Some Outlets Distort and Exaggerate Meaning of August 2001 Memo --4/12/2004
2. NBC's Myers Points Out Clinton and Media Underestimated Threat
3. CyberAlert Bias Flashback to May '02: "Bush Knew" Attack Coming
4. Unlike CBS News, FNC Reports Bush-Rice Bounce in a CBS Poll
5. CNN Gives Over Most of Rice Highlight Time to Attacks on Her
6. Media Feature Bush-Bashing 9/11 Families, Exclude Bush Backers
Some outlets over the weekend hyped the meaning of the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) memo which was publicly released Saturday afternoon, suggesting it contained a warning specific enough for President George W. Bush to act on, thus leading the White House to keep it secret for so long. ABC anchor Claire Shipman breathlessly announced that "a classified anti-terrorism report told President Bush, before September 11th, that al-Qaeda wanted to carry out attacks inside the U.S." Though PDB's are never released, Shipman suggested the White House went out of its way to keep this one secret: "It's something the administration wanted to keep out of public view."
On CNN's Capital Gang on Saturday night, the Wall Street Journal's Al Hunt declared: "It shatters what was a very forceful appearance by Dr. Rice." Later, on CNN's 10pm EDT hour of news, anchor Carol Lin insisted "it reads like a laundry list of red flags" before she quizzed 9-11 Commission member James Thompson about why it didn't prompt immediate action.
On Sunday, though the memo only talked about the possibility of plane hijackings, not of flying them into buildings, the subhead on a front page Washington Post story suggested Bush learned more than he did: "Aug. 6 Report to President Warned of Hijacking." Reporters Dana Milbank and Walter Pincus opened their April 11 story with a very misleading sentence: "President Bush was warned a month before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that the FBI had information that terrorists might be preparing for a hijacking in the United States and might be targeting a building in Lower Manhattan."
Not until four paragraphs later did the Post duo acknowledge that the "targeting of a building in lower Manhattan" had nothing to do with what actually occurred on September 11, noting how "officials said the photographing of the federal buildings was later judged to be 'tourist activity,'" by some Yeminis.
Now, further rundowns of the items quoted above:
-- ABC's World News Tonight/Saturday. Anchor Claire Shipman teased at the top of the April 10 broadcast: "On World News Tonight this Saturday, a classified anti-terrorism report told President Bush, before September 11th, that al-Qaeda wanted to carry out attacks inside the U.S."
She set up the lead story: "The White House, under pressure, has released portions of a classified anti-terrorism document given to the President shortly before September 11th. It's something the administration wanted to keep out of public view."
-- CNN's Capital Gang. Moderator Mark Shields asked: "Al Hunt, what is the impact, at the end of this tumultuous week, of the released presidential memo?"
-- CNN Saturday Night, CNN's 10pm EDT hour-long newscast. Anchor Carol Lin asserted: "A two page report on the threat al-Qaeda posed to America. The President got it just one month before the 9/11 attacks. Now at first, it reads like a laundry list of red flags. Al-Qaeda, recruiting and plotting attacks in the United States. The White House declassified that document tonight."
Interviewing 9/11 Commission member James Thompson about it, after he argued there wasn't much to the memo, Lin countered: "Even though the evidence seems circumstantial that Osama bin Laden specifically says that he wants to attack in the United States, that young Muslims were being recruited in New York, that bin Laden specifically mentioned Washington, D.C., that the FBI had 70 separate investigations on al-Qaeda related activities here in the United States, that did not add up to what you witnessed on 9/11, as we all did?"
Answering another question, Thompson maintained: "So I think out of all the PDBs that we have, and we have many more than this one, and of the 2.5 million pages of pages of documents that we have, and the thousand witnesses that we've heard, with more to come, this is not something that would have triggered anything in anybody's mind from the president of the United States on down, about the possibility of September 11."
-- Washington Post front page, April 11. The headline: "Declassified Memo Said Al Qaeda Was in U.S." The subhead: "Aug. 6 Report to President Warned of Hijacking." An excerpt from the top of the story by Dana Milbank and Walter Pincus in Crawford, Texas:
President Bush was warned a month before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that the FBI had information that terrorists might be preparing for a hijacking in the United States and might be targeting a building in Lower Manhattan.
The information was included in a written Aug. 6, 2001, briefing to Bush that was declassified Saturday night by the White House in response to a request from the independent commission probing the Sept. 11 attacks.
The short article, titled "Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US," also included information that the FBI had "70 full field investigations" underway in the United States that were believed related to Osama bin Laden, and that a caller to the U.S. Embassy in the United Arab Emirates in May 2001 said a group of bin Laden supporters was in the United States planning attacks with explosives.
The document, citing a foreign intelligence service whose identity was redacted, said bin Laden told followers he wanted to "retaliate in Washington" for the United States' 1998 missile attack on his facilities in Afghanistan.
