Rather Frets Over "Soldiers Caught Up in Propaganda Campaign" --10/14/2003
2. Nets Disdain Bush's Local Interview Strategy to Go Around Them
3. CNBC's Bad News Bias, Bush's Good News Claim Baffles Anchor
4. FNC Reporter Admits Focus on Violence in Iraq Misses Normalcy
Poster: "The Echoes Are Immense" Between Iraq & Vietnam
6. Time's Joe Klein Smears Bill Clinton Accusers as "Lunatics"
Clarification: The October 13 CyberAlert suggested a quote from Al Franken on Friday's NewsNight followed immediately after a question from Aaron Brown, who had inquired about Rush Limbaugh: "Does it matter do you think that the drugs that Mr. Limbaugh is addicted to are prescription drugs as opposed to recreational drugs?" Franken did level the following charge about Limbaugh, but later in the interview: "No, I don't think he can do a rigorously honest show. I have listened to him enough, done enough books on him, that he is always, he's a dishonest demagogue." Also, upon further listening, though it's unclear, I think Franken said "done enough books on him," as the quote in the previous sentence now reads, and not "read" enough books as the October 13 CyberAlert stated -- as does CNN's posted transcript. Don't want to be accused of being a lying liar.
The networks on Monday treated as a major scandal a story that USA Today, which had it first, thought merited only the bottom of page 7. "U.S. soldiers caught up in an apparent propaganda campaign," Dan Rather teased at the top of the CBS Evening News as he demanded: "Who really wrote their letters home?"
ABC dedicated a story to how the identical letter, signed by different soldiers in the same unit, appeared in a bunch of stateside newspapers a month ago. Peter Jennings offered an insight as to the type of Web pages he visits as he observed how "on the Internet today, many people were assuming this was propaganda from the Bush administration," but Jennings noted that ABC reporter Martha Raddatz "has a more complete story from the Pentagon." She found a more innocuous story than did CBS as she discovered not a Pentagon-based conspiracy but that the unit commander was behind the letter.
Raddatz relayed how one mother "had no problem sending her son's letter to the Boston Globe because she says it accurately reflects what's going on in Kirkuk." And despite Rather's worry about insidious propaganda, CBS's John Blackstone conceded at the very end of his piece that a soldier's "mother says the sentiment is more important than the signature." She maintained: "The letter is consistent with things my son has told me on the telephone that he has done. So, I don't have any reason to believe he didn't have a hand in writing it."
Monday's NBC Nightly News mentioned the letter writing controversy, but avoided a full story while CNN's NewsNight ran a full piece by Jamie McIntyre followed later in the show by substitute anchor Anderson Cooper conducting an interview segment about methods of generating fake "grassroots" publicity.
The whole matter began with a story in the Olympian newspaper in Olympia, Washington over the weekend which went national when Monday's USA Today ran a Gannett News Service story by Ledyard King at the bottom of page 7 of the A section, "Newspapers print same letter signed by different soldiers." See: www.usatoday.com
Now, more on the CBS and ABC stories aired Monday night, October 13:
-- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather set up the story: "A curious situation has developed about some recent letters home allegedly from American troops in Iraq. Several of the letters, published in local newspapers, are raising some questions, including who actually wrote these letters."
Without citing the dates any of them ran, San Francisco-based CBS reporter John Blackstone cited a letter from soldier Adam Connell in Kirkuk to the Boston Globe which listed the accomplishments of his unit -- building a police force, creating a new fire department, getting kids back to school. After showing his mother, Amy Connell, saying the writing level did not match her son's abilities, Blackstone proceeded to relay the main points:
After noting how the unit's commander said it was a group effort, Blackstone ran a clip of Mark Trahant of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, who complained: "Is this how our tax dollars are being spent? Having someone come up with letters for people to sign? And does that affect a better way to have a policy about the debate in Iraq?"
