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Nets Obsess Over Delay in Disclosure of Cheney's Hunting Accident --2/14/2006


1. Nets Obsess Over Delay in Disclosure of Cheney's Hunting Accident
On Monday night, both the NBC Nightly News and the CBS Evening News, led with Vice President Cheney's accidental shooting of a hunting companion, treating it as the most important news of the day as they focused on journalistic upset with how the late Saturday afternoon shooting wasn't disclosed until noontime Sunday -- and then to a local reporter instead of to a member of the White House press corps. "What took so long?" anchor Brian Williams demanded as he teased the NBC Nightly News from Torino. "Tonight, the White House under fire over the Vice President's hunting accident." NBC reporter David Gregory, a prime antagonist at Monday's White House press briefing, complained: "The Vice President's office would only confirm the story when asked about it some 18 hours after the incident occurred. At today's often contentious press briefing, the question remained: Why did the Vice President sit on this information?" CBS's Jim Axelrod marveled, "Think about it: The Vice President of the United States shoots someone, and the general public doesn't find out for 21 hours. Now that's the recipe for an uproar." Axelrod also found it remarkable that for "two and a half hours...no one told the President Mr. Cheney had shot someone." ABC's George Stephanopoulos suggested the shooting "brings up other questions where the White House's credibility has been called into question in the past."

2. GMA Focuses on Delay, Time's Cooper Tells Joke w/ Political Edge
The morning shows on Monday jumped on the Cheney shooting with ABC's Charles Gibson ridiculously citing "the growing political fallout" from it and Time magazine's Matthew Cooper helpfully offering up a joke about it with a political edge about Cheney's avoidance of Vietnam military service. On Good Morning America, Gibson demanded: "Why didn't the White House tell everyone when this accident happened, why did they wait so long and did that make a bad situation even worse?" ABC reporter Jessica Yellin fretted about how "it took the Vice President's office nearly 24 hours to go public with news of the shooting. That delay has prompted some speculation online and on talk radio that perhaps Mr. Cheney was hoping to cover-up the incident." Over on CBS's Early Show, Cooper speculated about potential jokes, such as, how "he might have had better aim if he'd served in Vietnam."

3. ABC and CNN Pound Away at Townsend Over Timing of Thwarted Attack
Catching up with Friday morning coverage of President Bush's Thursday disclosure about a thwarted terrorist plan to destroy a Los Angeles office tower, as they did Thursday night, most of the networks were more concerned with the timing than the substance of Bush's revelation. The exception: CBS's Harry Smith. ABC's Robin Roberts insisted, "And the question this morning: Is the White House playing politics with the war on terror?" GMA fill-in co-anchor Bill Ritter devoted every question in his interview, with White House Homeland Security advisor Frances Townsend, to the timing, even running Senator Clinton's claim, made the day before the Bush speech, that he was playing the "fear car." CNN's Miles O'Brien also showcased Clinton and pounded away at Townsend over the LA Mayor's claim he was caught unaware by the Bush speech and how warrant-less wiretaps were not needed to prevent the attack. O'Brien even suggested that "in talking about thwarted plots, does the President, is he attempting to shift our attention away from" how Osama bin Laden is still at large?

4. From Letterman's Late Show: "Top Ten Dick Cheney Excuses"
Letterman's "Top Ten Dick Cheney Excuses."


Nets Obsess Over Delay in Disclosure
of Cheney's Hunting Accident

On Monday night, both the NBC Nightly News and the CBS Evening News, led with Vice President Cheney's accidental shooting of a hunting companion, treating it as the most important news of the day as they focused on journalistic upset with how the late Saturday afternoon shooting wasn't disclosed until noontime Sunday -- and then to a local reporter instead of to a member of the White House press corps. "What took so long?" anchor Brian Williams demanded as he teased the NBC Nightly News from Torino. "Tonight, the White House under fire over the Vice President's hunting accident." Williams soon echoed his earlier demand: "Tonight, what happened and why didn't the public learn about the accident sooner?" NBC reporter David Gregory, a prime antagonist at Monday's White House press briefing, complained: "The Vice President's office would only confirm the story when asked about it some 18 hours after the incident occurred. At today's often contentious press briefing, the question remained: Why did the Vice President sit on this information?" Gregory ended by asserting: "Another serious question tonight, of course: Did the Vice President follow hunting safety standards?"

Anchor Bob Schieffer applied an historic clarion call as he teased the CBS Evening News: "It was the shot heard around the world, or at least around the country. Vice President Cheney wounds a companion in a hunting accident..." Jim Axelrod marveled, "Think about it: The Vice President of the United States shoots someone, and the general public doesn't find out for 21 hours. Now that's the recipe for an uproar." Axelrod also found it remarkable that for "two and a half hours...no one told the President Mr. Cheney had shot someone." ABC's George Stephanopoulos suggested the shooting "could become just a metaphor. You know, you're already seeing the jokes about competence, the gang who couldn't shoot straight. It brings up other questions where the White House's credibility has been called into question in the past."

