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March 21, 2006
In an appearance on the March 19 broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press, Gen. George W. Casey Jr. told host Tim Russert that Operation Swarmer -- a heavily publicized U.S.-Iraqi military campaign -- "got a little bit more hype than it really deserved because of the use of the helicopters to get the Iraqi and the coalition forces there," adding, "It might have looked a little more formidable than it actually was." But while Casey, who commands the Multi-National Force in Iraq, appears to be correct that Operation Swarmer "got a little bit more hype than it really deserved," neither he nor Russert informed viewers about the apparent role of the Department of Defense and the U.S. Army in creating that "hype."
As Russert noted during the interview, a March 17 Time magazine web-exclusive article described Operation Swarmer as "a major offensive that failed to live up to its advance billing." From the article:
But contrary to what many many [sic] television networks erroneously reported, the operation was by no means the largest use of airpower since the start of the war. ("Air Assault" is a military term that refers specifically to transporting troops into an area.) In fact, there were no airstrikes and no leading insurgents were nabbed in an operation that some skeptical military analysts described as little more than a photo op. What's more, there were no shots fired at all and the units had met no resistance, said the U.S. and Iraqi commanders.
Though Casey asserted that the assault "picked up one or two of the high-value folks that they were looking for" and that it would "have a very disruptive effect on the terrorist and insurgent groups that were attempting to use that area," he went to say that he would not call it a "major combat operation."
From the March 19 broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press:
CASEY: Tim, I wouldn't categorize Swarmer as a major combat operation. It was an operation to go out into a -- almost uninhabited area. So it was certainly nothing like the operation in Fallujah. I think, frankly, it got a little bit more hype than it really deserved because of the use of the helicopters to get the Iraqi and the coalition forces there. It might have looked a little more formidable than it actually was.
RUSSERT: But you do not rule out major combat operations in the future?
But neither Casey nor Russert mentioned the Defense Department's apparent role -- with the cooperation of much of the media -- in making Operation Swarmer look "more formidable than it actually was." On the March 16 broadcast of NBC's Nightly News, correspondent Mike Boettcher reported from Baghdad that "[w]ithin hours of the operation, the Pentagon was handing out this video of the assault, all shot by Army cameramen." Boettcher described the distribution of such footage as "a rare event."
ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS all aired the Department of Defense video of Operation Swarmer on their March 16 evening newscasts, and the cable news networks repeatedly showed the footage -- including on Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, CNN's The Situation Room, and MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews.
On the March 16 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr noted that "[t]he coalition did not take U.S. media on this mission" and that the "Pentagon provided this first video of Operation Swarmer." Starr reported that the purpose of the operation was "to go after insurgents, but also to showcase those Iraqi security forces." From Starr's report:
STARR: Lou, a major military offensive to go after insurgents, but also to showcase those Iraqi security forces. The Pentagon provided this first video of Operation Swarmer, 1,500 troops, U.S. and Iraqis, moving into a 10- square-mile area north of Samarra. Led by the 101st Airborne Division, it was billed as the largest air assault mission since the invasion of Iraq. Iraqi intelligence had a number of tips showing insurgent activity in the area, some activity including foreign fighters. The coalition did not take U.S. media on this mission, but took great pains to discuss what Iraqi security forces were doing.
Similarly, in a report from Iraq on the March 16 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, senior international correspondent Nic Robertson stated: "All of the video and pictures provided by the Department of Defense."
On the March 19 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources, Robertson explained that he was taken to the scene of the operation by the U.S. Army "on the second day of the operation after that big air assault was over." Robertson added: "The operations there had essentially completed. There was just sort of a security stance there, if you will. We didn't get to see an actual operation under progress to see how it was performed and who did exactly what."
In addition, the U.S. Army 101 Airborne Division's initial March 16 press release announcing the operation falsely described it as "the largest air assault operation since Operation Iraqi Freedom began in March 2003." The release -- available in the Nexis database -- added that the operation was named after the "largest peacetime airborne maneuvers ever conducted":
More than 1,500 Coalition troops and Iraqi security forces along with 200 tactical vehicles and 50 aircraft have launched the largest air assault operation since Operation Iraqi Freedom began in March 2003.
The tag Swarmer was derived from the name given to the largest peacetime airborne maneuvers ever conducted, in spring 1950 in North Carolina. Soon after this exercise, the 187th Infantry was selected to deploy to Korea as an Airborne Regimental Combat Team to provide General MacArthur with an airborne capability.
But as Fox News national security correspondent Bret Baier reported on the March 16 edition of Special Report, "Late in the day, the 101st Airborne Division issued a correction to its original press release, saying Operation Swarmer is actually the second largest air assault since the beginning of the war."
According to Baier, "[M]any senior Pentagon officials were caught off guard" by the initial press release, and "[s]everal Pentagon officials expressed a feeling that the raid was, quote, 'oversold'":
BAIER: Pentagon officials did not have any reports of shots fired, bombs dropped or missiles launched from helicopters in the operation. In fact, many senior Pentagon officials were caught off guard when this release from the 101st Airborne Division hit the wires, stating that Iraqi security forces and coalition partners, quote, "launched the largest air assault operation since Operation Iraqi Freedom began." Several Pentagon officials expressed a feeling that the raid was, quote, "oversold."
BAIER: Late in the day, the 101st Airborne Division issued a correction to its original press release, saying Operation Swarmer is actually the second largest air assault since the beginning of the war. The largest happened in Mosul in April of 2003. By late in the day, senior Pentagon officials were calling this ongoing operation just another in a long series of counter-insurgency operations in Iraq.
Now they tell us: AP exposed Bush's use of straw man arguments after years of uncritically reporting them
In a March 20 article, Associated Press staff writer Jennifer Loven noted President Bush's frequent use of "straw man" arguments, in which he misrepresents his opponents' arguments in order to knock them down. Loven gave numerous examples of Bush's use of this rhetorical device in speeches and press conferences and noted that he is resorting to the tactic "more often these days." But nowhere in the article did she acknowledge that many AP writers -- including her -- have simply reported Bush's misrepresentations of his opponents' arguments without challenging them.
In the article, "Bush's Rhetoric Targets Unnamed Critics," Loven explained in detail how Bush typically goes about mounting a "straw man" argument:
When the president starts a sentence with "some say" or offers up what "some in Washington" believe, as he is doing more often these days, a rhetorical retort almost assuredly follows.
The device usually is code for Democrats or other White House opponents. In describing what they advocate, Bush often omits an important nuance or substitutes an extreme stance that bears little resemblance to their actual position.
He typically then says he "strongly disagrees" -- conveniently knocking down a straw man of his own making.
Bush routinely is criticized for dressing up events with a too-rosy glow. But experts in political speech say the straw man device, in which the president makes himself appear entirely reasonable by contrast to supposed "critics," is just as problematic.
Loven went on to cite various examples in which Bush used this tactic to mischaracterize and attack his opponents' positions on a wide variety of issues. What she failed to mention, however, was that the AP had in many cases reported these arguments, without challenge. For instance, Loven targeted Bush's claim -- made during an October 25, 2005, speech -- that some critics of the war "say perhaps we ought to just pull out of Iraq." She correctly noted that, at the time, no Democrats were advocating an immediate pull-out:
Last fall, the rhetorical tool became popular with Bush when the debate heated up over when troops would return from Iraq. "Some say perhaps we ought to just pull out of Iraq," he told GOP supporters in October, echoing similar lines from other speeches. "That is foolhardy policy."
Yet even the speediest plan, as advocated by only a few Democrats, suggested not an immediate drawdown, but one over six months. Most Democrats were not even arguing for a specific troop withdrawal timetable.
But on October 25, 2005, Loven's colleague Nedra Pickler uncritically reported Bush's claim, noting only that the remark earned him "the one standing ovation to interrupt his speech." Further, on November 29, 2005, Bush asserted, "We've heard some people say, 'Pull them out right now.' That's a huge mistake." An AP article published the same day -- this time written by military writer Robert Burns -- again repeated this claim without question.
In her March 20 article, Loven also highlighted Bush's "mischaracterization" of the opposition to his counter-terrorism policies, which he repeatedly advanced during his re-election campaign:
Running for re-election against Sen. John Kerry in 2004, Bush frequently used some version of this line to paint his Democratic opponent as weaker in the fight against terrorism: "My opponent and others believe this matter is a matter of intelligence and law enforcement."
The assertion was called a mischaracterization of Kerry's views even by a Republican, Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
But Loven made no mention of the fact that Bush has continued to put forward this argument since winning re-election in 2004 and that the AP has reported it without challenge. For example, a January 2 article by AP staff writer Deb Riechmann uncritically reported Bush making this claim about his warrantless domestic surveillance program during a January 1 visit to the Brooke Army Medical Center:
After spending hours visiting wounded troops suffering from what he described as the "horrible consequences" of war, President Bush minced no words in defending the domestic spying program he authorized to foil terrorists.
"Some say, well maybe this isn't a war -- maybe this is just a law enforcement operation. I strongly disagree," Bush said Sunday at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, where he answered reporters' questions about the eavesdropping program set up after the 9-11 attacks. "We're at war with an enemy that wants to hurt us again."
In Washington, lawmakers are preparing for hearings into the domestic spying program, which Bush contends does not involve widespread eavesdropping on Americans.
In addition to those examples of Bush straw man arguments that Loven cited, he has offered numerous others in recent years, many of which the AP has similarly repeated. For example, in a November 4, 2004, press conference, he strongly disagreed with "an attitude among some that certain people may never be free -- they just don't long to be free":
BUSH: There is a certain attitude in the world, by some, that says that it's a waste of time to try to promote free societies in parts of the world. ... And I fully understand that that might rankle some, and be viewed by some as folly. I just strongly disagree with those who do not see the wisdom of trying to promote free societies around the world. ... I simply do not agree with those who either say overtly or believe that certain societies cannot be free. It's just not a part of my thinking.
BUSH: [T]here is an attitude among some that certain people may never be free -- they just don't long to be free or are incapable of running an election. And I disagree with that. And the Afghan people, by going to the polls in the millions, proved that this administration's faith in freedom to change peoples' habits is worthy.
In a November 5, 2004, response, CJR Daily reporter Liz Cox Barrett flagged Bush's argument as a straw man:
"By some?" "Among some?" Why didn't a single reporter ask Bush the identity of these "some" who believe that "certain societies cannot be free," these "some" who believe that certain people are "incapable of running an election?"
It may not be that press was unwilling to press Bush to identify these "some" at the news conference yesterday, it may be that it was unable -- after all, Bush made it clear he would not be entertaining multi-part or follow-up questions. But reporters could at least have taken note of Bush's circumlocutions in today's coverage.
Indeed, the reporters who failed to take note included Loven herself. In a November 4, 2005, article, she repeated Bush's claim from the press conference, but let it go unquestioned:
Bush also pledged to pursue the foreign policy that was a flashpoint in the presidential campaign and has sparked criticism by some American allies in Europe.