Blackstone concluded with the version run in the Mountain View Telegraph in New Mexico, signed by Jason Marshall. Blackstone conceded: "His mother says the sentiment is more important than the signature."
Raddatz explained, as taken down by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "Roughly a dozen letters were sent to newspapers from Massachusetts to California, and many places in between. The letters talk about successes in northern Iraq. Each is signed by different soldiers from the Second Battalion, 503d Infantry, but the words are exactly the same. 'There is very little trash in the streets, many more people in the markets and shops, and children have returned to school,' the letters say. 'I am proud of the work we are doing here in Iraq, and I hope all of your readers are as well.' Kirkuk has seen improvements, and the city has been far less violent than others, but Amy Connell knew when she received the letter signed by her son, Adam, that he hadn't written it."
But it was "original" reporting given the media's reluctance to pick up on positive news from inside Iraq.
Here is the full text of the form letter in question:
I have been serving in Iraq for over five months now as a soldier in the 2d Battalion of the 503d Airborne Infantry Regiment, otherwise known as the "Rock." We entered the country at midnight on March 26; 1,000 of my fellow soldiers and I parachuted from 10 jumbo jets (known as C17s) onto a cold, muddy field in Bashur in Northern Iraq.
This parachute operation was the U.S. Army's only combat jump of the war and opened up the northern front. Things have changed tremendously for our battalion since those first cold, wet weeks spent in Bashur. On April 10, our battalion conducted an attack south into the oil rich town of Kirkuk, the city that has since become our home away from home and the focus of our security and development efforts.
Kirkuk is a hot and dusty city of just over a million people. The majority of the city has welcomed our presence with open arms. After five months here, the people still come running from their homes into the 110-degree heat waving at us as our troops drive by on daily patrols of the city. Children smile and run up to shake hands, and in broken English shout, "thank you, mister."
The people of Kirkuk are all trying to find their way in this new democratic environment. Some major steps have been made. A big reason for our steady progress is that the soldiers are living among the people of the city and getting to know their neighbors and the needs of the neighborhoods.
We have also been instrumental in building a new police force. Kirkuk now has 1,700 police officers. The police are now, ethnically, a fair representation of the community as a whole. So far, we have spent more than $500,000 from the former Iraqi regime to repair the stations' electricity and plumbing, to paint each station, and to make them functional places for the police to work.
The battalion has also assisted in reestablishing Kirkuk's fire department, which is now even more efficient than before the war. New water treatment and sewage plants are being constructed, and the distribution of oil and gas are steadily improving. All of these functions were started by our soldiers here in the northern city, and are now slowly being turned over to the newly elected city government.
Laws are being rewritten to reflect democratic principles and a functioning judicial system was recently established to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the rule of law. The quality of life and security for the citizens has been largely restored, and we are a large part of why that has happened.
The fruits of all our soldiers' efforts are clearly visible in the streets of Kirkuk today. There is very little trash in the streets, many more people in the markets and shops, and children have returned to schools. This is all evidence that the work American soldiers are doing is bettering the lives of Kirkuk's citizens.
END Reprint of Letter
It isn't nice to fool with the national media. The anchors and White House reporters for the national networks weren't too pleased by President Bush trying to go around them by conducting interviews on Monday with reporters from local affiliate station groups. CBS's John Roberts intoned: "It was the public relations equivalent of a declaration of war aimed at the national media, President Bush claiming the American people aren't getting the truth about Iraq."
Roberts contrasted Bush's claims with reality: "In interviews with regional television outlets today, which the White House feels will go easier on the President, Mr. Bush all but ignored the daily attacks on U.S. troops and personnel, instead telling Hearst-Argyle television the news about Iraq is good."
Over on ABC's World News Tonight, Peter Jennings similarly contrasted the day's violence with Bush's claims: "On a day when the Army confirmed that three more American soldiers had been killed, Mr. Bush said that the news media, and he meant the national news media, is too heavily focused on the violence." Terry Moran called it a "a rare outburst for a President who likes to cultivate friendly relations with some White House reporters."
