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December 21, 2005
LA Times, AP, Fox News failed to challenge Bush claim that timeliness necessitated secret wiretapping program
Following the recent revelation that President Bush authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct domestic surveillance without warrants, the media has widely reported the White House's claim that timeliness was the rationale for this secret program. But in their coverage of President Bush's December 19 press conference -- during which he repeatedly put forward this defense -- the Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, and Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume all neglected to inform their readers and viewers that the current law governing such surveillance allows for the administration to obtain a warrant after the fact in cases in which "an emergency situation exists."
A December 16 New York Times article revealed that Bush had granted the NSA the power to eavesdrop on international phone and email communications that originate from or are received within the United States without court approval. During the December 19 press conference, the president defended this decision by arguing that "we must be able to act fast ... so we can prevent new [terrorist] attacks" and that the NSA program "enables us to move faster and quicker." Other administration officials have echoed this defense. For example, in a December 19 interview on CNN, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales stated, "I'm told by the operational folks at the National Security Agency that we do not have the speed and the agility in all cases, in every circumstance, to deal with this new kind of threat."
What this argument appears to ignore, however, is that the court created under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to provide authorization for international wiretaps is specifically designed to respond quickly to the type of requests in question. The so-called FISA court regularly authorizes these warrants within hours and even minutes. Moreover, in the case of "emergency" situations in which the attorney general deems it necessary to undertake surveillance immediately, the statute itself allows the government to obtain a warrant up to 72 hours after starting the necessary surveillance.
Nonetheless, a December 20 Los Angeles Times article on Bush's press conference quoted his defense of the program without noting any of these details regarding the nature of the FISA process:
His most forceful defense of the surveillance program focused on the argument that it was necessary to prevent terrorist attacks.
"To save American lives, we must be able to act fast and to detect these conversations so we can prevent new attacks," he said, suggesting that courts could not act quickly enough.
The December 19 Associated Press article on the press conference also ignored FISA's 72-hour provision in simply reporting Bush's claim that speed was the rationale behind the secret NSA program:
Bush said the electronic eavesdropping program, conducted by the National Security Agency, lets the government move faster than the standard practice of seeking a court-authorized warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. "We've got to be fast on our feet, quick to detect and prevent," the president said.
Further, on the December 19 edition of Special Report with Brit Hume, Fox News chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle reported that the president had "suggested" at the press conference that the FISA requirements are "too slow." But Angle did not inform viewers that FISA warrants can be obtained retroactively or that the FISA court normally delivers such authorizations in a quick manner:
ANGLE: Though the president authorized the National Security Agency to intercept phone calls and e-mails -- but only those linked to Al Qaeda -- even if one end of the conversation in the United States, some argue that requires a warrant from what is known as the FISA court, which operates in secret. The president suggested that would have been too slow.
BUSH [video clip]: The people responsible for helping us protect and defend came forth with the current program, because it enables us to move faster and quicker.
ANGLE: But congressional critics argue the president has taken the law in his own hands, that he doesn't have the authority to order electronic intercepts of anyone in the U.S. without getting a search warrant.
By contrast, numerous other news outlets cited the apparent contradiction between the Bush administration's argument and the facts regarding FISA. A December 20 New York Times article clearly explained that FISA allows the NSA "to tap international communications of people in the United States and then go to a secret court up to 72 hours later for retroactive permission." A December 20 USA Today article reported that administration officials had "struggled to explain why the administration could not have relied on FISA provisions that allow surveillance to be conducted and a warrant obtained after the fact in emergencies." And a December 20 Washington Post article reported that Bush had failed to explain "why the current system is not quick enough":
Bush's remarks left many critics unassuaged and many questions unanswered. The president offered no details about how many people are under surveillance, what standard must be met to intercept communications or what terrorist plots have been disrupted as a result of the program.
Nor did he explain why the current system is not quick enough to meet the needs of the fight against terrorism. Under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the NSA in urgent situations can already eavesdrop on international telephone calls for 72 hours without a warrant, as long as it goes to a secret intelligence court by the end of that period for retroactive permission.
On the December 19 edition of Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly apparently reversed his previous position that the phrase "Happy Holidays" is offensive, stating, " 'Happy Holidays' is fine, just don't ban 'Merry Christmas.'" O'Reilly has previously claimed the term "Happy Holidays" is offensive to "millions of Christians" and "insulting to Christian America."
O'Reilly's comment came during an interview with Fox News analyst and former House speaker Newt Gingrich in which the two discussed the so-called "war" on Christmas. During their discussion the two criticized ABC News national correspondent Sam Donaldson for his December 18 comments on ABC's This Week that O'Reilly was hyping the "war" on Christmas to garner ratings. Gingrich declared Donaldson's remarks to be a "perfect illustration of the mainstream media's elitism," while O'Reilly stated Donaldson's remarks were evidence of "organized left-wing secular bias" in the media.
