Network Reporters Fret About Bush Not Admitting Mistakes --4/14/2004
2. White House Press Pound Bush to Admit Errors, Apologize for 9/11
3. Focus on Ashcroft's Heedlessness Over Gorelick-Imposed Barrier
4. GMA Quizzes Gorelick About Ashcroft Failures, Ignores Her Record
Following President Bush's news conference on Tuesday night, NBC News anchor Brian Williams pointed out to David Gregory how Bush refused to "admit" any mistakes and complained that "I didn't detect a straight-on answer there." Gregory agreed before he insisted: "This President could be accused in some places today of filibustering at times." Similarly, over on ABC, George Stephanopoulos announced how "the President was quite defiant tonight, even at times defensive. No apologies, no acceptance of personal responsibility." Stephanopoulos warned: "I wonder how that's going to be read by the people who were watching TV."
In contrast, MSNBC's Chris Matthews found that he "sensed a smidgen of humility tonight we hadn't seen before."
ABC's Peter Jennings acknowledged the agenda of the White House press corps in repeatedly trying to get Bush to admit mistakes and errors during his presidency: "There is an almost insistence in many members of the press corps, and many Americans as well, for the President to somehow acknowledge that he made mistakes or that he had a personal responsibility that somehow led to a bad result." Jennings asked Stephanopoulos: "Why are the reporters pushing so hard on this issue?" Stephanopoulos admitted that "they want to see some concession of responsibility by the President."
Jennings also noted how Bush "sounded a lot calmer and in much greater control than the situation in Iraq looks like on the nation's newscasts."
(Broadcast network coverage rundown: Bush's press conference lasted from just past 8:30pm EDT to just before 9:33pm EDT. CBS News got off nearly immediately, going to a re-run of King of Queens after just a few words from Dan Rather. NBC stuck around for just over a minute, allowing for a quick comment from Tim Russert followed by a brief exchange between anchor Brian Williams and David Gregory at the White House before the network joined Frasier in progress. ABC News provided analysis for nearly nine minutes, jumping to ads at 9:42pm EDT leading into an According to Jim repeat joined in progress. Fox News provided post-press conference coverage and analysis, anchored by Shepard Smith, for almost as long as ABC, going at 9:40pm EDT to a That '70s Show re-run joined in progress.)
-- NBC News. Anchor Brian Williams reminded viewers: "Our own White House correspondent, David Gregory, was one of three questions who on three separate occasions asked this President, in a number of different wordings, if he has failed in any way, to admit any defeat. And David, I didn't detect a straight-on answer there."
(See item #2 below for the text of Gregory's question.)
-- ABC News. Sitting beside Peter Jennings in ABC's Manhattan studio, George Stephanopoulos, who helped President Clinton avoid responsibility, lectured President Bush about not admitting errors: "He left little doubt that we're gonna have more troops in Iraq, we're gonna be spending a lot more money, and they're gonna be there for a long time. It also struck me, the President was quite defiant tonight, even at times defensive. No apologies, no acceptance of personal responsibility. When he was asked about any mistakes he might have made over the last year, he said, 'Sure, I might have made some, but I can't think of one.' And even in that last question, couldn't really concede even a failure to communicate. And I wonder if that, I wonder how that's going to be read by the people who were watching TV."
(On MSNBC, the MRC's Brad Wilmouth noticed, anchor Chris Matthews observed: "I have to say I sensed a smidgen of humility tonight we hadn't seen before. Even though he was asked to apologize in a way he's clearly not going to do, I sensed statements tonight that suggested things haven't gone great, there is a somber mood tonight, and he expressed it.")
