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CyberAlert -- 11/27/2001 -- Media Must React to Criticism

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Media Must React to Criticism; Why Another Book About Reagan?; WTC "Had to Be Destroyed"; Jennings Defended His 9/11 Coverage

1) Katie Couric's first question to Lou Cannon on Monday morning's Today show: "Do we need another book about Ronald Reagan?"

2) Referring to the World Trade Center towers, Norman Mailer declared: "Everything wrong with America led to the point where the country built that tower of Babel, which consequently had to be destroyed." He wondered: "What if those perpetrators were right and we were not? We have long ago lost the capability to take a calm look at the enormity of our enemy's position."

3) Canadian Peter Jennings is baffled as to why anyone would be upset that he's not a U.S. citizen: "I'm very curious to know why any of our backgrounds are an issue for people.'" He also defended his Sept. 11 questioning of President Bush's location.

4) Citing the MRC's documentation of ABC News President David Westin's remarks about the Pentagon, Fred Barnes observed in the Weekly Standard that "the scrutiny the national press now gets from media critics, watchdog groups, press websites, and astute journalistic observers" is providing "a makeshift kind of accountability that didn't exist until recently. Large media organizations once haughtily ignored conservative criticism. Now they have to take it into account and react." And who is the "scourge of liberal bias"?

5) Tonight on CBS's JAG, part two of the two-parter "ripped from today's headlines," about a U.S. Navy plane which was forced to land in China.


>>> Latest NQ now online. The November 26 edition of Notable Quotables, the MRC's bi-weekly compilation of the latest outrageous, sometimes humorous, quotes in the liberal media, is now up on the MRC's Web site thanks to Mez Djouadi and Kristina Sewell. Amongst the quote headings: "Up Side of Taliban Thugocracy"; "Scolding American Hypocrisy"; "Americans Are Terrorists, Too"; "Persecuting Clinton Allowed 9/11"; "Haunted By Vietnam Analogies" and "Whining About Watchdogs." Go to: http://www.mediaresearch.org/notablequotables/2001/nq20011126.html
To access the Adobe Acrobat PDF version, go to: http://www.mediaresearch.org/notablequotables/2001/pdf/nov262001nq.pdf <<<

1

Katie Couric's first question to Lou Cannon on Monday morning: "Do we need another book about Ronald Reagan?" Cannon, a former Washington Post reporter and a Reagan biographer, appeared to plug his new book, "Ronald Reagan, The Presidential Portfolio: History as Told through the Collection of the Ronald Reagan Library and Museum."

MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens noticed that this was Couric's first question to Cannon during the November 26 Today show interview: "I can't think of any one more qualified to write another book about Ronald Reagan. The question is, do we need another book about Ronald Reagan, Lou?"

2

Another leftist novelist, this time Norman Mailer, has rationalized the September 11 terrorist attacks. Monday's CyberAlert recounted recent comments from Gore Vidal, but on his show Monday night on FNC Brit Hume reminded me of earlier pronouncements from Mailer first recounted by the New Republic last week and later highlighted by OpinionJournal.com's "Best of the Web" column. (For Vidal's rant, refer back to: http://www.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2001/cyb20011126.asp#3)

For its "Idiocy Watch" column, the November 26 New Republic relayed what Mailer said at the Cross Border Festival in the Amsterdam on October 29 as reported by the Dutch newspaper, NRC Handelsblad. The New Republic noted that "because these comments were translated from English to Dutch, then back to English, they may vary from the originals."

Referring to the World Trade Center towers, Mailer declared: "Everything wrong with America led to the point where the country built that tower of Babel, which consequently had to be destroyed." And he wondered: "What if those perpetrators were right and we were not? We have long ago lost the capability to take a calm look at the enormity of our enemy's position."

Mailer's comments, as quoted at: http://www.tnr.com/112601/notebook112601.html

-- "The WTC was not just an architectural monstrosity, but also terrible for people who didn't work there, for it said to all those people: 'If you can't work up here, boy, you're out of it.' That's why I'm sure that if those towers had been destroyed without loss of life a lot of people would have cheered. Everything wrong with America led to the point where the country built that tower of Babel, which consequently had to be destroyed."

