2. ABC Offers Sympathetic Looks at "Human Shields" in Iraq
3. ABC and CNN Hype the "Virtual" Protest Despite No Proof
4. It's Pre-War and Yet CNN Worries About "Another Quagmire"
5. MSNBC's Plight: Donahue Was Its Most-Watched Prime Time Show
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Saddam Hussein got plenty of time to spout his nonsense and falsehoods, largely without challenge, during Wednesday night's 60 Minutes II devoted entirely to Dan Rather's interview of the Iraqi dictator. On several occasions his translated answers went on for over two minutes.
In addition to denying possession of any weapons of mass destruction and promising to not set his oil fields on fire this time, viewers heard Hussein charge that in 1991 the U.S. "destroyed bridges, colleges, buildings, factories" and "killed people, and elderly." On numerous occasions Hussein cited "Allah" and "the Almighty" and proclaimed his concern for "humanity."
In addition to hyping Hussein's challenge to debate President Bush, Rather helped make Hussein seem like a reasonable and caring man by recounting how Hussein left the room at one point "to pray," highlighting, as if relevant or genuine, how Hussein corrected one of his translators for referring to George H.W. Bush as "Bush" and not "Mr. Bush" (Hussein: "I didn't say 'Bush.' I said 'Mr. Bush.' I am being historically accurate in showing him respect"), and Rather concluded the interview by expressing concern that "given the sober moment and the danger at hand, what are the chances this is the last time you and I will see each other?"
At least a bit after showcasing Hussein's "respect" for "Mr. Bush" Rather did note that Hussein tried to have "Mr. Bush" assassinated.
Rather also expressed "regret" about not being able to speak Arabic and then pleaded with Hussein: "Would you speak some English for me? Anything you choose?"
Only at the very end of the hour did Rather suggest that all Hussein said conflicts with reality as he pointed out how Hussein "says he's as strong as ever no matter that he's seen as a brutal leader, no matter that his country could be crippled and crushed in the months ahead, no matter that he may unleash biological and chemical weapons that could kill even his own people. Saddam Hussein judges victory by only one measure -- his own survival."
Below is a rundown in sequence of the subjects raised by Rather in the excerpts which consumed the entire February 26 edition of 60 Minutes II.
Rather started by asking if Hussein expects to be attacked, "are you afraid of being killed or captured?" and about the Al-Samoud missiles which Hussein denied violate any UN resolution.
When Rather wondered if a new UN resolution will make any difference at all in his position, Hussein denied possessing any weapons of mass destruction.
Next, Rather asked if Hussein had been offered asylum and would he consider exile to save his people death and destruction? Hussein replied by blaming the U.S. for death and destruction in 1991: "They destroyed bridges, colleges, buildings, factories. They destroyed houses, palaces. They killed people, and elderly, but they did not push Iraq back into the pre-industrial age."
After Hussein denied any connection to al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, Rather inquired: "Do you or do you not agree, in principle, with the attack of 9/11?" Hussein responded via a translator: "Let me tell you absolutely clearly: We believe in humanity. We believe in accordance with what Allah -- God Almighty -- has taught us, in the same way that God has taught humanity as a whole that there must be a law governing humanity and governing relations in humanity, that there should not be an aggressor while others are silent about the aggression. There should not be a killer while those who watch and applaud the killing."
Rather moved on to whether Hussein is still relevant on the Arab street and if he agrees that bin Laden is now the "champion of the Arab streets?" Hussein's reply included his contention that only women can be jealous, not men.
Concluding the opening segment, Rather, in the New York studio, recalled and plugged: "At one point during our interview, Saddam got up from his chair and said it was time for him to pray. He left the room and we thought that might be the last we heard or saw of him, but he returned about ten minutes later, seemed refreshed, and answered questions about what kind of war he expects, and if he'll set his oil fields on fire. Those answers, and his proposal for a sort of duel, a TV debate with George Bush, in a moment."
Following the ad break, Rather spent several minutes with Hussein's debate gimmick, a reply which came when Rather prompted Hussein to expound on his propaganda: "What's the most important thing you want the American people to understand at this important juncture of history?" Rather followed up with questions about the logistics and who would moderate.
About half way through the hour, Rather decided to focus on Hussein's concern for titles and respect: "During our interview, everything Saddam Hussein told us was being relayed with the help of his two translators sitting at the same table. It turns out that Saddam was not just speaking, but listening carefully to what they were saying. At one point, after President Hussein mentioned President Bush Senior, one of his translators called him 'Bush' instead of 'Mr. Bush.' Saddam Hussein interrupted him in mid-sentence."