From the December 19 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
O'REILLY: Continuing now with Fox News analyst Newt Gingrich, who's been following the Christmas controversy with some interest. Our pal Sam Donaldson weighed in over the weekend on that.
DONALDSON [ABC This Week video clip]: We're accusing this media of ours of trying to get ratings. Well, Bill O'Reilly wants ratings. He wants to stroke the yahoos -- where is [writer H.L.] Mencken when we need him? -- in his audience by saying there's a war on Christmas. You can say "Merry Christmas." You can say "Happy Holidays," "Happy Hanukkah." Say whatever you want. The fact that he's simply trying to get ratings on this should not engage us to think that there's a war on Christmas.
O'REILLY: Yahoos? So --
GINGRICH: I don't think --
O'REILLY: What do you think's going on here? I mean, it's reached -- it's reached hysteria with The New York Times column yesterday [by Nicholas D. Kristof], you know, Donaldson and all these people. It has reached hysteria.
GINGRICH: Well, let me say first of all, Bill, I don't think I've ever heard a more perfect illustration of the mainstream media's elitism than what Sam Donaldson just said. Ninety-one percent of the American people believe they have the right to say, "One nation under God." Overwhelmingly, the American people believe you should be allowed to say "Merry Christmas." Seventy-eight percent of the American people believe you should be allowed to have a prayer in school. You go down this long list of beliefs. And then Donaldson describes all of those people as yahoos? Makes me wonder who he thinks his audience has been all these years.
O'REILLY: Well --
GINGRICH: The fact, you know, it just -- it tells you how elitist some of the folks are in the media.
O'REILLY: There's no question that this Christmas controversy -- there are two good things that come out of it. Number one, we won. All right, even today, and we're going to do this, Wal-Mart is the last holdout. They're now Merry Christmasing. So that's a clear victory. And number two is, it exposed the secular media for what it is, because they have all come together, with the exception of the Ventura County Star, the only newspaper that's taken our point of view. All right? Or at least, you know, said they had some kind of good argument. But for people who didn't think there was an organized left-wing secular bias, here it is, right here.
GINGRICH: You know, you're the first secular person, I think, and -- at least that I can remember, who has had the courage to stand up and take on this whole issue. And you're not a religious leader. You don't -- you're not speaking from a pulpit. You're not -- you know, normally, that's where you get this kind of response. And you've had the courage for weeks now, and I've on several occasions been with you on this, to raise this issue and raise this issue and raise this issue. And I think you have done something important for America in legitimizing that it's OK for those of us who believe in Christmas. It's OK for those of us who believe we ought to say "one nation under God." We have every right to stand up, too. And it turns out when we stand up, we overwhelmingly outnumber those who would like this to be a European secular-style society.
O'REILLY: You know, I like the debate. It's an interesting debate, but the personal attacks leveled at me and other people who have taken the position that Christmas should be respected should be -- "Happy Holidays" is fine. Just don't ban "Merry Christmas," that's all we're saying. But the personal attacks just show you how vicious and how, you know, intense this whole thing is. Give you the last word, Mr. Speaker, as always.
GINGRICH: Well, look, I think it's this intense, Bill, because in their world, they want a future that radically different. And they recognize if you're allowed to talk honestly about it, the people are going to side with you.
In her November 13 column, Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell wrote that Post polling director Richard Morin told her that the Post does not "do a poll on whether President Bush should be impeached" because such a question "is biased and would produce a misleading result." Media Matters for America pointed out the inconsistency in Morin's claim: the Post, under Morin's direction, asked similar questions about then-President Bill Clinton throughout 1998. Morin has now changed his story, saying that "we do not ask about impeachment because it is not a serious option or a topic of considered discussion."
Howell wrote on November 13 of reader requests for the Post to conduct a poll to measure public support for impeachment:
First, there was a swarm to me and to Post Polling Editor Richard Morin asking that The Post do a poll on whether President Bush should be impeached. Whoa. Since we get mail all the time saying that we are biased against Bush or are in his back pocket, why would The Post want to do that? The question many demanded that The Post ask is biased and would produce a misleading result, Morin said; he added that the campaign was started by Democrats.com.
Media Matters pointed out flaws in Howell's -- and Morin's -- position:
Howell didn't explain how "the question many demanded the Post ask is biased," she just asserted it (attributing the assertion to Morin). But how would it be biased? Surely it must be possible to design a poll question to measure the public's support for impeachment that isn't "biased." After all, the Post did it repeatedly when there was a Democratic president.
For example, A January 1998 Post poll conducted just days after the first revelations of Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky asked the following questions:
"If this affair did happen and if Clinton did not resign, is this something for which Clinton should be impeached, or not?"