"There is a certain attitude in the world by some that says that it's a waste of time to try to promote free societies in parts of the world," he said, a reference to Iraq in particular. "I've heard that criticism."
A November 4, 2005, article by AP White House correspondent Terence Hunt also repeated without challenge Bush's disagreement "with those who do not see the wisdom of trying to promote free societies around the world." And, as Barrett noted in her post, an un-bylined, November 4, 2005, AP article highlighted certain sections of Bush's speech, including his claim that there exists "a certain attitude in the world by some that says that it's a waste of time to try to promote free societies in parts of the world."
Bush again rolled out the straw man argument during his 2005 campaign to partially privatize Social Security. For instance, during a February 4, 2005, "Conversation on Social Security" held in Little Rock, Arkansas, Bush alleged that his opponents had mounted "campaigns" to convince current Social Security recipients that his plan would affect their monthly payments:
BUSH: And part of the problem with dealing with this issue, part of the problem is seeing -- seeing the problem and coming up with a solution is, a lot of people in political life are afraid of talking about it because they're afraid somebody in their state is going to say, well, when you talk about Social Security, really what you're doing is taking away my check. You know what I'm talking about? You've seen those campaigns. Old so-and-so is going to take away my check. Well, that's just not reality. Those are scare tactics. Senior citizens are just fine.
A February 4, 2005, AP article by Riechmann reported in the lead paragraph that Bush had warned against "scare tactics" and "decried the kind of opposition campaigns now being waged against his proposals, saying they mislead seniors into thinking they won't get the Social Security checks on which they depend." In a post that day on CJR Daily, Thomas Lang noted the AP's failure to point out "that a politician is using the straw man to paint his political opponents as scaremongers":
There is strong opposition to Bush's Social Security proposals. But we know of no example of opponents suggesting that current recipients of Social Security checks could be shortchanged by Bush's plan. It's an interesting accusation, but it's one that no one has made. And AP owes it to its readers to point that out.
Another example of the AP's failure to question these arguments came during the recent port controversy, sparked by the Bush administration's approval of a deal to transfer operations at six U.S. ports from a British firm to Dubai Ports World (DPW), a company owned by the government of Dubai, a member state of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). In response to congressional criticism of the acquisition, Bush and his aides repeatedly suggested anti-Arab bias on the part of those criticizing the deal. For example, during a February 28 joint press conference with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Bush said to reporters:
BUSH: And so my question to the members of Congress as they review this matter is, one, please look at the facts. And two, what kind of signal does it send throughout the world if it's okay for a British company to manage the ports, but not a company ... from the Arab world?
But, as Media Matters for America noted at the time, Bush falsely suggested that the only difference between the two companies was national origin. In fact, the law recognizes a different distinction: DPW is owned by a member state of the UAE; the British company was not state-owned. Under the law, the interagency panel that examines foreign investments in the United States must conduct an additional 45-day review when the acquisition of U.S. assets by a foreign, government-owned company provokes national security concerns. Many critics of the deal claimed that due to the UAE's "mixed" record on terrorism, the DPW transaction should have been subject to the additional review under the law and that the Bush administration therefore flouted the law by declining to conduct the full review.
Nonetheless, a March 1 article by AP staff writer Liz Sidoti repeated Bush's February 28 comments without challenge:
Bush, the final arbiter of the new investigation, suggested there was no reason to think it would produce any different outcome than the government's initial review and urged Congress to be careful.
"What kind of signal does it send throughout the world if it's OK for a British company to manage the ports but not a company that has been secured that has been cleared for security purposes from the Arab world?" he asked.
NPR's Shogren ignored environmentalists' concerns over Kempthorne's nomination as interior secretary
In a March 17 news brief on National Public Radio's (NPR) Morning Edition about the March 16 nomination of Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne to replace Gale A. Norton as secretary of the interior, environmental reporter Elizabeth Shogren largely ignored Kempthorne's controversial environmental track record and minimized environmentalists' concerns about the nomination. The only clues Shogren provided of concerns about the nomination were in reporting that "Kempthorne was one of several Western governors who sued the federal government to keep national forest lands open for road-building and logging" and that environmentalists "expect Kempthorne to continue what they see as the Bush administration's pattern of sacrificing beautiful scenery to drill rigs and mining operations." But Shogren could have cited numerous other specific concerns about Kempthorne that prominent environmental groups have pointed to. Absent from Shogren's report, for example, was any reference to his 1 percent lifetime voting record score he received from the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) during his time in the Senate, as well as to his close ties to the mining, timber, and energy industries.
Shogren also reported that "[s]ome former Clinton administration officials who worked with Kempthorne when he was in the Senate say they believe he will be more accommodating to environmental issues than Norton was."
Kempthorne is a career politician; before his election as Idaho governor, he served as mayor of Boise, Idaho, and as a U.S. senator. In 2003, he reportedly made the short list for the top spot at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Immediately after the announcement of Kempthorne's nomination, environmental groups across the country released press statements. For instance, the League of Conservation Voters -- a national environmental organization that claims to "hold our federal elected officials accountable" through its National Environmental Score Card -- stated in a March 16 press release responding to Kempthorne's nomination: "During his career in Congress, Governor Kempthorne earned a paltry 1% lifetime LCV score. Enough said." LCV records each vote cast by a member of Congress and ranks the senators and representatives according to how their votes correlate with pro-environment positions.
Expressing "serious concerns" over Kempthorne's nomination, the Sierra Club's press release stated, "President Bush nominated someone who has consistently opposed protecting public health and public lands." The Sierra Club also cited Kempthorne's LCV rating and said that Kempthorne "[s]upport[ed] drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," opposed the "protection of 60 million acres of wild forests," and "[w]ork[ed] to weaken the Endangered Species Act and Safe Drinking Water Act."
As a March 17 Associated Press article reported:
Kempthorne has supported oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He also filed suit to overturn former President Clinton's "roadless rule,'' which banned new road building on 60 million acres of national forests. And he has sought changes in the Endangered Species Act that ranchers and property rights groups support but environmentalists have said would weaken it.
Earthjustice, a non-profit environmental law firm, issued a statement on March 16 outlining similar concerns to those of the Sierra Club. In addition to noting Kempthorne's LCV rating and alleged failure to protect "60 million acres of America's last wild forests," Earthjustice staff lawyer Todd True stated that Kempthorne has "consistently fought against protection for wildlife like grizzly bears and salmon in his home state of Idaho" and noted that Kempthorne "introduced a bill to undermine the Endangered Species Act." The 60 million acres of national forest reference is to a Clinton initiative, the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, that was designed to protect that amount of national forest from logging and mining interests by banning road development. Kempthorne opposed the initiative, and the Bush administration repealed it in 2005.
Another source of concern, according to Earthjustice, is Kempthorne's alleged ties "to the oil, mining, and timber industries," the very industries that, if confirmed, Kempthorne would be responsible for regulating. As July 24, 2005, USA Today report noted that Kempthorne "helped finance his re-election by receiving about $86,000 -- about 8 cents of each dollar -- from timber, mining and energy industries that could benefit from greater access to national forests in his state." Continuing, the article reported, "Two of Kempthorne's top three donors for the 2002 campaign were the Coeur D'Alene Mines Corp., which gave $13,922, and the Potlatch Corp., a forest products company, which gave $12,034, according to the non-partisan Institute on Money in State Politics." The organizations allegedly supported Kempthorne's attempts to overturn Clinton's "roadless rule" which opened 60 million acres of national forest to road construction.
Beyond the arguments put forth by the environmental groups mentioned above, Shogren also overlooked relevant past news reports about Kempthorne. For example, on June 24, 2003, Knight Ridder reported:
During Kempthorne's four-and-a-half-year tenure as governor, Idaho's pristine air has gotten dirtier, more rivers have been polluted, fewer polluters have been inspected and more toxins have contaminated the air, water and land, according to a Knight Ridder analysis of Idaho pollution data from EPA and state records.
In the same period, the nation's air and water have gotten cleaner on average, and fewer toxins have been emitted, EPA officials said Monday in a draft report.
Further, Knight Ridder noted, that between 2002 and 2003, Kempthorne "cut Idaho's environmental services budget three times" and in 2003, a court order had to be issued to force "the state to increase monitoring and cleansing polluted waterways." The report also stated:
In some respects, Idaho under Kempthorne has bucked national trends that showed environmental quality improving, according to EPA records on air pollution, water quality, toxic emissions and pollution enforcement.
While 35 states and the nation as a whole reduced the amount of toxins released into the environment from 1998 to 2000 -- the most recent year of available data -- Idaho increased emissions by 2 percent. National emissions decreased by 9 percent in the same period, an achievement [former EPA administrator Christie Todd] Whitman hailed Monday as an environmental success story.
Idaho emitted 59 pounds of toxins per resident on average in 2000, according to the EPA's Toxic Release Inventory. The national average was 25 pounds of toxins per person in 2000.
With 76 million pounds of toxic releases in 2000, Idaho - population 1.3 million - has more total toxic emissions than California, population 33.9 million.
Although Idaho has some of the cleanest air in the United States, its air quality worsened from 1999 to 2002, while Kempthorne has been in office, compared with the previous four years. There were 11 violations of EPA air-pollution standards in the four years before Kempthorne came to power and 22 in his first four years in office. At the same time, the number of air violations decreased by 3 percent nationally.
At the time, Kempthorne was reportedly under consideration to replace Whitman as EPA administrator. Kempthorne, ultimately, was not offered the position.
From the March 17 broadcast of NPR's Morning Edition:
SHOGREN: Kempthorne has got an impressive resume. He's been a senator, governor, and mayor of Boise. When President Bush introduced him yesterday at a White House ceremony, he talked about a bike ride the two of them took last year through some of Idaho's beautiful landscape and Kempthorne's appreciation for the outdoors.
PRESIDENT BUSH [audio clip]: Dirk has had a long and abiding love for nature. When he and wife, Patricia, were married, they chose to hold the ceremony atop Idaho's Moscow Mountain at sunrise. Dirk said, "I don't think there's a more beautiful cathedral than the outdoors."
SHOGREN: As interior secretary, Kempthorne would oversee America's national parks, wildlife refuges, wilderness areas, and energy reserves. President Bush says Kempthorne agrees with his own philosophies for managing those resources.
BUSH [audio clip]: Dirk understands that those who live closest to the land know how to manage it best. And he will work closely with state and local leaders to ensure wise stewardship of our resources.
SHOGREN: Kempthorne was one of several Western governors who sued the federal government to keep national forest lands open for road-building and logging. Kempthorne says he would work with all sides as interior secretary.
KEMPTHORNE [audio clip]: Mr. President, one of the hallmarks of my public service has been my ability to bring people to the table and to work together to build consensus. I pledge to you and to the American people that I will continue in that role of reaching out and finding solutions.
