Nets Pounce on No bin Laden-Saddam Link, But Bush Believed Media --6/17/2004
2. NBC & MSNBC Fuel Kerry's Spin About a "Middle Class Squeeze"
3. Gumbel Endorses Fahrenheit 9/11 as "Extremely" Important
The networks pounced Wednesday night on one sentence on the fifth page of a 9-11 Commission report released earlier in the day, which declared: "We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States." Picking up on that exaggeration of administration claims, on CNN's NewsNight, David Ensor asserted: "The commission staff report says Iraq had nothing to do with 9-11 and backs that up with some evidence." Of course, administration officials never claimed any Iraqi connection to the 9-11 attacks, just a mutually-advantageous relationship over the years.
Thursday's morning shows highlighted the finding, but didn't air separate stories on it as did the network evening shows the night before. Thursday newspapers also touted the commission assertion. "Al Qaeda-Hussein Link is Dismissed," declared a June 17 Washington Post front page headline.
MSNBC's Keith Olbermann announced at the top of Wednesday's Countdown: "Memo to the Vice President: 9/11 Commission finds, quote, 'no credible evidence,' unquote, of any link between al-Qaeda and Iraq."
On the Wednesday CBS Evening News, John Roberts stressed how the commission's claim undermines President Bush, describing the Iraq connection as "one of President Bush's last surviving justifications for war in Iraq" and, he charged, "today it took a devastating hit when the 9-11 Commission declared there was no collaborative relationship between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden." Roberts concluded with a harsh judgment: "The report is yet another blow to the President's credibility."
"The 9/11 Commission contradicts the White House today," NBC's David Gregory contended on Nightly News, "particularly on claims that Iraq and al-Qaeda were linked before the war." Gregory at least pointed out how "the report reveals for the first time that in 1994 an Iraqi intelligence official met Osama bin Laden in Sudan," but he decided that "it's clear this report is a blow to the President's rationale for war."
Over on ABC's World News Tonight, Terry Moran proposed: "After the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq undermined President Bush's main argument for going to war, this new finding by the 9-11 Commission challenges his case on another front."
Unmentioned by ABC, how maybe the Bush administration believed there was a bin Laden-Saddam connection because they believed ABC News. In a story aired in a prime time news magazine show on Thursday, January 14, 1999, then-ABC News correspondent Sheila MacVicar reported how a few months after the embassy bombings in Africa and U.S. retaliation against Sudan, bin Laden "reaches out to his friends in Iraq and Sudan." MacVicar trumpeted how "ABC News has learned that in December, an Iraqi intelligence chief, named Farouk Hijazi, now Iraq's ambassador to Turkey, made a secret trip to Afghanistan to meet with bin Laden. Three intelligence agencies tell ABC News they cannot be certain what was discussed, but almost certainly, they say, bin Laden has been told he would be welcome in Baghdad."
I tracked down that ABC News story after seeing it referred to in an excerpt from a new book by Stephen Hayes, "The Connection: How al Qaeda's Collaboration with Saddam Hussein has Endangered America," published in the June 7 Weekly Standard. Hayes cited similar news stories in Newsweek, the AP and NPR, in the 1998-99 range, which assumed bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were cooperative.
The Weekly Standard titled its excerpt, "The Connection: Not so long ago, the ties between Iraq and al Qaeda were conventional wisdom. The conventional wisdom was right." In the book, Hayes recited numerous pieces of evidence of how Iraq and al-Qaeda had a mutually beneficial relationship. Here's an excerpt from the Weekly Standard's book excerpt in which Hayes recounted how the media assumed such a relationship, based on information provided by Clinton administration officials:
There was a time not long ago when the conventional wisdom skewed heavily toward a Saddam-al Qaeda links. In 1998 and early 1999, the Iraq-al Qaeda connection was widely reported in the American and international media. Former intelligence officers and government officials speculated about the relationship and its dangerous implications for the world. The information in the news reports came from foreign and domestic intelligence services. It was featured in mainstream media outlets including international wire services, prominent newsweeklies, and network radio and television broadcasts.
Newsweek magazine ran an article in its January 11, 1999, issue headed "Saddam + Bin Laden?" "Here's what is known so far," it read:
"Saddam Hussein, who has a long record of supporting terrorism, is trying to rebuild his intelligence network overseas -- assets that would allow him to establish a terrorism network. U.S. sources say he is reaching out to Islamic terrorists, including some who may be linked to Osama bin Laden, the wealthy Saudi exile accused of masterminding the bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa last summer."
