Networks Stress How Bush Didn't Apologize for Prisoner Treatment --5/6/2004
2. CNN's Aaron Brown Scolds Bush for Not Taking Responsibility
3. Morning Shows Hold Rumsfeld Culpable, Seek Apology & Resignation
4. Media Like Story Since It "Validates Notion" the Military is Bad
5. Brokaw & Russert Stress Bad News for Bush, Not His Lead in Poll
All the networks on Wednesday night stressed how, in his interviews with two Arab-language TV networks, President Bush did not apologize for the treatment of some Iraqi prisoners. "But while the President denounced the abuse of Iraqi prisoners," ABC's Terry Moran noted, "he pointedly did not apologize for it." CBS's Bill Plante emphasized how "President Bush deplored the abuses, but stopped short of an outright apology."
In "The Whip" at the top of CNN's NewsNight, John King summarized how "in those interviews the President promised the United States would get to the bottom of this and hold those responsible for the abuses accountable, but the President did not use the words 'I'm sorry' or apologize in any way in those public interviews."
Three times in under two minutes NBC Nightly News viewers heard about the lack of an apology. Brokaw teased his broadcast: "President Bush on Arab language television calls the behavior of some U.S. troops at an Iraqi prison 'appalling,' but he stops short of an apology." Introducing the lead story, Brokaw explained how "President Bush today went on Arab language television to promise a full investigation and accounting for those who were responsible, but he did not apologize." And reporter David Gregory soon asserted: "In two interviews which were hastily arranged by the White House to contain outrage toward the U.S. in the Arab world, Mr. Bush did not apologize for the abuse against prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison."
(Thursday newspaper headlines also emphasized the lack of an apology. Front page of the Washington Post: "On Arab TV, President Says U.S. Is 'Appalled.'" The subhead: "Bush Stops Short of Apology in Interviews.")
Gregory did, however, point out Arab world hypocrisy in condemning the U.S.: "In Baghdad tonight, some remain unconvinced. This man said of the prison abuse, 'We thought it was over now that Saddam is gone, but now we are seeing just the same thing.' Some Arab commentators said such criticism goes much too far."
In contrast, CBS's Plante highlighted how "around the world, newspapers and magazines have seized the torture to pour scorn on American promises of democracy for Iraq. Many Arab commentators believe the President's statement does nothing to change that....James Zogby says in Iraq this could be a fatal blow" and let Zogby, President of the Arab-American Institute, declare: "We have to find a way out. This is no longer a war that America can end. It's only a war that America can leave." Plante failed to point out that Zogby opposed the war from the start. Plante contended that the pictures have created a situation which "threatens to spin out of control."
Fuller recitations of the Wednesday night, May 5, stories on ABC, CBS and NBC, which all led with at least three straight stories on fallout from the photos:
-- ABC's World News Tonight. From the White House, Terry Moran asserted: "With some Iraqis and others now saying that the U.S. occupation is no different from Saddam Hussein's regime, Mr. Bush felt he needed to draw a sharp distinction."
Moments later, however, Bill Redeker in Baghdad, in a story on reaction to Bush in Iraq and the Middle East, undermined the premise that an apology has some great value: "Some of those we talked to said the President's promise to punish was the right thing to say. In the Middle East, they pointed out, a mere apology would not have been enough."
After noting how Bush promised a full investigation and how the White House is aware of the impact of the images, Plante warned: "Around the world, newspapers and magazines have seized the torture to pour scorn on American promises of democracy for Iraq. Many Arab commentators believe the President's statement does nothing to change that."
-- NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw teased: "President Bush on Arab language television calls the behavior of some U.S. troops at an Iraqi prison 'appalling,' but he stops short of an apology."
Brokaw led the broadcast: "Good evening. The stunning and sickening pictures of Iraqi prisoners abused by American military forces are so damaging to the U.S., President Bush today went on Arab language television to promise a full investigation and accounting for those who were responsible, but he did not apologize. And tonight, it is hard to know whether his unprecedented appearance can cool the angry reaction in the Arab world. We'll begin now with NBC's David Gregory at the White House."