SHOGREN: Some former Clinton administration officials who worked with Kempthorne when he was in the Senate say they believe he will be more accommodating to environmental issues than [Gale] Norton was. But some environmentalists say that they expect Kempthorne to continue what they see as the Bush administration's pattern of sacrificing beautiful scenery to drill rigs and mining operations. Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News, Washington.
On the March 17 broadcast of PBS' The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, New York Times columnist David Brooks falsely claimed that "in the Reagan years, unemployment went from 13 percent to 5 percent."
In fact, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 1981, Ronald Reagan's first year in office, the U.S. average unemployment rate stood at 7.6 percent. During Reagan's presidency, it reached a high of 9.7 percent, and had declined to a level of 5.5 percent when Reagan left office. The rate from when Reagan entered office through his last year declined by 2.1 points, far less than the eight-point drop for which Brooks credited Reagan.
From the March 17 broadcast of The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer:
BROOKS: I disagree a little. I think most people who call themselves independent are really partisan. They're just lying.
And -- and I think partisanship -- one of the things political science shows is that partisan shapes the reality you choose to see.
People choose the reality that -- that flatters their partisanship. For example, in the Reagan years, unemployment went from 13 percent to 5 percent. If you asked Democrats, at the end of that, did unemployment go up or down under Reagan, 60 percent said it went up. Republicans said down.
You choose the reality you want to see. And, then, the Clinton years, when you had the reverse, this time, it was the Republicans' turn to be more pessimistic and wrong. People choose the reality that flatters themselves.
Gregory uncritically reported Republicans' baseless assertion that Americans prefer president on taxes
On the March 16 broadcast of NBC's Nightly News, NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory uncritically reported a claim by "Republican leaders'" that the "president's strengths, like tax cuts or tough anti-terror measures, have been overlooked" because of Americans' concern over the war in Iraq. In repeating Republican assertions that the issue of taxes is one of the "president's strengths," Gregory ignored the most recent polling on the subject -- a January 22-25 Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll that, as Media Matters for America has noted, found that a plurality of Americans (43 percent) trust Democrats to do "a better job of handling taxes" than the president. In that poll, only 34 percent said the president would do a better job. And regarding "tough anti-terror" measures, polls indicate that American approval of the president on terrorism is decidedly more mixed than Gregory's statement suggested.
As Media Matters has previously documented (here and here), other media figures have baselessly asserted that the public trusts Republicans over Democrats on the issue of taxes. In addition to the polls Media Matters cited at the time, a March 10-13 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that more Americans think Democrats (35 percent), rather than Republicans (26 percent), will do a good job "dealing with taxes."
Gregory also uncritically accepted the idea that the president continues to enjoy support for his "tough anti-terror measures." However, even that support is mixed. President Bush's approval rating on the issue of terrorism, which at the time of the 2004 election was at 60 percent (Gallup, 11/7-10/2004), now has Americans divided: A February 28-March 1 Gallup poll found that 47 percent of respondents approve of the president's performance on terrorism and 49 percent disapprove; a March 2-5 ABC/Washington Post poll found that 52 percent approve and 46 percent disapprove; and a March 9-12 CBS News poll found that 45 percent approve and 49 percent disapprove. While the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll (March 10-13) does not appear to ask respondents if they approve of Bush's handling of the issue of terrorism, it does, however, find public support for the USA Patriot Act and majority support (52 percent to 46 percent) for the president's action in "using wiretaps to listen to telephone calls between suspected terrorists in other countries and American citizens in the United States without getting a court order to do so." Media Matters, however, has noted that other polls -- ones that more clearly separate public opinion of spying on suspected terrorists from opinion on the means through which the Bush administration has conducted the eavesdropping -- show that a similar majority do not support the warrantless wiretapping of Americans. For example, a February 22-26 CBS News poll asked respondents: "Regardless of whether you approve of the President authorizing the wiretaps, do you think the President has the legal authority to authorize wiretaps without a court warrant in order to fight terrorism, or doesn't he?" Fifty-one percent said the president does not have the legal authority to do so.
GREGORY: Well, they're [the White House] clearly shaken, as you might understand, politically, by the president's eroding support in the country, Brian. And yet, I think what we've reported on in the last few minutes underscores the point that for now at least the president is sticking to his guns, militarily and philosophically. They may be worried about losing time here, but for now, as one adviser said, the president wants to keep chipping away at the issues that are creating so much opposition.
At his lowest level yet in the polls, the president is left to wonder, which way is up? Iraq, says Republican pollster Bill McInturff, has enveloped the Bush presidency.
McINTURFF: And no matter what the president says, if events on the ground don't match what he hopes to have happen, he's -- you know, these numbers about Iraq will continue to get softer or worse.
GREGORY: Republican leaders have said they're worried that the president's strengths, like tax cuts or tough anti-terror measures, have been overlooked. White House aides admit that a month-long effort to sell ideas from the State of the Union address has been lost to bad news.
BESCHLOSS: What history suggests, and you look at Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson with Korea and Vietnam, is that when a president has an unpopular war, until people feel better about it, they're not going to listen to him.
During an interview with Vice President Dick Cheney on the March 19 broadcast of CBS' Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer failed to challenge assertions Cheney made regarding the war in Iraq, the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program, and recent low polling numbers.
On Iraq, Schieffer did not challenge either Cheney's statement that "the Iraqis met every single political deadline" or his assertion about the progress of training Iraqi security forces. On the issue of domestic surveillance, Schieffer ignored Cheney's baseless assertion that the administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program has been a "major success in preventing attacks against the United States," and allowed Cheney to claim, without challenge, that the program is "totally in compliance with the laws and Constitution of the United States" -- a claim disputed by many, including several congressional Republicans. Additionally, Schieffer allowed Cheney to repeat the myth -- debunked by Media Matters for America -- that the Bush administration does not follow polls.
Schieffer did not challenge Cheney's false assertion that "the Iraqis met every single political deadline," nor his claim about Iraqi troop levels
The interview, broadcast during the entire half-hour show, began with Schieffer discussing the war in Iraq. He asked if Cheney's past statements -- "my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators" and the insurgency is "in its last throes" -- "may be one of the reasons that people seem to be more skeptical in this country about whether we ought to be in Iraq." Cheney replied: "No, I think it has less to do with the statements we've made, which I think were basically accurate and reflect reality." Cheney then falsely asserted: "The Iraqis met every single deadline that's been set for them. They haven't missed a single one."
In fact, in February 2004, the Iraqi Governing Council failed to meet an imposed deadline for drafting an interim constitution, which was to provide the basis for the handover of power later that year. Additionally, in August 2005, the interim Iraqi government failed to meet three deadlines for reaching a consensus on a draft constitution. Iraqi citizens eventually approved the constitution in an October 15, 2005, referendum. Cheney then claimed that Iraq's security forces have seen "major progress." He claimed that "the reality" is that the Iraqi military has "been very successful now in terms of training and equipping over 100 battalions of Iraqi troops, and it continues to improve day-by-day."
While Schieffer immediately challenged Cheney, claiming that it is "also a reality that the violence continues," he failed to correct Cheney's assertion that the Iraqis have "met every single deadline." Also, as Cheney touted the progress in training Iraqi security forces, Schieffer failed to note that in February, the Pentagon reported that the number of Iraqi battalions capable of conducting operations without assistance from U.S. troops had been downgraded from one to zero.
CHENEY: The facts are pretty straightforward. The Iraqis met every single political deadline that's been set for them. They haven't missed a single one. They took over in terms of sovereignty 21 months ago. They held national elections the following January.
They wrote a constitution, one of the best constitutions in that part of the world. They held a referendum on it last October, and last December had turnout of about 78 percent in terms of the election. And now, we're putting together a government, which they'll have formed up here shortly.
SCHIEFFER: Well --
CHENEY: On the security front, we've seen major progress in terms of training and equipping Iraqi forces. Today, roughly half of all of the missions that are being conducted over there are with Iraqis in the lead. They've been very successful now in terms of training and equipping over 100 battalions of Iraqi troops, and it continues to improve day-by-day. Those are the facts on the ground. That's the reality. Now --
SCHIEFFER: But, may I just interrupt you?
SCHIEFFER: Isn't it also a reality that the violence continues? They keep finding these people that have been executed. And isn't it also reality that they can't seem to put a government together? They can't seem to find a way, a compromise, to get this government together.
Schieffer allowed Cheney to distort Sen. Ted Kennedy's position on fighting terrorism
During the interview, Schieffer asked Cheney to respond to an assertion Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) made in a speech commemorating the Iraq war's third anniversary: "The administration," Kennedy was quoted as saying, "has been dangerously incompetent, and its Iraq policy is not worthy of the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform." Even though Kennedy's speech focused only on the war in Iraq, not the wider struggle against terrorism, Cheney replied that Kennedy's view "is sort of the pre-9-11 mentality about how we ought to deal with the world," adding that he would "not look to Ted Kennedy for guidance and leadership on how we ought to manage national security." He also claimed that an "aggressive, forward-leaning strategy is one of the main reasons we haven't been struck again since 9-11, because we've taken the fight to them. Senator Kennedy's approach would be, 'Pack your bags and go home, retreat behind your oceans, and assume you can be safe.' " But Schieffer's follow-up question did not challenge Cheney's claim that Kennedy supports a policy of "retreat."
In fact, just after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Kennedy, along with every other Democratic senator, voted to give President Bush the authority to use the "United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States." Subsequently, coalition forces led by the United States assisted the Afghan Northern Alliance in destroying Al Qaeda training bases and ousting the Taliban regime. Also, in April 2003 and May 2005, Kennedy voted to increase funding for U.S. troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
SCHIEFFER: Let me read to you what Senator Kennedy, a liberal Democrat from Massachusetts and a long-time opponent of the war, said on the third anniversary.
Here's part of his statement. He said: "It is clearer than ever that Iraq was a war we never should have fought. The administration has been dangerously incompetent, and its Iraq policy is not worthy of the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform. Yet, President Bush continues to see the war through the same rose-colored glasses he's always used. He assumes the America -- assures the American people we are winning while Iraq's future and the lives of our troops hang so perilously on the precipice of a new disaster." "Dangerously incompetent" is what he is saying. I want to give you a chance to respond.
CHENEY: Well, I -- I would not look to Ted Kennedy for guidance and leadership on how we ought to manage national security, Bob. I think what Senator Kennedy reflects is sort of the pre-9-11 mentality about how we ought to deal with the world and that part of the world.
CHENEY: We changed all that on 9-11. After they hit us and killed 3,000 of our people here at home, we said, "Enough is enough. We're going to aggressively go after them. We'll go after the terrorists wherever we find them. We'll go after those states that sponsor terror. We'll go after people who can provide them with weapons of mass destruction."
CHENEY: That kind of aggressive, forward-leaning strategy is one of the main reasons we haven't been struck again since 9-11, because we've taken the fight to them. Senator Kennedy's approach would be, "Pack your bags and go home, retreat behind your oceans, and assume you can be safe." But we learned on 9-11 that, in fact, what's going on 10,000 miles away in a place like Afghanistan or Iraq can have a direct impact here in the United States when we lost 3,000 people that morning.