[This item was posted Monday night on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org. To post your comments, go to: newsbusters.org ]

Transcripts of the February 13 ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscast coverage, assembled with the help of the MRC's Brad Wilmouth:

# NBC Nightly News. Brian Williams, in opening teaser: "What took so long? Tonight, the White House under fire over the Vice President's hunting accident."
NBC's David Gregory, at Monday's White House press briefing: "Why is it that it took so long for the President, for you, for anybody else to know that the Vice President accidentally shot somebody?"
Williams: "Tonight, what happened and why didn't the public learn about the accident sooner?"

Williams opened his newscast: "Good evening. When people first heard about what is again our lead story here tonight, it was greeted with absolute disbelief. Many have called it a plotline right out of Saturday Night Live. The truth is, it's a serious matter. And there's a lot of information we still don't know about what happened on a private Texas ranch on Saturday when Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot a member of his hunting party. It's believed to be the first time since Aaron Burr that a sitting Vice President has shot another man. That shooting was intentional, this incident was not. Tonight, the questions mostly have to do with why it took so long for word to get out that a man had been wounded by a shot fired by the Vice President. We begin our coverage here tonight with NBC's David Gregory at the White House. David, good evening."

David Gregory: "Good evening, Brian, and tonight the White House is on the defensive, trying to explain exactly how it is that the Vice President accidentally shot someone, and trying to explain why the Vice President decided to wait so long before he notified anyone. Tonight, Harry Whittington, the 78-year-old lawyer and prominent Republican caught in Mr. Cheney's gunfire, remains in a Texas hospital in stable condition. The accident happened Saturday evening on the 50,000-acre Armstrong Ranch in south Texas, where the Vice President, an avid hunter known to be a good shot, has hunted before. While hunting quail, witnesses said, Mr. Whittington broke from the group to look for a downed bird in tall grass. Katharine Armstrong, the ranch owner, was watching from a nearby vehicle when Whittington rejoined the hunting party."
Katharine Armstrong, ranch owner: "Harry did not tell them that he was going to leave the area where he was looking for the bird and join them in the line. Mr. Whittington was in the line of fire and got peppered by the BB's that are in shotgun shells."
Gregory: "But at the White House today, the focus quickly shifted from what happened to who knew about it and when."
Unidentified male reporter, at the White House press briefing: "You've got to clarify the timeline, Scott. That doesn't make any sense."
Unidentified female reporter: "When did the President know that the Vice President was the shooter? What time?"
Scott McClellan: "Again, there's additional information coming in that night."
Gregory: "The accident occurred at approximately 5:30pm Saturday. That night after 8pm, the President first learned from Deputy Chief-of-Staff Karl Rove that the Vice President was the one to shoot the fellow hunter. Sunday morning around 8am, Mr. Cheney was interviewed by the Kenedy County sheriff's office. At some point, officials say, Mr. Cheney also spoke with Katharine Armstrong, the ranch owner, telling her to publicly disclose what happened."
McClellan: "She saw what occurred, and she called her local paper to provide those facts to the local paper."
Gregory: "The Corpus Christi Caller Times reported Sunday that the Vice President's office would only confirm the story when asked about it some 18 hours after the incident occurred. At today's often contentious press briefing, the question remained: Why did the Vice President sit on this information?"
McClellan: "The very first priority was making sure Mr. Whittington was getting the medical care, and that's where all efforts were focused."
Gregory: "This was a serious accident but quickly became fodder for banner headlines and late-night comments. Here's a sample from the upcoming Tonight Show."
Jay Leno: "I guess the guy's going to be okay, but when the ambulance got there, out of force of habit, they put Cheney on the stretcher. He's going, 'No, the other guy! The other guy!'"
Gregory: "Another serious question tonight, of course: Did the Vice President follow hunting safety standards? Some experts we spoke to today wouldn't judge, not being there. But one expert added the following, saying, 'When you take the gun into your hand, you are responsible for your safety and everyone around you.'"

Brian Williams then introduced excerpts from hostile reporters at Monday's White House press briefing:
"And as David knows firsthand, today's press briefing at the White House got rough, and reporters took on White House spokesman Scott McClellan. Hear now of today's heated back-and-forth."
Scott McClellan: "This was handled by the Vice President's office. The Vice President thought that Mrs. Armstrong should be the first one to get that information out since she was an eyewitness."
David Gregory: "The Vice President of the United States accidentally shoots a man, and he feels that it's appropriate for a ranch owner who had witnessed this to tell the local Corpus Christi newspaper and not the White House press corps at large or notify the public in a national way?"
McClellan: "Well, I think we all know that once it is made public, then it's going to be news, and all of you are going to be seeking that information. And the Vice President's office was ready to provide additional information."
Jim Axelrod, CBS News: "Is it appropriate for a private citizen to be the person to disseminate the information that the Vice President of the United States has shot someone?"
McClellan: "That's one way to provide information to the public. The Vice President's office worked with her, I should say the Vice President, the Vice President spoke with her directly and agreed that she should make it public, and that they would provide additional information."
Williams, back live: "White House spokesman Scott McClellan from today's very contentious briefing."


