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Nets Push New Abuse Storylines, Jennings Agrees with Rumsfeld --5/21/2004


1. Nets Push New Abuse Storylines, Jennings Agrees with Rumsfeld
Even before the Washington Post on Friday morning splashed more photos from Abu Ghraib, and though a new poll had discovered that "34 percent believe the prisoner abuse scandal was covered 'excessively' by the news media compared to only nine percent saying the beheading received too much coverage," on Thursday night ABC, CBS and NBC all pushed fresh angles on the abuse storyline. ABC's Peter Jennings rationalized his lead story, about "abuse and neglect" committed in their state-side jobs by prison administrators hired to run prisons in Iraq, by citing Donald Rumsfeld as authorizing such a media focus. Rumsfeld, Jennings relayed, was asked "whether the prison investigation in Iraq was diverting attention from the general mission in Iraq and Afghanistan. 'Yes,' he said. 'That's not to say it shouldn't. It's too bad, but that's life.' Mr. Rumsfeld is right, of course." NBC's Tom Brokaw led with how "NBC News has exclusive information on what could be another Iraqi prison scandal in the making at a facility so secret it is known to only a few."

2. Citing Reagan, Lauer Scolds Hastert for "Pot Shot" at McCain
Though Senator John McCain has risen to prominence and media favor by bashing Republicans and conservatives, usually from the left and often putting him out of step with the vast majority of Republicans, on Thursday's Today Matt Lauer fretted about how House Speaker Denny Hastert dared to criticize McCain. "It was Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment," Lauer intoned in suddenly treating Reagan as a wise counselor, "'thou shall not speak ill of another Republican.' But on Wednesday, the Republican House Speaker took a pot shot at fellow Republican Senator John McCain." Interviewing McCain, after citing how Hastert questioned McCain's Republican loyalties and how Democrats want him to run with John Kerry, Lauer wondered: "Do you get the feeling, Senator, you're playing for the wrong team?"

3. "Top Ten Questions on the John Kerry Running Mate Application"
Letterman's "Top Ten Questions on the John Kerry Running Mate Application."


Nets Push New Abuse Storylines, Jennings
Agrees with Rumsfeld

Even before the Washington Post on Friday morning splashed more photos from Abu Ghraib taken from video, and though a new Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll had discovered that "34 percent believe the prisoner abuse scandal was covered 'excessively' by the news media compared to only nine percent saying the beheading received too much coverage," and by 60 percent to 8 percent an overwhelming majority saw the beheading as more upsetting than the prisoner abuse, on Thursday night ABC, CBS and NBC all pushed fresh angles on the abuse storyline.

ABC's Peter Jennings rationalized his lead story, about "abuse and neglect" committed in their state-side jobs by prison administrators hired to run prisons in Iraq, by citing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as authorizing such a media focus. Rumsfeld, Jennings relayed, "was asked at one point today whether the prison investigation in Iraq was diverting attention from the general mission in Iraq and Afghanistan. 'Yes,' he said. 'That's not to say it shouldn't. It's too bad, but that's life.' Mr. Rumsfeld is right, of course."

"Mr. Rumsfeld is right, of course." Now those are words never before spoken by Peter Jennings.

NBC's Tom Brokaw Tom Brokaw led Thursday's NBC Nightly News with how "NBC News has exclusive information on what could be another Iraqi prison scandal in the making at a facility so secret it is known to only a few. But NBC's Campbell Brown in Baghdad has learned it is now under investigation for more abusive treatment of prisoners." Concluding her piece on how the Delta Force, with the knowledge of top military brass, has supposedly abused prisoners, Campbell Brown bemoaned how the investigation had "so far yielded charges against only the military's lowest ranks."

Dan Rather arrived at the prisoner topic only after leading with the raid on Ahmad Chalabi's home. Rather showed the "thumbs-up" photos given to ABC News (see May 20 CyberAlert), of individual soldiers by the body of a dead Iraqi man, and then set up a CBS Evening News story:
"The first pictures supporting allegations of prisoner abuse in Iraq reached the American public only last month when CBS News broke the story on 60 Minutes II. But tonight, CBS's David Martin reports, U.S. military lawyers protested the handling of detainees in the overall war on terror more than a year ago." Martin proceeded to cite a February of 2003 memo from Air Force lawyer Jack Rives about how the U.S. was marring its record of following the Geneva Conventions.

On Thursday morning, Major General Geoffrey Miller, who oversees the prisons in Iraq, appeared on both ABC's Good Morning America and NBC's Today. On Today, Matt Lauer plugged the upcoming session by asking: "Did one General's guidelines open the floodgates for the abuses there?"

(The May 20 broadcast networks evening newscasts, as well as CNN's NewsNight, all ran stories on the raid on Chalabi's home and how he's been long-supported by Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, and pieces on President Bush going to Capitol Hill to "reassure" and/or "rally" Republicans.)