CHENEY: And I think we are going to succeed in Iraq. I think the evidence is overwhelming. I think Ted Kennedy's been wrong from the very beginning. He's the last man I'd go to for guidance in terms of how we should conduct U.S. national security policy.
Schieffer failed to challenge Cheney's assertion that Bush "ignores the background noise that's out there in the polls"
When Schieffer asked about "this charge of incompetence" regarding Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, the Harriet Miers Supreme Court nomination, the Dubai Ports World controversy, and whether the White House needed a "staff shake-up," Cheney said that, because "administrations go through peaks and valleys," "I don't think we can pay any attention to that kind of thing [polls]." He then claimed that the president "ignores the background noise that's out there in the polls that are taken on a daily basis."
As Media Matters has noted, while Bush and his administration have gone to great lengths to create the impression that the president does not rely on polling, there is ample evidence that polling data play a substantial part in his administration's political strategy and messaging. Yet Schieffer, in his follow-up, did not challenge Cheney's claim, asking instead about news reports that the White House staff is "just worn out."
SCHIEFFER: Well, let me ask you about this charge of incompetence, because we hear that not just about Iraq, but we hear it more and being raised sometimes by members of your own party on a variety of issues: the bumbling after Katrina, the Harriet Miers nomination, the failure to see the political implications of the Dubai ports deal. Some people are even saying you need a staff shake-up over at the White House, Mr. Vice President.
CHENEY: Bob, you know what this reminds me of? It reminds me of 30 years ago, when I was [former President] Gerry Ford's chief of staff and you were the CBS correspondent covering the White House.
SCHIEFFER: That's right.
CHENEY: We had the same kind of stories then, the same kinds of controversy. Administrations go through peaks and valleys. It's a tough business that we're involved in, and when you're down in the polls, you're going to take shots that you don't deserve, and when you're up in the polls, you're probably going to get praise you don't deserve. So, I don't think we can pay any attention to that kind of thing. The president's got a job to do. I've worked very closely now with this man for over five years. He's a superb leader. He's tough. He's decisive. He's willing to take tough decisions. He ignores the background noise that's out there in the polls that are taken on a daily basis. He's doing a superb job. He's got great people around him, and I simply don't give credence to those kinds of comments.
SCHIEFFER: So, what -- but, you know, many people say that they're just worn out. And we all know, whether you like him or don't like him, respect him or don't respect him, people who work at the White House work very long hours. They work very, very hard. Is it possible that maybe they just are suffering a little fatigue here and it would be good to bring in some people?
Schieffer ignored Cheney claims that warrantless domestic spying program is "a major success in preventing attacks" and completely legal
On the subject of Bush's authorization of the National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct the warrantless domestic surveillance program, Schieffer did not question Cheney's assertion that the program "is totally in compliance with the laws and Constitution of the United States," and that it has "been a major success in preventing attacks against the United States." In fact, both of these claims are highly disputed. Moreover, Schieffer did not question Cheney's assertion that a proposal by several Republican senators, negotiated with the administration for what Cheney called "broad [congressional] oversight" of the program, would not give the Congress any authority to stop individual acts of surveillance.
In response to Cheney's assertion that the warrantless surveillance program is legal, Schieffer could have noted that numerous lawmakers, such as Sens. Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and legal scholars of all political stripes, question the administration's assertion that it has the legal authority to bypass the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to conduct warrantless wiretapping. Even members of the administration criticized the administration's legal argument. As Media Matters has noted, former deputy Attorney General James Comey, who was serving as acting attorney general while then-Attorney General John Ashcroft was in the hospital, objected strenuously to the continuation of the program, refusing to reauthorize it in 2002. Comey's refusal reportedly prompted White House chief of staff Andrew H. Card and then-White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales to visit Ashcroft in the hospital to obtain Department of Justice approval.
David S. Kris, the former associate deputy attorney general in charge of national security issues from 2000 to 2003, argued, in the words of The Washington Post, that "the Bush administration's contention that Congress had authorized the NSA program by approving the use of force against al-Qaeda was a 'weak justification' unlikely to be supported by the courts." Another example: Bruce Fein, former associate deputy attorney general under President Reagan, recently said that the administration's justifications for the program's constitutionality "would permanently shift the political and constitutional landscape towards one-branch government contrary to the intent of the Founding Fathers." The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) published a January 5 report concluding that the Bush administration's legal justification for the program "conflicts with existing law and hinges on weak legal arguments."
Regarding Cheney's assertion that the program is "a major success," Schieffer might have pointed out, as Media Matters noted when PBS' Jim Lehrer also failed to challenge Cheney on this point during a February 7 interview, intelligence officers who have eavesdropped on the phone calls of Americans under the program, "have dismissed nearly all of them as potential suspects after hearing nothing pertinent to a terrorist threat." Further, according to "current and former [FBI] officials," "virtually all" of the tips provided by the NSA to the FBI "led to dead ends or innocent Americans." The administration's oft-cited example of the program's success -- the arrest of truck driver Iyman Faris, who has since pleaded guilty to providing material support to Al Qaeda in a plot to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge -- has been contradicted by FBI officials "with direct knowledge of the Faris case," who dispute the claim that "N.S.A. information played a significant role."
As for Cheney's claim that proposed legislation by Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH) legalizing the program would allow for "broad oversight" by the Congress, Schieffer could have noted that DeWine's bill would not require congressional approval for any surveillance to occur, meaning that, unlike under current law, the administration would not be required to obtain approval from a neutral third party in order to listen in on Americans' phone conversations. Currently, FISA requires that a federal judge approve any wiretap targeting U.S. residents within 72 hours after the wiretap is started. As Media Matters documented, DeWine's bill allows surveillance of U.S. residents without court approval for a period of 45 days. Under his proposal, if the administration seeks to conduct this surveillance for a period longer than 45 days, it has two options -- either seek a warrant with the FISA court or swear an oath to the "terrorist surveillance subcommittees." Nowhere in the bill are the subcommittees granted the authority to take adverse action if they disapprove of the administration's rationale in any given case.
Indeed, as Media Matters has noted, Schieffer received some of the same misinformation on the March 7 edition of his own CBS Evening News, where contributor Gloria Borger apparently misrepresented the terms of DeWine's legislation, reporting that in order to conduct surveillance without a warrant under the new legislation, the president would first be required to "explain why he needs to eavesdrop to a newly created congressional subcommittee."
SCHIEFFER: Well, let me -- since you just brought that up -- will you support the move now under way in the Congress to give them more congressional oversight on the eavesdropping program?
CHENEY: I've been directly involved, on behalf of the president, in negotiating with the members of both the House and the Senate and the Intelligence Committees in setting up the new arrangements. We negotiated an arrangement whereby there will be subcommittees in both the House and the Senate of the intelligence committees that a larger number of members, for example, seven members now in the Senate instead of just the two that have been briefed previously of the committee, will be fully briefed into the program. And we've already had that briefing. Shortly, we'll have a similar briefing for the House. We are working with them to give them broad oversight with respect to this program. But it's a very important program. It is totally in compliance with the laws and Constitution of the United States. It's been a major success in preventing attacks against the United States. And it needs to be preserved and protected. Now, intelligence areas are one of the areas the president asked me to work on when I first came on board. And I've had an interest in this subject going back 30 years to my days in the Ford administration. So, it's an appropriate one for me to work on, but it also means going out publicly and defending it. A lot of people would perhaps run for the hills or avoid controversy. And, obviously, I don't feel that way.
SCHIEFFER: Let me go back to one thing you said about serving out your term because some -- you hear some of these Republican pundits and strategists that say, well, since the vice president does not have any aspirations to be president, maybe a year or so before his term is up, he might step aside for one reason or another so you could put somebody else into the job and that that person would then have a heads-up on getting the nomination.
Schieffer let Cheney off the hook on actions after he shot Whittington
In addition, Schieffer accepted Cheney's statements regarding his recent shooting of Texas lawyer Harry Whittington. Cheney stated: "[T]he way we did it [notified the public about the shooting] I thought was appropriate, which was to have Katharine Armstrong, who was a witness to all of these events, call the local newspaper. They immediately got it, immediately put it on the wire, and everybody had it."
Schieffer failed to note the contradictions in Armstrong's account, as Media Matters has noted.
SCHIEFFER: I must ask you about what you have called the worst day of your life: the day that you accidentally shot your friend Harry Whittington down in Texas on that hunting expedition. You didn't make it public for almost a day. Now, you told [Fox News Washington managing editor] Brit Hume the other day that you still thought that was the right way to go about it. But I just want to ask you: Now that you've had some time to reflect on it, could that have been better handled?
CHENEY: Well, I think it's one of those situation or circumstances that is obviously difficult and generates controversy. It's probably the first time the Secret Service ever had to worry about a protectee shooting somebody else instead of being shot at. As the president said the other night, he's at 38 percent in the polls, and as a result of this incident, I shot the only trial lawyer in Texas who supported him. So, people can laugh about it now, but at the time, it was deadly serious.
SCHIEFFER: Well, I can imagine.
CHENEY: And the -- I must admit the first thing I thought when I saw what had happened and rushed over to help Harry, I did not think, "Gee, I better call the press corps and tell them what's going on here."
SCHIEFFER: Sure. But later on, shouldn't you have --
CHENEY: This is about 6 o'clock at night. By the time we got him to the hospital -- and we did not know until the next morning exactly the status of his medical condition. And that's when we began to notify the press. There'd been controversy over whether we should have called the White House press corps. I didn't have any press people with me. This was a private trip -- or do it the way we did it. And the way we did it I thought was appropriate, which was to have Katharine Armstrong, who was a witness to all of these events, call the local newspaper. They immediately got it, immediately put it on the wire, and everybody had it. So, it struck me as a bit of a tempest in a teapot over the question of how it was announced. It was announced by us, I believe, in a timely fashion as soon as we knew what Harry's status was.
SCHIEFFER: Well, you do believe that elected officials owe the public an explanation for their actions?
CHENEY: Sure. I mean, this was not part of my public duty and responsibility or my official duties at all. But there is bound to be interest in it when something like that happens because I am the vice president, and we treated it that way.
SCHIEFFER: All right, Mr. Vice President, thank you so much for coming.
During the March 15 broadcast of American Family Radio's Today's Issues, National Review Washington editor Kate O'Beirne asserted that "fighting our wars, engaging the enemy in this uncivilized thing we call war is a job for men, not women," then suggested that having women serve in the military was the equivalent of "a man send[ing] his wife or daughter to check out" a noise that "sounds like a break-in." She said that "internationally that's just what we're doing by sending our daughters and our sisters to fight America's enemies."
During an interview about her book Women Who Make the World Worse (Sentinel, December 2005), O'Beirne also maintained that "good men protect and defend women in the face of physical threat," and told host Jeff Chamblee, "I, for one, do not believe that America's defense rests on the shoulders of teenage women and single mothers."