A few minutes later on ABC, Terry Moran checked in from the White House, as taken down by the MRC's Wilmouth: "Well, Peter, I wanted to pick up on what you and George were talking about. The theme, it seemed, of a lot of the questioning, was, 'Would the President take personal responsibility for some of the things that have gone wrong in Iraq and before 9/11?' And he didn't, not only because of political reasons, because it would be an opening for the Democrats, but because he had a goal tonight: project strength and confidence in the morality of the US mission, of the war on terrorism that he leads, and in the strategy that he's applying to win it. Those words to the families of the fallen that he has visited with were very heartfelt, obviously, because he does not want to be accused of what John Kerry, as a young man, accused the political leaders of his time of doing, which is letting men die for a mistake. The goal that the President had tonight was to try to project to the American people that as far as he's concerned, despite what he called 'the tough weeks,' the country's on the right course, on the right path in Iraq."
At Tuesday night's presidential news conference, White House corespondents for major national news outlets pounded away at President Bush in an effort to get him to identify errors he's made either before 9/11 or in going to war in Iraq, and urged him to follow Dick Clarke's lead and apologize for the September 11 terrorist attacks. New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller delivered the most obnoxious question of the evening, demanding in an accusatory manner: "Do you feel any sense of personal responsibility for September 11th?"
Similarly, John Roberts of CBS News recalled how Clarke offered "an unequivocal apology to the American people for failing them prior to 9/11" and queried Bush: "Do you believe the American people deserve a similar apology from you, and would you be prepared to give them one?"
How about blaming the murdering terrorists who actually committed the atrocities? Bush did, telling Roberts: "The person responsible for the attacks was Osama bin Laden. That's who's responsible for killing Americans."
NBC's David Gregory pressed Bush to expound on his "errors in judgment" and Time magazine's John Dickenson asked Bush to identify his "biggest mistake."
The AP's Terence Hunt raised whether Iraq is becoming a "quagmire" like Vietnam and ABC's Terry Moran demanded to know about Iraq: "How do you explain to Americans how you got that so wrong and how do you answer your opponents who say that you took this nation to war on the basis of what have turned out to be a series of false premises?"
Below are the most antagonistic questions posed during the April 13 press conference at 8:30pm EDT in the East Room, based on the White House transcript checked against the tape by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth:
-- Terence Hunt, AP: "Mr. President, April is turning into the deadliest month in Iraq since the fall of Baghdad, and some people are comparing Iraq to Vietnam and talking about a quagmire. Polls show that support for your policy is declining and that fewer than half Americans now support it. What does that say to you and how do you answer the Vietnam comparison?"
-- Terry Moran, ABC News: "Mr. President, before the war, you and members of your administration made several claims about Iraq, that U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators with sweets and flowers, that Iraqi oil revenue would pay for most of the reconstruction, and that Iraq not only had weapons of mass destruction, but as Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said, we know where they are. How do you explain to Americans how you got that so wrong and how do you answer your opponents who say that you took this nation to war on the basis of what have turned out to be a series of false premises?"
-- Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times: "To move to the 9/11 Commission, you yourself have acknowledged in the, that Osama bin Laden was not a central focus of the administration in the months before September 11th. 'I was not on point,' you told the journalist Bob Woodward. 'I didn't feel that sense of urgency.' Two-and-a-half years later, do you feel any sense of personal responsibility for September 11th?"
-- David Gregory, NBC News: "Mr. President, I'd like to follow up on a couple of these questions that have been asked. One of the biggest criticisms of you is that whether it's WMD in Iraq, postwar planning in Iraq, or even the question of whether this administration did enough to ward off 9/11, you never admit a mistake. Is that a fair criticism? And do you believe that there were any errors in judgment that you made related to any of those topics I brought up?"
-- Ed Chen, Los Angeles Times: "I'd like to ask you about the August 6th PDB. You mentioned it at Fort Hood on Sunday. You said, you pointed out that it did not warn of a hijacking of airplanes to crash into buildings, but that it warned of hijackings to, obviously, take hostages and to secure the release of extremists being held by the U.S. Did that trigger some specific actions on your part and the administration, since it dealt with potentially hundreds of lives and a blackmail attempt on the United States government?"