# CBS Evening News. Bob Schieffer, in opening teaser: "Good evening. I am Bob Schieffer. It was the shot heard around the world, or at least around the country. Vice President Cheney wounds a companion in a hunting accident. It happened Saturday, but the questions were still being asked today from south Texas to the White House. We start there tonight, and then we'll have these stories."

Schieffer led his newscast: "The question was being asked at gas stations, in offices, restaurants, all across America today, and the question was: Did I hear that right? The Vice President shot someone? Well, by now you know the answer, incredibly, is yes. And by every account, it was an accident, and yes, the victim is recovering very well. But that's only part of it. So we'll start at the beginning of this story tonight with Lee Cowan in south Texas."
Lee Cowan: "The man who found himself at the wrong end of the Vice President's 28-gauge shotgun is up and joking with hospital visitors tonight. Doctors say 78-year-old Harold Whittington is making a speedy recovery, but he will likely walk out of the hospital with most of the bird shot the Vice President gave him."
Dr. David Blanchard, Emergency Services Director: "And to go ahead and to take each and every BB or pellet out, sometimes the treatment is worse than the affliction. So many times we'll just leave them be."
Cowan: "The shooting happened late Saturday on a ranch some 90 miles south of Corpus Christi, Texas. Witnesses say Mr. Cheney, an experienced bird hunter this time out for quail, had walked ahead and didn't notice that Whittington had come up behind him in the brush, failing to announce his presence."
Katharine Armstrong, ranch owner: "A bird flushed. The Vice President took aim at the bird and shot, and unfortunately Mr. Whittington was in the line of fire and got peppered pretty well."
Cowan: "Ken Tuggle, an avid sportsman himself, told us as hunting accidents go, the Vice President's is not uncommon."
Ken Tuggle, hunter, as he swung shotgun toward Cowan: "If a bird jumps up between us and I'm excited-"
Cowan: "Yeah."
Cowan: "And from 30 yards away, the distance witnesses say Mr. Cheney was standing from Whittington when the gun went off, it's still a heck of a jolt."
Cowan: "So if you did get hit with this, how do you think, what do you think it would feel like?"
Tuggle: "Burn like heck."
Cowan: "Yeah?"
Cowan: "Here, this is an investigation so routine the local sheriff says he didn't send his deputies to interview the Vice President until the following morning."
Sheriff Ramon Salinas, Kenedy County, Texas Sheriff's Department: "I mean, everybody knew it was an accident, and it's nothing criminal. So that's why he went the next morning."
Cowan: "Of course, there's nothing criminal here, but it sure is embarrassing. Take a look at today's New York Daily News [headline: "Duck! It's Dick"]. And this was just one paper. And if you think that's good, just wait till tonight. The late-night comics are sure to have a field day with this one."

Schieffer set up a second report:
"Once it was learned that Mr. Whittington was going to be okay, everyone lightened up. I asked a man who hunts on that ranch from time to time about all this. And he was fairly serious when he said to me, 'Thank God he didn't kill the bird dog. He's a good one.' With an Internet assist, the jokes went around the world at warp speed, but it also touched off a real row at the White House. Our White House correspondent, Jim Axelrod, was there, and Jim, I know you're new to the beat, but I have to tell you, you may never see another thing like the briefing at the White House today."
Jim Axelrod: "Yeah, I don't even have two weeks in yet, Bob. But think about it: The Vice President of the United States shoots someone, and the general public doesn't find out for 21 hours. Now that's the recipe for an uproar."
[Excerpts from White House press briefing]
Unidentified female reporter: "What time on Sunday morning did you learn that Vice President Dick Cheney was the shooter?"
Scott McClellan: "It was early. I was woken up."
Axelrod: "It fell to White House spokesman Scott McClellan to explain, and he was talking to a group that wasn't exactly buying."
McClellan: "The initial information was coming from his team on the ground with him, and they're just providing an initial report, an accident has taken place. They might not know all the facts at that point, Bill."
Bill Plante, CBS News: "Are you kidding? They're right there. They're out there with him."
McClellan: "The ones who are providing that information may have not been right there physically with him and saw exactly what happened. I don't know."
Axelrod: "And yet clearly McClellan wasn't in charge of PR on this one. The Vice President apparently was."
McClellan: "I'm not going to get into all the discussions that are had, but it was the Vice President's office that took the lead on this."
Axelrod, back live: "The White House says the shooting took place at 5:30pm, and the President didn't know the Vice President was the shooter until 8 because all attention was on Harry Whittington. That's two and a half hours, according to the White House, when no one told the President Mr. Cheney had shot someone. But apparently the decisions affecting who knew what when weren't being made at the White House by the President. They were being made on the ground in Texas by the Vice President. The decision to have the ranch owner call her local paper to let the general public know of the shooting? That was Mr. Cheney's choice as well."
Axelrod, at White House press briefing: "I just want to clarify one thing: Is it appropriate for a private citizen to be the person to disseminate the information that the Vice President of the United States has shot someone?"
McClellan: "That's one way to provide information to the public. The Vice President's office worked with her. I should say the Vice President, the Vice President spoke with her directly and agreed that she should, agreed that she should make it public and that they would provide additional information."
Axelrod, in front of White House: "A rare day here. And by 'rare,' we mean once every couple of centuries. Aaron Burr dueled Alexander Hamilton 201 years ago, shot and killed him. And that's the last time anyone had to provide any particulars about the Vice President shooting someone. Bob?"
Schieffer: "One person we haven't heard from as far as I know is the President. Did he ever weigh in on this, Jim?"
Axelrod: "Well, he had a photo-op after an Oval Office appearance today, and of course reporters shouted questions, Bob. He did not respond. And interestingly enough, the Vice President had been in that meeting but left just prior to the cameras being let in."


