top advisers to leave the campaign, on McCain's view that U.S. troops must stay in Iraq -- not on how out of step he is with conservatives on the immigration bill he crafted with Ted Kennedy. CBS anchor Katie Couric declared: "No public figure has supported the President's Iraq policy more than Senator John McCain, and he's paid a heavy price for that. His presidential campaign is struggling and today, Jeff Greenfield reports, there was a big shakeup." Greenfield, at least, paired Couric's spin with the immigration issue: "Money woes are only part of the problem. His Iraq views are at odds with more and more in his own party and McCain's a sponsor of the dead for now immigration reform bill that has incensed many conservatives." Over on NBC, in a story about the political fight over whether to withdraw troops from Iraq, David Gregory framed McCain's Tuesday morning Senate floor comments around how his stance on Iraq is what has "undermined" his campaign: "Just back from Iraq, Senator John McCain, whose presidential campaign has been undermined by his support for the war, gave the President a big boost."

2. On Troop Withdrawal, Matt Lauer Demands: 'If Not Now, When?'
Opening Tuesday's Today show, NBC's Matt Lauer greeted viewers with the following question: "Good morning, if not now, when? The White House says it's not considering pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq right now but with sinking approval ratings and defections from his own party is it just a matter of time before the President changes course?" Then, teasing an interview with White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, Lauer all but declared defeat: "A new progress report out this week will find that Iraqi government officials have failed to meet any of the key benchmarks that were put in place as part of that surge. So how long can the President ignore calls to bring the troops home? We'll talk to White House press secretary Tony Snow about that coming up in a couple of minutes." In that interview, Lauer speculated about a change of course from Senator John McCain: "If a John McCain comes back and joins the ranks of some of those other key Republicans who say, 'It's time to rethink this strategy,' how big a blow is that to the President, considering how supportive John McCain has been to the strategy?" Of course, hours later, McCain reiterated his view that U.S. troops must remain in Iraq.

3. Olbermann Doubts Timing of Chertoff's 'Gut Feeling' on Terrorism
On Tuesday's Countdown, MSNBC host Keith Olbermann voiced his latest conspiracy theory regarding Bush administration officials politically timing the release of terror warnings or terrorism-related news to distract attention from stories embarrassing to the administration, as Olbermann seized on comments by Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff that he has a "gut feeling" that terrorists are more likely to strike during the summer. While interviewing Newsweek's Richard Wolffe, the Countdown host brought up his suspicions: "How about my gut feeling that Mr. Chertoff said this so that the lead story on the newscast on ABC would not be Iraq or Alberto Gonzales or that USA Today poll, but that it would be this, you know, 'gut feeling' of his, plus a vague sky-is-falling story about an al-Qaeda cell, which even the people in Homeland Security say is just nonsense?"

4. Stephanopoulos Gushes Over Kristin Gore's Novel
Kristin Gore, daughter of former Vice President Al Gore and author of a new political satire set in Washington, appeared on the Tuesday editions of Good Morning America and The Early Show. Stephanopoulos, a former top Clinton aide who worked in the same White House as Al Gore, conducted an extraordinarily cozy interview with the former Vice President's daughter. Apparently completely oblivious to any conflict of interest, he hyped "Sammy's House," calling it "very funny." The ABC anchor even joked with Kristin Gore about whether the main character, Sammy Joyce, was based on him. It was up to the ex-Vice President's daughter to point out the insular relationship between her family and the fill-in GMA host. After noting that she used to visit the White House regularly, Gore added, "You spent a lot of time there too." Stephanopoulos didn't respond to such comments. Instead, he gushed over the novelist: "If I was pitching this in Hollywood, and I've read most of the book, I would say it's 'Bridget Jones' meets 'Primary Colors.'" Gore: "Interesting. All right. I might use that line."