"There are also allegations that Clinton himself lied by testifying under oath that he did not have an affair with the woman. If Clinton lied in this way, would you want him to remain in office as president, or would you want him to resign the presidency?"
"If Clinton lied by testifying under oath that he did not have an affair with the woman, and he did not resign, is this something for which Clinton should be impeached, or not?"
Morin was the Post's polling director at the time, and he wrote the January 26, 1998, article reporting the poll results.
How is "If the president did not tell the truth about the Iraq war, should he be impeached?" a more biased question than the questions the Post -- under Morin's direction -- asked in 1998? They take precisely the same format: If X is true, should the president be impeached?
In a December 20 online chat on the Post's website, Morin flippantly dismissed questions about the Post's failure to poll about impeachment, ignored the inconsistency between his statement to Howell and the fact that the Post polled about impeachment in 1998, and made the new claim that the Post doesn't conduct such a poll now because "it is not a serious option or a topic of considered discussion." From Morin's chat:
Naperville, Ill.: Why haven't you polled on public support for the impeachment of George W. Bush?
Richard Morin: This question makes me mad...
Seattle, Wash.: How come ABC News/Post poll has not yet polled on impeachment?
Richard Morin: Getting madder...
Haymarket, Va.: With all the recent scandals and illegal/unconstitutional actions of the President, why hasn't ABC News / Washington Post polled whether the President should be impeached?
Richard Morin: Madder still...
Dublin, Ireland: In a statement on Sunday, John Dean, former White House counsel during Watergate, stated that President Bush is "the first President to admit to an impeachable offense." Will The Washington Post be polling about impeachment of the President in the near future, now that this topic has taken on national significance?
Richard Morin: An impeachment demand from Ireland? Oh my gawd. Now I'm furious.
Let me explain.
For the past eight months or so, the major media pollsters have been the target of a campaign organized by a Democratic website demanding that we ask a question about impeaching Bush in our polls.
The website lists the e-mail addresses of every media pollster, reporters as well as others. The Post's ombudsman is even on their hit list.
The website helpfully provides draft language that can be cut-and-pasted into a blanket e-mail.
The net result is that every few months, when this website fires up the faithful with another call for e-mails, my mailbox is filled with dozens and dozens of messages that all read exactly the same (often from the same people, again and again). Most recently, a psychology professor from Arizona State University sent me the copy-and-paste e-mail, not a word or comma was changed. I only hope his scholarship is more original.
We first laughed about it. Now, four waves into this campaign,we are annoyed. Really, really annoyed.
Some free advice: You do your cause no service by organizing or participating in such a campaign. It is viewed by me and others with the same scorn reserved for junk mail. Perhaps a bit more.
That said, we do not ask about impeachment because it is not a serious option or a topic of considered discussion --witness the fact that no member of congressional Democratic leadership or any of the serious Democratic presidential candidates in '08 are calling for Bush's impeachment. When it is or they are, we will ask about it in our polls.
The Post first reported the Lewinsky story on January 21, 1998. The newspaper began polling on the question of whether the public would support impeachment just two days later, on January 23 -- hardly long enough for the "considered discussion" Morin now says is a prerequisite for asking about impeachment.
Nowhere in Morin's new explanation does he claim that a question about impeachment would be "biased" or "would produce a misleading result," as Howell says Morin originally told her. Further, his new claim that the Post does not ask about impeachment because "no member of congressional Democratic leadership or any of the serious Democratic presidential candidates" are calling for it does not ring true. After all, one recent Post poll asked, "Should all U.S. forces in Iraq be withdrawn immediately, or should they be decreased, but not all withdrawn immediately" -- despite the fact that no member of the congressional Democratic leadership has called for the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq. Finally, Morin's statement that impeachment is not "a topic of considered discussion" seems to be at odds with the findings of other polls showing that the majority of Americans think Bush should be impeached if he lied about Iraq.
At the end of his chat, Morin posted a question (submitted by Media Matters staff) that raised the inconsistency between his comments to Howell and the Post's prior actions. Morin did not respond to the question:
Richard Morin: Okay, there are a LOT of angry comments directed at me over my impeachment poll response(s). We're out of time, but I do want to share them with you.
Here they come...Welcome to my world! And see you next time.
Washington, D.C.: In her November 13 column, Post Ombusdman Deborah Howell addressed reader requests for The Post to polls to measure public support for impeachment.
Howell wrote: "First, there was a swarm to me and to Post Polling Editor Richard Morin asking that The Post do a poll on whether President Bush should be impeached ... The question many demanded that The Post ask is biased and would produce a misleading result, Morin said; he added that the campaign was started by Democrats.com."
Please explain WHY a question asking if President Bush should be impeached if he lied to the country about war is "biased".