CNN's Aaron Brown opened his newscast Wednesday night with a lecture about how "rank has its responsibilities" and, unlike Presidents Truman, Kennedy or Reagan, President Bush has failed to accept responsibility for the treatment of the Iraqi prisoners, so "this administration may yet find the right chord on this, but to our ear it hasn't yet."
Earlier, on Inside Politics, Judy Woodruff pursued the same theme, but without specifically condemning President Bush as she found that while when Presidents "have appeared to express regret or take responsibility, the political results have been mixed."
Brown opened the May 5 NewsNight with this "Page Two" commentary: Good evening again everyone. Rank has its privileges and rank has its responsibilities. I remember that from boot camp where I had neither but was taught it just the same.
Six hours earlier, on Inside Politics, the MRC's Ken Shepherd caught this historical review from Judy Woodruff: "Well, in the midst of a foreign policy crisis or some other scandal, Presidents often try to avoid outright apologies. When they have appeared to express regret or take responsibility, the political results have been mixed."
Of course, in every case but Clinton's, the Presidents were talking about the actions of others they had limited control over, whereas Clinton did it all himself.
Rumsfeld in their sights. Wednesday's morning shows were in full scandal mode as NBC's Katie Couric opened Today by demanding: "What did administration officials know and when did they know it?" Matt Lauer told Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that he had questioned "the relevance of the Geneva Convention in certain circumstances, with al Qaeda and the Taliban," so "have you laid the foundation for the atmosphere in which these abuses may have occurred?" Lauer wanted to know if Rumsfeld would "issue a formal apology to the Iraqi people for these abuses?" Couric prompted Senator Joe Biden to explain why Rumsfeld may have to resign.
Over on ABC's Good Morning America, Diane Sawyer pointed out to Rumsfeld how he "did not apologize" the day before to Iraqi prisoners who were shamed. She then demanded: "This morning, do you apologize?" Charles Gibson proposed to Senator John McCain: "In the end, is there a possibility of the Secretary of Defense needing to resign?"
The MRC's Geoff Dickens and Ken Shepherd took down highlights from the May 5 Today and GMA:
-- NBC's Today. Couric opened the program: "Good morning, damage control. President Bush goes on Arab TV today to express his anger over the abuse of Iraqi prisoners. Meanwhile some members of Congress are expressing their anger. What did administration officials know and when did they know it? We'll ask Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in a live interview today, Wednesday, May 5th, 2004."
Up first, Joe Biden from Capitol Hill. Couric quizzed him about the administration failing to inform Congress and then cued him up: "You have said that, actually you said that yesterday as well in terms of accountability. If adequate answers are not provided you say that top officials should resign. Are you referring to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld?"
Next, Matt Lauer had a session with Rumsfeld from the Pentagon. Lauer began with when Rumsfeld learned of the abuses, how long it took for the report to be noticed and how the General in charge of the prison said she had no control over the area where the abuses occurred.
Lauer then zeroed in on Rumsfeld's supposed culpability: "Let me read you something from the Washington Post in their editorial this morning. It says quote, 'A pattern of arrogant disregard for the protections of the Geneva Conventions or any other legal procedure has been set from the top by Mr. Rumsfeld and senior U.S. commanders.' What's you response to that?"
-- ABC's Good Morning America. Diane Sawyer first asked Rumsfeld, at the Pentagon, for an apology:
Sawyer, over photo of Rumsfeld with General Karpinski in front of cells in the Abu Ghraib prison: "I want to get to the question, if I can now, of responsibility and accountability, there is a photo we have of you, this very prison, it was last fall, in September, I believe, of last fall and you're standing there, indeed with the woman, the general, who was in charge. First question to you: did you see anything, did you notice anything, did you say, 'how could I not know who was in charge, and what the conditions were at the prison'?"
Sawyer soon asked about Rumsfeld resigning: "With 30 investigations underway and as we said earlier, at least two of the deaths being questioned as homicides, as you know, a number of people have come out, Senators on the Hill and said, there is responsibility that has to be taken for this. And this is what Senator Joseph Biden, Democratic Senator Joseph Biden, said: 'Accountability is essential. If the answers are unsatisfactory, resignations should be sought.' And he specifically cites you as one of those who has to be questioned about responsibility. Can you imagine any circumstance, any consequences of the investigation that would cause you to resign for this?"
