2. Clift and Brown Suggest David Kelly Will Be Blair's Vince Foster
3. Russert Sees SOTU Flap as Just Partisan, Ignores Media Role
4. Totenberg Sees Anti-Bush Shift "In the Entire Public Demeanor"
5. CBS Raises Specter of Johnson Using Bad Info to Escalate Vietnam
6. Russert Rails Against Deficit, Then Demands More Spending
7. Wash Post Cites Gephardt's "Pledge to Fill Taxpayers' Pockets"
8. On HBO, Bob Costas Delivers a Sycophantic Session with Hillary
9. Stephanopoulos a "Journalistic Leader for the Next 30
Update/Clarification. On Friday afternoon, the following "Web Update from CyberAlert Editor Brent Baker" was appended to item #5 of the July 18 edition: Characterizations of Jake Tapper's stories, and the people on which they focused, quoted in the CyberAlert as originally posted earlier today were communicated by Tapper to an MRC employee who passed them on to me and I assumed he meant for us to quote him. However, Tapper has informed me that he considered the e-mail to be private and did not intend for his characterizations to be quoted or posted. Therefore, since there should be a presumption that person-to-person e-mail is private and a mis-communication inside the MRC led to this problem, we have edited out his comments on those stories listed below, replacing his descriptions with my own descriptions or the actual titles of the articles penned by Tapper.
Best Question of the Weekend, Fox News Sunday host Tony Snow to Senator Jay Rockefeller, Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Rockefeller complained about the supposed inaccuracy of President Bush's State of the Union claim about Iraq pursuing uranium in Africa and how while the National Intelligence Estimate said most intelligence agencies believed Iraq was trying to re-build its nuclear weapons program, the State Department disagreed.
That led Snow to wonder: "You received the National Intelligence Estimate back in October, correct?"
Great media minds think alike. The suicide of David Kelly in Britain, the Ministry of Defense official who denied being the source for a BBC radio story about how the Blair administration "sexed up" intelligence reports about the threat posed by Iraq, but whom post-death the BBC said was their source, led Eleanor Clift and Aaron Brown to suggest he could be Blair's Vince Foster.
On the McLaughlin Group taped on Friday afternoon, Newsweek's Clift suggested: "The impact is that the conspiracy theorists will be out. This is the equivalent of the Vince Foster suicide and the way it escalated the Whitewater scandal."
CNN NewsNight anchor Brown set up an interview segment on Friday night: "Peter Stothard is with us tonight. Mr. Stothard is the former Editor of The Times of London. He spent 30 days shadowing the British Prime Minister during the run-up to the war. His new book, surprisingly enough, is called Thirty Days. Nice to have you with us tonight. Is this Mr. Blair's Vince Foster?"
Noting how Republicans complain questions about 16 words in the State of the Union address are being "overblown," on Sunday's Meet the Press Tim Russert argued to House Speaker Dennis Hastert: "Let me ask you a very serious question. If President Bill Clinton uttered 16 words in the State of the Union message that were later found to be mistaken about national security and about intelligence, what do you think the reaction of Republicans would be?"
But the partisan opposition on the attack isn't anything new. What matters here to distorting the public's perception of the pre-war intelligence consensus on the threat posed by Saddam Hussein is how the news media are turning a quibble about one sentence into a major scandal.
The exchange on the July 20 Meet the Press on NBC:
Russert: "As you know, the President uttered 16 words in the State of the Union message that the White House now said should not have been in that speech. Some Republicans are saying, 'Oh, it's just 16 words in a whole speech. What's the big concern? And this is way overblown.' Let me ask you a very serious question. If President Bill Clinton uttered 16 words in the State of the Union message that were later found to be mistaken about national security and about intelligence, what do you think the reaction of Republicans would be?"
White House ineptness may have fueled the fire, but the Washington press corps is piling on the logs.
When NPR's Nina Totenberg contended that a Time magazine cover with the words "Untruth and Consequences" over a photo of President Bush, and a piece on "intimate portraits of soldiers killed in Iraq," symbolized the shift against Bush "in the entire public demeanor," Evan Thomas of Newsweek shut her down: "That does not mean a 'shift in the entire public demeanor.' That's just a gross overstatement. It means a five percent slip in the polls."
Viewers of Inside Washington over the weekend were treated to this exchange:
Nina Totenberg of National Public Radio: "To me the sort of shift in the entire public demeanor of all of this was symbolized by the cover, forgive me Evan, of Time magazine this week which had a huge picture of Bush at the State of the Union with a huge headline that said, 'Untruths and Consequences,' and the only other story on the cover was 'intimate portraits of soldiers killed in Iraq.' And that combines these two stories, it shows where all of this is and it also shows the press is now much more rabid than it was before."
The CBS Evening News on Saturday night, in a story on the complaints of one ex-CIA analyst that the Bush administration misused CIA intelligence, raised the specter of Lyndon Johnson's abuse of intelligence to escalate the Vietnam War.
"This is not the first time the U.S. has gone to war based on facts that later turned out to be questionable," CBS News reporter Jim Acosta maintained before asserting: "For some intelligence veterans, the fear is the truth, and the reputation of the people who must find the truth, may have become casualties of this war."