Please also explain how this is consistent with polls the Post ran -- under your direction, I might add -- in 1998 asking whether then-President Clinton should be impeached if he had an affair with Monica Lewinsky. Do you now believe those questions you asked -- and reported on -- throughout 1998 were "biased"? If so, do you believe you and The Post owe Clinton an apology?
Why does The Post think it is appropriate to raise the spectre of impeachment when there is a Democratic president, but not when there is a Republican in office?
For more information, see this post: Media continues to ignore impeachment polling
Richard Morin: still another...
During a December 19 press conference, the White House press corps largely failed to challenge President Bush's evasive answers and, in some cases, prefaced their questions with praise. A significant share of the reporters' questions pertained to the recent revelation that Bush had authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct domestic surveillance without a warrant. But they allowed him to provide evasive answers without follow-up and failed completely to ask a central question arising from the administration's defense of its actions: Given the administration's claim that taking the time to obtain a warrant before spying would compromise national security in particular cases, why didn't the administration invoke its authority under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and set up surveillance, then seek the warrant within the law's 72-hour window?
In his opening statement, Bush defended his decision to grant the NSA authority to eavesdrop on international phone calls that originate from or are received within the United States without court approval:
BUSH: To save American lives, we must be able to act fast and to detect these conversations so we can prevent new attacks. So, consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution, I authorized the interception of international communications of people with known links to Al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations.
During the subsequent question-and-answer portion of the press conference, Bush called on 13 reporters, seven of whom asked questions about the secret wiretapping program. But not one of these reporters directly challenged Bush's assertion that the need to act immediately was the rationale for bypassing the judicial review legally required for such surveillance, even as he continued to repeat this argument.
Associated Press White House correspondent Terence Hunt first asked, "Why did you skip the basic safeguard of asking courts for permission for these intercepts?" But Hunt's overly general question let Bush simply reiterate the explanation he provided in the opening statement: that the "current program ... enables us to move faster and quicker":
BUSH: Right after September the 11th, I knew we were fighting a different kind of war. And so I asked people in my administration to analyze how best for me and our government to do the job people expect us to do, which is to detect and prevent a possible attack. That's what the American people want. We looked at the possible scenarios. And the people responsible for helping us protect and defend came forth with the current program, because it enables us to move faster and quicker. And that's important. We've got to be fast on our feet, quick to detect and prevent.
The problem with this argument is that the court created under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to provide warrants for such wiretaps is specifically designed to enable quick action. Not only does the so-called FISA Court often authorize these warrants within hours and even minutes, the statute itself empowers the government to obtain a warrant up to 72 hours after starting surveillance.
In light of these facts, Bush's response might have elicited this follow-up question: "Mr. President, you have said that the NSA wiretapping program you authorized enables the government to 'move faster and quicker' in its efforts to detect terrorist activities and prevent future attacks. But if the current law allows authorities to obtain warrants for wiretaps retroactively -- up to 72 hours after the fact -- can you explain how exactly FISA hindered fast and quick action?"
Bloomberg White House correspondent Richard Keil did specifically note that FISA warrant authorizations can be applied retroactively. But he did not ask Bush why he didn't use the retroactive warrant provision; he simply asked why Bush had to "sidetrack" the process established in FISA, given "such a powerful tool of law enforcement." His question allowed Bush to again answer that he authorized the program to allow for "quick action":
KEIL: Getting back to the domestic spying issue for a moment, according to FISA's own records, it's received nearly 19,000 requests for wiretaps or search warrants since 1979, rejected just five of them. It also operates in secret, so security shouldn't be a concern. And it can be applied retroactively. Given such a powerful tool of law enforcement is at your disposal, sir, why did you see fit to sidetrack that process?
BUSH: We used the process to monitor. But also, this is a different -- a different era, a different war, Stretch [Bush's nickname for Keil]. So what we're -- people are changing phone numbers and phone calls, and they're moving quick. And we've got to be able to detect and prevent. I keep saying that, but this is a -- it requires quick action.
The press failed to ask other follow-up questions as well. For example, Washington Post White House correspondent Peter Baker asked what Bush considered to be the limits on executive power during wartime. The president responded by citing congressional oversight and the law as "the limits on this particular program":
BAKER: I wonder if you can tell us today, sir, what, if any, limits you believe there are or should be on the powers of a president during a war -- at wartime? And if the global war on terror is going to last for decades, as has been forecast, does that mean that we're going to see, therefore, a more or less permanent expansion of the unchecked power of the executive in American society?
BUSH: First of all, I disagree with your assertion of "unchecked power."
BAKER: Well --
BUSH: Hold on for a second, please. There is the check of people being sworn to uphold the law, for starters. There is oversight. We're talking to Congress all the time, and on this program, to suggest there's unchecked power is not listening to what I'm telling you. I'm telling you, we have briefed the United States Congress on this program a dozen times. This is an awesome responsibility to make decisions on behalf of the American people, and I understand that, Peter. And we'll continue to work with the Congress, as well as people within our own administration, to constantly monitor programs such as the one I described to you, to make sure that we're protecting the civil liberties of the United States. To say "unchecked power" basically is ascribing some kind of dictatorial position to the president, which I strongly reject.