From the March 15 broadcast of American Family Radio's Today's Issues:
O'BEIRNE: I, for one, do not believe that America's defense rests on the shoulders of teenage girls and young single mothers.
CHAMBLEE: Thank you.
O'BEIRNE: And yet, an awful lot of them have been deployed to Iraq. I have two fundamental problems. The most fundamental problem, to me, is my conviction that good men protect and defend women in the face of a physical threat. This in no way offends my sense of equality, because I think fighting our wars, engaging the enemy in this uncivilized thing we call war is a job for men, not women. Think of it on the domestic front. You know, if you hear a sound in the middle of the night coming from downstairs and it sounds like a break-in, what poor excuse for a man sends his wife or daughter downstairs to check out the noise?
O'BEIRNE: And yet on a grand scale, internationally that's just what we're doing by sending our daughters and our sisters to fight America's enemies.
On the March 16 edition of his nationally syndicated radio show, host Glenn Beck relayed a message to a 7-year-old New York girl: "You want to go to Africa? I will personally purchase your airfare." Beck made his remark in a segment on Autum Ashante, who garnered public attention after reading a controversial poem -- titled "White Nationalism Put U In Bondage" -- to a February 28 Black History Month assembly at a public school in Peekskill, New York (news accounts vary as to where she spoke and how many times). The Peekskill City School District reportedly sent an apology for any offense taken, in the form of recorded telephone messages to parents of students enrolled in the Peekskill Middle and High Schools. Ashante has since made public appearances to discuss her work.
Beck paraphrased a March 14 article in the Westchester, New York, Journal News that quoted Ashante as saying, "Even the ones [white people] that try to fix up with us, they're still devils. I feel they're devils and they should be gone. We should be away from them and still be in Africa."
As Media Matters for America has noted, Beck -- who was recently hired to host a new program on CNN Headline News -- has repeatedly made controversial remarks on his show. During the same March 16 program, for example, he asked if America was "as dumb" as Nigeria.
From the March 16 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Glenn Beck Program:
BECK: She [Autum Ashante] has told the Westchester Journal News that "white people are devils. And should be gone. We should be away from those devils and we should still be in Africa." I will gladly send you a ticket. You want to go to Africa? I will personally purchase your airfare. I'll do it. It's one-way. You have to sign a contract that you will never return to the United States. Of course, if you go there, remember -- I mean, they seem to be having a problem with the bird flu.
Hume falsely claimed Rockefeller "has never said that he wasn't fully briefed" on Bush wiretap program; offered other dubious statements
On the March 19 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, Fox News Washington managing editor Brit Hume falsely claimed that Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV) "has never said that he wasn't fully briefed" on President Bush's warrantless domestic spying program. In fact, in a July 17, 2003, letter to Vice President Dick Cheney, Rockefeller stated that the briefing he received on the program left him "unable to fully evaluate, much less endorse" the wiretapping program, and that "[w]ithout more information and the ability to draw on independent legal or technical expertise, I simply cannot satisfy lingering concerns raised by the briefing we received" on the program. Hume acknowledged the letter written by Rockefeller, but called it "one weak little, weird, sort-of-slightly-incomprehensible letter from Senator Rockefeller, which was followed up by him in no way whatever."
Additionally, Hume claimed that "the leaders of Congress were fully and completely and repeatedly briefed" on the wiretapping program and that "[n]o politician among those who has been thoroughly briefed on this claims that the briefings were insufficient and vague." In fact, as Media Matters for America has previously noted, several members of Congress have said that the briefings they received did not constitute written reports about the program, which are required by law. Moreover, many of the Democrats who said they had been informed about the program contend that they were not told about its actual nature and extent.
Hume made his comments during an exchange with National Public Radio (NPR) senior correspondent and Fox News contributing political analyst Juan Williams, who argued that although "I don't think I've met any American who says we shouldn't be doing everything we can to prevent another terrorist attack against this country, including surveilling these conversations [with suspected terrorists] ... it's not the question -- people say, 'Oh, yeah, therefore, we don't need the judges, we don't need the Congress, we don't need anything but to put our trust in the president.' " Hume responded: "If I'm not mistaken, the leaders of Congress were fully and completely and repeatedly briefed on this. ... Any of them could very easily have objected in a letter to the president in strong terms." When Williams responded that "They did object," Hume replied: "No, excuse me. They did not. There was one weak little, weird, sort-of-slightly-incomprehensible letter from Senator Rockefeller, which was followed up by him in no way whatever."
Williams later stated that "Democratic politicians" say the briefings they received on the program were "inexact and vague," to which Hume responded: "Juan, that is absurd. No politician among those who has been thoroughly briefed on this claims that the briefings were insufficient and vague." When Williams cited Rockefeller as one politician who said the briefings were vague, Hume replied: "Rockefeller does not claim that. Rockefeller has said many things about this program, but he has never said that he wasn't fully briefed that I know of."
Hume's claim that Rockefeller "has never said that we wasn't fully briefed" is directly contradicted by the text of Rockefeller's July 17, 2003, letter to Cheney. Despite Hume's dubious characterization of this letter as "weak," "weird," and "sort-of-slightly-incomprehensible," Rockefeller clearly raised his objections to the limited extent of the briefings he received on the wiretapping program. Rockefeller stated:
Clearly, the activities we discussed raise profound oversight issues. As you know, I am neither a technician, nor an attorney. Given the security restrictions associated with this information, and my inability to consult staff or counsel on my own, I feel unable to fully evaluate, much less endorse these activities.
Without more information and the ability to draw on independent legal or technical expertise, I simply cannot satisfy lingering concerns raised by the briefing we received.
Additionally, Hume's claims that "the leaders of Congress were fully and completely and repeatedly briefed" on the wiretapping program and that "[n]o politician among those who has been thoroughly briefed on this claims that the briefings were insufficient and vague" are contradicted by the statements of several Democrats -- Rockefeller included -- who say they received briefings on the program, but that the briefings were inadequate. For example, Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a December 21, 2005, statement that she was "deeply concerned by reports that this [wiretapping] program in fact goes far beyond the measures to target Al Qaeda about which I was briefed." Also, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) has said there were "omissions of consequence" in the briefings he received in 2002 and 2004. And former Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee at the time Bush first authorized the program, has claimed that he was never informed "that the program would involve eavesdropping on American citizens." Further, a December 23, 2005, New York Times article noted that Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) -- along with Harman and Graham -- "have all suggested in recent days that they were not provided with a complete accounting of the program, and that they might have raised objections if they had understood its scope."
Moreover, Graham and Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee -- along with aides to Rockefeller and Reid -- have all said that the briefings did not constitute written reports about the program, which are required of the White House under the National Security Act of 1947 (as amended in 2001).
A January 18 report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service concluded that the Bush administration's limited notification of Congress about the domestic surveillance program "appear[s] to be inconsistent with the law."
From the March 19 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:
WILLIAMS: I don't think I've met any American who says we shouldn't be doing everything we can to prevent another terrorist attack against this country, including surveilling these conversations. But it's not the question -- people say, "Oh, yeah, therefore, we don't need the judges, we don't need the Congress, we don't need anything but to put our trust in the president."
HUME: Excuse me, Juan. If I'm not mistaken, the leaders of Congress were fully and completely and repeatedly briefed on this. And for Senator [Richard J.] Durbin [D-IL] to say, as he did, that those leaders really were powerless to do anything about it because it's classified is utter nonsense. Any of them could very easily have objected in a letter to the president in strong terms.
WILLIAMS: They did object.
HUME: No, excuse me. They did not. There was one weak little, weird, sort-of-slightly-incomprehensible letter from Senator Rockefeller, which was followed up by him in no way whatever. They were in the room with the vice president. The vice president chaired the briefings. They could all have objected noisily to this if they suspected it was illegal. They also could have done a great deal of constitutional research into the hypothetical question of whether such a thing would be legal or not. There is not one scintilla of evidence that any of them did that. The idea that this is illegal springs from the fact that it got into The New York Times, and politicians within the Democratic Party decided it was a good idea to chase that idea around. It is by no means a settled matter that it was illegal. There's very good reason to believe that the inherent constitutional powers of the president and possibly even the grant of the use of force to repel Al Qaeda would have authorized him to do this. So it's no settled question, Juan.
WILLIAMS: The New York Times took one year, gave the president so much leeway. Democratic politicians --
HUME: To do what exactly?
WILLIAMS: They did not report the story for one year.
HUME: Why not?
WILLIAMS: Because out of respect for this president and our fight against terrorists. I mean, not everything is politics, Brit. Sometimes you are concerned about the welfare of our state, of our country, and The New York Times waited a year. Democratic politicians granted him sufficient leeway. They say the briefing was inexact and vague as to what was -- they didn't realize about the nature of the --
HUME: There is absolutely no reason to believe --
WILLIAMS: -- surveillance taking place here within --
HUME: Juan --
WILLIAMS: -- the United States on American citizens.
HUME: Juan, that is absurd. No politician among those who has been thoroughly briefed on this claims that the briefings were insufficient and vague.
HUME: Rockefeller does not claim that. Rockefeller has said many things about this program, but he has never said that he wasn't fully briefed that I know of.
A Media Matters for America survey of guests on NBC's Today show thus far in 2006 revealed a significant preference for conservatives over progressives. For the period from January 1 to March 16, Media Matters found that when MSNBC host Chris Matthews is classified as a conservative, conservatives outnumbered progressives by a ratio of 3-to-1. When Matthews is not included, the ratio is 2-to-1 -- 10 conservatives to five liberals, though two guests classified as liberals appeared together. Interviews with politicians were not counted in this survey.
Matthews, host of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, was a guest six times. While conservatives often complain that Matthews is a liberal, Media Matters named him 2005's Misinformer of the Year for his role as a purveyor of conservative misinformation. Media Matters has also identified numerous instances of Matthews's gushing over President Bush, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), and other Republicans. Recently, Matthews has:
Other guests making an appearance on Today in 2006 include Bill O'Reilly, host of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor; Joe Scarborough, host of MSNBC's Scarborough Country; Fred Barnes, co-host of Fox News' The Beltway Boys and a regular contributor to Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume; Mary Matalin, a Republican consultant and a former co-host of CNN's Crossfire; Richard Haass, a former Bush administration official, Wendy Wright; president of Concerned Women for America; William A. Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights; and Dr. Laura Schlessinger, author and nationally syndicated radio host.
In the same time period, only five progressives or liberals appeared on Today. They include James Carville and Paul Begala, political contributors to CNN's The Situation Room, who appeared together to promote a book they co-wrote; Michael Eric Dyson, an author and professor at the University of Pennsylvania; Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and Richard Walter, a screenwriter. Walter is included as a liberal in this instance because he argued opposite Donohue during a segment on the upcoming film The Da Vinci Code.
