Networks Undeterred by Any Doubts About Clarke's Credibility --3/25/2004
2. Ex-NBC News Reporter Star Jones to Emcee Democratic Fundraiser
Corrections: The March 24 CyberAlert item on NPR dumping Bob Edwards from Morning Edition referred to how a Washington Post story cited "NPR spokesman Terry Gross." That is not her first name. It's Laura, not Terry. An item in the March 23 CyberAlert recounted how ABC News noted that FBI documents contradicted John Kerry's claim that he was not present at an anti-war meeting when a man "proposed a plan to assassinate members of Congress who supported the war." CyberAlert spelled the man's name, "Scott Kameel [sp?]." In picking up the CyberAlert item, Washington Times "Inside Politics" columnist Greg Pierce on March 24 corrected the spelling. The last name is spelled "Camil."
Three events on Wednesday served to undermine former counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke's contention that the Bush administration failure to adequately pursue al-Qaeda in it first months in office made the attacks possible: First, the Fox News Channel released the text and audio of an August 5, 2002 background briefing given by Clarke in which he countered claims that the incoming Bush team had in any way fumbled the pursuit of terrorists in taking over from the Clinton administration; second, during his testimony before the 9-11 Commission hearing, Clarke conceded that any actions by the Bush team coming into office in early 2001 would have been too late to prevent the 9-11 attacks; and third, during the hearing commissioners pointed out how Clarke hadn't made any of his anti-Bush claims in 14 hours of private testimony.
On the latter point, on the broadcast network evening shows on Wednesday, ABC's Terry Moran uniquely observed how "several commission members pointed out that Clarke had never expressed his criticisms to them in 14 hours of private testimony."
Yet none of the developments bruised Clarke's credibility with the networks who still treated his anti-Bush take as authoritative. The broadcast networks on Wednesday night looked at Clarke's 2002 words not from the perspective of his inconsistency, but as proof of how he's under attack from the White House. CNN's NewsNight didn't even mention, in its two stories on the hearings, Clarke's 2002 defense of Bush policy, though anchor Heidi Collins later cryptically referred to "the disclosure of Clarke's 2002 background briefing," leading Jeff Greenfield to offer a one-sentence summary of what Clarke had argued in 2002.
ABC anchor Charles Gibson noted how Clarke apologized to 9-11 families and then painted him as the victim: "The simplicity of his statement belie the ferocity of the fight the White House is waging to discredit Richard Clarke." Terry Moran soon complained about how "White House officials launched a ferocious counterattack, taking the extraordinary step of allowing Fox News to unmask Clarke as the official who provided a background briefing for reporters in August 2002 when the counter-terrorism chief sang a very different tune."
On the March 24 CBS Evening News, anchor John Roberts characterized Clarke's testimony as "electrifying," and trumpeted how "what Richard Clarke had to say captivated all who heard it" as "he pulled no punches, naming names and laying blame." Reporter Jim Stewart gushed: "In an extraordinary day on Capitol Hill, the man formerly in charge of President Bush's counter-terrorism program raised his hand, swore an oath, and with the first question from the 9/11 Commission, knocked the White House on its heels." Stewart bucked up Clarke: "Few people have as many credentials to level such charges." And he showcased a soundbite of Clarke declaring he's no Democrat: "Last time I had to declare my party loyalty, I asked for a Republican ballot."
Only at the very end of his story did Stewart acknowledge: "He ended his testimony on a note of stark reality, however. Even if the Bush administration had acted immediately on all of his recommendations, Clarke believes the plan and the men were in place, and 9-11 would have happened anyway."
In a second story, Bill Plante, one of the reporters in on the 2002 conference call with Clarke, asserted: "Continuing its strenuous efforts to counter Clarke's charges, the administration today alerted reporters to a telephone briefing which Clarke offered in August 2002. Responding to a Time magazine report that the Bush administration did not treat terrorism as a top priority before 9/11, Clarke painted a decidedly upbeat picture to journalists." Plante, however, refused to credit FNC, whose Jim Angle kept an audio recording of the session, and instead referred to "a transcript of that phone call read by the Press Secretary."
At least NBC's David Gregory got up front to what CBS's Stewart had buried. Gregory began his NBC Nightly News piece: "Today Clarke accused the Bush administration of failing to make terrorism a top priority when it came into office, but he also admitted that if officials here had listened to him sooner it still probably would not have stopped 9-11." Unlike the other networks, Gregory also noted criticism of the Clinton administration: "While Clarke asserts that battling terrorism was an extraordinary high priority for President Clinton, it became clear today he was frustrated by the Clinton White House as well."