-- John Roberts, CBS News: "Two weeks ago, a former counter-terrorism official at the NSC, Richard Clarke, offered an unequivocal apology to the American people for failing them prior to 9/11. Do you believe the American people deserve a similar apology from you, and would you be prepared to give them one?"
-- John Dickerson, Time: "In the last campaign, you were asked a question about the biggest mistake you'd made in your life, and you used to like to joke that it was trading Sammy Sosa. You've looked back before 9/11 for what mistakes might have been made. After 9/11, what would your biggest mistake be, would you say, and what lessons have you learned from it?"
-- Don Gonyea, NPR: "Following on both Judy and John's questions, and it comes out of what you just said in some ways, with public support for your policies in Iraq falling off the way they have, quite significantly over the past couple of months, I guess I'd like to know if you feel in any way that you've failed as a communicator on this topic?"
For the White House Web site's transcript of the April 13 presidential news conference: www.whitehouse.gov
Media Avoidance of Holding Clinton's Justice Department Accountable, part 1 of 2. During his appearance Tuesday before the 9-11 Commission, Attorney General John Ashcroft pointed out how the Clinton Justice Department, in a 1995 memorandum written by then-Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, now a member of the commission, imposed a systemic impediment to fighting terrorism by going beyond what the law required to bar the CIA from sharing information with the FBI about terror suspects inside the United States.
But instead of appreciating how Ashcroft declassified the memo, "Instructions on Separation of Certain Foreign Counterintelligence and Criminal Investigations," and exploring the multi-year problems it created, the networks and the Washington Post chose instead to stress accusations about Ashcroft's supposed lack of interest in terrorism in the few months before September 11 -- a regrettable lack of interest which, if true, may have potentially posed a long-term impact on the battle against terrorism, but which in no way allowed 9-11 to occur since supposedly misguided budgeting decisions Ashcroft made would not have taken affect until months later.
It isn't as if the media focused on Ashcroft because he was the only big testifier of the day. The equally-ranked Clinton Attorney General, Janet Reno, Gorelick's immediate superior, also appeared Tuesday (along with ex-FBI chief Louis Freeh).
The ABC, CBS and CNN evening newscasts on Tuesday all failed to mention the Gorelick memo, though NBC Nightly News gave it a brief mention, in the context of Ashcroft playing "the blame game," and FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume focused on it while the subject was discussed on MSNBC's Hardball as well as other evening cable shows.
"The Attorney General," meaning Ashcroft, "is accused of not wanting to hear about the threats," ABC's Peter Jennings teased at the top of Tuesday's World News Tonight which didn't utter a syllable about the Gorelick legal policy interpretation memo despite airing "A Closer Look" segment from Brian Ross, on missed opportunities to stop the hijackings, in which Ross cited by name two of the 9-11 terrorists Ashcroft specifically mentioned as examples of people the Gorelick policy blocked the FBI from tracking: "But the CIA did not tell the FBI about Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaq Alhazmi until 19 months later, just days before the attack." For the posted version of the Ross story: abcnews.go.com
Thomas allowed Gorelick's boss, Janet Reno, to scold the FBI -- "Former Attorney General Janet Reno said the FBI was broken" -- without citing her role in blocking information sharing. But Thomas did raise the subject, just without noting the role of Gorelick or Reno: "Throughout the day, there was one dominant theme: the failure of the CIA and the FBI to share information.... How bad was it? The acting FBI director said he did not know that the CIA and his own agents had been pursuing two of the hijackers until after 9/11."
The CBS Evening News similarly avoided the Gorelick memo as reporter Jim Stewart zeroed in on how "commissioners were left with a face-off between Pickard and Attorney General John Ashcroft. Pickard implied the AG was bored and asked him to stop regular terrorism briefings. Not so said Ashcroft."
Later, on CNN's NewsNight which was delayed by a half hour, to 10:30pm EDT, because of the President's press conference, reporter Kelly Arena trumpeted how Pickard said Ashcroft was "not much interested in terrorism." After a denial from Ashcroft, Arena got to the bar on sharing information, but avoided connecting it to the 1995 Gorelick/Reno legal interpretation: "Rather than disinterest, Ashcroft blamed missed intelligence opportunities on a legal wall that used to separate criminal investigators from intelligence agents."