The Today show findings echo two other studies by Media Matters that have documented the greater number of conservatives on other television programs: The February report "If It's Sunday, It's Conservative," a comprehensive study of guest appearances on the Sunday-morning talk shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC, and another recent study on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews. The methodology used in the studies identified each guest's general partisan or ideological orientation, coding each guest as Democrat, Republican, conservative, progressive, or neutral (nonpartisan, centrist, or having no political orientation).
Today Guest Survey: January 1-March 16, 2006
Topic of discussion
Dr. Laura Schlessinger
Her book Bad Childhood, Good Life: How to Blossom and Thrive in Spite of an Unhappy Childhood (HarperCollins, January 2006)
Iran's nuclear program, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, hearing for Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr.
President Bush, Osama bin Laden
His book Rebel in Chief: Inside the Bold and Controversial Presidency of George W. Bush (Crown Forum, January 2006)
Oprah Winfrey's confrontation with author James Frey
Iranian nuclear program
Domestic surveillance, new House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), lobbying scandal
Vice President Dick Cheney's handling of his hunting accident
Iraq and Dubai ports deal
Iraq, Afghanistan, Hurricane Katrina
Thomas Monaghan, Domino's Pizza founder
Ave Maria, Florida, a town being built around a Catholic university he founded
Morning-after pill distribution by Wal-Mart
William A. Donohue
The Da Vinci Code film
President Bush, Iran, Iraq, Dubai ports deal, 2006 elections
Failure of Dubai ports deal, Republican presidential hopefuls
Possible presidential candidates
Topic of discussion
James Carville, Paul Begala
Their book Take It Back: Our Party, Our Country, Our Future (Simon & Schuster, February 2006)
Michael Eric Dyson
His book, Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster (Basic Civitas, February 2006)
Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood Federation of America
Morning-after pill distribution by Wal-Mart
The Da Vinci Code film (appeared opposite Donohue)
Topic of discussion
Politics of 2006
Howard Fineman, Newsweek chief political analyst
Bush's agenda for 2006
His book, State of War: The Secret History of the Bush Administration and the CIA (Free Press, Janauary 2006)
Connie Chung, Maury Povich
Their MSNBC show Weekends with Maury & Connie
Rep. Tom DeLay, Alito nomination
Alito nomination, Bush's visit to New Orleans
U.S. relationship with rest of the world
Tax cuts, economy, drug program for seniors
Bush, domestic spying, possible Alito filibuster
Preview of Bush's State of the Union address
Bush's State of the Union address
Bush's State of the Union address
Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times columnist
America's dependency on oil
Cheney's hunting accident
Dubai ports deal
Dubai ports deal, 2008 election
Thomas L. Friedman
Dubai ports deal, 2008 election
Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times columnist
Attacks occurring in Sudan and Chad
Bush's poll numbers
* Haass is president of the Council on Foreign Relations. He is included in the conservative/Republican category because he worked previously in the Bush State Department as director of policy and planning and also worked as a special assistant to President George H.W. Bush from 1989 to 1993. Nicholas Lemann described Haass as a moderate in the March 31, 2003, issue of The New Yorker.
Not to be outdone by Robertson, Mohler claimed that Buddhism, Hinduism, and Marxism are "demonstration[s] of satanic power"
On the March 17 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and host of the daily Christian radio show The Albert Mohler Program, defended 700 Club host Pat Robertson's recent claim that Muslims are "motivated by demonic power," and expanded on Robertson's comments, saying: "Well, I would have to say as a Christian that I believe any belief system, any world view, whether it's Zen Buddhism or Hinduism or dialectical materialism for that matter, Marxism, that keeps persons captive and keeps them from coming to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, yes, is a demonstration of satanic power."
From the March 17 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
O'REILLY: "Unresolved Problem" segment tonight, winning hearts and minds in the Muslim world. As I've stated, the USA cannot win the war on terror without the help of moderate Muslims. We must convince them to reject the terrorists and fascists.
Recently, preachers Pat Robertson and Franklin Graham expounded on Islam in this way:
ROBERTSON [video clip]: These people are crazed fanatics. And I want to say it now. I believe it's motivated by demonic power. It is satanic. And it's time we recognize what we're dealing with.
GRAHAM [video clip]: I've been working in Muslim countries now for, oh, 40 years or more. So I know about Islam. If people think Islam is such a wonderful religion, just go to Saudi Arabia and make it your home. Just live there. If you think Islam is such a wonderful religion, I mean, go and live under the Taliban somewhere.
O'REILLY: Now Robertson and Graham were unavailable this evening. Both are welcome on The Factor at any time. Joining us now from Louisville, Kentucky, Dr. Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Here's my problem with this. When you say something like that, [Arabic-language television news network] Aljazeera gets it, puts it on in the Arab world, and says, "See? All Americans think we're all terrible. They don't distinguish between the terrorists and the good Muslims, and they're our enemies." And it just creates more jihadists. Where am I going wrong?
MOHLER: Well, I say first of all that Franklin Graham and Pat Robertson in this case spoke the truth as Christian believers and as Christian truth-tellers, and that's their responsibility. And both of them are men of compassion. And in this case, I've criticized Pat Robertson for some of the things he's said. But on this one, Bill, I have to say I think he's just on target.
O'REILLY: So you think Islam is a demonic religion?
MOHLER: Well, I would have to say as a Christian that I believe any belief system, any world view, whether it's Zen Buddhism or Hinduism or dialectical materialism for that matter, Marxism, that keeps persons captive and keeps them from coming to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, yes, is a demonstration of satanic power.
O'REILLY: So you're going to go to peace-loving Hindus and look at them and say your religion is demonic, doctor? That's what you're going to do?
MOHLER: Well, you know, that's an historic Christian position. Just understanding like the apostle Paul, that the spirit of this age is blinding persons from understanding the Gospel.
O'REILLY: Can you point to me in Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, one time when Jesus looked at a Jew and said, "You're in a demonic religion"?
MOHLER: Well, he certainly never called Judaism -- he was himself a Jew -- a demonic religion. He did speak of persons, however, being under demonic possession and speaking on behalf of the devil, rather than on behalf of his father.
O'REILLY: I didn't hear him say the Romans were demonic. And they, of course, were polytheists, you know, worshipping whatever god.
MOHLER: You're making a good point. You're making a good point. I don't think either one of these men was saying that these people are demonic but, rather, that the belief system is.
O'REILLY: But you can't do that and expect moderate Muslims who respect their religion, all right, to help you, and you can't win the war on terror unless moderate Muslims help us.
So carrying it to its extreme, the Reverend Robertson and Dr. Franklin -- Dr. Graham, I should say -- are putting the country in danger by these kinds of statements that are going to be twisted and delivered to the Arab world as the condemnation of Muslims. And don't think Billy Graham [father of Franklin Graham] would ever say that anyway, do you?
MOHLER: Well, I know Dr. Graham, and I chaired one of his crusades. I do know that both doctors Graham would believe that the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation.
O'REILLY: Yeah, but can say that in different ways, doctor. With all due respect, do you think Billy Graham would get out there and say, "Yeah, you go live in Saudi Arabia?" I just don't think they would do it. See, I don't mind -- I know what you're saying. I don't mind you spreading your belief system, but I don't think you should be condemning the beliefs of others, particularly in the war on terror.
MOHLER: Well, there's a point to be made there about how we should learn to speak in a way that follows some kind of etiquette. But at the bottom line, etiquette has to give way to truth. And in the case of the two statements from which you pulled there -- from Dr. Graham and from Pat Robertson, they were speaking a deeply Christian truth there that Christians have believed for 2,000 years. And by the way, not with Muslims, because of course now we have only 14 centuries of dealing with the challenge of Islam, but any belief system that keeps persons from coming to Christ we would see as a manifestation of a demonic power.
On Hannity & Colmes, Miniter accused Clinton, Carter, and Gore of "undermining national unity at a time of war"
During the March 14 broadcast of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, author and journalist Richard Miniter falsely claimed that when the Democrats were in power, Republicans did not criticize the majority party's foreign policy, asserting that "there used to be a tradition in this country that politics stopped at the water's edge." Co-host Sean Hannity apparently concurred, replying, "Not anymore." Miniter also criticized former President Bill Clinton, as well as former President Jimmy Carter and former Vice President Al Gore, for taking issue with the current Bush administration's foreign policy. Miniter said: "[I]t's not the time for former presidents like Carter and Clinton, or vice presidents like Al Gore, to be undermining the nation's unity at a time when we're at war."
Discussing Clinton's national security initiatives and Republicans' responses to those initiatives, Miniter, author of the book Disinformation: 22 Media Myths that Undermine the War on Terror (Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2005), claimed that "when the Democrats are in power, the Republicans certainly don't criticize their conduct of foreign policy." In fact, during Clinton's tenure, a number of Republicans criticized Clinton's retaliatory military attacks on Osama bin Laden's purported Afghanistan compound and reported sites of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq by repeatedly accusing the Democratic president of "Wag the Dog" tactics -- using military action to divert attention away from the Monica Lewinsky controversy.
On August 10, 1998, Clinton authorized a bombing campaign on alleged terrorist targets in Sudan and Afghanistan -- including a suspected terrorist training compound in Afghanistan where bin Laden was believed to have taken refuge at the time -- in response to the August 7, 1998, twin bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. While there was strong bipartisan support for the attacks, the bombings occurred during the Lewinsky controversy, on the same day Lewinsky was set to testify before the grand jury investigating the case. This prompted congressional Republicans to accuse Clinton of launching the attacks to divert attention away from the controversy. As an August 21, 1998, Washington Post report noted, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) said that "[t]here's an obvious issue that will be raised internationally as to whether there is any diversionary motivation;" then-Sen. John D. Ashcroft (R-MO) declared that "there is a cloud over this presidency;" and then-Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN) asserted:
The president has been consumed with matters regarding his personal life. It raises questions about whether or not he had the time to devote to this issue, or give the kind of judgment that needed to be given to this issue to call for military action."
Additionally, on December 16, 1998, Clinton authorized a military strike against Iraq, which he said targeted "Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs and its military capacity to threaten its neighbors" in retaliation for Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's refusal to "cooperate with the United Nations weapons inspectors." Again, the timing of the bombing -- which occurred the day before the House was set to vote on Clinton's impeachment -- prompted an even greater outcry among Republicans who again accused Clinton of authorizing the bombings for political purposes. As a December 17, 1998, Los Angeles Times article reported:
In an extraordinary escalation of the conflict between Clinton and congressional Republicans, [Sen. Trent] Lott (R-MS) took the all but unprecedented step of refusing to back a military action initiated by the president and challenging his motives.
"While I have been assured by administration officials that there is no connection with the impeachment process in the House of Representatives, I cannot support this military action in the Persian Gulf at this time," Lott said. "Both the timing and the policy are subject to question."
And, as reported by the Boston Herald on December 17, 1998, "in extraordinary rebukes when American forces are in harm's way" several other congressional Republicans leveled charges similar to Lott's. From the Boston Herald:
"Never underestimate a desperate president," said House Rules chairman Gerald Solomon (R-N.Y.). "This time he means business. What option is left for getting impeachment off the front page and maybe even postponed?"