In a conference call Saturday with reporters, administration officials who insisted on anonymity said there was no evidence that either the call to the U.S. Embassy in the UAE or the surveillance of federal buildings in New York by Yemenis was related to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The officials said the photographing of the federal buildings was later judged to be "tourist activity," but they did not say whether that judgment was made before or after the attacks.
The White House originally resisted releasing the article, part of the President's Daily Brief, or PDB, citing the sensitivity of intelligence information. It characterized the document as a historical summary with little current information on which the president could have acted.
In her testimony to the 9/11 commission on Thursday, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said, "this was a historical memo....It was not based on new threat information."
While the two-page document included information dating to 1997, it also contained information that the government suspected al Qaeda was actively preparing for an attack in the United States. While it gave no information about specific targets or dates, the briefing warned that U.S. intelligence believed bin Laden had serious plans to hit the United States....
END of Excerpt
For the Post story in full: www.washingtonpost.com
The Newsweek poll finding that 60 percent believe the Bush administration "underestimated the terrorist threat" before September 11th got a lot of media attention over the weekend, but on Meet the Press, NBC's Lisa Myers cut through the bias of the poll which asked only about Bush as she suggested that "if you did that poll and you substituted 'Clinton administration,' 'FBI,' 'CIA' or 'the media,' you would get much the same findings."
During the roundtable segment on the April 11 Meet the Press, Tim Russert raised the Newsweek numbers: "Newsweek asked: Did the Bush administration, in effect, take terrorist threats seriously before 9/11 and here's the numbers. 'Took terrorist threats seriously,' all 23; 'underestimated threat,' 60. And you break it down by party. Even 41 percent of Republicans think the administration underestimated the threat; 76 percent of Democrats; 60 percent of independents. Lisa Myers, what do those numbers show you?"
Yet most media coverage of the past few weeks assumes Bush is really to blame for allowing 9/11 to occur.
CyberAlert Bias Flashback: "Bush Knew." In May of 2002, the networks hyped and exaggerated reports on how the CIA had supposedly warned President Bush about potential terrorist hijackings.
-- May 16, 2002 CyberAlert: At 6:30pm EDT on Wednesday CBS News first reported that the CIA Director "warned" President Bush "in the weeks before 9/11 that an attack by Osama bin Laden could involve the hijacking of U.S. aircraft." Putting the story into the context of how the intelligence community failed to pursue strong hints of an attack before they happened, David Martin lamented: "That apparently is as close as U.S. intelligence came to alerting the President to an airliner attack."
-- May 17, 2002 CyberAlert Extra: Friday morning Bryant Gumbel set up Dick Gephardt: "What did the President know and when did he know it has a familiar ring to it. To your mind, what are the questions that are upper-most?" NBC's Katie Couric talked about "warnings President Bush received" and how "the controversy over what could have been done to prevent the attacks of September 11th intensifies." ABC featured a victims' representative who said they were all "very angry" about not being warned. But, in a sign some rationality is creeping into coverage, ABC and NBC moved on to the problems with information flow amongst government agencies. See: www.mediaresearch.org
FNC offered a more complete report on a CBS News poll than did the CBS Evening News. On Friday's CBS Evening News, Dan Rather noted how "a CBS News poll taken after Condoleezza Rice testified before the 9/11 Commission yesterday, finds two out of three say they believe administration officials are hiding something." But over on FNC moments earlier, anchor Jim Angle cited how the CBS News poll found that the number who say the Bush administration could have done more had fallen 9 points from a week earlier and, he added, "25 percent say the Bush administration was, in fact, paying enough attention to the terrorist threat before 9/11, up from 18 percent last week."
Rather read this short item on the April 9 CBS Evening News, as taken down by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth:
On screen, viewers saw:
Over on FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume, in the "Grapevine" segment at just past 6:30pm EDT, regular Friday anchor Jim Angle relayed:
For the CBS News.com posting of the poll results: www.cbsnews.com
In her own words, or merely re-airing Democratic attacks? Thursday night's NewsNight with Aaron Brown on CNN included a five minute segment that Brown promised would reveal "in her own words...what Dr. Rice said in some of the more contentious moments" of her appearance before the 9/11 Commission that morning. But the MRC's Ken Shepherd discovered that Rice's actual comments amounted to just 2 minutes and 28 seconds of the segment, less than half of the segment.
Nearly all of the remainder highlighted the lengthy and adversarial questions to Rice from the most blatantly partisan Democrats on the panel, former Watergate prosecutor Richard Ben-Veniste and former Clinton Justice Department official Jamie Gorelick.
Setting up the segment, Brown recounted: "Condoleezza Rice testified for three hours this morning, 30 minutes longer than scheduled. In the hours since, many people have weighed in on what was said and what was not. It's the 9/11 Commission's job to decide officially what all the testimony means within the context of all their other work. As we said earlier, the questioning was tough at times today. Here in her own words is what Dr. Rice said in some of the more contentious moments."