BAKER: What limits do you --
BUSH: I just described limits on this particular program, Peter. And that's what's important for the American people to understand. I am doing what you expect me to do, and at the same time, safeguarding the civil liberties of the country.
As the above transcript shows, Bush not only avoided addressing the full scope of the original question but also prevented Baker from asking a follow-up question, and no other reporter followed up. No other reporter noted that Democrats have disputed administration claims about the extent to which they were briefed. No other reporter noted that members of Congress who reportedly expressed concerns at the time -- including Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D WV) and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) -- were prohibited by law from publicly airing those concerns. No other reporter pointed out that, even if Bush did meaningfully inform members of Congress about the administration's actions, simply being told by the administration of what it is doing, regardless of the law, does not allow for meaningful oversight.
Bush similarly deflected a question from CBS White House correspondent John Roberts regarding "the biggest mistake" he believes he has made since taking office. Roberts prefaced his question by complimenting what he described as the "remarkable spirit of candor" the president has exhibited in recent weeks:
ROBERTS: But, sir, you've shown a remarkable spirit of candor in the last couple of weeks in your conversation and speeches about Iraq. And I'm wondering if, in that spirit, I might ask you a question that you didn't seem to have an answer for the last time you were asked, and that is, what would you say is the biggest mistake you've made during your presidency, and what have you learned from it?
BUSH: Answering [Time magazine's John] Dickerson's question. No, I -- the last time those questions were asked, I really felt like it was an attempt for me to say it was a mistake to go into Iraq. And it wasn't a mistake to go into Iraq. It was the right decision to make.
I think that, John, there's going to be a lot of analysis done on the decisions on the ground in Iraq. For example, I'm fully aware that some have said it was a mistake not to put enough troops there immediately -- or more troops. I made my decision based upon the recommendations of [Gen.] Tommy Franks, and I still think it was the right decision to make. But history will judge.
I said the other day that a mistake was trying to train a civilian defense force and an Iraqi army at the same time, but not giving the civilian defense force enough training and tools necessary to be able to battle a group of thugs and killers. And so we adjusted.
And the point I'm trying to make to the American people in this, as you said, candid dialogue -- I hope I've been candid all along; but in the candid dialogue -- is to say, we're constantly changing our tactics to meet the changing tactics of an enemy. And that's important for our citizens to understand.
Rather than ask pointed questions or follow-ups to other reporters' questions, some took the opportunity instead to lob softballs. For example, Dallas Morning News White House correspondent David Jackson told the president, "I know how you feel about polls" before asking him a question regarding his lagging approval ratings. In fact, Media Matters for America has debunked the widely repeated claim that Bush ignores polls. Washington Times White House correspondent Joseph Curl lobbed the softest softball of the day, one reminiscent of erstwhile White House correspondent Jeff Gannon, whom Media Matters first exposed as a pseudo-journalist who was quick to provide a safety net for Bush officials during press conferences when tough questions were being asked. Curl asked Bush, " Do you really expect congressional Democrats to end partisan warfare and embrace your war strategy?"
On the December 19 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly responded to Nicholas D. Kristof's December 18 New York Times column (TimesSelect subscription required), "A Challenge for Bill O'Reilly," which implored O'Reilly to focus on something other than the so-called "war on Christmas."
O'Reilly accused Kristof of "print[ing] material from a left-wing smear site, claiming I want the Air America pinheads put in jail." O'Reilly defended his comments as "humorous talk radio hyperbole." The "left-wing smear site" in question -- Media Matters for America -- previously reported the statements by O'Reilly to which Kristof had referred, taken from the June 20 broadcast of O'Reilly's nationally syndicated radio show, The Radio Factor:
O'REILLY: Everybody got it? Dissent, fine; undermining, you're a traitor. Got it? So, all those clowns over at the liberal radio network, we could incarcerate them immediately. Will you have that done, please? Send over the FBI and just put them in chains, because they, you know, they're undermining everything and they don't care, couldn't care less.
O'Reilly then maintained that Kristof went "completely off the rails" for writing of O'Reilly:
Perhaps I'm particularly sensitive to religious hypocrites because I've spent a chunk of time abroad watching Muslim versions of Mr. O'Reilly -- demagogic table-thumpers who exploit public religiosity as a cynical ploy to gain attention and money.
"So now I'm Mullah Omar," responded O'Reilly, displaying a photo with a beard and turban superimposed over his face. O'Reilly then said of Kristof: "How nuts is this guy?"