Nets Blame Stance on Iraq, Not Immigration,
for McCain's Setbacks

Tuesday's CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News blamed Republican presidential candidate John McCain's reduced fundraising and low rank in the polls, which led two top advisers to leave the campaign, on McCain's view that U.S. troops must stay in Iraq -- not on how out of step he is with conservatives on the immigration bill he crafted with Ted Kennedy. CBS anchor Katie Couric declared: "No public figure has supported the President's Iraq policy more than Senator John McCain, and he's paid a heavy price for that. His presidential campaign is struggling and today, Jeff Greenfield reports, there was a big shakeup." Greenfield, at least, paired Couric's spin with the immigration issue: "Money woes are only part of the problem. His Iraq views are at odds with more and more in his own party and McCain's a sponsor of the dead for now immigration reform bill that has incensed many conservatives."

Over on NBC, in a story about the political fight over whether to withdraw troops from Iraq, David Gregory framed McCain's Tuesday morning Senate floor comments around how his stance on Iraq is what has "undermined" his campaign: "Just back from Iraq, Senator John McCain, whose presidential campaign has been undermined by his support for the war, gave the President a big boost."

[This item was posted Tuesday night on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]

On ABC's World News, George Stephanopoulos refrained from blaming any policy view for the troubles facing the McCain campaign.

While McCain may be more outspoken than other GOP candidates in his persistence about the need to keep U.S. troops in Iraq, every Republican presidential candidate but Ron Paul has stuck with President Bush on Iraq.

A partial transcript of Gregory's July 10 NBC Nightly News story:

DAVID GREGORY: Today the White House tried to shore up support among Republicans, who have argued the U.S. cannot wait until September to move beyond the surge. Just back from Iraq, Senator John McCain, whose presidential campaign has been undermined by his support for the war, gave the President a big boost.
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN ON THE SENATE FLOOR: From what I saw and heard while there, I believe that our military, in cooperation with the Iraqi security forces, is making progress in a number of areas.
GREGORY: McCain quoted former Secretary of State and advisor to the Bush White House Henry Kissinger, who wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece today that an American withdrawal now would be a quote 'geopolitical calamity, spreading the war to neighboring countries.' Democrats, who will seek a vote on withdrawal this week, argue a pullout is the only way to force political reconciliation in Iraq....

On Troop Withdrawal, Matt Lauer Demands:
'If Not Now, When?'

Opening Tuesday's Today show, NBC's Matt Lauer greeted viewers with the following question: "Good morning, if not now, when? The White House says it's not considering pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq right now but with sinking approval ratings and defections from his own party is it just a matter of time before the President changes course?" Then, teasing an interview with White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, Lauer all but declared defeat: "A new progress report out this week will find that Iraqi government officials have failed to meet any of the key benchmarks that were put in place as part of that surge. So how long can the President ignore calls to bring the troops home? We'll talk to White House press secretary Tony Snow about that coming up in a couple of minutes." In that interview, Lauer speculated about a change of course from Senator John McCain: "If a John McCain comes back and joins the ranks of some of those other key Republicans who say, 'It's time to rethink this strategy,' how big a blow is that to the President, considering how supportive John McCain has been to the strategy?" Of course, hours later, McCain reiterated his view that U.S. troops must remain in Iraq. (See item #1 above)

[This item is adapted from a posting, by Geoff Dickens, on the MRC's NewsBusters blog: newsbusters.org ]

Ann Curry and Lauer previewed the first half hour:

Ann Curry: "Today marks the six month anniversary since the President announced a surge of nearly 30,000 troops into Iraq and Afghanistan."
Lauer: "You remember it was the President's attempt to gain control of a very unpopular war. On Monday, the White House said that a troop withdrawal was not in the cards right now. This, despite a steady drip of defections from members of his own party. And according to the Associated Press this morning, a new progress report out this week will find that Iraqi government officials have failed to meet any of the key benchmarks that were put in place as part of that surge. So how long can the President ignore calls to bring the troops home? We'll talk to White House press secretary Tony Snow about that coming up in a couple of minutes."