On the July 19 CBS Evening News, Acosta dedicated a story to the charge by former CIA analyst Raymond McGovern that he and other ex-CIAers are, in Acosta's words, "troubled by the U.S. case for war."
Acosta tried to link the current situation to what led to a decade-plus war in Vietnam which killed more than 50,000 Americans: "This is not the first time the U.S. has gone to war based on facts that later turned out to be questionable. Almost 40 years ago President Johnson pointed to unconfirmed reports of attacks on American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin to convince the Congress to widen the war in Vietnam. Raymond McGovern says it's time to heed the mission statement at the agency that bears the name of the first President Bush."
On Sunday's Meet the Press, Tim Russert scolded House Speaker Dennis Hassert for allowing the deficit to grow so large and suggested that in retrospect it would have been better for the tax cuts to have been smaller, but then he wanted to know if Hastert would support a Senate effort to "correct" the non-inclusion of low-income non-taxpayers in the expanded child credit and pressed Hastert to agree with a plan to hike spending on AmeriCorps by $100 million.
An amazing performance by Russert as he decried the budget deficit and size of the tax cuts at one moment and then seconds later demanded a tax cut for non-income taxpayers and championed more spending on the "volunteer" program.
Russert demanded of Hastert after noting the new $455 billion deficit estimate: "How can you, as the Republican Speaker of the House, tolerate such spending, such deficits?"
Russert proceeded to preposterously describe the far-left Center on Budget and Policy Priorities as a group "which consists of Democrats and Republicans," as he cited their data about how "the tax cuts enacted since 2001 will cost nearly three times as much over 2003 and 2004 as they combined costs of fighting and occupation in Afghanistan and Iraq, the costs of reconstruction and relief after the September 11 terrorist attacks, increased expenditures for homeland security, and the cost of dealing with terrorism on a worldwide basis."
Russert then suggested: "Looking at the high cost of occupation in Iraq and the needs we have in this country, would it not have been better to have smaller tax cuts in order to keep down the deficits?"
But Russert soon changed gears and pressed for another tax cut, but one that would really mean an increase in spending to send bigger checks to non-taxpayers: "Americans making between $10,000 and $25,000, about 12 million kids, would not receive an increase in the tax credit under the current tax legislation. The Senate has taken steps to correct that. It's now before the House. Will you support expanding the child tax credit?"
Russert was undeterred by Hastert's point that those in that income category already live income tax-free, demanding: "Why not just take care of these Americans between $10,000 and $25,000, 11 million kids?" (Note how he lost a million kids, going from 12 million to 11 million.)
Next, Russert pushed Hastert to agree with a spending hike for AmeriCorps, trumpeting: "But this is an additional $100 million to keep 20,000 volunteers working."
Awfully expensive "volunteers."
Those were the highlights. Now the complete rundown of those portions of the July 20 interview quoted above:
Russert: "Let me turn to the budget. President Bush, State of the Union message last year, had this to say about the budget deficit:"
Russert: "Mr. Speaker, there's been a lot of debate about what caused this deficit. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which consists of Democrats and Republicans, used Office of Management and Budget numbers, and this is their analysis: 'The Office of Management and Budged released new figures showing this year's budget deficit growing to $455 billion....What happened? The President has blamed the war and the recession for the turnaround in the nation's fiscal fortunes, ignoring the role of tax cuts....The Congressional Budget Office' -- your CBO -- 'data show, however, that the tax cuts enacted since 2001 will cost nearly three times as much over 2003 and 2004 as they combined costs of fighting and occupation in Afghanistan and Iraq, the costs of reconstruction and relief after the September 11 terrorist attacks, increased expenditures for homeland security, and the cost of dealing with terrorism on a worldwide basis.'"
Russert: "Two issues that are now front and center before the Republican leadership in the House: The first is the expansion of the child tax credit. Americans making between $10,000 and $25,000, about 12 million kids, would not receive an increase in the tax credit under the current tax legislation. The Senate has taken steps to correct that. It's now before the House. Will you support expanding the child tax credit?"
In a subsequent session with Democratic Senator Joe Biden, Russert didn't bring up the deficit, but he did press him too for agreement giving a tax cut to non-taxpayers and on spending more:
Russert: "AmeriCorps, child tax credit: Do you think the House will support those programs?"
For the CBPP press release picked up by Russert: www.cbpp.org
See if you can identify any Republicans or conservatives amongst those on the CBPP's Board of Directors, which includes Marian Wright Edelman: www.cbpp.org
Strangest photo caption of the weekend. Under a photo in Sunday's Washington Post of Democratic presidential candidate Dick Gephardt, with his hand on the shoulder of an older man in Iowa as the two seemed to converse: "After a July 10 speech by Gephardt, left, in Emmetsburg, Iowa, Martin Eischen, right, accepts the presidential hopeful's pledge to fill taxpayers' pockets."
"Fill taxpayers' pockets"? The AP photo accompanied a profile piece on Gephardt, part of a Post series of articles on all the presidential contenders, in which reporter Jim VandeHei noted that Gephardt's health plan would cost "at least $250 billion per year" and that "his proposal would require what critics already contend would be the biggest tax increase in history because, they say, he would suspend all of the Bush tax cuts from 2001, 2002 and 2003 to finance it."