# ABC's World News Tonight. Co-anchor Elizabeth Vargas: "There are new details and some unanswered questions about that strange incident on a South Texas ranch late Saturday. Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot a prominent Republican lawyer as they were both hunting for quail. Cheney and the lawyer, Harry Whittington, are experienced hunters. But it appears the actions of both men may have contributed to the accident. ABC's Mike von Fremd joins us from Texas."

After von Fremd's summary of the incident and the condition of the victim, Vargas continued:
"Americans learned the Vice President had shot a man only when a newspaper in Corpus Christi, Texas, posted a story on its Web site, 18 hours later. The White House Press Secretary, Scott McClellan, faced tough questions today about why the White House did not inform the public."
[Exchanges from the White House press briefing]
ABC's Martha Raddatz: "Saturday night, you did not know the Vice President was involved?"
McClellan: "I personally, was informed by the situation room, that there had been a hunting accident. And that it was a member of the Vice President's hunting party."
Unknown female reporter: "What time on Sunday morning did you learn that Vice President Dick Cheney was the shooter?"
McClellan: "It was early. I was woken up."
Same female reporter: "When did the President know that the Vice President was the shooter? What time?"
McClellan: "Again, there's additional information coming in that night. And the details, the details continue to come in, throughout the morning."
NBC's David Gregory: "I mean, the Vice President knew immediately, 'oh, no. I've shot somebody, accidentally.' And it takes 22 hours for that-"
McClellan: "You know what his first reaction was? His first reaction was go to Mr. Whittington and get his team in there to provide him medical care."
Vargas, back live: "We turn now to our Chief White House correspondent, Washington correspondent, George Stephanopoulos. And George, we just saw several of these very tough questions from White House reporters, pointing out the fact that it wasn't the White House that made this information public. It was the owner of the ranch who made it public, actually, to that Corpus Christi reporter. Does the public have a right to know when the Vice President's involved in an incident like this?"
Stephanopoulos, in DC: "I think they do, Elizabeth. He's the second-most powerful person in the country, number one. Number two, he was involved in an accidental shooting which put someone in the intensive care unit, that was being investigated by local law enforcement. By any definition, that qualifies as news. And when there's news involving the President or the Vice President, it should come from the White House or the Vice President's office."
Vargas: "And will there will be any political ramifications, do you think, from the White House's failure to make public this information, this incident?"
Stephanopoulos: "Well it could become just a metaphor. You know, you're already seeing the jokes about competence, the gang who couldn't shoot straight. It brings up other questions where the White House's credibility has been called into question in the past. On the other hand, Vice President Cheney has never been all that favorable anyway in polls. And he's not running for office again, as he's made very, very clear."
Vargas: "All right, George Stephanopoulos reporting tonight from Washington. Thank you."

GMA Focuses on Delay, Time's Cooper Tells
Joke w/ Political Edge

The morning shows on Monday jumped on the Cheney shooting with ABC's Charles Gibson ridiculously citing "the growing political fallout" from it and Time magazine's Matthew Cooper helpfully offering up a joke about it with a political edge about Cheney's avoidance of Vietnam military service. On Good Morning America, Gibson demanded: "Why didn't the White House tell everyone when this accident happened, why did they wait so long and did that make a bad situation even worse?" ABC reporter Jessica Yellin fretted about how "it took the Vice President's office nearly 24 hours to go public with news of the shooting. That delay has prompted some speculation online and on talk radio that perhaps Mr. Cheney was hoping to cover-up the incident." Over on CBS's Early Show, Cooper speculated about potential jokes, such as, how "he might have had better aim if he'd served in Vietnam."

