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Relaying NYT's Snide Take, ABC's Woodruff Derides Bush's Outreach --1/6/2006


1. Relaying NYT's Snide Take, ABC's Woodruff Derides Bush's Outreach
Journalists have eagerly passed along, and themselves formulated, complaints that President Bush is too isolated (ie Newsweek's "Bush in a bubble"). But after, at his invitation, 13 former Secretaries of State and Defense came to the White House Thursday for a briefing on Iraq and a chance to give Bush and his top foreign policy officials their feedback, ABC anchor Bob Woodruff copied from a snide New York Times posting as he sneeringly stressed how "the dialogue was limited" since "the entire affair lasted just 40 minutes." He added, as if it had some great import, that "we're told...that former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has criticized the administration's handling of the war, did not say a word." To that tidbit, World News Tonight co-anchor Elizabeth Vargas chirped in: "Interesting." Did the entire event really last just 40 minutes? Friday's Washington Post reported that "Bush spent an hour" with the "prominent foreign policy voices."

2. Koppel Enticed to Discovery by Clintonite Who Wrote for U.S. News
Howard Kurtz, in his Thursday Washington Post story on Ted Koppel's decision to join the Discovery Channel, revealed a tantalizing tidbit in his tenth paragraph about who first reached out to Tom Bettag, the Executive Producer of Nightline until Koppel's departure from ABC in November: "The first contact came on Dec. 1, the week after Koppel's last Nightline broadcast, when Don Baer, a Discovery executive vice president who previously worked in the Clinton White House, e-mailed and then called Bettag."

3. CBS's Smith Shares Risen's Distress at NSA Anti-Terrorism Efforts
CBS's Harry Smith on Wednesday's Early Show saluted New York Times reporter James Risen, who in a December 16 front-page article exposed an ongoing National Security Agency (NSA) intelligence-gathering operation aimed at thwarting al Qaeda attacks in the U.S., and whose new book, State of War, amplifies his concerns with the way the U.S. government has pursued the war on terror. Shortly after 7:30am, Smith touted his upcoming interview with Risen, advertising him as "the author of a new book the Bush administration does not want you to read." A few minutes later, he introduced Risen by asserting that the NSA's surveillance program "has shocked many Americans." Smith used sinister language to describe the NSA program and, unlike NBC's Katie Couric, who interviewed Risen for Tuesday's Today, Smith did not ask Risen about the possible axe-grinding motives of his sources.

4. Clooney: Must "Understand," Not "Label" Terrorists as "Evil"
Actor George Clooney, who produced and stars in the movie Syriana, asserted in a soundbite FNC played from a promotional interview for the film, that he made the film's suicide bombers so "sympathetic" and out to be free-fighters because "they are, in a way, the most sympathetic, but I think that's important. Because if you are going to fight a war on terror, which is not a state that you can go and bomb, then you need to understand what it is that creates the people who would do such horrible things, rather then just saying -- labeling them as evildoers."


Relaying NYT's Snide Take, ABC's Woodruff
Derides Bush's Outreach

Journalists have eagerly passed along, and themselves formulated, complaints that President Bush is too isolated (ie Newsweek's "Bush in a bubble"). But after, at his invitation, 13 former Secretaries of State and Defense came to the White House Thursday for a briefing on Iraq and a chance to give Bush and his top foreign policy officials their feedback, ABC anchor Bob Woodruff copied from a snide New York Times posting as he sneeringly stressed how "the dialogue was limited" since "the entire affair lasted just 40 minutes." He added, as if it had some great import, that "we're told...that former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has criticized the administration's handling of the war, did not say a word." To that tidbit, World News Tonight co-anchor Elizabeth Vargas chirped in: "Interesting."

Did the entire event really last just 40 minutes? The New York Times story posted Thursday afternoon simply referred to "an exceedingly upbeat 40-minute briefing to 13 living former Secretaries of State and Defense about how well things are going in Iraq." Presumably, since news accounts related the advice given to Bush by several attendees, that was preceded and/or followed by time for comments. The Times story even later noted that Bush heard from the group for another ten minutes, followed by time with his advisers. I reviewed stories aired on all three cable news networks, as well as the AP and Washington Post postings, but none included any information about the length of the consultation. In the story in the hard copy edition of Friday's Washington Post, however, Jim VandeHei reported that "Bush spent an hour" with the "prominent foreign policy voices." See: www.washingtonpost.com

Woodruff, who read ABC's short item from Israel, clearly took his cue from David Sanger's New York Times story which was much snootier than articles posted elsewhere.

