Peter's Peace Platoon

ABC's Crusade Against "Arrogant" American Power

Table of Contents:

1. Championing France and the United Nations Over the US

Throughout his months of presiding over pre-war World News Tonight coverage, ABC anchor Peter Jennings has projected the impression that his role is to accentuate all the negatives to slow down the “rush to war,” and put America’s impulsive militarism under the yoke of UN and French reasonableness. Every UN and ally’s objection was not a position to be debated, but a “problem” to be solved, presumably through a prolonged period of surrendering to further diplomatic delays.

The Impulsive, Problem-Plagued White House. The White House cites UN resolutions to argue Iraq is the party obligated to demonstrate that it has rid itself of weapons of mass destruction, and the burden is not on the U.S. or the UN inspectors to find fresh proof of improper weapons within Iraq. But Jennings began on January 9 with an on-screen graphic reading “UN weapons inspectors find no ‘smoking guns,’” and a verbal focus on White House problems: “We’re going to begin with problems for the Bush administration if it really wants to overthrow Saddam Hussein militarily. United Nations weapons inspectors have said today they are not finding evidence that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. And the administration’s most loyal supporter for military action, the British Prime Minister, says Mr. Bush should not rush things.”

As the momentum toward war picked up on February 7, Jennings introduced another story with the usual hard foot on the brakes: “Now to the Bush administration’s campaign against Iraq. Just as the Iraqis appear to be making some concessions, the U.S. thinks it has growing support for war.” The White House “thinks” it had growing support? As shown later in this report, ABC’s own polls at that time showed growing support after Colin Powell presented evidence of Iraqi deceit to the UN.

Jaded Jennings ended the program on a note of cynicism: “Finally this evening, some notes about things to keep an eye on. The UN weapons inspectors go back to Baghdad this weekend. They have not been happy with Iraqi cooperation so far. We’ll see if the Iraqis do any better – and if that means anything to the Bush administration.”

textbox031803_1In live coverage of the UN debate on February 14, the primary Jennings complaint was American non-cooperation, not Iraqi non-cooperation. Jennings painted President Bush, not France, as the impediment to allied unity: “Terry Moran, as you look at this from the distance at least of being on the road, and I think a lot of people got the impression this week that maybe the Bush administration doesn’t mind if the Western alliance as we’ve known it in the post-war period breaks up. Some people are puzzled by that.” A few hours later, Jennings flipped back again to how Bush alone is threatening to crumble the alliance: “What’s happening an effort in the Security Council among allies, remember, for the most part, to go forward together and not rupture this, or any other international body to which they all belong. And yet the Bush administration is determined to have its way on this.”

On February 19, when the White House expressed hopes for a “second” resolution to underline the need for military action, CBS’s Dan Rather and NBC’s Tom Brokaw managed to launch their newscasts without heavy-handed rebukes.

Brokaw led off from Kuwait: “Countdown Iraq. The U.S. will bring a new war resolution to a vote at the UN, President Bush calls it ‘the last chance.’”

Also from Kuwait, Dan Rather announced at the top of the Evening News: “With the timetable for a possible new war with Iraq slipping, the United States is pushing for the United Nations Security Council to give Saddam Hussein a flat deadline for disarming. The White House said it will offer a draft resolution this week or next.”

Compare that to how Peter Jennings approached the Bush policy on Iraq, assuming it’s the Bush team, not a few allies, which deserved low marks on playing well with others. “It is quite clear in Washington tonight that the administration is prepared to jeopardize its relations with several of its oldest and best friends in order to get its way about Iraq.”

A journalist could have suggested “old Europe” was jeopardizing relations, perhaps even with economic motivations of trading partnerships with the Baathist regime. But not at ABC. White House reporter Terry Moran brought usual Bush-the-cowboy approach: “With nearly 200,000 U.S. troops now in the Persian Gulf, the White House today presented what amounted to an ultimatum to the fourteen other nations on the Security Council.”

On February 27, CBS’s John Roberts and NBC’s Andrea Mitchell both noted how the UN Security Council’s debate over Iraq grew “bitter,” but both refrained from blaming any one party. ABC’s Terry Moran once again blamed the White House: “At the UN Security Council today, the Bush administration’s hard line contributed to what diplomats said was an unusually bitter debate that yielded no consensus and left smaller nations feeling intense pressure from both the U.S. and France.” 

Why does the U.S. have a “hard line,” but not France? France argued that it would veto any resolution, regardless of the language, if it authorizes military action. That’s not a hard line? Not at ABC.