GMA next went to Senator McCain, standing with the Capitol dome behind him. Charles Gibson's first question: "Senator McCain, let me start where Diane actually was finishing there with Secretary Rumsfeld. He said yesterday those responsible have to be held accountable. In the end, are senior commanders, those responsible, should they be held accountable, and in the end is there a possibility of the Secretary of Defense needing to resign?"
Gibson moved on to congressional anger about not being informed earlier, before he wondered: "Senator, what does this say about us, though? You've just said there's a lot of good military people, and indeed there are, but the question that keeps coming back to me is, what does this say about us as a society when this thing, this kind of actions, these kinds of actions are going on with our military people treating prisoners this way?"
Gibson proposed: "But does it do more than harm our reputations because it inflames opinions in the Middle East and among Islamic society, and in effect, does it not put our soldiers at greater risk who are over there?"
So what, in addition to having pictures, is fueling the media's obsession with the Irqai prisoner treatment story? Eric Dezenhall, an expert on public relations in a crisis, suggested on FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume that the media "like the story of the arrogant America." He elaborated: "I think you have an elite community that doesn't like this war and the notion of the military perpetrating something like this validates the notion that all things military are bad, all things assertive are bad and that all things Bush are bad. So you have a nice little package here."
During an appearance on Hume's May 5 show on Wednesday, Dezenhall suggested: "I think that those who are hostile to Bush, and conventional media, like the story of the arrogant America -- the proof that 'see, I told you they were arrogant after all.' And what this incident with the photographs of the Iraqis does is it validates the notion that, 'you see, these guys are heavy-handed imperialists.' So it's the story everyone wants to do, just like nobody wants in a murder mystery for it to turn out that the cute little girl did it. You want to have somebody evil do it. This validates that narrative. That's why it's so tough to get out of."
For a picture of Dezenhall on the Web site of his firm, Dezenhall Resources: www.dezenhall.com
Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert bury the lead? An article posted Wednesday on the MSNBC.com Web site began: "Only a third of American voters believe the nation is in sound shape, but they are largely not blaming President Bush, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Wednesday, which showed Bush running slightly ahead of his Democratic opponent for President, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts." But Brokaw and Russert, on Wednesday's NBC Nightly News, didn't mention, until the very end of a two-minute rundown, how the poll found Bush ahead as Brokaw led by insisting the survey "contains some unsettling news for President Bush and just a sliver of good news for him."
The bad news is most think the nation is going in the wrong direction and more don't think Bush deserves reelection than do.
The "sliver" of good news for Bush: The poll found 46 percent for Bush, 42 percent favoring Kerry and 5 percent planning to vote for Ralph Nader.
Brokaw set up the rundown of the poll's findings, on the May 5 NBC Nightly News: "The new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll is out tonight, and it contains some unsettling news for President Bush and just a sliver of good news for him. We're going to talk about that now with NBC's Tim Russert, who's moderator of Meet the Press and our Washington Bureau Chief. Tim, right direction, wrong direction. That's always a key poll in an election year. What are the pollsters finding?"
Russert explained, with matching on-screen graphics of poll results displayed throughout his q and a with Brokaw, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "Prime indicator for an incumbent President, only 33 percent of Americans think the country's going in the right direction, 50 percent, Tom, think the wrong direction. Look back in March. It was 43, 49. That's a pretty strong decline."
Unlike ABC News and CBS News, NBC News does not post its poll results, just a generalized article about them. For MSNBC.com's May 5 story by Alex Johnson on this poll, "NBC poll: Pessimism not sticking to President; Half of voters unhappy with direction, but Bush still leads Kerry," see: www.msnbc.msn.com
# Friday night on CBS's JAG, a pro-military show revolving around lawyers in the Navy's Judge Advocate Corps, as summarized on CBS's Web page for the program: "As the grieving mother of a Marine killed in Iraq prepares for her son's body to arrive home and his funeral, Harm steps in to help when he learns that she is being hounded by reporters wanting to interview her about her tragedy."
CBS's Web page for the show: www.cbs.com
JAG airs Friday nights at 9pm EDT/PDT, 8pm CDT/MDT.
-- Brent Baker