2. CBS Highlights Eroding Support for Bush in "Swingtown USA"
Did he "jump" or was he "pushed" was the question which animated network coverage of CIA Director George Tenet's resignation as reporters tried to insert an anti-Bush twist, with some characterizing Tenet as a "scapegoat" for Bush administration failures. On ABC's Nightline, the Washington Post's Sally Quinn argued: "In Washington there always has to be a scapegoat because the President has to be protected. And now that the weapons of mass destruction story is going to have to have a scapegoat so that the President will not look like he is to blame."
CBS's Wyatt Andrews contended on Thursday's CBS Evening News that "George Tenet can insist forever that he's leaving to rejoin his family, but official Washington sees a man under fire, a man who, pushed or not, is taking one for the team." Andrews then aired a soundbite from Jimmy Carter's CIA Director, Stansfield Turner, who insisted: "I think Mr. Tenet was just under too much pressure because they need a scapegoat at this time." Andrews, however, cautioned: "If Tenet is falling on his sword for the President, hoping to change the subject, Democrats promised it wouldn't work."
(Friday newspapers matched the network theme. "For Personal Reasons, Or Is He the Fall Guy?" asked the headline over a Washington Post front page "analysis" piece on Friday by Glenn Kessler.)
ABC's Peter Jennings spent Thursday amongst people who applauded, literally, Tenet's resignation. Anchoring World News Tonight from an "obesity summit" in Williamsburg, Virginia, Jennings opened his broadcast: "When we told a summit meeting on obesity here in Virginia today, which we're attending, it was a big surprise to many but certainly not all. Some people said it was too bad. Others actually applauded. Which is probably the case all over America."
Jennings soon emphasized how Tenet has "been obliged to say often that the CIA never told the President that Iraq was an imminent threat to national security."
George Stephanopoulos decided that "this helps the President say he's addressing the problem, he's fixing it. On the other hand," Stephanopoulos added in endorsing the spin from Democrats, "as Democrats are arguing, it's one more sign that this whole situation is out of control and national security is not being well-managed."
CNN's Aaron Brown opened NewsNight by asking: "Did Mr. Tenet simply tell his bosses what they wanted to hear? And, if he did, that would be the biggest failure of all." Brown suggested a political motivation: "A mere skeptic would note that the announcement came in advance of two potentially devastating reports on Mr. Tenet's leadership and just in time to allow a President running for reelection to move on. Safe to say the skeptics have plenty of questions tonight."
Then Brown delivered this odd sentence just before the first story of the night: "We'll start, however, with the facts and CNN's David Ensor." Shouldn't everything in a newscast be based on "the facts," not just the boring stuff you have to get out of the way before you get into speculation?
Friday morning on Today, Tom Brokaw contended that after "the enormous setback with those pictures that came out of Abu Ghraib," that Tenet's resignation "doesn't help" the President's quest to enlist help for Iraq from Western Europeans.
Live from the cemetery in Normandy France, Brokaw assessed President Bush's chances, during his trip around Europe, of getting more help for Iraq:
Bush's trip to Europe, CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley contended before a single protesters had protested, "is drawing protests in Italy and prompting new violence in Iraq." Pelley introduced a story previewing Bush's trip: "President Bush arrived tonight in Rome, first stop on a European tour aimed at bolstering friendships battered by bitterness over the Iraq war. CBS News White House correspondent Bill Plante reports that the President's visit is drawing protests in Italy and prompting new violence in Iraq."
A fuller rundown of the stories and reports quoted above:
-- ABC's Nightline, June 3. Asked by Ted Koppel if Tenet had been pushed or jumped, Washington Post writer Sally Quinn responded:
-- CBS Evening News. Anchor Scott Pelley teased: "Did he jump, or was he pushed?"
Following a story from David Martin on the Tenet resignation and the comments made about it by Tenet and President Bush, CBS focused on detractors who took shots at Tenet and Bush.
Pelley set up the story, as taken down by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "So is Tenet really leaving the CIA to be with his family or did the White House give him a shove? Correspondent Wyatt Andrews examines that part of the story."
-- ABC's World News Tonight. From outside in Williamsburg, Peter Jennings opened the June 3 newscast: "Good evening. Yes, the director of the CIA, George Tenet, has resigned. And when we told a summit meeting on obesity here in Virginia today, which we're attending, it was a big surprise to many but certainly not all. Some people said it was too bad. Others actually applauded. Which is probably the case all over America. Mr. Tenet had become a very polarizing figure. And in the middle of a presidential campaign, perhaps a liability for President Bush. George Tenet has run the CIA for seven years -- for President Clinton as well as President Bush. He was instrumental in the decision to attack Iraq. The President said today that Mr. Tenet was resigning for personal reasons, and that may well be true. But after the attacks on 9/11 with a war against terrorism and a war in Iraq, Mr. Tenet's resignation is a very big deal. Our first report tonight is from our national security correspondent, Martha Raddatz, who's in Washington."