Hmmm. "Some" White House reporters. Could Moran be jealous of them?
-- CBS Evening News, October 13. Dan Rather asserted: "With U.S. public support for his Iraq policy slipping, President Bush is blaming the national media and attempting to make an end run around it now."
John Roberts began: "It was the public relations equivalent of a declaration of war aimed at the national media, President Bush claiming the American people aren't getting the truth about Iraq."
Bush: "The Iraqi people are beginning to prosper. Electricity is up and running and millions, or thousands of children have been immunized. Hospitals are open, schools are functioning."
-- ABC's World News Tonight. Peter Jennings teased the broadcast: "On World News Tonight, President Bush complains about the news coverage in Iraq. Too much about violence, he says."
Jennings led his show: "Good evening, everyone. The news about Iraq today begins with the President, and will be read and heard by an American public very divided about the President's current Iraqi policy. Mr. Bush has said again today, but in very strong terms, that the U.S. is making progress in Iraq -- good progress, he said, and the critics are just wrong. And on a day when the Army confirmed that three more American soldiers had been killed, Mr. Bush said that the news media, and he meant the national news media, is too heavily focused on the violence. He is not the first President to be unhappy with the coverage of America at war. And we begin with our White House correspondent, Terry Moran."
Moran, sporting eyeglasses, began, as transcribed by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth: "The President was out golfing this holiday afternoon, but he spent the morning whacking the press."
Last Thursday's The News with Brian Williams on CNBC provided a perfect example of the kind of bad news bias from Iraq which prompted President Bush to seek to go around the national media (see item #2 above) to let the public know about good news in Iraq.
Substitute anchor Dawn Fratangelo, MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth noticed, opened the October 9 newscast: "Tonight on The News, this is what victory looked like six months ago [video of statue coming down]. This is what it looks like today [video of protesters]. Another suicide bombing, another assassination, another dead American soldier..."
A baffled Fratangelo later asked CNBC's military expert: "Listening to the President today, he seems to think that this policy in Iraq is working. Given the repeated attacks there, how can that be?"
Fratangelo set up the show's top story from Iraq, which also ran on the NBC Nightly News: "Six months, that's how long it's been since we all watched that statue of Saddam Hussein fall. Six months since Operation Iraqi Freedom brought down the regime in Baghdad. But victory looked a lot different in the streets of Iraq today, with more violence and more deaths and with anti-American sentiment continuing to grow. We begin tonight with NBC's Kevin Tibbles in Iraq on the latest deadly attack."
Tibbles: "It was just before 9 this morning and a group of Iraqi policemen were waiting for their paychecks. Suddenly, a suicide bomber crashed his white Oldsmobile into the police station here in Sadr City, Baghdad's largest Shiite Muslim neighborhood."
A baffled Fratangelo turned to CNBC military analyst Rick Francona: "Listening to the President today, he seems to think that this policy in Iraq is working. Given the repeated attacks there, how can that be?"
Fratangelo, displaying the influence of her reliance on network news, soon wondered: "Since the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime, Americans listening to what's coming out of Iraq, it seems to be more negative than positive. Are there truly positive things going on in Iraq?"
One of FNC's reporters in Baghdad last week conceded that her just-aired report on the latest deadly violence "really doesn't reflect what's going on in the city here. I mean this city is going on life as normal, and people are going to work, kids are going to school, doctors are opening their offices...."
Molly Henneberg offered the concession on FNC's Fox and Friends last Thursday morning, MRC analyst Amanda Monson observed, following her story on how the six month mark since the Saddam statue fell was marred by a homicide car bombing and the killing of a U.S. soldier and a Spanish diplomat.
Live from Baghdad on October 9, she told the FNC morning show team of E.D. Hill, Brian Kilmead and Steve Doocy: "And as I toss it back to New York I just have to say, this report's rather gloomy, but it really doesn't reflect what's going on in the city here. I mean this city is going on life as normal, and people are going to work, kids are going to school, doctors are opening their offices. And there's tons of traffic, and life and people are shopping and it's really sad that these attacks happen, but this city goes on and it's getting back to normal."