[This item was posted Thursday night on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org. To share your comments, go to: newsbusters.org ]

Neither the CBS Evening News or NBC Nightly News uttered a word about the session/photo-op.

From Israel, after a story on violence in Iraq, Bob Woodruff read this item on the January 6 World News Tonight. As he spoke, viewers saw video of the former officials around the table in the Roosevelt Room with Bush followed by a picture of them all with Bush, VP Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Rice in the Oval Office:
"One other note about Iraq. There was quite a gathering at the White House today. President Bush invited 13 former Secretaries of State and Defense, to talk about Iraq. They are the architects of American foreign policy since the Vietnam era. But the dialogue was limited. The entire affair lasted just 40 minutes. And we're told, Elizabeth, that former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has criticized the administration's handling of the war, did not say a word."
Elizabeth Vargas, at ABC's Manhattan studio: "Interesting."

Sanger led his New York Times posting:

Colin Powell said nothing -- a silence that spoke volumes to many in the White House today.

His predecessor, Madeleine Albright, was a bit riled after hearing an exceedingly upbeat 40-minute briefing to 13 living former secretaries of state and defense about how well things are going in Iraq. Saying the war in Iraq was "taking up all the energy" of President Bush's foreign policy team, she asked Mr. Bush whether he had let nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea spin out of control, and Latin America and China policy suffer by benign neglect.

"I can't let this comment stand," Mr. Bush shot back, telling Ms. Albright and the rare assembly of her colleagues, who reached back to the Kennedy White House, that his administration "can do more than one thing at a time."

The Bush administration, the president insisted, had "the best relations of any country with Japan, China and Korea," and active programs to win alliances around the world.

That was, according to some of the participants, one of the few moments of heat during an unusual White House effort to bring some of its critics into the fold and give a patina of bipartisan common ground to the strategy that Mr. Bush has laid out in recent weeks for Iraq.

But if it was a bipartisan consultation, as advertised by the White House, it was a brief one. Mr. Bush allowed 5 to 10 minutes this morning for interchange with the group -- which included three veterans of another difficult war, the one in Vietnam: Robert S. McNamara, Melvin R. Laird and James R. Schlesinger. Then the entire group was herded the Oval Office for what he called a "family picture."

Those who wanted to impart more wisdom to the current occupants of the White House were sent back across the hall to meet again with Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, and Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. But, as several of the participants noted, by that time Mr. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had gone on to other meetings....

END of Excerpt from NYTimes.com

For the Sanger piece in full: www.nytimes.com

By comparison, reporter William Branigin began his 2:30pm EST Washington Post Web site posting, with a lot less attitude:

President Bush reached out for suggestions about his Iraq policy today, inviting a bipartisan group of 13 former secretaries of state and defense to the White House for talks with him and top aides.

Bush told reporters after the meeting that the former secretaries from Republican and Democratic administrations had received a briefing "on our strategy for victory in Iraq" from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the U.S. ambassador and top military commander in Iraq.

"I've also had a chance to listen to their concerns, their suggestions about the way forward," Bush said. "Not everybody around this table agreed with my decision to go into Iraq, and I fully understand that. But these are good, solid Americans who understand that we've got to succeed now that we're there."

Bush said he was "most grateful for the suggestions that have been given," adding, "We take to heart the advice."

The meeting marked the first time that Bush has convened such a gathering of former Cabinet secretaries to talk about Iraq, an outreach effort recommended to him by senior Republican members of Congress, among others. The meeting coincided with another deadly day in Iraq, where insurgent violence claimed the lives of at least 130 Iraqis and five more American soldiers....

Bush, seated at a long table between Rice and Vice President Cheney, took no questions from reporters. But a few of the former secretaries answered queries about the meeting outside the White House, saying the group emphasized a need for the president to clearly explain his policies to the public.

"It was a unique meeting," said Frank C. Carlucci, 75, who served as defense secretary under President Ronald Reagan in the late 1980s. "It was all very respectful, but I think people didn't hesitate to express candid views." Among those who made "very strong points," he said, were former defense secretary Melvin R. Laird, 83, who served under President Richard M. Nixon, and former secretaries of state George P. Shultz, 85, a Reagan appointee, and Madeleine K. Albright, 68, who served under President Bill Clinton....

END Excerpt from WashingtonPost.com

For Sanger's posting in full: www.washingtonpost.com

And the AP's Jennifer Loven opened her 4:38pm EST dispatch as posted on Yahoo News:

President Bush brought foreign policy heavyweights from yesteryear to the White House on Thursday, including Democrats who have opposed his Iraq strategy. He got support for the mission -- along with a few concerns -- and a right to claim he was reaching out.