Thursday night in the "Grapevine" segment on his FNC show, Brit Hume highlighted how a new Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll found that when asked what was the "more upsetting news story," 60 percent named the beheading of Nick Berg compared to a piddling 8 percent who listed the abuse of Iraqi prisoners. 29 percent found both equally upsetting.

Checking the posted rundown of the poll, I discovered this finding: "Some Americans (34 percent) believe the prisoner abuse scandal was covered 'excessively' by the news media compared to only nine percent saying the beheading received too much coverage. Over a third (35 percent) think both stories received excessive media coverage and 15 percent say neither."

For the full rundown of the poll conducted May 18-19, "in the evening," check: www.foxnews.com

Now more on the ABC and NBC focus Thursday night, May 20, on prisoner abuse as the most important event of the day:

-- ABC's World News Tonight. Jennings teased up top: "Tonight we reveal the background of several Americans chosen to set up and run the prisons in Iraq. There are previous allegations of abuse and neglect."

He then began his program: "Good evening everyone. The Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, was asked at one point today whether the prison investigation in Iraq was diverting attention from the general mission in Iraq and Afghanistan. 'Yes,' he said. 'That's not to say it shouldn't. It's too bad, but that's life.' Mr. Rumsfeld is right, of course. And we begin tonight with another piece of the Abu Ghraib story which has made life difficult for the Bush administration and for the country's reputation in the Middle East."

Brian Ross began with a broad outline of his story: "To set up the Iraqi prison system, the Bush administration chose a team of six former state prison commissioners described by the Attorney General as the best in the field, but our investigation found that four of them left their posts after allegations of neglect, brutality and prisoner deaths."

For the online version of the Ross story: abcnews.go.com

In a subsequent story on the "pep talk to anxious Republicans" delivered by President Bush, Linda Douglass picked up on House member upset with how Senate Republicans are giving the media a hook to keep alive the prisoner storyline: "Some House members complain Republican Senators are keeping the issue alive with too many public hearings."
Congressman Peter King (R-NY): "The Republicans in the Senate just seem mired in self-doubt and self-flagellation. These constant public hearings where Senators are giving you their own life history and their own views and their own psycho-babble self-analysis, to me it's just playing into the enemy's hand."

And eagerly eaten up by the media.

In between Ross and Douglass, ABC went to Martha Raddatz at the Pentagon for an update on conflicting claims about the supposed U.S. strike on a "wedding party." Raddatz's piece showed video of a dead Iraqi child lying on the ground.

-- NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw's opening teaser: "An NBC News exclusive: Is it a new prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq? New allegations this time at a secret U.S. facility."

Brokaw led his show, as taken down by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "Good evening. It's been another active day across several fronts on Iraq. The home of Ahmad Chalabi, formerly the administration's favorite Iraqi exile, was raided today. President Bush in Washington went to Capitol Hill today to shore up his standing with fellow Republicans, and tonight NBC News has exclusive information on what could be another Iraqi prison scandal in the making at a facility so secret it is known to only a few. But NBC's Campbell Brown in Baghdad has learned it is now under investigation for more abusive treatment of prisoners."

Brown began: "With attention focused on the seven soldiers charged with abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison, U.S. military and intelligence officials familiar with the situation tell NBC News the Army's elite Delta Force is now the subject of a Pentagon inspector general investigation into abuse against detainees. The target: a top secret site near Baghdad's airport, the battlefield interrogation facility known as the BIF, is pictured in these satellite photos. According to two top U.S. government sources, it's the scene of the most egregious violations of the Geneva Conventions in all of Iraq's prisons. A place where the normal rules of interrogation don't apply, Delta Force's BIF only holds Iraqi insurgents and suspected terrorists, but not the most wanted among Saddam's lieutenants, pictured on the deck of cards. These sources say the prisoners there are hooded from the moment they're captured. They're kept in tiny, dark cells, and in the BIF's six interrogation rooms, Delta Force soldiers routinely drug prisoners, hold a prisoner underwater until he thinks he's drowning, and smother prisoners almost to the point of suffocation. All that would be violations of the Geneva Conventions. The Conventions do not apply to stateless terrorists, so-called 'non-enemy combatants,' like al-Qaeda suspects caught by the U.S. in Afghanistan. But as Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has made clear, the Geneva Conventions do apply in Iraq."
Donald Rumsfeld at a Senate hearing: "Iraq's a nation, the United States is a nation. The Iraq, the Geneva Conventions applied. They have applied every single day from the outset."
Brown: "So does Secretary Rumsfeld know about the BIF and what goes on there? Several top U.S. military and intelligence sources say yes, and that he, through other top Pentagon officials, directed the U.S. head of intelligence in Iraq, General Barbara Fast and others, to bring some of the methods used at the BIF to prisons like Abu Ghraib, in the hopes of getting better intelligence from Iraqi detainees. The Pentagon's top spokesman in Iraq says the military will not comment on the BIF or what goes on there. He was unwilling to even confirm or deny its existence. General Fast declined our request for an interview due to the ongoing prison abuse investigation, one that's so far yielded charges against only the military's lowest ranks. Campbell Brown, NBC News, Baghdad."