Gibson set up a top of the 7am half hour February 13 GMA segment, as taken down by the MRC's Brian Boyd:
"We're going to go next to the growing political fallout from all this. Why didn't the White House tell everyone when this accident happened, why did they wait so long and did that make a bad situation even worse? ABC's White House correspondent Jessica Yellin joining us from the White House, Jessica."

Jessica Yellin checked in: "Good morning, Charlie. It took the Vice President's office nearly 24 hours to go public with news of the shooting. That delay has prompted some speculation online and on talk radio that perhaps Mr. Cheney was hoping to cover-up the incident. But a spokesperson with Mr. Cheney's office flatly rejects that notion, insisting that they waited to talk to the news media about the shooting because quote they 'deferred (to the owner of the ranch), Mrs. Armstrong about what had taken place on her property.'
"In fact, the ranch's owner, Katherine Armstrong, was the first to alert the news media about the shooting. She called her local newspaper with the story Sunday morning and hours later the Vice President's office confirmed her version of events.
"Now, finally, Charlie, while the media is regularly informed about the President's travels the same is not true of the Vice President. His office frequently does not reveal Mr. Cheney's whereabouts and those of us who cover the White House had not been told that Mr. Cheney would be in Texas this past weekend."

On CBS's Monday Early Show, the MRC's Michael Rule observed, Hannah Storm introduced a guest:
"Well the Bush administration is dealing with two rather embarrassing situations this morning. Over the weekend, Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot a man that he was hunting with. The incident was not reported publicly by the Vice President's office for nearly 24 hours. Meanwhile, a photo was published by Time.com and the New York Times that shows disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Yes, that's him in that little circle all the way to the left [picture of Bush at White House with Abramoff in background]. Well he's in the same room as President Bush. Matt Cooper is with Time magazine. Good morning Matt."
Matt Cooper, from the DC studio: "Good morning Hannah."
Storm: "Let's start with the Cheney incident first, and he's an avid, experienced hunter. Clearly this was an accident and luckily not a fatal one, correct?"
Cooper: "That seems to be the case, yes."
Storm: "So, I guess the headline, which is the most shocking, and perhaps this is fodder for late night comics or political cartoonists, but really any sort of fallout for the White House from this?"
Cooper: "Oh, sure, Hannah. Look, I mean, it's just so bizarre. You don't see headlines like, you know, Vice President shoots friend very often. Look, it seems it's clearly an accident, but the fact that the White House didn't, you know, release this information, that it was, sat around for almost a day is, in itself, bizarre and then, of course, you know lots of people will go through the incident itself, how that happened. And then as you said, the late-night comics are going to be all over it. You know these things fairly or unfairly tend to become a metaphor for a Presidency and don't be surprised if you see lots of jokes about, you know, the Vice President was, you know he's trigger happy or, you know, he might have had better aim if he'd served in Vietnam. You'll see jokes like that fairly or unfairly and these things happen."
Storm: "This incident really became known when the owner of the ranch where it happened called a newspaper in Corpus Christi. Why wouldn't the Vice President's office release information about it?"
Cooper: "Well, I think that's the question, Hanna. I mean, clearly it's going to come out. It's not like the kind of thing you can avoid all coverage of. And it's odd that they didn't get out in front of the story themselves."
Storm: "Let's talk about this Abramoff photo, because when you look at it you can barely see the embattled lobbyist. Obviously, he's in the same room as the President, a picture that was taken in 2001. The White House may have been concerned about the damaging effects of the two of them being in the same shot, but this doesn't speak to any sort of personal relationship, Matt."
Cooper: "Well, it's, it's clearly they're not, they're not exactly in an embrace. You are absolutely right. Look, I mean, the White House in a way has kind of made this an issue. They didn't, you know, they've been asked about photographs of Abramoff who has been to the White House a number of times at events with the President. They've steadfastly refused. So there's been a lot of curiosity about these photos that Time obtained. And look, it does, it doesn't show them in a deep embrace, but this was, you know, a special kind of meeting. It was a very small group. Jack Abramoff's clients are there with the President. And, you know, so it's you know, it's interesting, but as you say, it's not earth shaking."
Storm: "Yeah, really can't draw any inference from it. Time magazine's Matt Cooper, thanks for joining us this morning, we appreciate it."

ABC and CNN Pound Away at Townsend Over
Timing of Thwarted Attack

Catching up with Friday morning coverage of President Bush's Thursday disclosure about a thwarted terrorist plan to destroy a Los Angeles office tower, as they did Thursday night, most of the networks were more concerned with the timing than the substance of Bush's revelation. The exception: CBS's Harry Smith. ABC's Robin Roberts insisted, "And the question this morning: Is the White House playing politics with the war on terror?" GMA fill-in co-anchor Bill Ritter devoted every question in his interview, with White House Homeland Security advisor Frances Townsend, to the timing. He even played a clip of Senator Clinton accusing the White House of playing the "fear card," though her charge came before the Bush speech, and then took up Clinton's argument: "Given that there's no imminent threat, the White House said there's no imminent threat to Los Angeles, this was at least a three year old threat, how do you respond to Mrs. Clinton's statement?"