Waging an unpopular war that has dragged down his approval ratings, Bush has been campaigning to win the public over to his argument that he has a successful strategy for stabilizing Iraq and bringing American troops home.

As part of that effort, Bush brought to the White House more than a dozen former secretaries of state and defense, split almost evenly between Republican and Democratic administrations, for a detailed briefing and give-and-take.

He gambled that one-time high-level public officials, when personally summoned by the president, would resist temptation to be too critical.

He was right....

END of Excerpt from the AP

The AP dispatch in its entirety: news.yahoo.com

Koppel Enticed to Discovery by Clintonite
Who Wrote for U.S. News

Howard Kurtz, in his Thursday Washington Post story on Ted Koppel's decision to join the Discovery Channel, revealed a tantalizing tidbit in his tenth paragraph about who first reached out to Tom Bettag, the Executive Producer of Nightline until Koppel's departure from ABC in November: "The first contact came on Dec. 1, the week after Koppel's last Nightline broadcast, when Don Baer, a Discovery executive vice president who previously worked in the Clinton White House, e-mailed and then called Bettag."

Bettag and several others from Koppel's ABC crew will follow Koppel to Discovery.

For Kurtz's January 5 story: www.washingtonpost.com

Indeed, after nine years at U.S. News & World Report, where he rose to Assistant Managing Editor, in 1994 Baer jumped to the Clinton White House to become the chief speechwriter for President Clinton, and was later elevated to Communications Director for the Clinton White House. Baer reportedly so admired Bill Clinton that he effused about how Clinton was "the moral leader of the Universe."

[This item was posted Thursday afternoon on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org. To share your views, go to: newsbusters.org ]

When Baer joined CBS News in 1998 to provide analysis, a stint which ended within a year, the February 20, 1998 MRC CyberAlert provided a brief rundown of his career:

CBS News has brought aboard a Clinton insider. In the February 19 Washington Post John Carmody reported:

"Don Baer, who left the White House in August after 3½ years, most recently serving as Director of Communications, has signed on as a consultant for CBS News. He'll give his perspective on several regular CBS News programs about the '€˜behind-the-scenes' activity in the administration as his old boss continues to fend off crises. But network sources say '€˜he won't be shilling.'"

Carmody noted Baer's earlier career in journalism with U.S. News where he held the title of Assistant Managing Editor when he jumped to the White House. But Carmody missed another interesting resume item: As detailed in MediaWatch at the time, the April 9, 1994 National Journal divulged that when North Carolina Governor James Hunt, a Democrat, opposed Senator Jesse Helms in 1984, Baer, then a lawyer in New York City, "organized a $75,000 Manhattan fundraiser for Hunt." Three years later, he joined U.S. News.

So can Baer keep his personal feelings out of his journalism and just how much does he adore Bill Clinton? Check out this excerpt from a September 23, 1996 Weekly Standard profile by Christopher Caldwell:

"Clinton liked the articles Baer contributed to U.S. News during the 1992 campaign. While other journalists -- David Shribman of The Wall Street Journal, Joe Klein of New York, Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times -- ignored the more sensational aspects of the campaign for enthusiastic grapplings with 'Clintonism,' Baer wrote with extreme empathy about Clinton's background.

"'I think it's a southern thing' says one of Baer's journalistic colleagues, who also knows Clinton. 'Being of the South and still being rooted there, yet being driven and ambitious enough to prove oneself in the larger world -- the two of them have a lot in common.' While Baer has always been a loyal Democrat, he's not necessarily a liberal. Like Clinton, he has an idiosyncratic, instinctive, generally progressive politics that winds up at beyond-left-and-rightism. This enthusiasm can appear like ideological non-commitment or caginess. One New Democrat who met Baer at a dinner last year described him as 'bland beyond description, a fount of cliches. 'Clinton was the moral leader of the Universe,' and all that.'"

END of Excerpt from previous CyberAlert

CBS's Smith Shares Risen's Distress at
NSA Anti-Terrorism Efforts

CBS's Harry Smith on Wednesday's Early Show saluted New York Times reporter James Risen, who in a December 16 front-page article exposed an ongoing National Security Agency (NSA) intelligence-gathering operation aimed at thwarting al Qaeda attacks in the U.S., and whose new book, State of War, amplifies his concerns with the way the U.S. government has pursued the war on terror.