Of the broadcast networks and CNN, only Lisa Myers on the NBC Nightly News specifically cited Gorelick's name, but she somewhat discredited Ashcroft's point by couching it as part of "the blame game." Myers concluded her story: "In keeping with the blame game, Ashcroft produced this once-secret 1995 document that restricted FBI counter-terrorism investigators from sharing information even within the bureau in some cases. The author? A Democrat on the 9/11 Commission, Jamie Gorelick."
Wednesday's Washington Post sought to bury the Gorelick memo bombshell. "Ashcroft's Efforts on Terrorism Criticized," declared the April 14 front page headline. The subhead: "Ex-FBI Official Doubted Priorities." The story by Dan Eggen and Walter Pincus eventually noted: "Ashcroft sought to blame the Clinton administration for many of the shortcomings in counterterrorism strategies before the attacks, taking the unusual step of publicly citing the work of a Democratic member of the commission, Jamie S. Gorelick, who served as a deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration. Ashcroft announced the declassification and release of a 1995 memo she wrote that outlined legal rules on sharing intelligence information, characterizing the guidelines as 'the single greatest structural cause for the September 11th problem.'" For the Post story: www.washingtonpost.com
To its credit, the New York Times on Wednesday devoted a story to the substance of the issue, "Rule Created Legal 'Wall' to Sharing Information." See: www.nytimes.com
Now, fuller transcripts of the April 13 ABC and CBS stories which focused on Ashcroft over Reno and Gorelick:
-- ABC's World News Tonight. Peter Jennings led his broadcast, as transcribed by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth: "Good evening, everyone. We're going to begin in Washington tonight where there was judgment and blame aplenty during the independent commission hearings on the 9/11 attacks. Before the day's first witness, the commission released a scathing report condemning the CIA and the FBI for not working together before September 11th. And throughout the hearings, commissioners criticized senior law enforcement officials from both the Clinton and the Bush administrations, and some of those officials had at each other. Our first report is from ABC's Pierre Thomas."
-- CBS Evening News. Jim Stewart began his story by recounting how Pickard and Cofer Black fired back at critics and complained they received inadequate funding. Stewart moved on to how the commission reported FBI shortcomings, such as how there were twice as many FBI agents devoted to narcotics as terrorism and how the CIA classified information "and then wouldn't share it."
Stewart treated Reno as authoritative: "Even former Attorney General Janet Reno said the bureau worked hard, but she had her doubts."
From Ashcroft's prepared remarks, an excerpt of his discussion of the Gorelick memo:
....My second point today goes to the heart of this Commission's duty to uncover the fact: The single greatest structural cause for September 11 was the wall that segregated criminal investigators and intelligence agents. Government erected this wall. Government buttressed this wall. And before September 11, government was blinded by this wall.
In 1995, the Justice Department embraced flawed legal reasoning, imposing a series of restrictions on the FBI that went beyond what the law required. The 1995 Guidelines and the procedures developed around them imposed draconian barriers to communications between the law enforcement and intelligence communities. The wall "effectively excluded" prosecutors from intelligence investigations. The wall left intelligence agents afraid to talk with criminal prosecutors or agents. In 1995, the Justice Department designed a system destined to fail.
In the days before September 11, the wall specifically impeded the investigation into Zacarias Moussaoui, Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi. After the FBI arrested Moussaoui, agents became suspicious of his interest in commercial aircraft and sought approval for a criminal warrant to search his computer. The warrant was rejected because FBI officials feared breaching the wall.
When the CIA finally told the FBI that al-Midhar and al-Hazmi were in the country in late August, agents in New York searched for the suspects. But because of the wall, FBI Headquarters refused to allow criminal investigators who knew the most about the most recent al Qaeda attack to join the hunt for the suspected terrorists.