CNN's Miles O'Brien also showcased Clinton and pounded away at Townsend over the LA Mayor's claim he was caught unaware by the Bush speech and how warrant-less wiretaps were not needed to prevent the attack. O'Brien even suggested that "in talking about thwarted plots, does the President, is he attempting to shift our attention away from" how Osama bin Laden is still at large?

In contrast, on the Early Show, Harry Smith asked Townsend one question about the timing and then moved on to trying to elicit relevant information for his audience. Smith inquired: "How close did these guys come?" And: "Where were they captured?" Plus: "There has not been an attack in the United States now, four and a half year. Do you believe there are in fact sleeper cells in the United States whose aim is to attack American targets?"

The February 10 CyberAlert recounted: Reporting on President Bush's Thursday speech in which he detailed a foiled al-Qaeda attack on a Los Angeles office tower, the three broadcast network evening newscasts fretted about the timing. ABC's George Stephanopoulos portrayed Democrats as the victims as he relayed how "Republicans hope that this war on terror issue is going to be the key to have them keeping control of the House and the Senate," while Democrats "know" they "can't let Republicans play the fear card." CBS's Jim Axelrod maintained that "the President's speech came at a time when his tactics in the war on terror are under attack from some quarters with the eavesdropping controversy consuming Washington." It certainly is "consuming" the press corps. Axelrod zeroed in how "the White House won't go anywhere near this question of whether the eavesdropping program had anything to do with the foiling of this West coast bomb plot, won't go anywhere near it. But checking across the government today, we couldn't find one single U.S. official to say that it had." NBC's Brian Williams opened with how "while the President is under fire for a program of domestic eavesdropping...he just happened to choose today as the day to talk about a planned terrorist incident in the U.S." See: www.mediaresearch.org

A rundown of the questions posed to Townsend, who appeared from an indoor location at the White House, on the February 10 morning shows on ABC, CNN and CBS -- as compiled by the MRC's Brian Boyd, Megan McCormack and Michael Rule. She also appeared on FNC's Fox and Friends. NBC's Today doesn't air political interviews during the Olympics.


# ABC's Good Morning America. Robin Roberts teased: "Terror plot. New details this morning on how al Qaeda planned to attack the tallest building in Los Angeles. And the question this morning: Is the White House playing politics with the war on terror?"

Bill Ritter introduced his interview with Townsend: "We're going to turn now to that disturbing announcement by the White House that in the weeks following the 9/11 terrorist attacks al Qaeda had its sites set on Los Angeles....The President said the terrorists in the Los Angeles plot were recruited from four countries in Southeast Asia and this morning there are many questions about the timing of the President's speech asking whether politics and not national security prompted the release of these details. We turn now to White House homeland security advisor Frances Townsend."
"Ms. Townsend, this threat to Los Angeles is three years old, more than three years old. Why did the President choose now to release the information?"
Frances Townsend: "Bill, the problem is when you find out about a plot, it has operational leads and details in it that must be run out before you can talk about it or you lose those opportunities. As we've said, there were arrests in 2002 and 2003. It takes a good deal of time and there are still things we can't reveal. For example, like the names of the four countries because those countries have asked us not to reveal their names. So we reveal as much as we can as soon as we can, but that takes time."
Ritter: "You know as national security advisor in the White House, a White House that by its nature is political, that politics is employ here and there are many people around the country, mostly Democrats, many of them Democrats, who question the timing of this. One of them is the mayor of Los Angeles who said he was blindsided by the President's announcement. Let's hear what he had to say."
Antonio Villaraigosa: "Well, I don't want to speculate on the President's motivations in making this, divulging specific information about an event that happened three years ago. I will say, though, that the timing clearly makes you wonder."
Ritter: "Does it make you wonder, Ms. Townsend. I suspect not."
Townsend: "No, it doesn't. Actually, Bill, you should know I worked in both the Clinton administration and this administration. Terrorism is a national issue, it's for keeping the American people safe. And as far as the mayor of Los Angeles, you should know that the Department of Homeland Security reached out through their normal procedures. We work with our state and local partners all the time, they're critical partners for us, and his office was notified."
Ritter: "Then why did he say he was blindsided, that he didn't know this announcement was going to be made?"
Townsend: "Well, I suppose that's a question better asked of him."
Ritter: "How much does politics play a role? Do you feel any political pressure when you're advising the President on national security issues?"
Townsend: "Not at all. You know, I can tell you this is a speech that was scheduled weeks ago without any regard, we had no way of knowing what was going to be going on in the news or up on Capitol Hill at the time we planned the speech. The President talks on a regular basis about the war on terrorism, whether it's Iraq or our international allies. This is just part of the President's continuing dialogue with the American people."
Ritter: "Senator Hillary Clinton, New York's junior Senator who has been mentioned as a possible candidate for Democratic nomination for President in 2008, she has had something of a dialogue with the White House, as well. About this issue she says that fear is being played here. Let's take a look, listen to what she had to say earlier this week."
Senator Hillary Clinton, from Wednesday, before the Bush speech under discussion: "Contrary to Franklin Roosevelt: we have nothing to fear but fear itself, this crowd is: all we've got is fear and we're going to keep playing the fear card."
Ritter: "Ms. Townsend, given that there's no imminent threat, the White House said there's no imminent threat to Los Angeles, this was at least a three year old threat, how do you respond to Mrs. Clinton's statement?"
Townsend: "What we do is we have a regular dialogue with the American people. We want them to understand that our enemies continue to plot against us and how they plot and what their methods are of attack that we're able to reveal to them. There's, we have to talk to the American people so they understand: one, the threat continues to be real, and two, we need to be prepared to both prevent it and respond to it."
Ritter: "Do you blame the average person for being at least a little bit skeptical about all this and the timing?"
Townsend: "No, it's not about, it's not about blaming anybody. I think it's a matter of talking to people honestly about the facts and national security in this country."