[The CBS portion of this item was first posted Wednesday, by the MRC's Rich Noyes, on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org. To add your comments, go to: newsbusters.org ]

Shortly after 7:30am, Smith touted his upcoming interview with Risen, advertising him as "the author of a new book the Bush administration does not want you to read." A few minutes later, he introduced Risen by asserting that the NSA's surveillance program "has shocked many Americans." Smith used sinister language to describe the NSA program: "There's an organization called the National Security Agency which is a huge, basically, spy organization that's been authorized by the government to -- really has carte blanche -- to listen in on phone conversations, to tap into e-mail information on any American citizen without having to go to a court to get a warrant, to check this out."

Unlike NBC's Katie Couric, who interviewed Risen for Tuesday's Today, Smith did not ask Risen about the New York Times' questionable holding of the story for a year before finally publishing it just as the Senate was considering the renewal of the Patriot Act, nor did he ask Risen about the possible axe-grinding motives of his sources.

Though Tuesday's Today displayed on screen "Domestic Spying Debate, Did Bush Break The Law?", Couric, the MRC's Geoff Dickens noted, challenged Risen a bit:
"Many critics have already alleged that they believe that your sources had serious axes to grind. Why are you so convinced otherwise?"
Risen: "Because I've talked to these people and they, many of them were tormented by their knowledge of this. They truly believed that they were troubled by the, the fact that they knew, they thought something was wrong in the government and they came forward, I believe, simply to make the public aware of this."
Couric: "What, specifically, was upsetting to them about this whole policy?"
Risen: "Well many of these people had grown up in the environment of knowing that in order to get to listen in on Americans you had to get a court order and they saw something was happening in which that was not being done. That there were, that the courts were being skirted, the Congress, that the laws had not been changed. And they believed that for whatever reason the Bush administration was skirting the law. Now that'll be something that we can all debate about whether or not they did skirt the law? But that was the reason the people came forward. They believed that something was going wrong."
Couric: "But did they, did they have any sympathy or understanding about this new climate-"
Risen: "Sure."
Couric: "-that this country finds itself in and the criticism the Bush administration took prior to 9/11 for not putting the pieces together and figuring out that a terrorist attack was imminent? In other words did they acknowledge that tough times may cause, call for tough measures?"

Back to Wednesday's Early Show, Smith did at one point play Devil's advocate, asking Risen about the idea that the President had all of the authority he needed: "Well the President says listen, our job, my job is to protect American citizens, and at all costs I need to make sure another 9/11 doesn't happen, don't I have the authority, what's the principle involved here the explain, the doctrine of self defense, can't I use that, don't I have the authority to do this on my own?"

Risen's answer was a textbook example of the liberal media's elitism: "Well I think that's the debate that we can now have because this is public. What the President was doing was secretly doing this without having any ability for Americans to know about it and to discuss whether or not this is legal. In the end, we may as a country decide this is proper, but there was no debate about this prior to this."

In other words, Risen is arguing that no matter what the harm or potential harm to national security, the New York Times is to be thanked for exposing the operation so that a "public debate" can begin. By that logic, a malcontent colonel who thought Eisenhower's plans for D-Day were a mess would have been justified in going public. Or, if a Manhattan Project scientist was upset at the idea of dropping the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, he should have found a willing newspaper to help him blow the whistle.

At the end of the interview, Smith was effusive, calling Risen's the "most disturbing book I've read in a long time."

Here's the full transcript of the January 4 exchange, as taken down by the MRC's Michael Rule:

Harry Smith: "The startling revelation that the National Security Agency has been responsible for a wide-ranging domestic spying operation has shocked many Americans. Now the New York Times reporter who broke the story, James Risen, has a new book detailing how and why our government started eavesdropping on its own citizens without warrants. It's called "State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration." Jim Risen is with us this morning, good morning."
James Risen: "Good morning."
Harry Smith: "We need to go back and explain a little bit because this news has been coming out, people may not exactly understand. There's an organization called the National Security Agency which is a huge, basically, spy organization that's been authorized by the government to, really has carte blanche to listen in on phone conversations, to tap into uh email information on any American citizen without having to go to a court to get a warrant, to to to check this out."
James Risen: "Right. The NSA is actually one of the largest intelligence agencies, perhaps the largest intelligence agency in the government. It's far larger than the CIA. It's something that a lot of people don't realize is uh it has enormous computing power in fact the NSA, at NSA headquarters in Fort Meade Maryland, it's widely believed that the NSA has the most computing power of any organization in the world of any corporation or government agency, and to put all of that computing power into searching the US telecommunications networks is an awesome power and that is why this is such an important story."
Harry Smith: "One of the things that the government says is you know look the methods we're using, it's almost like having a big troller net out in the ocean trying to catch fish and you couldn't possibly get millions of warrants in order to get permission to do that and we're not really spying on anybody who doesn't need to be spied on, this is the only way we can really go and get this information, to which you say what?"
James Risen: "Well I say that's possible, that may be true, that this program may be effective, but the problem with the way the President and the NSA went about this was they didn't go, they didn't follow the existing rules and laws and they didn't go to Congress and they didn't go to the courts to follow the existing system that had been put in place 30 years ago to allow for government eavesdropping within the United States with court approval."
Harry Smith: "Well the President says listen, our job, my job is to protect American citizens, and at all costs I need to make sure another 9/11 doesn't happen, don't I have the authority, what's the principle involved here the explain, the doctrine of self defense, can't I use that, don't I have the authority to do this on my own?"
James Risen: "Well I think that's the debate that we can now have because this is public. What the President was doing was secretly doing this without having any ability for Americans to know about it and to discuss whether or not this is legal. In the end, we may as a country decide this is proper, but there was no debate about this prior to this."
Harry Smith: "So many subjects in this book that it's impossible to address all of them in just 5 minutes, but very quickly, among the things you say is the fix was in in terms of the war in Iraq, that this was a fait accompli, that this was going to happen perhaps even before 9/11."
James Risen: "Well there was a meeting of CIA officials in Rome in April of 2002, and one of the participants, one of the CIA officers who was in that meeting said that when they were all, this was all of the European stations were brought to Rome for a discussion about Iraq, and this person described the meeting as a secret pep rally to gin them up in order to go after Iraq, and they said that one of the officers who was presenting at that meeting about Iraq was saying that we were, that this was going to happen before 9/11, and that 9/11 delayed things."
Harry Smith: "Actually ended up delaying things. The other thing that you talk about is early on, especially after 9/11, that the CIA and even the Department of Defense and it's newly formed sort of intelligence gathering groups sort of parroting the CIA, were going to operate outside of sort of conventional methods of intelligence gathering, and you say, the sense that I got, is once that was established all bets were off in terms of torture and everything else."
James Risen: "Yeah, I think that's one of the real problems that we've had since 9/11 is that the President made it clear, and others in the Bush administration made it clear to the CIA very early on after 9/11, the gloves are coming off. And that was, that led to a whole series of decisions that now have given us the secret infrastructure around the world of secret CIA prisons and interrogation techniques that go beyond what we have been willing to do in the past, and now 4 years later, many people in the CIA and elsewhere in the government are saying how do we get out of this? We now have these secret prisons, what do we do with these people? Are we going to keep these people forever? We're kind of stuck."
Harry Smith: "And, these are some of the people that are talking to you who, which leads to a whole other conversation about, their, ok we've got to go right now. Thank you very much, most disturbing book I've read in a long time."

Clooney: Must "Understand," Not "Label"
Terrorists as "Evil"

Actor George Clooney, who produced and stars in the movie Syriana, asserted in a soundbite FNC played from a promotional interview for the film, that he made the film's suicide bombers so "sympathetic" and out to be free-fighters because "they are, in a way, the most sympathetic, but I think that's important. Because if you are going to fight a war on terror, which is not a state that you can go and bomb, then you need to understand what it is that creates the people who would do such horrible things, rather then just saying -- labeling them as evildoers."

The MRC's Scott Whitlock caught the clip aired in a Wednesday story by William La Jeunesse on Special Report with Brit Hume. Thanks to the MRC's Michelle Humphrey, his NewsBusters blog posting features a video clip of Clooney, in both RealPlayer and Windows Media formats. Go to: newsbusters.org

The Internet Movie Database's plot outline for the movie: "A politically-charged epic about the state of the oil industry in the hands of those personally involved and affected by it."

For IMDb's page on Clooney's screed: www.imdb.com

From the top of the January 4 story:

Brit Hume: "With terrorism in the headlines nearly every day since 9/11, movie makers have tried to capitalize on the interest of Americans by producing fictional films on the issue. But their portrayals of individual terrorists appear, to at least some critics, to be fictitious in more then one sense."
William La Jeunesse: "The movie Syriana is based on the true story of a CIA operative sent to assassinate Saddam Hussein, an agent's near murder by Palestinian terrorists from Hezbollah. But in the hands of actor/producer George Clooney, the story changes Saddam into an benevolent Arab prince. And Hezbollah saves the agent's life. Americans are shown to be greedy and corrupt, while suicide bombers are presented as freedom fighters."
Clooney, with the movie's graphic behind him: "They are, in a way, the most sympathetic, but I think that's important. Because if you are going to fight a war on terror, which is not a state that you can go and bomb, then you need to understand what it is that creates the people that would do such horrible things, rather then just saying -- labeling them as evildoers."

-- Brent Baker