Judiciary panel member U.S. Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.), a fierce Clinton critic, branded Clinton's Iraq attacks "highly suspicious to say the least."
Said House Republican Leader Dick Armey: "I would like to think that no American president would even consider using the military to help him remain in office. But the fact that Americans are expressing these doubts shows that the president is losing his ability to lead."
Moreover, as Media Matters for America has noted (here and here), Clinton's Republican predecessor George H.W. Bush repeatedly criticized the Clinton administration's foreign policies while Clinton was in office. In an appearance at a San Antonio grade school on October 13, 1993, Bush expressed concern that the humanitarian mission to Somalia he had launched nearly a year earlier was being "messed up" by the Clinton administration. Several news reports noted that Bush's comments appeared to violate his earlier pledge not to publicly criticize Clinton during Clinton's first year in office. Further, in an interview published in the February 1994 issue of Washingtonian magazine, Bush criticized the Clinton administration's purported lack of a "general strategy" in the foreign policy arena and the "start-and-stop" failures it had exhibited, citing Clinton's handling of the volatile situation in Haiti as a prime example.
From the March 14 broadcast of Hannity & Colmes:
MINITER: Look, Sean, there used to be a tradition in this country that politics stops at the water's edge.
HANNITY: Not anymore.
MINITER: So, when the Democrats are in power, the Republicans certainly don't criticize their conduct of foreign policy. Now the country is at war. We have 150,000 troops in Iraq, another 20,000-odd in Afghanistan, and it's not the time for former presidents like Carter and Clinton, or vice presidents like Al Gore, to be undermining the nation's unity at a time when we're at war.
Cavuto credited Operation Swarmer with spurring Iran's U.S. overtures, but Iranian overture reportedly occurred first
During the March 16 edition of the Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto, host Cavuto suggested that that the current U.S. "Operation Swarmer" offensive in the Sunni Triangle spurred Iran to seek negotiations with the United States for the first time in more than two decades. At the beginning of a segment during which Cavuto interviewed two of the former hostages from the 1979 siege of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran about their reaction to Iran's offer, Cavuto said, "Now Iran wants to talk. As U.S. troops come down hard on insurgents in Iraq, Iran calls for direct talks with the U.S. on Iraq"; earlier in the program, Cavuto promoted the segment with the question: "What if I told you it's things like this operation in Iraq that has Iran coming to the table?" But Cavuto's suggestion that the Iran overture followed the launch of Operation Swarmer is false. A March 16 Associated Press report noted that the announcement that Iran was open to talks about Iraq with the U.S. came in response to a request for such talks a day earlier -- before the Iraq operation began -- by senior Iraqi Shiite leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, who has "close ties to Iran."
From the March 16 edition of Your World with Neil Cavuto:
CAVUTO: What if I told you it's things like this operation in Iraq that has Iran coming to the table? Wait 'til you hear what a top Iranian official just offered and why a couple of former hostages held in Iran say, "Don't waste your time with these guys."
CAVUTO: This is a Fox News alert. Now Iran wants to talk. As U.S. troops come down hard on insurgents in Iraq, Iran calls for direct talks with the U.S. on Iraq. This is the first time now since the '79 hostage crisis that Iran has officially called for dialogue with the United States.
From a March 16 Associated Press report by writer Ali Akbar Dareini:
A top Iranian official said Thursday that his country was ready to open direct talks with the United States over Iraq, marking a major shift in Iranian foreign policy a day after an Iraqi leader called for such talks.
The statement marked the first time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that Iran had officially called for dialogue with the United States, which it has repeatedly condemned as "the Great Satan."
The proposal to hold direct talks on Iraq came in response to a request a day earlier from senior Iraqi Shiite leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim.
Al-Hakim has close ties to Iran, and heads one of the main Shiite parties in Iraq, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
"I demand the leadership in Iran open a clear dialogue with America about Iraq," al-Hakim said. "It is in the interests of the Iraqi people that such dialogue is opened and to find an understanding on various issues."
Larijani said Iran will officially name negotiators for direct talks with the United States but declined to give further details.
"These talks will merely be about resolving Iraqi issues," he told the parliament, without singling out any issues.
On the March 16 edition of Hannity & Colmes, Fox News political analyst Dick Morris, in a discussion about the Iraq war with co-host Alan Colmes, called the sectarian violence in Iraq "negotiation, Iraqi style" and said that it is "basically a financial negotiation." Morris further stated that the violence between warring Iraqi factions is merely "part of the democratic process going on."
As Media Matters for America noted, Dick Morris also claimed on the March 13 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor that there is no civil war coming to Iraq because "when Iraqi politicians negotiate over the coalition of their cabinet, they bomb each other's mosques."
From the March 16 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:
COLMES: You call the bombings of mosques; you call the targeting of civilians by some of the Shiites; you call the corpses being dragged through the street -- you call that a negotiation?
MORRIS: Yep. I sure do, Alan. I didn't invent the Iraqi style. You know, they say divorce, Italian style? This is negotiation, Iraqi style. What's going on right now is the Shiites and the Sunnis are trying to get the upper hand militarily in the street so as to get the upper hand in the coalition government.
COLMES: Was the North vs. South in America a negotiation back in the last century? Two centuries ago?
MORRIS: No, but Kansas was before it. And what's going on now is they're fighting over oil revenues. The whole deal is the Shiites want all of the oil revenues and the Sunnis want their piece of the oil revenues but the Sunni region doesn't produce a lot of oil. And what's going on now is basically a financial negotiation, but they're an immature democracy. They're not used to the ways of the world and whereas Americans threaten censure and impeachment and shut the government down, the Iraqis blow up mosques.
COLMES: Well, let's hope that this doesn't go on much longer, but if it does --
MORRIS: But this is part of the democratic process going on.
Morris's reference to Kansas is presumably a reference to the 1850s debate over whether Kansas would be allowed to permit slavery, spurred by a controversial 1854 law that allowed Kansas residents to decide on the matter. Clashes between pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions resulted in the burning of the town of Lawrence, Kansas, by pro-slavery settlers, the killing of slavery sympathizers by abolitionist John Brown and his supporters, and the beating of anti-slavery Sen. Charles Sumner on the Senate floor by a pro-slavery member of Congress after Sumner gave a speech asserting that senators who supported the law, thus opening up the possibility of slavery in another state, were committing a "crime against Kansas."
After playing an audio clip of Democratic senators arguing that oil company mergers have led to price hikes, nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh said, on his March 15 show: "This is Stalinist. This is Stalinist and Marxist."
Limbaugh played comments made by Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-DE) during a March 14 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that included testimony by oil company executives.
Singling out a complaint by Durbin -- whom Limbaugh referred to as "Dick Turban" -- that "[w]e have no voice in saying to these giants, 'You shouldn't have done that,' " Limbaugh responded: "You know where we have no voice is with you. The American people have no voice with their government. You can rape us." Limbaugh added: "You can take houses away from us under eminent domain. You can come in and raise prices, taxes all you want. We can't do anything but go to jail if we refuse to pay it."
From the March 15 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show:
LIMBAUGH: We have an audio sound bite here of the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting with oil company tycoons. This is Schumer, Sen. Patrick Leakry -- Leaky -- Leahy and -- oh, Dick Turban's in here along with Joe Biden.
[begin audio clip]
SCHUMER: There are fewer, more massive players in the markets, prices have spiked, and what has gone up has not come down. Coincidence? I don't think so.
LEAHY: Every time there's been a merger, prices have gone up. Anybody want to respond to that? Is that just coincidence?
DURBIN: We have no voice in saying to these giants, "You shouldn't have done that. Your money ought to be coming back for the good of society that has paid the price for the gouging that's taking place at the gasoline pumps."
BIDEN: One big bathtub of oil, and we're very small players in it.
[end audio clip]
LIMBAUGH: This is Stalinist. This is Stalinist and Marxist. "We have no voice." This is Dick Durbin: "We have no voice in saying to these giants, 'You shouldn't have done that. Your --' " We don't? You know where we have no voice is with you. The American people have no voice with their government. You can rape us. You can take houses away from us under eminent domain. You can come in and raise prices, taxes all you want. We can't do anything but go to jail if we refuse to pay it.
CLIPS: Hewitt on the "great Bush comeback": Despite tanking poll numbers, Bush always "ends up with all the cards and all the money"
On the March 17 edition of Fox News' Your World With Neil Cavuto, conservative blogger and radio host Hugh Hewitt explained why those who are currently "calling the president, 'damaged goods' ... can be prepared to eat their own words." After host Cavuto played a video clip montage of media figures noting President Bush's falling poll numbers, Hewitt claimed that "it doesn't really matter" that Bush's approval rating continues to fall. Hewitt declared: "Each time they pronounce him flat on his back, the poker player [Bush] ends up taking all the cards and all the money off of the table." He further predicted that the media figures Cavuto highlighted at the beginning of the segment "are going to have to answer to themselves again how they could have been so wrong, again." During the entire interview, an onscreen caption read, "Coming Soon: The Great Bush Comeback?"
From the March 17 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:
CAVUTO: You don't think the president can make a big comeback? My next guest says, "Think again." And this is why.
[begin video clip]
CHRIS MATTHEWS (MSNBC host): Devastating new numbers for President Bush today.
KATIE COURIC (NBC News host): President Bush's plunging poll numbers.
ANDERSON COOPER (CNN host): Mr. Bush's popularity is crumbling.
[end video clip]
CAVUTO: Again and again and again. All week long, news personalities all but calling the president, "damaged goods." My next guest says they can be prepared to eat their own words. From Irvine, California, radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt. Why is that Hugh?
HEWITT: Well Neil, it's a semiannual story now. Every six months or so, the mainstream media comes along with "the Bush presidency is finished." The funny thing is, they've been doing it every year since the president's first term began in 2001, and each time they pronounce him flat on his back, the poker player ends up taking all the cards and all the money off of the table.
Right now, the poll numbers are bad, but it doesn't really matter to a president who's not facing reelection, and who, in the midterms in November, only has to bring home three or four Republican senators -- and there are great pick-up opportunities in Maryland, in New Jersey, in West Virginia, in Washington state and Michigan. He's going to hold the House and so, once again, I think, he's going to end up 6-for-6 -- twice as governor, twice as president, twice in the midterms, and then, those pundits that you were quoting at the beginning are going to have to answer to themselves again how they could have been so wrong, again.
The Washington Post did not print an editorial marking the third anniversary of the Iraq war on March 19, passing up another opportunity for the Post editorial page to retract pre- and post-invasion falsehoods it promulgated and subsequently tried to defend.