# CNN's American Morning. Miles O'Brien: "Let's, the President was talking terror yesterday, and lifting a veil on a thwarted al-Qaeda attack that aimed to fly a hijacked airliner into an L.A. skyscraper in early 2002. It's part of his campaign to get Americans on board with the Patriot Act and the warrant-less wiretapping. Fran Townsend is assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counter-terrorism. She joins us now from the White House. Ms. Townsend, good to have you back with us. Why was the President talking about this now?"
Fran Townsend, Homeland Security Advisor: "You know, Miles, as you, as you, as you do know, the President has a regular dialogue and talks regularly with the American people about the war on terror. It's difficult to talk about thwarted plots, because oftentimes we get operational leads from them. In this case, it took a period of time to wrap up and, and make sure they were in custody, the, the cell, the members of the cell, the known members of the cell. So it takes time, but we were able to declassify it, and we think it's really important for the American people to understand, sort of, the plotting, the texture of the plotting and that our enemies are still looking to attack us."
O'Brien: "Well, imagine the surprise if you're the mayor of Los Angeles watching that speech. He happened to be watching CNN. We're glad he was doing that. And he finds out about this plot for the first time. Let's listen to him."
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa: "Nowhere near the level of detail that was shared with the public today was shared with us, and there was no direct call to my office. I'm not expecting that the President of the United States would call me directly, but certainly somebody from his office would call us directly."
O'Brien: "All right. That came from Wolf Blitzer's Situation Room. We appreciate that. Miss Townsend, he's saying he didn't expect a call from the President, but I think he was kind of implying he expected a call from you. Why didn't you call him?"
Townsend: "Well, the, his office was contacted through the Department of Homeland Security and the L.A. police department. It's the usual way that we exchange information. It's operational information that we share, the details of it. It doesn't come from the White House, it comes from the agencies responsible."
O'Brien: "Well, so, so is the mayor lying when he says he wasn't notified?"
Townsend: "His office was notified, Miles."
O'Brien: "Ok. But he says he was in the dark. I mean, it seems like an important thing like that you'd want to get to a very high level to the mayor, right?"
Townsend: "I would think so."
O'Brien: "Ok. But, so why wouldn't, perhaps, somebody from the White House make a direct call just to cut through all that?"
Townsend: "Well, because it's important that we use the, the understood way of contacting his office and we went through that. We, there was somebody in his office who was notified by the, through the police department by the Department of Homeland Security."
O'Brien: "Let's talk about the President making this speech. Part of his campaign to get Americans on board for the warrant-less wiretapping campaign and the Patriot Act. I find it interesting that he's using this particular case as an example because it was thwarted in the context of a time when the Patriot Act was just emerging. It was passed in November of 2001. Warrant-less wiretapping had not really begun. You could certainly make a case that this was thwarted without a change in the new rules and it could be a strong argument for not changing the rules at all."
Townsend: "Miles, I, I, I don't know why you would say that this was, this speech was meant to support both the Patriot Act and the terrorist surveillance program. In fact, what it was meant to highlight was the importance of international cooperation. It's a global war. This is not just America's fight, but it's a global war. And it, because there were four other countries involved in this disruption, it was meant to highlight that piece."
O'Brien: "But, but this, this particular plot was, in fact, thwarted without the, the, without changing the rules. In other words, maybe the whole issue is not changing the rules, maybe the issue is that people were paying more attention and are paying more attention now, they don't need a rule change."
Townsend: "No, that's not the case. You know, I was working these issues before the Patriot Act and really saw firsthand the trouble with information sharing before the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act really has broken down walls and it's a vital tool. You know, we haven't talked about the tools we use to, to thwart this plot because we don't want to explain that to our enemies, but we used various sources and methods in the intelligence community to undertake these sorts of successful operations."
O'Brien: "Let me ask you this. If it were, in fact, the case that the wiretaps did play a factor in this, would you tell us?"
Townsend: "No. No. Because I wouldn't want to reveal that to our enemies about what techniques we used."
O'Brien: "All right. Let's, I want to get Senator Clinton in here for just a moment. She's talking about the overall issue of the war on terror. Let's listen to her for a second."
Senator Hillary Clinton, on Wednesday, before the Bush speech: "I take a back seat to nobody when it comes to fighting terrorism and standing up for national and homeland security. But even there, we could have done a better job than we have done. You cannot, you cannot explain to me why we have not captured or killed the tallest man in Afghanistan."
O'Brien: "Why haven't we gotten the tallest man in Afghanistan?"
Townsend: "You know, I find her, Senator Clinton's, comment extraordinary given that she's been to Afghanistan and seen the terrain there and how difficult an operating environment it is. We have put, we have put every asset we have, military, law enforcement, intelligence, financial, all against, and diplomatic, all against this target. And I'm confident that he will be captured or killed."
O'Brien: "But in, in talking about thwarted plots, does the President, is he attempting to shift our attention away from that fact, that, that, go ahead."
Townsend: "Absolutely not. Absolutely not. The President has talked, he talked yesterday about bin Laden. He talked about Zawahiri and Zarqawi. They're all major targets that are still out there. He hasn't shied away from that."