From the December 19 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
O'REILLY: The secular progressive movement has taken a major bruising over attempts to marginalize Christmas. And as you know, we have reported extensively on the controversy. Last week, the House actually voted 401 to 22 to respect the traditions of Christmas. That's a good thing. Well, that's angered the SP [secular progressive] press, which has attacked me with glee. The latest is New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who writes, "Let us all pray for Bill O'Reilly. Let us pray that Mr. O'Reilly will understand that the Christmas spirit isn't about hectoring people to say 'Merry Christmas,' rather than 'Happy Holidays,' but about helping the needy. Let's pray that Mr. O'Reilly and other money-changers in the temple will donate the funds they raise exploiting Christmas -- covering the nonexistent 'War on Christmas' rakes in viewers and advertising -- to feed the hungry and house the homeless."
While I always appreciate prayers, Mr. Kristof, you are sadly misguided, sir. As anyone who watches this program knows, we donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to the poor each year through proceeds from billoreilly.com. In fact, I think it is safe to say this year alone, I have donated more money to help the poor than you have in your entire life. What say you, Nicholas Kristof? As for the "nonexistent" Christmas controversy, this proves Mr. Kristof is absolutely clueless, a trait he shares with many at The New York Times. Perhaps Kristof missed the Gallup poll last week that said 62 percent of Americans believe saying 'Happy Holidays' instead of 'Merry Christmas' is not a good thing. And only 3 percent feel the greeting 'Merry Christmas' is offensive in any way. Kristof also accuses me of ignoring important stories like the suffering in Darfur. Wrong again. I've consistently asked the U.S.A. to lead the way at the U.N. by confronting opponents to strong action against the Sudan like France:
O'REILLY [July 13, 2004, video clip]: But basically, it looks like in the Sudan, where at least 10,000 people have died, and over a million have been driven from their homes, that the French government simply does not want to put U.N. sanctions on that country.
O'REILLY: Well, Kristof doesn't know what he's talking about, but he objects to me calling him a left-wing ideologue. Yet he prints material from a left-wing smear site, claiming I want the Air America pinheads put in jail. That riff on The Radio Factor was humorous talk radio hyperbole, as anybody listening would know. But good ol' Nick doesn't listen. He takes dishonest propaganda and prints it as fact. That's what ideologues do. Kristof then goes completely off the rails, writing, "Perhaps I'm particularly sensitive to religious hypocrites because I've spent a chunk of time abroad watching Muslim versions of Mr. O'Reilly -- demagogic table-thumpers who exploit public religiosity as a cynical ploy to gain attention and money."
So now I'm Mullah Omar. There I am. How nuts is this guy? The shame is that Kristof has done good work on Darfur and human trafficking, but he's a committed secularist and is seemingly happy to write distortions all day long. But in the spirit of Christmas, I've asked St. Nicholas to bring our pal Nicholas a special gift -- the wisdom to see what's really going on in this country and to do some honest analysis. And that's the Memo. By the way, we invited Kristof on The Factor this evening, but he apparently is too busy reading those left-wing smear sites.
CLIPS: Brooks, Matthews on illegal immigrants' "culture of criminality"; Parker: "[T]hey are not assimilating, they're not learning English"
On the December 18 broadcast of NBC's syndicated The Chris Matthews Show, New York Times columnist David Brooks asserted that illegal immigrants come to the United States "with a culture of criminality." Discussing a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey, columnist Kathleen Parker, dubbed by her syndication service as "a maverick conservative," attributed attitudes toward illegal immigrants to the feeling "that the loyalties of those people [Hispanics] are for their countries back home ... rather than to the United States. And because they are not assimilating, they're not learning English." NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell disagreed with both Brooks's and Parker's assertions. When Mitchell said, "[T]here's no way you can say that the people who are coming in now have a culture of criminality," host Chris Matthews disagreed: "No -- it's about them coming in illegally -- they come in illegally to start with."
From the December 18 broadcast of NBC's syndicated The Chris Matthews Show:
MATTHEWS: But what about people that choose to come in the country illegally? What are we going to do about that? What do we do?
MITCHELL: Well, there has to be a way, and the compromise that might emerge from this legislation might be the way -- but the most interesting thing in the NBC poll this week, the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, is how huge majorities of people who are against the immigration now and think that they're -- they should not be coming, they're illegal, are in favor of the immigrants that came a hundred years ago. People have a very different attitude toward our ancestors who came --
MATTHEWS: -- from Europe.
MITCHELL: Our grandparents who came, our ancestors who came from Europe. And what's the difference? Skin color.
MATTHEWS: I think the -- vast-- further, Kathleen --
PARKER: No, I think it's because they feel -- basically, we're talking about Hispanics, right? And they think that -- they feel that the loyalties of those people are for their countries back home --
MITCHELL: I think it's racist.
PARKER: -- rather than to the United States. And because they are not assimilating, they're not learning English and, you know --
MITCHELL: Any more so than the Irish or the white, the white immigrants?