-- "And then came the next shock. We had to realize that the people that did this were brilliant. It showed that the ego we could hold up until September 10 was inadequate."

-- "Americans can't admit that you need courage to do such a thing. For that might be misunderstood. The key thing is that we in America are convinced that it was blind, mad fanatics who didn't know what they were doing. But what if those perpetrators were right and we were not? We have long ago lost the capability to take a calm look at the enormity of our enemy's position."

The New Republic commented: "Again the confusion of right with enormity. In what sense, though, are thousands of innocent and incinerated people 'wrong'? And does Norman Mailer really believe that the perpetrators may have been 'right'? Nothing in his long career of stupid and indecent extenuations of other people's pain rules out the possibility that he believes it. But the fearless American writer should not sneak around to the far corners of the world to express his bold views. He should make his dissent at home, where it matters, and where it can get his name into a lot of newspapers that the people who lunch at the Four Seasons can read."

3

As noted in the November 20 CyberAlert, in moderating a November 18 TV panel program on the local ABC affiliate, the Dallas Morning News reported that Peter Jennings had the tables turned on him as he was hit with complaints about his September 11 on-air remarks. Since the affiliate, WFAA-TV, posted a RealPlayer file of the one-hour special, we've now had the opportunity to transcribe that portion of the show in which Jennings seemed befuddled that anyone could have objected to his demanding to know the location of President Bush just hours after the terrorist attacks.

The day after Ed Bark's Dallas Morning News story ran, he followed up with another one recounting his interview with Jennings in which Jennings couldn't understand why anyone would be concerned that the anchor of a major U.S. network's prime newscast is not a U.S. citizen:
"That he hasn't become an American citizen is considered highly unpatriotic by some. Mr. Jennings, who was born 63 years ago in Toronto, didn't bristle when this was broached. 'When passions are very high, there are a variety of interpretations around the country of what patriotism is,' he said. 'I am Canadian. And if anybody asks me about it, it's a personal matter. It has a lot to do with my family and my family's history and my kids. But I'm very curious to know why any of our backgrounds are an issue for people.'"

For an excerpt from his November 19 story about how Jennings was confronted during the WFAA-TV special, as well as a RealPlayer clip of World News Tonight showing a Dallas man telling Jennings, "Nobody likes you," go to: http://www.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2001/cyb20011120.asp#1

On Monday, MRC analyst Patrick Gregory transcribed a portion of the November 18 WFAA-TV special, "Covering Terrorism: Critiquing the Media."

Leading back into the show following an ad break, Dallas viewers heard and saw this from Jennings on September 11: "I don't mean to say this in melodramatic terms, but where is the President of the United States? I know we don't know where he is, but pretty soon the country needs to know where he is."

Jennings was surprised by the choice of clips: "Well unbeknownst to me, at that particular moment, WFAA rolled a piece of tape from the first day of the broadcast when the President was traveling from Florida to Louisiana to Nebraska and finally back to Washington, to which a number of people took objection, that I had questioned where the President was, and should I or should I not. And apparently, one of, I didn't realize this until just a moment ago, wrote a nasty letter about me to the paper, which I accept as a learning experience. Go ahead."
Craig Stanbaugh, in the audience: "I'm the father of six in Arlington, Texas. I work here in Dallas as an accountant. I took issue that statement, Mr. Jennings, in that a time-"
Jennings: "Can you call me Peter? I'm going to call you Craig."
Stanbaugh: "Ok. Peter, at a time when the American public was so horrified, and scared of what was going on 9/11, and they were seeking from the national media who were following at that time the best source to find out whether or not their homes were safe, their family, whether their city or state was going to be attacked. Sometimes its almost looking for a sense of comfort, to know what things are going on."
Jennings. "You clearly thought I had done something wrong, what was it?"
Stanbaugh: "I found it rather disconcerting that you would, I would say questioned the actions of the administration as to not returning to Washington, DC immediately and or not allowing the public to know where they are at that particular time."
Jennings: "So you thought that I was, wanted to sort of expose where the President was and know where the President was and was making him vulnerable?"

