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Treating It as a Bush Cover-Up: "What Did He Know and When Did He Know It?"
> The ABC, CBS and CNN morning shows opened Thursday by treating the disclosure, that the CIA had told President Bush some vague information about how al Qaeda might be looking to hijack a plane, as if it were evidence of some sort of scandalous cover-up of how the Bush administration "knew" in advance of the terrorist attacks.
Both ABC's Charlie Gibson and NBC's Katie Couric opened their shows by provocatively asking: "What did he know and when did he know it?" CNN's Paula Zahn similarly wondered "what the President was told about a potential terrorist attack before 9/11, and when he was told it?"
(MSNBC has been offering the "what did they know?" formulation all day.)
Charlie Gibson predicted at the start of Good Morning America: "It may put the President under a lot of heat today as public learns that he knew, through his daily CIA intelligence briefings, that bin Laden had potential terror attack plans under way." Gibson also cast doubt upon whether Bush was really surprised, telling Terry Moran: "It also calls into question what happened when Andy Card, Andrew Card, the White House chief of staff, that morning went and whispered in the President's ear, as the President was talking to a group of school students in Florida. Was the President really surprised?"
On Today, Couric suggested Bush could have stopped the attacks, as she asserted that the revelation is "raising more questions about whether the attacks on America could have been prevented."
On his next to last day, the usually most-liberal Bryant Gumbel delivered the most circumspect summary as he emphasized on The Early Show how no one any inkling of how the planes would be used: "For the first time, White House officials have acknowledged that President Bush was warned before September 11th that Osama bin Laden's people might hijack some American airplanes. However, U.S. intelligence did not know what the terrorists planned to do with the planes."
After a solid report from David Martin on how the intelligence agencies failed to collate the disparate bits of evidence into a specific warning threat, Bill Plante offered the White House point of view. Gumbel soon asked him, however: "Bill, short and long term how embarrassing to the President, how injurious to the administration?"
Zahn opened CNN's American Morning: "The White House admits the terrorist attack on 9/11 was not a complete surprise. Weeks before the attack, the President was warned that bin Laden's terrorist network might attempt to hijack a U.S. airliner."
(As with the other networks, the subsequent story put the revelation in proper context, showing that the hosts over-hyped the news. CNN's John King, for instance, pointed out: "Now, White House officials are telling us there was no speculation at all about using an airplane as a bomb or as a weapon, as happened, of course, on September 11, and no specific credible information about a hijacking of any sort. Other sources also saying a hijacking was just one of a range of options listed as the possible method the al Qaeda network might choose for an attack on the United States. The White House saying the relevant agencies were notified. That would include the Justice Department, the Transportation Department and aviation industries.")
More on the ABC and NBC morning shows:
-- ABC's Good Morning America. Charles Gibson teased at the top of the May 16 broadcast: "This morning confirmation that President Bush was warned weeks before September 11th that Osama bin Laden may have been plotting to hijack U.S. passenger planes."
He soon added: "This is interesting news that we get now. And it may put the President under a lot of heat today as public learns that he knew, through his daily CIA intelligence briefings, that bin Laden had potential terror attack plans under way. And this marks a shift in the official version of events leading up to the September 11th attacks. So the question is exactly what did the President know and when did he know it? That's the traditional Washington question. And why has this not surfaced in these difficult eight months."
Turning to Terry Moran at the White House, Gibson again used the "what did he know and when did he know it" phrase that harkens scandal: "We do begin this morning with that breaking news overnight that President Bush was told of Osama in Laden's plans to hijack U.S. jetliners before September 11th. ABC's Terry Moran is at the White House, and Terry, as I mentioned, the traditional Washington question is what did the President know and when did he know it?"
-- NBC's Today. Couric opened the show: "Good morning. What did he know and when did he know it? The Bush administration admits the President was warned in an intelligence briefing last summer of the possibility that Osama bin Laden's terrorist network might hijack American planes, raising more questions about whether the attacks on America could have been prevented today, Thursday, May 16, 2002."
After the opening music, Couric elaborated: "And welcome to Today on this Thursday morning. I'm Katie Couric. The White House says it been alerted about possible hijackings, but there was no warning that terrorists would use planes as missiles to bring down buildings. We'll have more on the story from the news desk and we'll talk with the Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee as well."
That would be Republican Senator Richard Shelby. GMA's Gibson interviewed Democratic Senator John Edwards while CBS's Early Show did not interview anyone.
Couric did elicit how Senators had access to the same information as the President as Shelby responded affirmatively to this question from Couric: "President Bush, as we've been mentioning, received this intelligence briefing last summer stating the possibility that Osama bin Laden may have been plotting to hijack U.S. planes, did the Senate Intelligence Committee receive similar warnings?"
Couric also tried to suggest why the warnings may not have been heeded: "The White House has said, Senator, that the information the President quote, the President got, 'dealt with hijackings in the traditional sense, not suicide bombers, not using planes as missiles. The administration based on this information notified the appropriate agencies.' Is it fair to say this would seem so beyond the realm of possibility, that this kind of ghastly act had never been seen or heard of before that everyone was just blindsided by it?"