JOE KLEIN [Time magazine columnist]: A hundred years ago, people said the same thing about the Italians and the Jews that they're saying about the Mexicans now. There's an awful lot of -- There's an awful -- There's an awful -- There's an awful lot of nodding and winking.
MATTHEWS: So why do -- why do -- Go ahead, David.
BROOKS: This is important. This is important -- it's not racist -- when the immigrants -- Listen, I'm for pretty open immigration. But when the immigrants come, they come with a culture of criminality. It's out of control, and I can see people wanting to put the system in control.
MITCHELL: I don't how you can say that, David. I don't know how you can say that. I disagree profoundly.
KLEIN: This is the biggest domestic issue in this country right now.
MATTHEWS: I want to know what the counter-argument is. Should -- do -- has anybody openly say whether it's the organized Latino groups or business groups that say it's OK that people come in this country and the first thing they do is break the law by coming in, is anybody willing to say that openly?
KLEIN: There's a lot of nodding and winking. People say it, but they don't believe it. The business community wants the status quo.
MATTHEWS: They want illegal hire --
KLEIN: They want to be able to be able to keep on hiring people --
MATTHEWS: People that are in the country illegally.
MITCHELL: Absolutely. California and Florida growers depend upon these -- these migrant workers. And that is part of the economic underpinning of it. But I really believe that, that there's no way you can say that the people who are coming in now have a culture of criminality. No more so than you can say it about Jewish ancestors --
MATTHEWS: No -- it's about them coming in illegally -- they come in illegally to start with --
BROOKS: There's no control -- no system --
MATTHEWS: Kathleen. Kathleen. Last word. Is this going to be a big political issue the president has to bow to, whatever his politics are?
PARKER: Yeah, he's got to deal with it. Absolutely.
In its coverage leading up to and following President Bush's December 18 address from the Oval Office, Fox News provided 74 minutes of analysis and discussion without including a single Democrat or progressive, despite the fact that Fox News anchor Brit Hume characterized the speech as a chance for Bush to "address his critics." No Democrats or progressives appeared during the hour of coverage leading up to the address, and it was not until 9:32 p.m. ET -- 14 minutes after Bush had finished -- that Democratic National Committee vice chairwoman Susan Turnbull appeared to discuss the speech opposite Republican strategist Brad Blakeman. In the absence of any critics of the administration's strategy for war in Iraq, it was left to Hume and correspondent Carl Cameron to interpret how critics were likely to respond to Bush's speech.
Prior to the speech, Fox News aired a special edition of The O'Reilly Factor. Guests included Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew P. Napolitano, former White House counsel for presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush David Rivkin, former Clinton adviser Dick Morris, a re-airing of portions of Fox News host Bill O'Reilly's interview with Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, former House Speaker and Fox News political contributor Newt Gingrich, and Fox News war correspondent Geraldo Rivera.
Immediately before and after the speech, Hume moderated a panel that included Fox News' Beltway Boys host and Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes, Roll Call executive editor Morton M. Kondracke, and Weekly Standard editor William Kristol.
On The O'Reilly Factor, all three of the guests who addressed the speech -- Morris, Gingrich, and Rivera -- predicted a strong and positive presentation of the Iraq war and of the administration's stance against its critics. Following the speech, Barnes, Kondracke, and Kristol all lauded the address. Without any guests to oppose them, the panel either praised Bush's remarks or attacked potential -- although absent -- critics. Some examples include:
Fox News did not air criticism until well after the address, when Turnbull appeared on a panel with Blakeman.
In addition to offering unfettered praise, Hume and Cameron -- reporting to the panel of Barnes, Kondracke, and Kristol -- asked questions of Democrats and other opponents of the administration without any of those critics present to answer. Rather, Hume and Cameron proposed various possible criticisms, only to let the panel shoot them down. For example, Cameron uncritically reported the president's response to a "defeatist position "and "cut and run strategy" that Cameron then claimed were "offered up" by Murtha. Similarly, Hume raised the position that "victory can best be gained by withdrawal" and then stated, "I wonder how that argument is likely to do after this wave of presidential and other speeches."
From Fox News' special coverage of Bush's December 18 speech:
CAMERON: Making it clear that he [Bush] has heard what he described as their -- he's heard their disagreement and knows how deeply they felt it, but imploring them to stop what the administration has repeatedly called a defeatist position, a cut-and-run strategy as offered up and criticized by somebody in the White House, as offered up by John Murtha.
HUME: That gets us to what some of the Democrats have been arguing, which is that because, and they cite that poll that Fred [Barnes] has somewhat skewered here and the other realities of the fact that we are a target and so forth, that victory can best be gained by withdrawal. I wonder how that argument is likely to do after this wave of presidential and other speeches?