Stanbaugh: "No not make him vulnerable but to question his actions and whether or not they were proper actions in leading this country.
Jennings: "Ok, very good question, and if I may I'll come back to it, but in fairness in other words you believe it was not the moment to question the President's decision making?"
Stanbaugh: "Correct, I don't believe that was the particular format to raise that question and to instill doubt or fear into the mind of the American public."

Jennings asked the panelists for their reactions, conceding to WBAP Radio talk show host Mark Davis: "The truth of the matter is I did say 'some Presidents do this well, and some don't do it well,' and it's absolutely essential to the American people that a President do it well. I made no further judgment."
Davis suggested: "But in so saying, the supposition seems to be that maybe this guy is on the way to not doing it well. But otherwise why bring it up?"
Jennings: "Alright, but would that be the supposition of all or some"
Davis: "Some, a big some."
Jennings then addressed the charge: "Let me just try to answer your question fairly. Indeed, we had an almost constant dialogue with the White House at that time. We knew that the secret service had moved in over the President, as it does in a case like this, with enormous influence, enormous pressure, and that he did, then go, I'd forgotten where he was at that given moment, he then went as you know from Florida to Nebraska. We had a reporter with him all the time. He finally came back to Washington, and I say finally because there was tremendous pressure in the political establishment, as well as in I would agree in the journalistic establishment, to have the President at home base to lead the nation. And the implication of at least my question or observation at that time was that, it was in no way intended to question his actions, because quite frankly we didn't know what he was doing, we only knew basically where he was going. I'm not sure that'll satisfy you, but it was certainly not meant to question him, but to question the process and point out how important it was for all of us in the country to see the President, to see him standing up and leading the nation. One man's opinion."

As noted in the October 1 CyberAlert in explaining why the MRC published a Media Reality Check correcting claims about what Jennings stated on September 11: "All else being equal, we would have done something on his demands to see and hear immediately from Bush and how they illustrated the way the networks have turned the presidency into the empathizer in chief, putting his public appearance and words ahead of him making important decisions at closed meetings."

For that explanation in full and a link to the Media Reality Check, refer back to the November 27 CyberAlert: http://www.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2001/cyb20011001.asp#4

To view the WFAA-TV special in full via RealPlayer, go to:
http://www.wfaa.com/watchvideo/index.jsp?SID=1929859

The above-quoted segment occurred a bit more than 37 minutes into the show.

4

Speaking of Peter Jennings, Fred Barnes opened his cover story in the latest Weekly Standard, "The Press in Time of War," by noting: "Peter Jennings, the ABC News anchor, ventured outside New York last week to discover the mood of the country. In Dallas, a man told him bluntly: 'Nobody likes you.' The man added that the press's reporting is unpatriotic and isn't helping the nation recover from the attacks of September 11."

Barnes, however, contended that with notable exceptions: "The press has been more in sync with the American people since September 11 than at any time in decades. And its coverage, from a professional standpoint, has rarely been better. In the two or three weeks immediately after the terrorist assaults on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, both print and broadcast coverage was dazzling. The stories were fact-filled, fair, balanced, poignant, comprehensive, and politically neutral. There were even murmurs of patriotism, not exactly a staple of the liberal media....In short, what we've seen at times over the past nine weeks is the American press transformed."

Citing as an example the MRC's documentation of ABC News President David Westin's reluctance to say the Pentagon wasn't a "legitimate" target, Barnes observed that "the scrutiny the national press now gets from media critics, watchdog groups, press websites, and astute journalistic observers" is providing "a makeshift kind of accountability that didn't exist until recently."

In researching his piece, last week Barnes, Executive Editor of the Weekly Standard, stopped by the Media Research Center to access our video archive of terrorism coverage and such notable events as Dan Rather's appearance on the Late Show.

Below is an excerpt from his piece in the December 3 edition of the magazine, which was ostensibly a review of two books, including one that looks quite intriguing, "Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distorts the News," by Bernard Goldberg. It's published by Regnery, but I don't believe it's out in bookstores quite yet. Amazon.com has it listed as available "soon."