Wonderful Worldly Delays. While the United States was arrogant and uncompromising, the statements and actions of United Nations personnel and allied ministers of state were rarely scrutinized by ABC. On January 27, CBS’s Dan Rather and NBC’s Tom Brokaw both noted the UN arms inspectors found no “smoking gun,” but both led their newscasts by stressing how Iraq has failed to comply with the UN resolution.

Rather led off his broadcast: “Tonight’s headlines: Chief inspector slams Iraq. U.S. says time is almost up.”

Brokaw began his show: “Road to War: UN weapons inspectors say Saddam is not coming clean. They want more time.”

On ABC, Peter Jennings opened with a milder tone: “On World News Tonight, the United Nations inspectors say Iraq has not yet accepted that it must disarm. The inspectors want more time to do their job.” Jennings stressed how the nuclear inspector, Mohamed el-Baradei, was much softer on Iraq, a point of view CBS and NBC treated as a minor detail later in their broadcasts. Jennings announced that el-Baradei “said they have found no evidence of a nuclear weapons program so far and, his words now, ‘provided there is sustained proactive cooperation by Iraq, we should be able within the next few months to provide credible assurance that Iraq has no nuclear weapons program.’”

Jennings also treated the reaction to the UN report from the White House and Saddam’s minions as equally credible: “After spending last week in Baghdad listening to the Iraqi government, what we heard from the Iraqi government today is also as it was at the White House: true to form.” From Baghdad, ABC’s Dan Harris repeated that the Iraqi regime claimed “they have exhibited not only cooperation, but quote, ‘super-cooperation.’ Iraqi officials said the only way to avoid hostilities now is for the U.S. to stop its threats and warmongering.”

When Hans Blix presented a report to the Security Council on February 14 attempting to soft-pedal Iraqi violations, Jennings opened that evening’s World News Tonight: “The UN weapons inspectors have given their latest report on Iraq to the United Nations Security Council, and once again it brings into focus a lack of consensus on attacking Iraq. The Bush administration had hoped that the weapons inspectors would be very hard on Iraq today for not coming clean about weapons of mass destruction. It didn’t work out precisely like that. And even with some of its allies, the administration did not have its best day.” On this evening, CBS and NBC were equally negative about White House hopes.

But Jennings then presented a paper decree from Saddam as “another concession,” as if Iraq is continually cooperating: “Not long before Mr. Blix briefed the Security Council, the Iraqis announced another concession. Saddam Hussein issued a presidential decree banning the production or the importation of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and all of the materials used to make them. This is something the inspectors have been requesting for a decade.” CBS reporter Mark Phillips at least added, “It’s a legal ban not likely to satisfy those who think he still has them.”

Earlier that day, all the networks presented the UN proceedings live, but ABC emerged as the least eager to describe Iraqi non-cooperation.

On CBS, Dan Rather declared his headline: “Hans Blix said today that Iraq has failed to account for many proscribed weapons and must still explain what happened to suspected stocks of anthrax, VX gas, and long-range missiles.”

On NBC, Andrea Mitchell reported: “He did find what you could call a smoking gun, which is that one of the missiles, the al-Samoud missile, as we reported last night, is longer than the range permitted. It is 113 miles rather than 90 miles.”

But Jennings summed up with vagueness: “On the one hand it’s better, on the one hand it could be better, on the one hand he argues for a little longer time. On the other hand he says it depends on the Security Council, it certainly depends on the United States, which has not much interest in giving the weapons inspectors any time.”

textbox031803_2A few minutes after Terry Moran described the Bush team’s “ultimatum” to allies on February 19, ABC’s Dan Harris in Baghdad went a little easier on Iraq: “In recent days, Saddam Hussein has met many of the weapons inspectors’ key demands.... In fact, the chief inspectors have said they’ve seen the beginnings of a change of attitude. However, on closer inspection, there is less to Iraq’s cooperation than meets the eye.” Harris noted whose attitude leads to Iraqi non-cooperation: “Tonight one top Iraqi official hinted at why the government may not be feeling much pressure to act. He said given the huge international peace protests and the growing anti-war sentiment at the UN, it is America that is in trouble.” If America was “in trouble,” ABC would easily qualify as one of national media’s leading troublemakers.

On March 7, Jennings interviewed Secretary of State Colin Powell and hit him repeatedly from the left on the great utility of the inspectors: “So many people don’t understand why you shouldn’t let the inspections continue if they are accomplishing anything?” He followed up: “Most people think they’re doing a reasonably effective job at the moment.” He also accused Powell of “moving the the Security Council is left in the position of either agreeing with you completely or else.”