Jennings set up a second story by making sure viewers understood that Tenet wasn't as foolish as Bush: "As Martha implied and said, George Tenet spent a great deal of his time defending his agency, certainly since the attacks on 9/11. So much intelligence went unnoticed or unheeded. And he's also been obliged to say often that the CIA never told the President that Iraq was an imminent threat to national security. Intelligence, he says there very firmly, was never manipulated to support a case for war. His critics, of course, will have none of this. Here's ABC's Dan Harris."
Harris suggested that Tenet may be best remembered for telling Bush that WMD in Iraq was a "slam duck" and he featured Richard Clarke's contention that Tenet told Bush what Bush wanted to hear.
Finally, Jennings turned to George Stephanopoulos, asking him: "So Director Tenet's resignation has any number of political implications. ABC's George Stephanopoulos joins us from Washington tonight where he has spent the day asking questions. The Director says, George, that he goes on his own timetable and his own initiative, but still there are people in that town who believe he was fired."
-- CNN's NewsNight. Aaron Brown opened his show: "It was announced almost as an afterthought. Oh, by the way, the Director of the CIA is quitting. We feel some sympathy for George Tenet. In his business, the successes often go unreported and unnoticed outside of government. Its failures become the stories that dominate our lives and our destinies. We don't know about the successes, though logic tells us there have been many.
Following "The Whip," quick summaries of upcoming stories, Brown intoned: "We begin tonight with the resignation of George Tenet. He is the first and so far the only big name in the President's national security team to step down since Iraq and 9/11. His departure comes, he says, at his own initiative on his own timetable. A cynic would say that might even be true. A mere skeptic would note that the announcement came in advance of two potentially devastating reports on Mr. Tenet's leadership and just in time to allow a President running for reelection to move on. Safe to say the skeptics have plenty of questions tonight. We'll start, however, with the facts and CNN's David Ensor."
Brown soon provided a whole bunch of speculation in a session with Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus and Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff.
Three weeks after CBS's Jim Axelrod marveled at how backing for President Bush in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley has not fallen even as "support for the war has plummeted," Axelrod managed to find some in the area who have become disillusioned, prompting a new story on Thursday's CBS Evening News even though Axelrod acknowledged that a local poll determined that Bush's support level has remained unchanged.
Returning to Allentown, which CBS dubs "Swingtown USA," Axelrod noted that "polling still shows a neck-and-neck race," so he focused on how "it also shows that support for Mr. Bush is starting to fray around the edges." Axelrod showcased "Gymnastics coaches Donna and Bill Strauss," who "were both pretty solidly in the Bush camp a month ago. But now Donna is no longer sure."
Sitting on John Annoni's front steps, Axelrod asked: "Can George Bush count 100 percent on your vote right now?" Annoni responded: "No." Axelrod recalled: "When we visited Republican John Annoni in April, the teacher, husband and father was also leaning toward the President. But he, too, is looking at Iraq, and doesn't know how to choose between Kerry and Bush."
The May 12 CyberAlert recounted: To CBS's astonishment, President Bush's support has not fallen along with declining support for the war in Iraq. From Allentown, Pennsylvania, Jim Axelrod marveled: "In the last month here in the Lehigh Valley, support for the war has plummeted. Support for the President has not." Axelrod talked to a wounded Marine back from Iraq who is tired of seeing his colleagues die day after day. Axelrod wondered: "So why don't you blame the Commander-in-Chief?" The Marine shot back: "I blame the Commander-in-Chief of every Iraqi, not the Commander-in-Chief of the Americans."
For a full rundown of the May 11 CBS story: www.mediaresearch.org
Anchor Scott Pelley set up the June 3 CBS Evening News report: "The President and his Democratic challenger, Senator John Kerry, are well aware that events in Iraq could sway voters here. To find out what voters are thinking, CBS's Jim Axelrod went back to a corner of America that we will be watching closely this year, a place that often reflects how the national vote swings on election day."
From Allentown, Axelrod began: "Stephanie Makhoul can't keep as close an eye on politics as she'd like. Triplets tend to do that to a mom. Still, in this election year, Stephanie does her best to keep up with things."
For the online version of this story, which a picture of Stephanie and Eli Makhoul: www.cbsnews.com
# Tom Brokaw's interview of President Bush, following the D-Day commemoration ceremonies in Normandy, will air on Sunday's Dateline, at 7pm EDT on NBC.
-- Brent Baker