In one of the odder sequences, Rather unsuccessfully prodded Hussein to speak English: "Mr. President, I hope you will take this question in the spirit in which it's asked. First of all, I regret that I do not speak Arabic. Do you speak any English at all?"
Back to Rather in the New York studio again, he offered a bit of a reality check on Hussein's respect for 41: "A footnote to what you just heard when Saddam Hussein corrected his interpreter, asking him to say 'Mr. Bush.' A reminder that after the first President Bush left office, Saddam Hussein tried to have him assassinated and today one of Saddam's own newspapers refers to the second President Bush as the 'son of the snake.'"
At the top of the next segment, Rather explained how only Iraqi TV cameras were allowed, that Hussein provided the interpreters and that CBS got the tape hours later, compared the translation and found it to be accurate.
Back to the interview tape, Rather asked if Hussein would set fire to oil fields or destroy damns. Hussein insisted the oil and water belong to the Iraqi people and so he would not do that.
Rather finally arrived at a bit of a dangerous question as he told Hussein that Vice President Cheney said that when U.S. troops arrive in Iraq they will be treated "as an army of liberation" and so, Rather inquired, "why should Americans not believe that?" Hussein maintained that no Iraqi will welcome an occupier, but that Iraqis will welcome friends from America. Hussein proceeded to cite how "the Iraqi people re-elected" himself in 1995 and 2002 "by 99.6 percent and 100 percent."
Rather recounted how the elder Bush prevailed in 1991 and now you face the son who has more lethal military force "aimed at your throat and heart," so why do you think you can prevail? Hussein denied Iraq was defeated in 1991, accused America of killing Iraqi children and trumpeted how "we did not cross the Atlantic" to kill any Americans.
In the very last exchange played by CBS, Rather worried: "I appreciate your remembering that we met in 1990. And I interviewed you in this very building. Given the sober moment and the danger at hand, what are the chances this is the last time you and I will see each other?"
Back from an ad break Rather wrapped up the hour by recalling some similarities to his 1990 interview in the same palace when Hussein wore a suit, professed to be for peace, invoked God's will and, Rather finally acknowledged after CBS's hype about the debate idea in the new interview, "even challenged the elder President Bush to a debate."
But the similarities end there, Rather intoned, as Hussein back in 1990 had no idea about the force that was about to hit him. Since then the U.S. military has become more powerful, Rather noted, while Iraq's army is one-third the size it used to be.
Rather concluded the broadcast: "It is Saddam's unshakable view of himself that comes through most clearly in both my conversations with him. After a quarter of a century in power in Iraq, Saddam Hussein says he's as strong as ever no matter that he's seen as a brutal leader, no matter that his country could be crippled and crushed in the months ahead, no matter that he may unleash biological and chemical weapons that could kill even his own people. Saddam Hussein judges victory by only one measure -- his own survival."
CBS has posted some video clips of the interview and a transcript of the whole thing: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/1999/05/24/60II/main48284.shtml
The transcript is in three parts:
Be advised that CBS posted a raw transcript of the interview as it took place and so: a) the sequence does not match the order in which excerpts were shown on 60 Minutes II and b) the transcript does not match the audio of the translation featured on 60 Minutes II. I found some big discrepancies and so what I have quoted above does not always match the posted transcript, but it is what was actually said on 60 Minutes II.
ABC News offered sympathetic looks on Wednesday at the efforts of some from the U.S. to act as "human shields" in Iraq. On World News Tonight, Dan Harris in Baghdad profiled "Ryan Clancy, a substitute English teacher from Milwaukee," who "became so convinced that a war with Iraq would be unjustified and unwise that he sold his stake in a local record store and came to Baghdad" to "act as a human shield."
After playing a clip of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld saying that "deploying human shields is not a military strategy, it's murder," Harris offered some moral equivalence: "But human rights lawyers say if the Pentagon bombs places inhabited by human shields that too would be a war crime."
Harris worried about how the human shields "are facing" the "problem" of "how to avoid being tools of the Iraqi government" when the regime is providing food and housing. Imagine that. But Harris assured viewers that Clancy "says he's not here to protect Saddam Hussein, just the Iraqi people."
Wednesday morning on Good Morning America, Diane Sawyer interviewed two human shields from Iraq and while she offered a friendly explanation for their cause and wondered what would motivate a 63-year-old human to participate, she also challenged one about how they can only go where Hussein wants.