Right before the Snow interview, NBC's Andrea Mitchell, in her set-up piece, continued the drumbeat of defeat as she decided: "If there were any doubt about the surge it ended with the continuing death toll from Iraq. The country is weary of the war and angry, according to all polls...You can call it redeployment or phased withdrawal but the question no longer seems to be whether but when."

After the Mitchell piece it was time for Lauer to lay into Snow. While Snow insisted the surge had just begun and pointed out there were already successes, Lauer wasn't having any of it, as virtually all of his questions to the press secretary were geared towards getting the troops out of Iraq. The following is the full transcript of the exchange as it occurred on the July 10th Today show:

Matt Lauer: "Tony Snow is the White House press secretary. Good to see you, good morning."
Tony Snow: "Good morning, Matt."
Lauer: "There was a front page story in the New York Times, yesterday, that basically said this, that there is intense debate going on, right now, within the White House over ideas of bringing the troops home or some troops home from Iraq right now. You were asked about it at your briefing yesterday and you said the following, quote, 'There is no debate right now on withdrawing forces, right now, from Iraq,' end quote. And I'm curious as to why. Why isn't there debate at the White House right now on every possible scenario on an almost daily basis?"
Snow: "Well there are debates, Matt, there are a lot of discussions about everything but what's interesting is we are now two weeks into having the surge operational. The first thing we want to see is whether it is working. Just a couple of months ago, Congress passed a law, said, 'Okay we're gonna approve of a surge. In July we want a snapshot at the starting line. We're at the starting line, right now, Matt. And in September we want another snapshot that gives us a sense of whether we're succeeding, how we're succeeding and asks for recommendations on what to do next."
Lauer: "Yeah but Tony, this isn't just members of the press who are, who are running off saying this isn't working. You've got some stalwarts of the Republican Party, Voinovich, Domenici, Olympia Snowe, Richard Lugar, saying, 'No, Mr. President it's time, right now, not in September, right now to think about changing the plan.' Why are they wrong?"
Snow: "Actually, actually. Well I think you're misconstruing some of their comments. What you had with Richard Lugar is somebody who says, 'Look we,' I think Richard Lugar first says, to the idea of withdrawing right away, 'No.' To the idea of withdrawing finances-'"
Lauer: "Not right away, but-"
Snow: "-he says no. He talks about the importance of getting into the position that we've been talking about since January. I think what's frustrating for us, Matt, is that we have been talking since January of trying to get American forces into a position that's a lot like what Andrea Mitchell is describing and all of a sudden people are saying, 'It's a new, different way of looking at things!' No, it's not. It's what we've been talking about for a very long time."
Lauer: "But what are the signs, Tony?"
Snow: "And all of a sudden it's getting spun up into, suddenly, a radical shift. We need to give our forces time to show what they're doing."
Lauer: "But what are the signs we're getting to that position?"
Snow: "Well some of the signs are pretty clear. Number one, you take a look at Anbar province and, by the way, I'd encourage people, also, to listen the briefings that come out of Baghdad. Because what you're hearing is that, for instance, Sunni tribal chiefs have decided they've had it with al Qaeda in Iraq and they have been fighting, effectively, against them. That is now beginning to happen in other provinces as well. We are starting to see within Baghdad, the government asserting its own might and leverage against the Shia militias. In other words, the kinds of stuff that we've been talking about, is beginning to take place. Is it perfect? Of course not. We are at the very beginning stages of an effort to try to create the space so the Iraqis can stand up for themselves."