As for Clarke's 2002 take, Gregory, at the White House, also failed to credit FNC as he explained: "In a further attempt to undermine Clarke, today officials here made public this previously anonymous briefing which Clarke himself gave to reporters in August 2002. Clarke said that in March of 2001 President Bush ordered an change in the 'strategic direction' of the anti-al-Qaeda plan, 'from one of roll-back to one of elimination.' Today Clarke said he was just offering positive spin back then; he didn't really believe the administration was doing enough."
Gregory concluded with Clarke's current spin: "Clarke says he is coming down so hard on the Bush White House because he believes strongly that the invasion of Iraq has undermined the war on terror and strengthened the culprits behind 9-11."
In a second story, Andrea Mitchell went through the testimony of the others who appeared before the commission and, like CBS and CNN, without noting Kristen Bretweiser's involvement with left-wing politics, she featured a soundbite from the 9-11 family member. Mitchell set her up as a representative family member: "At the hearings today, families of the 9-11 victims, frustrated." Breitweiser opined: "It's just lame excuses and, you know, to put it in a flip way, apparently nobody knows nothin'."
Next on NBC, anchor Tom Brokaw quizzed National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice about her decision, citing executive privilege and the separation of powers, to not testify publicly, though she has done so extensively in private sessions. Brokaw proposed to her: "Dr. Rice, with all due respect, I think a lot of people are watching this tonight saying, 'well, she can appear on television, write commentaries, but she won't appear before the commission under oath. It just doesn't seem to make sense.'"
CNN's NewsNight led with David Ensor's summary of Clarke's testimony. Ensor outlined it: "Before the 9/11 Commission Richard Clarke reaffirmed and sharpened his attack on the Bush administration he once served for failing, he says, to do enough to protect the nation against al-Qaeda terrorism in its first eight months in office."
Following Ensor, CNN aired a piece from Kelly Wallace on other testimony and the reaction of 9-11 families. Later in the one-hour show, fill-in anchor Heidi Collins talked to Jeff Greenfield about the political impact of Clarke's claims. Though Clarke's 2002 defense of Bush had not yet been mentioned on the program, Collins raised it in her first question to Greenfield, a question that didn't make sense: "The focus of today's hearings was clearly Richard Clarke and his charge that the Bush administration didn't take this threat of terror very seriously. Do you think that the disclosure of Clarke's 2002 background briefing accomplished that pretty well?"
Earlier, on FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume, Jim Angle came aboard to outline what he found in an old audio recording of a background session with Clarke on August 5, 2002, a phone session the White House had wanted to be on background. But on Wednesday they lifted the restriction so FNC could quote from it directly and name the source.
Angle explained: "Clarke, who has written a new book on the topic, has been saying the Bush administration did virtually nothing about the threat from al-Qaeda in its first few months in office. But in a session with reporters in August of 2002, Clarke seemed to say the opposite, praising the Bush administration for acting quickly."
Angle played two audio clips of Clarke who talked to reporters in order to counter a Time magazine cover story, which cited Clarke as a source, which contended the Bush team was provided with an anti-al-Qaeda action plan by the outgoing Clinton team, but dropped the ball. In the first clip, Clarke explained how the Bush administration did "add to the existing Clinton strategy and to increase CIA resources, for example, for covert action, five-fold, to go after Al Qaeda."
In the second, Clarke recalled: "When President Bush told us in March to stop swatting at flies and just solve this problem, then that was the strategic direction that changed the NSPD [National Security Presidential Directive] from one of rollback to one of elimination."
FNC has posted a transcript of the August 5, 2002 conference call. Clarke's first words: "I've got about seven points, let me just go through them quickly. Um, the first point, I think the overall point is, there was no plan on Al Qaeda that was passed from the Clinton administration to the Bush administration...."
For the full transcript: www.foxnews.com
An excerpt from the Tuesday, August 6, 2002, CyberAlert published the day after that conference call:
CBS and NBC on Monday night jumped on a Time magazine cover story about how the outgoing Clinton administration provided a plan to fight al-Qaeda which the Bush team failed to implement until after the 9-11 attacks. "The battle over history," Dan Rather teased at the top of the August 5 CBS Evening News before declaring: "Veterans of the Clinton administration say the Bush team didn't take their al-Qaeda warnings and plans seriously enough."
Rather set up the story by referring to how "controversy is swirling over what did or did not happen concerning terrorism in the early months" of the Bush presidency. Rather ominously intoned: "The controversy centers around serious questions raised by a counter-terrorism expert who worked for Presidents Reagan, Bush Sr., and Clinton."