Harris, who focused on a grain facility, failed to raise the issue of the "shields" being placed around military installations and neither morning or evening segment suggested in any way that there is anything villainous about Americans going to the aid of an enemy nation.
On the February 26 World News Tonight, anchor Peter Jennings set up the Harris story by noting how General Tommy Franks said he could not assure the safety of human shields.
Harris began his piece: "Ryan Clancy, a substitute English teacher from Milwaukee, became so convinced that a war with Iraq would be unjustified and unwise that he sold his stake in a local record store and came to Baghdad where he just moved into a food storage facility to act as a human shield."
Wednesday's Good Morning America, MRC analyst Jessica Anderson noticed, gave publicity to the cause of two shields. Diane Sawyer introduced her satellite interviews:
ABC and CNN on Wednesday hyped the so-called "virtual protest" organized by anti-liberation of Iraq activists to get people to call, fax and e-mail Congress and the White House. "Many congressional phone lines were jammed for several hours and one Senator reported 18 times more e-mail than usual," Peter Jennings asserted in passing along an unsourced anecdote.
CNN's Inside Politics devoted a story to the publicity gimmick as Maria Hinojosa marveled at how there were "so many calls for a first-ever virtual anti-war march in Washington that the Capitol's phone system jammed at one point." Hinojosa relayed how "organizers are saying that over a million calls, and e-mails and faxes have come in," though she conceded that "the downside of a virtual march is that there's no real hard-and-fast way to prove that." But that didn't seem to matter to CNN which found it newsworthy despite having no idea of the stunt's real success.
Peter Jennings intoned on the February 26 World News Tonight:
Earlier, on CNN's Inside Politics, anchor Judy Woodruff announced: "Anti-war protesters today traded in their walking shoes for telephones, computers and faxes, creating a different kind of traffic jam at the White House and on Capitol Hill."
Maria Hinojosa began from Capitol Hill: "Well, Judy, you know, old-time activists were able to really judge their success by the number of bodies that they saw standing right out here in front of the Capitol. Now, in this new era, people are realizing that there are many ways to judge success."
Over video of phones being answered in Senate offices, Hinojosa related: "For those in the Senate offices answering the phones there was nothing virtual about Wednesday's demonstration. It was work. And if it wasn't the phones ringing off the hook it was the faxes or the e-mails that came throughout the day. So many calls for a first-ever virtual anti-war march in Washington that the Capitol's phone system jammed at one point."
Hinojosa marveled: "At Senator Feinstein's office, six staffers were dedicated just to the phones. Hundreds of calls Wednesday added to the 40,000 anti-war calls she's received over the past month."
Hinojosa proceeded to given organizers unchallenged time to spout their spin: "Anti-war activists in this modern age say the virtual world has made their work easier. It took only weeks to pull together millions around the world for street protests because of e-mail communication. It helped coordinate Wednesday's full-page New York Times ad by musicians against the war. Whatever the form, the anti-war movement says it's got a clear message that is finally getting out."
Hinojosa wrapped up: "Now, Judy, I can say that many of the protesters who were taking part in this virtual march who were calling in said it took them anywhere from a half an hour to an hour to get through to their Senators, but eventually they were able to do that. Not so at the White House. I haven't heard from one person yet who said they've been able to make any call that gets through to the White House. Organizers are saying that over a million calls, and e-mails and faxes have come in. But the downside of a virtual march is that there's no real hard-and-fast way to prove that."
The Web site for Win Without War, the group behind the "virtual" protest: http://www.moveon.org/
The war has yet to start, but CNN is already worrying that it could become "another quagmire."
The MRC's Rich Noyes noticed that during an interview with Democratic Senator Carl Levin, about a post-war Iraq, on Wednesday's 5pm EST Wolf Blitzer Reports viewers saw this two-line on-screen graphic:
The numbers on MSNBC's Donahue versus Hardball. The February 26 CyberAlert noted how despite Donahue's abysmal ratings, the Washington Post's Lisa de Moraes reported that Donahue was "MSNBC's most watched prime time program."
I guess that's like arguing over which deck of the Titanic will fill with water first.
In a February 26 New York Times story, Bill Carter reported:
And it would appear that Donahue is gone from the line-up even sooner than expected. After running a repeat on Tuesday (with Peter Jennings), on Wednesday night MSNBC expanded Countdown: Iraq to two hours, from 7 to 9pm EST, an expansion that was not expected to begin until next week. Or it could have been a one-night aberration because of President Bush's Iraq speech ending at 7:50pm EST. -- Brent Baker