So, how exactly does proposing a massive new spending program and huge tax hike translate into a "pledge to fill taxpayers' pockets"?
For the July 20 Post story, "Gephardt Crusades On Health Care: A 'Moral' Mission in Political Final Act," the posted version of which does feature the photo with the caption in question: www.washingtonpost.com
Alerting readers to the then-upcoming Bob Costas interview on HBO with Senator Hillary Clinton, I predicted: "I'd bet Costas won't be as reverential as some other star media figures have been toward her."
I was wrong. The NBC Sports anchor was every bit as sycophantic as Barbara Walters, Katie Couric or Charlie Rose, though as host of a sports and celebrity interview show, I guess he cannot be held to the same journalistic standards.
In the pre-taped interview which led the July 18 On the Record with Bob Costas on HBO, Costas wished for her to impart her wisdom: "How, from where you sit, have you maintained your dignity and how can you be so controlled under circumstances that would be trying for the best of us?"
Costas also wondered: "If you became President, what kind of First Gentleman would Bill Clinton be?"
He claimed she's the victim of attacks about "private and painful matters." In response, Clinton maintained she doesn't pay any attention to such attacks, prompting Costas to wonder: "So even if it doesn't knock you down, do you still feel it? A fighter can take a blow and not go down, but he still feels it."
And the best exchange:
Plus, though Bill Clinton attracted less than 50 percent of the vote in 1996, Costas insisted: "Your husband won landslide re-election in 1996."
In between all that, he also reminded her that in high school she was the President of the Fabian Fan Club and asked her to assess Senator Bob Graham's charge that President Bush should be impeached.
I took down most of the questions from Costas in the interview taped in Washington, DC on July 16. The highlights from the 12 minutes or so aired by HBO:
-- "We live in an era where, generally speaking, feelings trump substance in the court of public opinion. Everyone wants their little revelation, their supposed window into someone's emotions. But even as you've been out there discussing these things you don't give people the classic Barbara Walters or Oprah Winfrey moment. How, from where you sit, have you maintained your dignity and how can you be so controlled under circumstances that would be trying for the best of us?"
-- "Your husband won landslide re-election in 1996. He's a capable and charismatic man. He had many accomplishments to his credit, and yet before his second term was over found himself mired in a horrible scandal. And it was flat-out stupid. It was colossally stupid. If people are people objective, regardless of where they sit politically, in a sense this is a tragedy. Does it haunt him, does it haunt you that he squandered at least a portion of his legacy?"
-- "Bob Graham of Florida, who's running for President, says that fudging the facts on Iraq may amount to an impeachable offense. You've been close to both modern impeachment scenarios. As a young lawyer you researched high crimes and misdemeanors that would constitute impeachable offenses for the Watergate committee. And then obviously the situation with your husband. Is Senator Graham over-stating it or might there be something impeachable here?"
-- "If you became President, what kind of First Gentleman would Bill Clinton be?"
-- "I know you have a good sense of humor. I've seen you with Letterman. You have a good sense of humor. But what is it like, leave politics aside, as a human being, what is it like, you're watching TV, you're reading a seemingly unrelated magazine or newspaper story, and you might see a joke or a reference made at your expense, your husband's expense, not about the usual hurly-burly of politics which goes back forever, but about private and painful matters."
-- "What are your best and worst qualities as a politician?"
Costas ended by asking about a Yankees versus Cubs World Series, "what do you do then?"
The Web page for On the Record with Bob Costas: www.hbo.com
This edition of On the Record with Hillary Clinton will air twice more this week on HB0: Tonight, Monday, at 7pm EDT on HBO East and 7pm EDT on HBO West; and then Wednesday night at 10pm EDT on HBO East, 10pm EDT on HBO West.
A threat or promise? ABC News has combined the staffs of its two Washington DC-based shows, Nightline and This Week with George Stephanopoulos, and thus expanded Nightline Executive Producer Tom Bettag's portfolio to include overseeing This Week.
Late last week Bettag, referring to Stephanopoulos, told the AP's David Bauder that "we see him as one of the bright stars on the horizon." Bettag contended that if the third place This Week picks up in the ratings then Stephanopoulos will be a "journalistic leader" for decades to come: "If you can help him get a dominant position on Sunday morning, he is in a position to be a journalistic leader for the next 30 years."
That's reason enough to hope most keep watching Tim Russert on NBC's Meet the Press.
Bauder relayed: "Bettag said he wanted to create a new show around Stephanopoulos, emphasizing more produced pieces over the panel discussions that dominate the Sunday morning format."
For Bauder's AP dispatch distributed on Thursday and Friday, "Nightline, This Week to Merge Staffs," see: story.news.yahoo.com
# Guests of interest this week on the late night shows, both scheduled to appear on Wednesday night, July 23: Another fresh shot of comedian Dennis Miller on NBC's Tonight Show with Jay Leno and, on CBS's Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn, CBS News reporter Lesley Stahl.
-- Brent Baker