It seems the media won't let go until somebody at the top is forced out. But even then they won't be satisfied.

Citing Reagan, Lauer Scolds Hastert for
"Pot Shot" at McCain

Though Senator John McCain has risen to prominence and media favor by bashing Republicans and conservatives, usually from the left and often putting him out of step with the vast majority of Republicans, on Thursday's Today Matt Lauer fretted about how House Speaker Denny Hastert dared to criticize McCain. "It was Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment," Lauer intoned in suddenly treating Reagan as a wise counselor, "'thou shall not speak ill of another Republican.' But on Wednesday, Republican House Speaker took a pot shot at fellow Republican Senator John McCain."

Interviewing McCain, after citing how Hastert questioned McCain's Republican loyalties and how Democrats want him to run with John Kerry, Lauer wondered: "Do you get the feeling, Senator, you're playing for the wrong team?"

Lauer began his May 20 session with McCain, who appeared via satellite from a Senate office building, by asking about the prison-abuse matter: "I'm sure you just heard Katie's interview with General Miller. He said the photographs we've been seeing over the last several weeks are the results of unauthorized and illegal actions of a very small number of soldiers. General John Abizaid, the Centcom commander said yesterday that no culture of abuse existed at Abu Ghraib. He blamed the mental torture of Iraqi detainees on the failures of a few. Are you satisfied?"

Lauer followed-up by pushing the media mantra about punishing high-ranking officials: "So as, so as we get set Senator to see a string of courts martial taking place in Iraq are you concerned that those soldiers, low-ranking soldiers will be punished and, and that the punishment will not go further up the chain of command?"

Then, MRC analyst Geoff Dickens noticed, Lauer cued up McCain to expound on a subject on which he's bashing Republicans, but a rare topic (spending) on which he's coming from the right at the GOP leadership, though he's simultaneously coming from the left in opposing tax cuts:
"Let me talk about Iraq and its effect on domestic policy. You've been critical of the administration, saying that the administration has not asked Americans to sacrifice enough. That especially in the case of tax cuts there's no time in history when taxes have been cut during wartime. And you said that we need to be made to sacrifice. Dennis Hastert, the Speaker of the House, responded to your comments yesterday. Let me play you a portion of what he said."
Dennis Hastert, before a bunch of reporters: "If you want to see the sacrifice John McCain ought to visit our young men and women at Walter Reed and Bethesda. There's a sacrifice in this country."
Lauer: "What's your response to Congressman Hastert's comments?"
McCain: "I agree with him that these young men and women are making enormous sacrifices" but, "I think we owe them something else and that is not to come back to a bankrupt nation that continues to pork-barrel spend...largest amount of spending in history and growth of government in history. I'm kind of an old fashioned Republican, I believe fiscal conservancy is important... we are mortgaging our children's future..."
Lauer: "I don't mean to sound sarcastic with this but you've got the leader of the Republicans in the House seemingly calling into question your loyalties to the Republican Party. Last Sunday you sat next to Senator Joe Biden, a Democrat, who said he'd like John Kerry to call you about being a vice presidential candidate. Do you get the feeling, Senator, you're playing for the wrong team?"
McCain: "No, I don't Matt at all. I'm a loyal Republican" and want the party to return to the values of Lincoln and Reagan.

"Top Ten Questions on the John Kerry
Running Mate Application"

From the May 20 Late Show with David Letterman, the "Top Ten Questions on the John Kerry Running Mate Application." Late Show home page: www.cbs.com

10. "Do you support both sides of every issue?"

9. "Excluding horse, what animal do I most resemble?"

8. "Mind if I pretend you're John McCain?"

7. "Are you related to any Governors who can help rig an election?"

6. "In the vice presidential debate, will you make Cheney your bitch?"

5. "You're not going to trick me into starting a war to help out your oil buddies, are you?"

4. "Which trait do you find more inspirational: My dour blandness or my smug arrogance?"

3. "If chosen, would you be willing to change your name to Kenny?"

2. "Any black market botox connections?"

1. "Do you have my back if I pull a 'Clinton'?"

Some shots at Bush, but #10 and #4 show that those two anti-Kerry themes have become well-enough known perceptions for comedians to feel comfortable that their audiences will get the joke.

-- Brent Baker