Near the end of the piece Barnes tagged me as "the scourge of liberal bias." The excerpt:

....There are, of course, exceptions to a changed press, dinosaurs bent on covering the war as antagonistically as possible. One is the New York Times. Its war coverage has been grimly defeatist and its chief Washington correspondent, R.W. Apple Jr., has fixated on supposed similarities between American interventions in Afghanistan and Vietnam....Another offender is ABC. Its obsession was Taliban claims about civilian deaths from American bombing. ABC accepted them as credible and played them up. Predictably the claims turned out to be false. ABC even frowned on the president's effort to have American kids send a dollar to Afghan children.

There have also been episodes of klutzy and hysterical reporting. Gloria Borger's questioning of Vice President Dick Cheney on "60 Minutes," for example, drifted into the ridiculous when she asked him to discuss the secret site where he goes when the president is in the White House. "What do they do when they take you away?" she asked. "Do they come in and get you...[and] where do you go?" Cheney answered gently that such information "needs to be classified."...

Still, the big question about journalism is whether September 11 marks a turning point -- indeed, whether the press is permanently chastened, changed, different. For a generation now, the type of reporting practiced first in Washington and then nationwide has been adversarial, cynical, and highly negative. Reporters themselves have been so ideological that liberal bias became a dominant trait of journalism, as Bernard Goldberg engagingly points out in the about-to-be-released "Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distorts the News."...

[R]emarkable things have occurred. Famous journalists have been transformed in ways that should thrill conservatives who complain about liberal bias. The most striking changes involve CBS anchor Dan Rather, liberal television journalist Geraldo Rivera, CNN chief Walter Isaacson, and columnist Tom Friedman of the New York Times.

Rather's appearance on the "Late Show with David Letterman" a week after the terrorist attacks was quite touching. A mention of the firefighters at the World Trade Center reduced him to tears. He broke up again while reciting a stanza of "America the Beautiful" and declared: "You know, it's just one American, wherever [the president] wants me to line up, just tell me where. And he'll make the call." But what Rather said later, after the bombing started, was more significant. Following two days of bombing, he ended the "CBS Evening News" with a patriotic peroration. "Our thoughts and our love are with our warrior men and women," he said. "We know that some may come back in flag-draped caskets, but we reluctantly and sadly accept that as a reality of a war forced upon us." How often have we heard anything like that on network news?....

And then there's Walter Isaacson. Freshly installed as the head of CNN, Isaacson faced various problems. It wasn't just dealing with CNN's reputation as the "Clinton News Network," though that has caused ratings trouble. The bigger problem was the source of that reputation: the content of CNN's programs. One CNN official admitted the cable network had "underserved" conservatives, which is putting it mildly. But faced with a war to cover, Isaacson took an extraordinary step that Ted Turner, were he still in charge, surely would not have. He sent a memo to correspondents, instructing them to remind viewers of the attacks that prompted America to go to war in the first place. The message between the lines was "Don't sound anti-American." Despite lapses, CNN's coverage has improved....

The effect of September 11 was traumatic and mind-altering. But there are other reasons, too, for the change in journalism. The nature of the story -- a war with many facets, foreign and domestic -- requires more fact-based reporting and less commentary. Then, too, for television, ratings matter. This no doubt has played a role in CNN's coverage.

One significant factor gets little notice: the scrutiny the national press now gets from media critics, watchdog groups, press websites, and astute journalistic observers like Andrew Sullivan of the New Republic and Brit Hume of Fox News Channel. Many of these are conservative, and they're constantly on alert for liberal or leftist excesses. When they find them, they let the whole world, or at least elite opinion-makers, know. The result is a makeshift kind of accountability that didn't exist until recently. Large media organizations once haughtily ignored conservative criticism. Now they have to take it into account and react.

The case of David Westin, the president of ABC News, is a good example. On October 23, Westin spoke to a class at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Asked if the Pentagon were a legitimate target for attack by America's enemies, he said, "I actually don't have an opinion on that...as a journalist I feel strongly that's something I should not be taking a position on." The comment drew no criticism from the students, which may tell you something about them.