....NPR reporter Mike Shuster interviewed Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA's counterterrorism center, and offered this report:
"Iraq's contacts with bin Laden go back some years, to at least 1994, when, according to one U.S. government source, Hijazi met him when bin Laden lived in Sudan. According to Cannistraro, Iraq invited bin Laden to live in Baghdad to be nearer to potential targets of terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait....Some experts believe bin Laden might be tempted to live in Iraq because of his reported desire to obtain chemical or biological weapons. CIA Director George Tenet referred to that in recent testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee when he said bin Laden was planning additional attacks on American targets."
By mid-February 1999, journalists did not even feel the need to qualify these claims of an Iraq-al Qaeda relationship. An Associated Press dispatch that ran in the Washington Post ended this way: "The Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has offered asylum to bin Laden, who openly supports Iraq against Western powers."
Where did journalists get the idea that Saddam and bin Laden might be coordinating efforts? Among other places, from high-ranking Clinton administration officials.
In the spring of 1998 -- well before the U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa -- the Clinton administration indicted Osama bin Laden. The indictment, unsealed a few months later, prominently cited al Qaeda's agreement to collaborate with Iraq on weapons of mass destruction. The Clinton Justice Department had been concerned about negative public reaction to its potentially capturing bin Laden without "a vehicle for extradition," official paperwork charging him with a crime. It was "not an afterthought" to include the al Qaeda-Iraq connection in the indictment, says an official familiar with the deliberations. "It couldn't have gotten into the indictment unless someone was willing to testify to it under oath." The Clinton administration's indictment read unequivocally:
"Al Qaeda reached an understanding with the government of Iraq that al Qaeda would not work against that government and that on particular projects, specifically including weapons development, al Qaeda would work cooperatively with the Government of Iraq."
END of Excerpt
For the full Weekly Standard excerpt of the book: www.weeklystandard.com
Sheila MacVicar, who a short time later jumped to CNN, and I believe she has recently departed from CNN, provided an overview of the bin Laden-Hussein relationship: "Saddam Hussein has a long history of harboring terrorists. Carlos the Jackal, Abu Nidal, Abu Abbas, the most notorious terrorists of their era, all found shelter and support at one time in Baghdad. Intelligence sources say bin Laden's long relationship with the Iraqis began as he helped Sudan's fundamentalist government in their efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction.
A CNN-posted story by MacVicar with a picture of her: www.cnn.com
A fan site, apparently, that I came across via Google: home.wanadoo.nl
All the media hullabaloo over the 9-11 Commission's claims stemmed from one paragraph on page 5 of "Staff Statement No. 15," titled "Overview of the Enemy." The paragraph:
The report is online, as a PDF, at: wid.ap.org
The AP's posting: www.9-11commission.gov
-- ABC's World News Tonight. Peter Jennings intoned: "One of the Bush administration's most controversial assertions in its argument for war in Iraq was that Saddam Hussein had links to al-Qaeda. Today the 9-11 Commission said, unequivocally, not so."
From the White House, Terry Moran checked in: "After the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq undermined President Bush's main argument for going to war, this new finding by the 9-11 Commission challenges his case on another front. The 9-11 Commission staff report was categorical."
Moran went on to note how the White House says the commission report "does not in any way contradict" the Bush case for war, and he ran a soundbite of White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett maintaining that no tie to the 9-11 plot is "not inconsistent with" a "broader relationship."
Moran then concluded: "The commission found, however, that the only relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda was an apparent agreement not to attack each other."
-- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather announced at the top of his program: "The independent commission also directly contradicted one of President Bush's justifications for going to war against Iraq."
After a piece by Jim Stewart, Rather set up a story from John Roberts: "What about bin Laden and Saddam Hussein? Was there or was there not, as the Bush administration still insists, a working connection between Saddam and al-Qaeda?"
From the White House, Roberts answered: "It is one of President Bush's last surviving justifications for war in Iraq and today it took a devastating hit when the 9-11 Commission declared there was [with words on screen] no collaborative relationship between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden."
Roberts proceeded to contend that the White House has "frequently" thrown Iraq, links to terror and 9/11 attacks in "the same pot," and he illustrated that with a clip of Cheney, on NBC's Meet the Press on September 14, 2003, contending that Iraq was the "geographic base of the terrorists who had us under assault for many years, but most especially on 9/11."
Roberts picked up: "Those repeated associations left the majority of Americans believing Saddam was involved in 9/11. But the commission today put the nail in that connection, or for that matter, any other al-Qaeda acts of terror against America, declaring 'there is no credible evidence that Iraq and al-Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States.' The report is yet another blow to the President's credibility as he struggles to find the exit door in Iraq and opens him up to new criticism on the wisdom of taking on Saddam with al-Qaeda's leadership still at large."
-- NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw reported: "And the 9/11 Commission also has come to some conclusions about the link, or the absence of it, between Iraq and al-Qaeda. As NBC's David Gregory reports from the White House tonight, the Commission is sharply at odds with what leading members of the administration continue to claim."
Gregory began, as taken down by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "Vice President Cheney is as adamant as ever about a connection between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. He spoke in Florida Monday."
Providing fuel for the Kerry campaign theme that there is a "middle class squeeze," on Wednesday's Today on NBC and MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann, reporter Carl Quintanilla put uninformed emotion ahead of facts as he focused on the supposed "middle class blues" and featured one woman who claimed the current economy is "pretty close" to "a depression" and another woman who alleged that the middle class is "becoming like lower class because you can't afford to do anything." Quintanilla ominously warned: "The big risk now, interest rates. Inflation may force them higher. That means higher credit card bills and a tougher housing market. More worries for a nervous nation."
Olbermann set up the story on MSNBC by contending that "something like job growth may sound great, but it isn't doing much to disabuse middle class Americans of the notion that they are getting hosed at the checkout counter."
The same day the Quintanilla story ran, Washington Post business columnist Steve Pearlstein, who is no ally of Bush since he charged that Bush's "tax cuts contribute to the widening gap between rich and poor" and that "the Bush economic program is based on the big lie that endless tax cuts are necessary to sustain economic growth," scolded John Kerry for the very same false economic spin pushed by NBC: "The efforts of John Kerry's team to portray the economy as being in terrible shape, and President Bush as being the Herbert Hoover of his era, are badly misguided."
Pearlstein argued in his June 16 column: "Nor is it true that most Americans are stuck in an economic ditch. Depending on what data set and time period you want to pick, it is possible to show that the 'average' worker or household is either better or worse off than last month, or last year, or during the last administration. But any objective look at the full range of data reveals that while inflation-adjusted pay for full-time workers was flat or slightly down during the recession, it has begun to pick up in the last year. Much of the gain comes in the form of health care benefits, which workers value highly. And because more people are working more hours, earning more from their investments and paying less in taxes, real disposable income has increased 4.6 percent in the last year.
For Pearlstein's column in full: www.washingtonpost.com
Another Olbermann plug caught by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth: "Up next, tonight's number four story. Your preview: The middle class squeeze. Can there really be an economic recovery going on if millions of Americans say they can't feel it, nor see it, nor smell it?"
Quintanilla began his June 16 story focused on uninformed emotions over facts: "They're calling it the middle class blues."
Quintanilla's piece ended there on Countdown, but it continued for a bit more on NBC's Today on Wednesday morning, the MRC's Geoff Dickens observed. In that version, Quintanilla went on to conclude: "Among the few areas where prices are falling, personal computers, movie tickets and toys. Ann."
Today's Ann Curry then acknowledged: "Well that's, at least, some good news."
Update. Video shown of Tom Brokaw and Bryant Gumbel at the Monday night screening, in Manhattan, of Michael Moore's anti-Bush screed, Fahrenheit 9/11. The June 15 edition of the syndicated program Extra showed video of Brokaw walking through the crowd in front of the theater playing the "documentary." Extra also ran video of Bryant Gumbel, with Al Sharpton's hand on his shoulder, answering "very, extremely," when asked: "How important do you think this film is?" Extra anchor Dayna Devon didn't apply an ideological tag to Gumbel, but she noted the presence of "conservative newsman Bill O'Reilly."
The June 16 CyberAlert reported: A whole bunch of prominent news media figures came out Monday night for a Manhattan screening of Michael Moore's anti-Bush movie, Fahrenheit 9/11. Reports in the New York Daily News, New York Post, New York Sun and FoxNews.com listed as amongst the attendees: NBC's Tom Brokaw and Brian Williams, as well as NBC President Jeff Zucker, CBS's Lesley Stahl and Ed Bradley and New York Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. Naturally, a large crowd of liberal celebrities also showed up, including Richard Gere, who told Access Hollywood that "I basically agree" with Moore's views, Leonardo DiCaprio whom the New York Daily News quoted as saying that Moore's film will "galvanize" young people to vote for Kerry and Tony Bennett, who told E! News Live that he considers Moore to be "honest" and "a great American," Tim Robbins, Richard Dreyfuss, Glen Close and Mike Myers.
For full details, see: www.mediaresearch.org
-- Brent Baker