Lauer: "When the President, six months ago, announced this surge in, in, in addition to the surge of troops there were these benchmarks. They've been talked about, actually, for years with the Iraqi government. But that they had to meet certain benchmarks so that the U.S. commitment would continue. An AP report this morning says quote, 'A progress report on Iraq will conclude that the U.S. backed government in Baghdad has not met any of its targets for political, economic and other reforms.' Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq said in an interview in the New York Times this morning, 'The longer I'm here, the more I'm persuaded Iraq cannot be analyzed by these kind of discrete benchmarks.' So as we start to hear from the President on Sunday, is that an attempt by Mr. Crocker, Ambassador Crocker, to downplay or lower expectations on those benchmarks?"
Snow: "No, because what you're going to see, Matt, is that the Iraqis and the U.S. forces have met some benchmarks and they haven't met others, at the starting point here. I think what Ambassador Crocker say is he's gonna try to find even more nuanced ways of trying to measure success. But, on the other hand, you know, the impression from the AP story is, all is doom and failure. It's not the case and when people see the report, they'll figure that out."
Lauer: "John McCain, just got back from Iraq. He's set to speak about what he saw there in terms of the surge, I think on the floor of the Senate, maybe tomorrow, a speech later in the week. Have you had any advance notice from John McCain or his people as to what he's gonna say about the surge?"
Snow: "No, don't know what he's gonna say."
Lauer: "Are you curious about it?"
Snow: "Of course. We were curious, we were curious when Joe Lieberman came back and said it was a success. We were curious when he heard Jack Reed say that he saw some signs of success, even though he takes a different view of the matter than we do. What's interesting, Matt, is that people who have come back recently will, at least, concede that some of the military operations have been proving successful. They also know we got a long way to go."
Lauer: "If, if and you hate hypotheticals, I know, so hate me later. But, but, if a John McCain comes back and joins the ranks of some of those other key Republicans who say, 'It's time to rethink this strategy,' how big a blow is that to the President, considering how supportive John McCain has been to the strategy?"
Snow: "You've got to understand that for the President, although politics is clearly important in building public support, succeeding is the most important thing of all. The, if we fail in Iraq and this is something Ryan Crocker was pointing out as well. If you have failure in Iraq you are gonna see consequences that are gonna be extraordinarily dire in the region, throughout the world and for the United States."
Lauer: "And real quickly, Tony, about a year ago there was a lot of debate and to be honest we found ourselves in the middle of it here at NBC, over what to call what's going on the ground in Iraq right now. We called it a civil war, you disagreed with me on the air. What's it called now? Is it a civil war or something else?"
Snow: "I don't think it's a civil war. Again, what you're not seeing, is you're not seeing Sunni, Shia armies massing up. As Baker-Hamilton said, in some cases you have things that appear to have characteristics of a civil war. But the sectarian violence has gone down in recent months."
Lauer: "Tony Snow at the White House. Tony, thanks for your time this morning."
Snow: "Thanks Matt."