By contrast, on March 19, The New York Times published an editorial titled "The Stuff that Happened," which argued that the "Iraq debacle ought to serve as a humbling lesson for future generations of American leaders." The Los Angeles Times argued in a March 19 editorial that "the occupation of Iraq has been a humbling letdown." Of the three editorials the Post chose to run, however, not one addressed the Iraq war. The Post instead elected to address the federal budget, American oil consumption, and the Washington, D.C., appropriations bill. Rather than expressing its own opinion on the war's third anniversary, the paper featured an op-ed by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld titled "What We've Gained In 3 Years in Iraq," in which Rumsfeld argued:
What we need to understand is that the vast majority of the Iraqi people want the coalition to succeed. They want better futures for themselves and their families. They do not want the extremists to win. And they are risking their lives every day to secure their country.
That is well worth remembering on this anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Elsewhere on the Post's March 19 op-ed page, columnist George F. Will criticized the Iraq war in a column titled "Bleakness in Baghdad," writing: "Three years ago the administration had a theory: Democratic institutions do not just spring from a hospitable culture, they can also create such a culture. That theory has been a casualty of the war that began three years ago today." Conversely, Post columnist Jim Hoagland praised the administration's strategy for drawing down the American military and civilian presence in Iraq in his March 19 column, writing, "But on its face, that strategy is a coherent way of reducing the foreign occupation footprint that fuels much of the conflict in Iraq." On March 20, the Post featured an op-ed by Iraqi prime minister Ibrahim al-Jafari titled "My Vision for Iraq."
During a March 8 "Live Online" discussion on the Post's website, editorial page editor Fred Hiatt answered a question from a reader who asked when "The Post will own up in its editorials in its mistake in supporting the war for the wrong reasons." Hiatt replied:
HIATT: I can't speak for the news side, but they have done pretty searching stories on themselves, in my judgment. As for editorials, we've acknowledged that we were mistaken in our assumptions about WMD, and we've written editorials about the implications of that intelligence failure, and we've written editorials along the way trying to explain to readers how we feel about the war as it's progressed, and why.
But as Media Matters for America noted, Hiatt and the Post's editorial writers reported falsehoods by the Bush administration and made assertions of their own in support of the invasion of Iraq that were subsequently proven false. Thus far, the Post has yet to correct or retract those falsehoods, including statements regarding an alleged Iraq-Al Qaeda connection and the Bush administration's use of intelligence.
During the March 17 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly attacked St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Sylvester Brown Jr., falsely claiming that Brown's March 16 column "took information from a far-left smear website, which routinely distorts comments from anyone the site doesn't like," adding that Brown "knows that, but prints the dishonest garbage anyway." In fact, as Brown noted in his column, Media Matters for America compiled a montage of clips from both The O'Reilly Factor and Westwood One's The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly demonstrating that, despite his claims to the contrary, O'Reilly routinely engages in personal attacks. Brown pointed out that even though Media Matters "relies on transcripts from his own programs to refute his outrageous claims, O'Reilly still insists the group blatantly uses his words 'out of context,' then 'feeds stuff to the mainstream media to discredit me.'"
As the Media Matters montage shows, far from representing a distortion, O'Reilly's statements that Madison, Wisconsin, residents "commune with Satan," Iraqi citizens are a "prehistoric group," Europe is "soft and afraid" and poor Hurricane Katrina victims "were drug-addicted thugs," were accurate.
O'Reilly has previously attacked Brown's column. During Brown's January 25, 2005, appearance on The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly bet Brown "a dinner at Tony's," a St. Louis restaurant, that O'Reilly had not labeled Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) "a nut," as Brown claimed. But the following day, O'Reilly admitted that he had done so on his January 19, 2005, radio show. Brown later wrote an open letter to O'Reilly, challenging the Fox News host to make good on his bet. Then during the January 27, 2005, broadcast of The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly claimed that Brown "uses Media Matters stuff all the time. You know they just feed it to him, and he prints it." As we noted at the time, however, neither Brown nor anyone else at the Post-Dispatch had ever cited Media Matters items before O'Reilly made those remarks.
From the March 17 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
Writing today in the liberal St. Louis Post-Dispatch, fanatical progressive columnist Sylvester Brown says, "[Bill] O'Reilly insulted cities, countries and even an entire continent. Madison, Wis., residents commune with Satan,' he said. Iraqis are a 'prehistoric group,' poor Hurricane Katrina victims 'were drug-addicted thugs' and, according to O'Reilly, all of Europe is 'soft and afraid.' "
Now, Mr. Brown admits he took that information from a far-left smear website, which routinely distorts comments from anyone the site doesn't like. Brown knows that, but prints the dishonest garbage anyway. Says a lot about him and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Anyone watching The Factor or listening to the radio program, and that's tens of millions of people every week, would know Brown's distorting the truth, just as they know the far-left smear websites are in business to injure rather than inform.
Of course, that kind of muck diminishes the far left, but they are now addicted to it. They can't stop. So Republicans are silently rooting the Kool-Aid left on. The more hysterical they get, the more chance Americans will turn back to the GOP, despite all the problems the Bush administration is having.
From Sylvester Brown's March 16 Post-Dispatch column:
It's amazing that so many conservatives and right-wing pundits still use the "blame the media" ploy when depressing facts seem to get in their way. Bill O'Reilly of Fox News employs the tactic often. During the Feb. 23 edition of the "O'Reilly Factor," with guest Mike Farrell, O'Reilly unashamedly claimed he doesn't "do personal attacks."
Media Matters for America, which describes itself as a nonprofit research center that monitors conservative media, launched an Internet montage of O'Reilly "personally attacking" on his TV and radio shows.
O'Reilly is heard describing Howard Dean as "the biggest coward in the country," labeling John Kerry a "sissy," calling newsman Bill Moyers the "biggest mouth in town," and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff [sic] "nuts."
The attacks weren't simply targeting individuals either. O'Reilly insulted cities, countries and even an entire continent. Madison, Wis., residents "commune with Satan," he said. Iraqis are a "prehistoric group," poor Hurricane Katrina victims "were drug-addicted thugs" and, according to O'Reilly, all of Europe is "soft and afraid."
O'Reilly's most cutting remarks were reserved for Media Matters. They are "vile, despicable ankle-biters," who, he admits, "listen to every word" of his program. Although the organization relies on transcripts from his own programs to refute his outrageous claims, O'Reilly still insists the group blatantly uses his words "out of context," then "feeds stuff to the mainstream media to discredit me."
CLIPS: Olbermann awarded O'Reilly both runner-up and top prize in "Worst Person in the World" contest for Gabler and Wiehl comments
On the March 17 broadcast of MSNBC's Countdown, host Keith Olbermann awarded Fox News' Bill O'Reilly both the runner-up and first place awards in his daily "Worst Person in the World" contest for calling liberal media writer Neal Gabler a "bomb-thrower" and a "Kool-Aid drinker" and for telling a caller on his radio program that instead of "denigrat[ing]" guests on his programs, he "just go[es] over to" co-host Lis Wiehl "and whack[s] her around. ... [F]iguratively speaking, of course."
As Media Matters for America has previously noted, during the March 13 edition of his syndicated radio show, O'Reilly called Gabler a "bomb-thrower" and a "left-wing Kool-Aid drinker" because Gabler argued, on the March 11 edition of Fox News Watch, that the controversy over comments that Colorado high school teacher Jay Bennish made about President Bush resulted from the exploitation of the incident by the conservative media. But, as Olbermann noted, O'Reilly had no harsh words for fellow Fox News Watch panelist Cal Thomas, a conservative syndicated columnist, who, on the same program, said he agreed that the conservative media had over-hyped the incident.
In awarding O'Reilly the "Worst Person in the World" runner-up prize for these comments, Olbermann noted that "Ted Baxter ... ripp[ed] his own Fox News colleague Neal Gabler again," apparently referring to O'Reilly's previous attack on Gabler. On the February 20 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly labeled Gabler a "rabid dog" and declared that if it were up to him, he would "fire" Gabler from Fox News Watch "in a heartbeat" for his comments on Vice President Dick Cheney's accidental shooting of hunting partner Harry Whittington.
Olbermann also reserved the first prize in the "Worst Person in the World" contest for O'Reilly for his comments about "whack[ing] ... around" Wiehl in lieu of "denigrat[ing]" a guest with whom O'Reilly disagreed. As Media Matters noted at the time, while discussing his interview with guest and author Norman Mailer, O'Reilly told a caller on the March 15 broadcast of The Radio Factor that instead of denigrating Mailer, O'Reilly could "just go over to" Wiehl "and whack her around." He added, "figuratively speaking, of course." In bestowing O'Reilly with the "Worst Person" honors, Olbermann -- apparently referencing O'Reilly's October 2004 sexual harassment lawsuit by a former Fox News producer -- stated, "Yeah, figuratively speaking. Just hit her with a loofah, Billy."
From the March 17 broadcast of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann:
OLBERMANN: Tonight's runner-up: Ted Baxter again, ripping his own Fox News colleague Neal Gabler again, calling him a "bomb thrower" and a "Kool-Aid drinker," because, on the Fox media show, Gabler complained that a Colorado family had gone to the conservative media to complain about a high school teacher, rather than to the school.
On the same show in which Gabler said that, his colleague Cal -- Cal Thomas agreed with Gabler, but, of course, O'Reilly did not call Thomas a "Kool-Aid drinker."
But the winner -- we are celebrating the day with a double dose of Bill.
Explaining to a caller -- one of the ones who did not get arrested -- that he would not denigrate a guest, because that's why he has his co-host, Lis Wiehl: "Every time I want do that, I just go over to her and whack her around. ... [F]iguratively speaking, of course."
Yeah, figuratively speaking. Just hit her with a loofah, Billy. Bill O'Reilly: today's Worst Person in the World!
CLIPS: Cavuto's news peg: Porn star's attendance at GOP fundraiser = more pole-dancing on Your World
Just before adult film actress Mary Carey was to attend a March 16 fundraising dinner given by the National Republican Congressional Committee, Fox News host Neil Cavuto interviewed Carey about her professed intention to run for California governor for a second time in the upcoming election. But before hosting Carey on Your World, Cavuto teased the interview with video footage of Carey dressed in a French maid's uniform performing a pole dance.
Over video footage of Carey pole-dancing, Cavuto informed viewers, "Her political platform included taxing breast implants and making lap dances tax deductible. But before you laugh at porn star Mary Carey, remember this: She placed 10th of 135 candidates running for California governor. Wait 'til you hear what she's up to now."
As Media Matters for America has previously noted, Victoria's Secret and Playboy models, along with other adult-oriented entertainers, are a staple on Your World. During the December 14, 2005, broadcast of the show, Cavuto reported on NBC's decision to remove a video of Pamela Anderson pole-dancing during a December 12 special on Elton John. Cavuto played the video that NBC censored, declaring that while the video was "too hot" for NBC, it was "[n]ot for [Fox News]!"
From the March 16 broadcast of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:
CAVUTO: We have a lot more coming up for you in the next half-hour. Her political platform included taxing breast implants and making lap dances tax deductible. But before you laugh at porn star Mary Carey, remember this: She placed 10th of 135 candidates running for California governor. Wait 'till you hear what she's up to now. Meet her, next.
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