The next hour, Henneberg again couched her coverage: "Need to put a little perspective here. Because we have had these attacks and they're sad and tragic, but for most Iraqis their lives go on as normal. Many of them are back to work, they're fixing up their country, they're shopping, the kids are going back to school, people say the situation is improving. [Ssoundbite from a Baghdad resident) Safety and peace here have several enemies though. Not only do you have Saddam loyalists and the foreign fighters here causing trouble, but it's also worth mentioning that we also have career criminal and thugs back on the streets here in Iraq. They were released from prison by Saddam Hussein just before the war and they're causing trouble here to."
For a picture and bio of Henneberg: www.foxnews.com
This was not the first time that Henneberg acknowledged media distortion of what is happening in Iraq. As recounted in the September 24 CyberAlert: Three reporters in Iraq see a disconnect between the bleak media portrayals of Iraq and the better reality. A day after Democratic Congressman Jim Marshall condemned the media's excessive negativism in covering Iraq, Time magazine's Brian Bennett, MSNBC's Bob Arnot and FNC's Molly Henneberg backed him up on how media reports don't match the improving reality of the situation, but CNN's Nic Robertson and CBS's Kimberly Dozier contended it's just as bad as they portray it. Plus, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann agreed there's a "lack of media attention about the success stories about what those Americans in harm's way are accomplishing." See: www.mediaresearch.org
"The echoes are immense" between Iraq and Vietnam, former Washington Post reporter David Maraniss insisted Friday night on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews. Maraniss, who is best known for his early 1990s biography of Bill Clinton, picked up on Vice President Dick Cheney's defense, in a speech earlier in the day, of the administration's Iraq policy. Maraniss maintained that it reminded him of President Lyndon Johnson "publicly sending out Dean Rusk and Robert McNamara...to defend their policies and say that they were winning the war, when in fact they were not."
Maraniss appeared on the October 10 show to plug his new book on the beginning of the Vietnam War, 1967.
MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens caught this question from host Chris Matthews: "David Maraniss, a hell of a book: 1967, I remember it well. The march on the Pentagon. I was there. Not a good time for people my age at that time and their parents. We disagreed profoundly. Do you feel any echoes of that today with regard to Iraq?"
Maraniss later suggested: "One of the other things that reminds me of Vietnam is this sort of notion that you have to preemptively go out and find the enemy. That's what they tried to do in Vietnam with their search and destroy missions. They would go out and look for the Viet Cong, think if they could only find them and kill them, they would win the war. And there were echoes of that, again, with what, what Cheney was saying today. And public perceptions are changing because of that."
More like because 40-year-old plus journalists portray everything through a Vietnam prism.
Smearing Bill Clinton's victims? Time magazine's Joe Klein claimed, on the Chris Matthews Show over the weekend, that Clinton was only charged with sexual improprieties "by lunatics." When Peggy Noonan pointed out how "he was charged by Juanita Broaddrick," Klein reaffirmed that he considered her a lunatic and "an extremist." And sounding like a friend of Kobe Bryant's, Klein argued: "I know Clinton pretty well and I don't think that he had to use force to get a woman to, to, to be with him."
MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens caught Klein's accusations during a discussion on the Chris Matthews Show, the weekend half hour carried by many NBC stations on Sundays and now re-run Sunday nights on CNBC, in the midst of a discussion about coverage of the groping charges against Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The relevant portion of the discussion:
Peggy Noonan: "I think the media and the Democratic Party spent the 1990s saying, 'none of this matters. You can do anything to women. We'll beat 'em up, we'll put private eyes on them if they come up and say that if anything has been done-'"
# Bill O'Reilly is scheduled to appear Wednesday night on NBC's Tonight Show.
-- Brent Baker