# CBS's Early Show. Harry Smith: "President Bush revealed that a terrorist plot to hijack a plane and fly it into a Los Angeles skyscraper in 2002 was foiled, thanks to cooperation from a number of countries. Frances Townsend is assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counter-terrorism. She joins us this morning from Washington, good morning."
Frances Townsend: "Good morning Harry."
Harry Smith: "Let me ask you this, why did the President choose yesterday to reveal this information about a plot that's, what, almost four years old now?"
Townsend: "You know, the difficulty, Harry is in revealing the details when it's close to having disrupted the plot. We get a lot of the operational leads and in this case, the operational leads led to the wrap-up of all the known members of this cell. But it took a long time and so you've got to run out all those operational leads before you can really speak about the details publicly. So that takes some time."
Smith: "How close did these guys come?"
Townsend: "Well, it's hard for us to say. They clearly had the training and expertise in the shoe bomb explosive technique. They had sworn loyalty. They had met with Bin Laden in Afghanistan. So it was just a matter of timing, and they clearly had picked, selected their targets. So they were pretty far along. And, you know, if you wait much longer in the operational loop to disrupt it, you run the risk that you're going to miss the opportunity."
Smith: "Where were they captured?"
Townsend: "Well, I, you know, Harry, I would love to be able to talk about the names and the specific cooperation of the four countries. There were two countries in south Asia, 2 countries in south east Asia. The problem is our allies, our partners in this have asked that we not talk about it."
Smith: "Right, but they were not caught in the United States?"
Townsend: "No, sir."
Smith: "OK. The question everybody's asking this morning, were warrantless wiretaps, did they have anything to do with the successful breakup of this cell?"
Townsend: "You know, Harry, as I've said yesterday, we use all sources and methods, but for me to comment on which ones we did or didn't use in this particular case really gives our enemy too much information about how we go about it."
Smith: "All right. There has not been an attack in the United States now, four and a half year. Do you believe there are in fact sleeper cells in the United States whose aim is to attack American targets?"
Townsend: "You know, I'll tell you the intelligence community and law enforcement communities just take the base assumption that there are and so we target them. The answer is what we do is we link up both our foreign intelligence and our domestic law enforcement information. One of the reasons that the PATRIOT Act is so important is because it facilitates our ability to do that, to identify such cells."
Smith: "Al Qaeda's ability to communicate with cells around the world has clearly been impaired in the last four and a half years. Do you believe they could communicate with a would-be sleeper cell to order an attack if they wanted to?"
Townsend: "You know, we have disrupted their communications. They've had to rely on couriers now. But, with global instant communications like the internet and cell phones, it's difficult to say. And so that's why it's so important to use all the available techniques that we have."
Smith: "All right, Frances Townsend, we thank you so much for your time this morning. Do appreciate it."

From Letterman's Late Show: "Top Ten
Dick Cheney Excuses"

From the February 13 Late Show with David Letterman, the "Top Ten Dick Cheney Excuses." Late Show home page: www.cbs.com

10. "Heart palpitation caused trigger finger to spasm"

9. "Wanted to get the Iraq mess off the front page"

8. "Not enough Jim Beam"

7. "Trying to stop the spread of bird flu"

6. "I love to shoot people"

5. "Guy was making cracks about my lesbian daughter"

4. "I thought the guy was trying to go 'gay cowboy' on me"

3. "Excuse? I hit him, didn't I?"

2. "Until Democrats approve medicare reform, we have to make some tough choices for the elderly"

1. "Made a bet with Gretzky's wife"

-- Brent Baker