Over on the NBC Nightly News, fill-in anchor Stone Phillips led with the Time-relayed Clinton spin but at least added how the Bush side denies the storyline: "There is a new published report tonight that the outgoing Clinton administration gave the Bush White House a ready-made plan for attacking al-Qaeda that was ignored. Not true, says the Bush camp."
On both networks the subsequent stories, by Bill Plante on CBS and Andrea Mitchell on NBC, conveyed the Bush team's denials that they fell down on the job, insistence that the Clinton policy was less a plan than a set of ideas and how the Clinton people never implemented an anti-al Qaeda policy while in office. NBC's Mitchell, for instance, noted that Bush officials pointed out "that the Clinton White House did nothing for more than two years until it ran out of time and left office." But that was all in stories which had Bush team fecklessness as their theme....
END of Excerpt from Previous CyberAlert
For the August 6, 2002 CyberAlert item in full: www.mediaresearch.org
Now, full transcripts of Wednesday night, March 24, ABC and CBS stories, as taken down by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth:
-- ABC's World News Tonight. Anchor Charles Gibson led the broadcast: "Good evening. It was the most anticipated moment of the hearings before the commission looking into the events leading up to 9/11. The appearance of Richard Clarke, the former top counterterrorism official in government, now a consultant to ABC News. Clarke has been sharply critical, in interviews and a new book, of the Bush administration's approach to terrorism. His opening statement stunned the hearing room. Instead of further criticism, he addressed the families of those who died that day."
Moran began: "Richard Clarke praised President Clinton's effort to fight terrorism, but he leveled a damning indictment against President Bush."
Up next, Pierre Thomas reviewed the other witnesses, including CIA Director Tenet and former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger.
-- CBS Evening News. Anchor John Roberts teased up top: "The man in the middle of the 9-11 storm gives dramatic and damning testimony about the failures that led to the nation's worst terrorist attack."
Roberts opened the broadcast: "It is on rare occasion that one could describe a hearing on Capitol Hill as electrifying, but today's was that and more. It was day two of public hearings by the commission investigating the September 11th attacks on America. And what Richard Clarke had to say captivated all who heard it. The former counter-terrorism aide, who has bluntly accused President Bush of bungling the war on terror, began by addressing the families of those who died on 9/11 with an admission and an apology."
Roberts: "The content of Clarke's apology clearly stirred a lot of emotions, but as Jim Stewart reports tonight, it was the substance of Clarke's testimony that dominated today's hearing, and he pulled no punches, naming names and laying blame."
Stewart began: "In an extraordinary day on Capitol Hill, the man formerly in charge of President Bush's counter-terrorism program raised his hand, swore an oath, and with the first question from the 9/11 Commission, knocked the White House on its heels."
Roberts then introduced a second story: "In response today, President Bush's top aides tried harder than ever to refute Clarke's criticism and leveled charges of their own against him. Bill Plante has more on the revved up White House reaction and its strategy for countering Clarke."
Plante began: "The Bush White House remains in crisis mode over Richard Clarke's charges, and again sent top officials to deny that the administration ignored the terrorist threat, and to accuse Clark of changing his story to sell his book."
For the Web site for the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States: www.9-11commission.gov
Former NBC News reporter Star Jones, now a quad-host of ABC's daytime show The View, will be the emcee tonight, Thursday, at a fundraiser for the Young Democrats to be held at a nightclub in Washington, DC.
"I'm a card-carrying Democrat," she enthused on The View last June. See: www.mediaresearch.org
From the top of the press release:
"On March 25, 2004, Democrats from across the country will gather in Washington, D.C. to participate in the Democrats United Celebration. Also taking place that day will be Young Democrats United -- 'Something New Part II,' at Dream Nightclub. 'Something New' will honor former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, and feature, among others, The View's Star Jones, DJ Biz Markie, and honorary hosts Tracey and Kenneth 'Babyface' Edmonds.
For the DNC's press release in full: www.democrats.org
For more about the multiple events set for Thursday night: www.democrats.org
For Star Jones' page on The View's Web site: abc.go.com
Jones has her on Web site: www.starjones.com
And she's on the cover of this week's TV Guide (March 27-April 2 issue): www.tvguide.com
# To watch, via RealPlayer, what you missed at the MRC's "DisHonors" awards event last Thursday go to: www.mediaresearch.org
# Tonight, Thursday, on Comedy Central's Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Al Franken.
-- Brent Baker