What followed was: a short excerpt from Rice's opening statement; the hostile exchange with Ben-Veniste, complete with his rude cutting off of her answers; a long question from Gorelick that accused the FBI of being "feckless" (an excerpt that did not even include Rice's response); former Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey's gripe about how he disliked the "swatting at flies" analogy Rice had used; and former Democratic congressman Tim Roemer's demand to know why before September 11, "Why doesn't the President ask to meet with Dick Clarke?"
Only after the clip of Roemer did NewsNight viewers get their first chance to hear one of Rice's extended answers, which was followed by a second, concluding comment from her. No questions from Republicans were included in the clips, although NewsNight showed former GOP Governor Tom Kean administering the oath to Rice and former Governor Jim Thompson thanking her at the end of her testimony.
The media on Thursday and Friday provided an imbalanced forum to a very small number of 9-11 families who have an anti-Bush political agenda, with the same few family members appearing again and again in story after story and interview after interview. Several belong to groups with a political agenda, such as September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows and Voices of September 11th, affiliations which were not noted by the networks or in a Reuters story which featured four critics of Bush, but not one backer.
Some of the family members made ludicrous points which were never challenged. On ABC's Good Morning America, Mary Fetchet lamented how only "if the airports were communicating with the buildings, then my son would be alive today." On CBS's Early Show, Terry McGovern claimed that if her mother had known about the vague warnings a month before the attack "she would have stopped going to work at the World Trade Center."
Before an interview segment on Friday's Good Morning America with two Bush-bashing 9-11 activists, ABC's Robin Roberts acknowledged that "there are those who support the President" and proceeded to give Debra Burlingame a three-second soundbite which was nothing more than a sentence clause.
After featuring four Bush-bashers on Thursday morning, on Friday NBC's Today brought two of them back, the very politically active Kristen Breitweiser along with Patty Casazza, and balanced them with one person with some pro-Bush views, Debra Burlingame.
On Thursday night, following Condoleezza Rice's testimony, CBS centered a story around one 9-11 family member upset at Rice and ABC delivered a story by Linda Douglass about how "eighty families came to Capitol Hill hoping to pressure the government for more answers. Many came away disappointed." She featured six Bush and Rice-bashers to just one Bush supporter.
Peter Jennings introduced that April 8 World News Tonight story: "There were quite a number of family members of those who died on 9/11 at the hearing today. Here's ABC's Linda Douglass."
The next morning on GMA, the MRC's Jessica Anderson noticed, Robin Roberts set up an April 9 interview segment: "There were many 9/11 families sitting in on the hearings. In a moment, we're going to hear from some who have been critical of the Bush administration, but there are those who support the President, such as Debra Burlingame, who lost her brother."
Roberts soon cued up her other guest: "We saw that Dr. Rice went into the audience and was talking to many of the families. Mary, did you have an encounter with Dr. Rice?"
"Some 9/11 Families Angered by No Apology from Rice," announced the headline over a Thursday afternoon Reuters dispatch which recounted the views only of four liberal political activist family members with an anti-Bush agenda, an agenda and set of affiliations not mentioned by Reuters. An excerpt from the April 8 story by David Morgan in Washington, DC:
Some relatives of Sept. 11 victims responded in anger on Thursday to what they described as the White House's failure to accept responsibility for the 2001 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people....
"No one wants to take any responsibility. Three thousand people died, and all they want to talk about is structural problems," Bob McIlvaine of Oreland, Pennsylvania, whose son died in New York's World Trade Center.
"They should be ashamed of themselves," he said.
Many 9/11 relatives said the general public should have been warned about the potential for attack during the summer of 2001, when intelligence officials were said to have detected a surge in communications between suspicious operatives....
"I am angry at the lack of accepting accountability -- that's what the President should have done, accepted responsibility," said Beverly Eckert of Stamford, Connecticut, whose husband Sean died at the World Trade Center.
"Instead, it's been outwardly directed, not just at the terrorists but at previous administrations."
Added New Jersey widow Patty Casazza: "I think it made her look incompetent in her position."
Clarke began his testimony by apologizing to victims and their families for government failings that allowed the attacks to occur.
Carie Lemack, whose mother also died in the attack on New York's World Trade Center towers, told CNN Rice should have admitted errors were made.
"We did not hear that today. I'm hoping we are going to hear that because it is clear that 3,000 people don't just get murdered. There were mistakes made and we need to fix them to make sure Americans are safer."...
END of Excerpt
For the Reuters story in full: story.news.yahoo.com
For the home page of the group with which Breitweiser is also quite active: www.peacefultomorrows.org
Beverly Eckert, another family member popular with the media, is a founder of Voices of September 11th. Their home page: www.voicesofsept11.org
# Karen Hughes is scheduled to appear tonight on Comedy Central's Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
-- Brent Baker