But four days later, the Westin speech was shown on C-SPAN, where Brent Baker of the Media Research Center caught it at 2 A.M. Baker put excerpts in the daily "CyberAlert" he writes for MRC's website. Rummaging through the Internet, Brit Hume spotted the item and mentioned it on "Special Report" that evening on Fox. Two days later, the New York Post picked it up and the next day so did the Drudge Report. That alerted Rush Limbaugh, who devoted an hour or more to it on his radio show. With Limbaugh's show still in progress, Baker got a call from ABC. A reply would be e-mailed to him soon for posting on the MRC website. It was a total capitulation. "I was wrong," Westin wrote. "Under any interpretation, the attack on the Pentagon was criminal and entirely without justification."

The impact this may have on ABC's coverage is uncertain. It hasn't affected what's become a hardy perennial at the network: obsessive emphasis on collateral damage caused by American bombing. Despite relatively few civilian deaths in Afghanistan, ABC has concentrated on the subject far more than NBC or CBS. But then it did the same thing during the Gulf War a decade ago.

At the New York Times, R.W. Apple, too, is grinding an old ax. Back in 1991, he wrote, "For all of President Bush's passionate insistence to the contrary, the war in the Persian Gulf has more than a few similarities to the war in Vietnam, in the sort of problems that it poses if not in the probable outcome." Trying to make a new situation fit an old story, he was wrong about the Gulf War -- and he's wrong again about the war in Afghanistan, for precisely the same reason....

[Y]ou'd never have guessed from "Bias" (written months before September11) that Dan Rather would emerge as the war on terrorism's leading media supporter. Nonetheless, Goldberg tells an engrossing story about his twenty-eight years at CBS, his clash with Rather over liberal bias, and his take on liberal news coverage in general. He was a top-flight correspondent and Rather favorite until February 1996, when he wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about liberal bias, particularly at CBS. "You can talk freely about many things when you work for the big network news operations, but liberal bias is not one of them," Goldberg notes. After the article, his career at CBS was stymied and he left the network in 2000. Goldberg tells plenty of CBS tales out of school (Rather's down-home quips are scripted, he observes, and CBS News boss Andrew Heyward privately agreed about liberal bias). In the end, he's pessimistic about erasing bias. "They continue to slant the news and then deny they're doing it," Goldberg says. "They just don't understand."

Even so, Dan Rather's metamorphosis seems real, if perhaps temporary. The scourge of liberal bias, Brent Baker of the Media Research Center, is persuaded. "He's not the Rather of the past," he says. In fact, Baker has kind words for most of CBS's war coverage and NBC's too. "There's not much to complain about thematically from a conservative point of view," Baker says. "Certainly the tone of coverage has changed. They're eliminating the spin. They're not trying to impute political motives to everything Bush does or says." All that, just since September 11. If it lasts, people may learn to like the press as much as they like, well, Donald Rumsfeld.

END of Excerpt

To read the article by Barnes in full, go to:
http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/000/600wtsyt.asp

I'm proud of my new title, "Scourge of Liberal Bias." Maybe I'll add it to my business cards.

5

Tonight on CBS's JAG, part two of the two-parter "ripped from today's headlines," about a U.S. Navy plane which was forced to land in China.

The summary of tonight's plot as listed on the show's Web page:
"Harm defends a Naval lieutenant who claims he disobeyed orders and bombed a U.S. Navy spy plane held hostage by the Chinese because he believed it was the right thing to do, in the conclusion of a two-part episode.
"Harm and Sturgis go head to head at the lieutenant's court-martial as Harm tries to keep him out of Leavenworth, where he could be sentenced to 25 years for his actions."

JAG, a show about attorneys in the Navy's Judge Advocate Corps, airs at 8pm EST/PST, 7pm CST/MST on CBS. The program's Web page: http://www.cbs.com/primetime/jag/ -- Brent Baker, aka, "the scourge of liberal bias"


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