Olbermann Doubts Timing of Chertoff's
'Gut Feeling' on Terrorism

On Tuesday's Countdown, MSNBC host Keith Olbermann voiced his latest conspiracy theory regarding Bush administration officials politically timing the release of terror warnings or terrorism-related news to distract attention from stories embarrassing to the administration, as Olbermann seized on comments by Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff that he has a "gut feeling" that terrorists are more likely to strike during the summer. While interviewing Newsweek's Richard Wolffe, the Countdown host brought up his suspicions: "How about my gut feeling that Mr. Chertoff said this so that the lead story on the newscast on ABC would not be Iraq or Alberto Gonzales or that USA Today poll, but that it would be this, you know, 'gut feeling' of his, plus a vague sky-is-falling story about an al-Qaeda cell, which even the people in Homeland Security say is just nonsense?"

Wolffe responded that Chertoff may be trying to "cover his rear end" for not having more concrete intelligence on terrorism, suggesting America is not getting enough results for the money that is spent for homeland security. Olbermann concluded: "Yeah, the 'gut feeling' has been described as 'breaking news.' Actually, a 'gut feeling' would be closer to 'breaking wind.'"

[This item, by Brad Wilmouth, was posted Tuesday night on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]

Below is a complete transcript of the exchange from the Tuesday, July 10 Countdown on MSNBC:

KEITH OLBERMANN: Lastly, Richard, just as the President is trying to defend his strategy in Iraq and invoking people's grandchildren and children and their security, the Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff reveals this "gut feeling" about an increased risk of terrorist activity here this summer. His "gut feeling." How about my gut feeling that Mr. Chertoff said this so that the lead story on the newscast on ABC would not be Iraq or Alberto Gonzales or that USA Today poll, but that it would be this, you know, "gut feeling" of his, plus a vague sky-is-falling story about an al-Qaeda cell, which even the people in Homeland Security say is just nonsense? And this stuff about Mr. Chertoff's guess, am I, is my gut reaction here better than his or as worthwhile as his?
RICHARD WOLFFE, Newsweek: There may be another explanation, which is that he's trying to cover his rear end because he doesn't have real intelligence about what these people are up to, but they're just a vague feeling. Look, we've gone from color coded warnings to the intestinal rumblings of Michael Chertoff. It's amazing what you get for all those billions that they spend on Homeland Security.
OLBERMANN: Yeah, the "gut feeling" has been described as "breaking news." Actually, a "gut feeling" would be closer to "breaking wind."

Stephanopoulos Gushes Over Kristin Gore's
Novel

Kristin Gore, daughter of former Vice President Al Gore and author of a new political satire set in Washington, appeared on the Tuesday editions of Good Morning America and The Early Show. Stephanopoulos, a former top Clinton aide who worked in the same White House as Al Gore, conducted an extraordinarily cozy interview with the former Vice President's daughter. Apparently completely oblivious to any conflict of interest, he hyped "Sammy's House," calling it "very funny." The ABC anchor even joked with Kristin Gore about whether the main character, Sammy Joyce, was based on him. It was up to the ex-Vice President's daughter to point out the insular relationship between her family and the fill-in GMA host. After noting that she used to visit the White House regularly, Gore added, "You spent a lot of time there too." Stephanopoulos didn't respond to such comments. Instead, he gushed over the novelist: "If I was pitching this in Hollywood, and I've read most of the book, I would say it's 'Bridget Jones' meets 'Primary Colors.'" Gore: "Interesting. All right. I might use that line."

Both shows only gingerly addressed the subject of Kristin's brother, Albert Gore III., and his arrest for suspected drug possession after being pulled over last week in California. GMA guest host George Stephanopoulos misleadingly characterized the incident as getting "in trouble speeding." Early Show host Harry Smith didn't mention the drug angle at all.

Stephanopoulos only lightly broached the subject: "It seems like a lot of this is happening all at once for your family. Your dad is doing a concert. You're promoting this book and your brother Al last week gets in trouble speeding. Do you think it was especially difficult for him now given everything else that was going on?"
Gore: "I love him more than anything and I'm not going to really talk any -- or speculate about him other than that because, as you can imagine, we're dealing with it privately. You know, it's not something to go into on national television. But he's doing okay."

Over on CBS and The Early Show, Harry Smith proved to be similarly cautious: "I have a very serious question because when your brother was arrested, I think a lot of people around the country just felt great concern for your family. How's he doing?"
Gore: "He's doing okay. Thank you for the question. And I appreciate the concern. I love him, you know, more than anything. He's getting treatment. He's going to be okay."

By way of comparison, Jenna Bush, daughter of President George W. Bush, has a book debuting in October. It will be interesting to see if the media show such restraint and respect over her past indiscretions.

[This item is adapted from a Tuesday posting, by Scott Whitlock, on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]

A transcript of the Good Morning America segment, which aired at 8:43am on July 10:

George Stephanopoulos: "A book about Washington politics and health care policy sounds a lot like home work, I know. But not if the writer is Kristin Gore. She's the daughter of Vice President Al Gore, of course, and her new book, 'Sammy's House,' is really funny. It's an insiders look at the corridors of power. Kristin knows her way around the White House. She knows her way around Washington and she stopped by here yesterday. [pre recorded interview begins.] Okay, so the first rule of writing is write what you know. And one thing that's clear in 'Sammy's House' is that this is a world you know."
Kristin Gore: "It's true. I grew up, I didn't really have any choice, really. You know, my dad was elected to Congress the first couple months before I was born. And then, obviously we spent a lot of time in the White House, eight years. You spent a lot of time there too. So, I wanted to show readers what it was liked to be plopped down in that, in a fictional, fun way."
Stephanopoulos: "If I was pitching this in Hollywood, and I've read most of the book, I would say it's 'Bridget Jones' meets 'Primary Colors.'"
Gore: "Interesting. All right. I might use that line."
Stephanopoulos: "But Sammy Joyce does have a 'Bridget Jones' quality. She's very smart, very idealistic, but also she screws up a lot."
Gore: "Right. She's messy. She's clumsy. You know, like a lot of people, she's good at what she does, but doesn't have the rest of her life together."
Stephanopoulos: "I think a lot of people are going to be going through this and looking for, okay, who's real here? Who's this based on? And there are people, you can look at one of the characters and say there's some Bill Clinton there. There's some George W. Bush there. There's even -- The Vice President often sounds an awful lot like Al Gore."
Gore: "That's funny. Have you recognized yourself yet? 'Cause I should come clean and let you know you're Sammy."
Stephanopoulos: "I think you might have made me a woman. Yeah. [Laughs]"
Gore: "You're Sammy. You're the main character. And I took some liberties."
Stephanopoulos: "Well, the screwing up part, you got that right."
Gore: "But you're the title character. So, I'm glad I was able to tell you."
Stephanopoulos: "I am flattered. I want to get some of the royalties when the movie comes out."
Gore: "Sure. We'll write you in there."
Stephanopoulos: "But, you know, your family did have a tough time in 2000 after the 2000 race and I was wondering how long it took you to find the funny in politics again?"
Gore: "Sure. Well, this book was actually a part of that for me, you know? It took a little bit of a distance and some perspective on that because it was a disillusioning time. But this helped me reconnect in a happy, fun way with a lot of the good in that world."
Stephanopoulos: "So how sick are you of people asking is your dad going to run for president?"
Gore: "I haven't, no one's asked me that. That never comes up. That's amazing. You're really on the cutting edge of the story. No, you know, it's something that we're used to hearing and the answer hasn't changed. He's not a candidate."
Stephanopoulos: "Do people lobby you?"
Gore: "They do. Yeah. They do. And I always appreciate, of course, where the sentiment is coming from, you know, but I don't have a different answer for them."
Stephanopoulos: "Your dad seemed to be on top of the world last weekend at the Live Earth concert and I know that you went as well. But how do you respond to the critics who say there was an element of hypocrisy in the concerts? All of these rock stars flying private jets to give a concert about global warming."
Gore: "Right. Well, you know, you sort of, that comes with the territory in terms of what the cynics, the half glass [sic] empty sort of take on anything. The real point was to raise awareness. And there was so much hope and energy in the concerts that were really uplifting and I think are going to do a world of good for spreading the word and getting a good response to, kind of, really try to come together and solve this crisis that we need to."
Stephanopoulos: "It seems like a lot of this is happening all at once for your family. Your dad is doing a concert. You're promoting this book and your brother Al last week gets in trouble speeding. Do you think it was especially difficult for him now given everything else that was going on?"
Gore: "I love him more than anything and I'm not going to really talk any -- or speculate about him other than that because, as you can imagine, we're dealing with it privately. You know, it's not something to go into on national television. But he's doing okay."
Stephanopoulos: "So, what' next for Sammy Joyce?"
ABC Graphic: "Sammy's House is published by Hyperion. Hyperion and ABC are owned by Disney"
Gore: "Well, I'm really happy with where I left her at the end of this book. And so, I think, you know, I'm working on the screenplay version of the first one and so she'll be coming to the big screen, but I think this is it for her in terms of her novel life."
Stephanopoulos: "Kristin, thanks very much."
Gore: "Thank you."
Stephanopoulos: "It is not it for Kristin Gore. You can read an excerpt from Sammy's House on ABCNews.com."

-- Brent Baker