At that time, a frustrated FBI investigator wrote Headquarters, quote, "Whatever has happened to this -- someday someone will die -- and wall or not -- the public will not understand why we were not more effective and throwing every resource we had at certain 'problems'. Let's hope the National Security Law Unit will stand behind their decision then, especially since the biggest threat to us, UBL, is getting the most protection."
FBI Headquarters responded, quote: "We are all frustrated with this issue...These are the rules. NSLU does not make them up."
But somebody did make these rules. Someone built this wall.
The basic architecture for the wall in the 1995 Guidelines was contained in a classified memorandum entitled "Instructions on Separation of Certain Foreign Counterintelligence and Criminal Investigations." The memorandum ordered FBI Director Louis Freeh and others, quote: "We believe that it is prudent to establish a set of instructions that will more clearly separate the counterintelligence investigation from the more limited, but continued, criminal investigations. These procedures, which go beyond what is legally required, will prevent any risk of creating an unwarranted appearance that FISA is being used to avoid procedural safeguards which would apply in a criminal investigation."
This memorandum established a wall separating the criminal and intelligence investigations following the 1993 World Trade Center attack, the largest international terrorism attack on American soil prior to September 11.Although you understand the debilitating impact of the wall, I cannot imagine that the Commission knew about this memorandum, so I have declassified it for you and the public to review. Full disclosure compels me to inform you that its author is a member of this Commission....
END of Excerpt
For Ashcroft's prepared statement in full, as posted by the AP: wid.ap.org
As posted by National Review: www.nationalreview.com
For Gorelick's page on the Web site for the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States: www.9-11commission.gov
Media Avoidance of Holding Clinton's Justice Department Accountable, part 2 of 2. In the morning, as in the evening (see item #3 above), the networks focused on making John Ashcroft culpable over any attention to the roles of Jamie Gorelick or Janet Reno, who was set to also appear at the Tuesday hearing.
Previewing the then-upcoming Tuesday session of the 9-11 Commission, on ABC's Good Morning America Kate Snow correctly predicted the media's focus as she forecast how "the President's Attorney General, John Ashcroft, will be in the bulls-eye."
Jamie Gorelick, the author of the 1995 memo which established barriers to the CIA informing the FBI of terrorists inside the U.S., appeared a few minutes later on Tuesday's GMA. But Charles Gibson didn't ask her a thing about Reno's policies or her role. No, he cued her up to castigate Ashcroft: "Jamie Gorelick, let me start with you. There are reports that John Ashcroft, who will testify today, the Attorney General, is harshly criticized in the draft reports from the commission for inattention to terrorism and terrorist threats in the summer of 2001. True?"
Gorelick had the chutzpah to agree without noting her record: "Yes, I think there are some real criticisms of the Department of Justice during that time period..."
Gibson turned to his other guest, Slade Gorton, and pushed him on Ashcroft's few months, not Reno's years: "Commissioner Gorton, there was a temporary head of the FBI at that time, Thomas Pickard, who will also testify today, who I gather will say that indeed he did brief Ashcroft and couldn't get him to pay attention to the terrorism threats."
Over on NBC's Today, the MRC's Geoff Dickens noticed, Katie Couric followed the same script in interviewing Commissioner Bob Kerrey: "I know Attorney General John Ashcroft is first up today and he's been criticized for his apparent or reported lack of interest in terrorism as an issue and failing to make it a top priority. According to reports he denied a $50 million request to hire more counter-terrorism agents on September 10th, 2001. Will you focus on his actions in the summer of 2001 and what, primarily, are you interested in hearing from him?"
What Ashcroft did or didn't decide on September 10th about future hiring had absolutely no impact on what happened the next day, unlike the tracking of two of the terrorists who committed mass murder, but who were left unfettered thanks to the questionable legal interpretation instituted six years earlier by Gorelick.
Yet look at which event animates the media.
-- Brent Baker