December 19, 2005
On the December 15 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, host Chris Matthews did not challenge Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) when he made the false claim that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, chaired by former Sen. Charles Robb (D-VA) and Reagan appointee Judge Laurence H. Silberman, exonerated the Bush administration of misusing intelligence on Iraq or misleading the American public prior to the start of the Iraq war. Matthews did not correct Bond when he asserted that the "Senate Intelligence Committee and the Silberman-Robb committee both said it was the inadequacy of the intelligence, not any massaging or misleading of the public" by the Bush administration that led the United States into the Iraq war on false pretenses.
In fact, as Media Matters for America previously noted, neither the Senate Intelligence Committee's "Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq" nor the Robb-Silberman commission's report to the president addressed the question of whether the Bush administration "massag[ed]" the intelligence it received or misled the American public. The Senate Intelligence Committee report determined that intelligence assessments on Iraq were not tainted by "pressure" that analysts received from policymakers, but it did not investigate whether the Bush administration misused that intelligence or misled the public. The committee postponed analysis of the latter until after the 2004 presidential election, pledging to include it in the second phase of its investigation. The Robb-Silberman report similarly excluded examination of the use of intelligence, noting: "[W]e were not authorized to investigate how policymakers used the intelligence assessments they received from the Intelligence Community."
From the December 15 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Senator Bond. Same question. A big bet on the table, lots of chips, lots of American lives lost, endangered, lots of casualties, a half-trillion dollars in expenditure. Has the bet paid off? Do we have a working democracy on the way in Iraq?
BOND: We're moving in that direction, and it looks very good. The information on which the president went into war was intelligence which was not adequate because our intelligence system had been substantially downgraded in the '90s. But our Senate Intelligence Committee and the Silberman-Robb committee both said it was the inadequacy of the intelligence, not any massaging or misleading of the public. Now, the president has gone on record to talk about what's going right in Iraq. And I can tell you from troops in the field, including my son, who say that they hear nothing about the good things that are going on, and the president is talking about and will talk about the fact that the Iraqis are going to vote, they're participating. They've got a long way to go to establish a government, but this is certainly an encouraging sign that Iraqis of all religious faiths want a -- want a democracy.
On the December 19 broadcast of NBC's Today, host Katie Couric asked NBC News Washington bureau chief Tim Russert whether the debate over the Bush administration's secret use of domestic surveillance without a warrant amounted to "legal analysts and constitutional scholars versus Americans, who say civil liberties are important, but we don't want another September 11." Russert responded, "Exactly right."
Couric's assertion, with which Russert agreed, is problematic for numerous reasons. First, Couric's question suggested that the very act of questioning President Bush's legal authority to undertake domestic surveillance is inconsistent with wanting to prevent "another September 11." Second, Couric's statement suggested that the view of "constitutional scholars" that Bush should obey the law is at odds with the views of most Americans. Third, the statement suggested that Americans support the Bush administration's apparent position that it has unlimited authority to do whatever it deems necessary -- regardless of the law -- to prevent another terrorist attack. Finally, the statement sets up exactly the false debate that the administration is advocating in its defense of its practice of engaging in domestic surveillance. For example, Vice President Dick Cheney defended the practice as necessary to protect national security. He said, "It's the kind of capability -- if we'd had before 9-11 -- might have led us to be able to prevent 9-11." And Bush himself, in a December 17 radio address, argued that the secret eavesdropping program was necessary to "detect and prevent possible terrorist attacks in the United States."
From the December 19 broadcast of NBC's Today:
COURIC: At the same time, Tim, you know, considering the Constitution, the rule of law, is this going to be a case of a debate by legal analysts and constitutional scholars versus Americans, who say civil liberties are important, but we don't want another September 11?
RUSSERT: Exactly right. The court of public opinion and what's going on in Congress.
A peaceful religious protest on December 14 against Republican-sponsored budget cuts in social programs -- in which more than 100 participants were arrested -- went virtually unreported by major news outlets. A search* of major newspapers and broadcast and cable TV news from December 13-15 found only a handful of newspapers that carried news of the protest and a single broadcast mention on NBC.
On December 14, a coalition of religious groups organized by Rev. Jim Wallis of Call to Renewal, a faith-based organization dedicated to combating poverty, and Sojourners, "a Christian ministry whose mission is to proclaim and practice the biblical call to integrate spiritual renewal and social justice," protested Republican proposals in the House and Senate to cut spending on the poor while extending tax cuts that will primarily benefit the wealthy. According to the Sojourners website, the protesters "kneeled in prayer blocking the entrance to the Cannon House Office Building" in Washington, D.C. The bills passed in the House were presumably the primary targets of the protest, because those measures would cut spending on social programs by a greater amount than similar legislation in the Senate and also would benefit the wealthy to a greater degree by extending tax cuts on investments. The House budget legislation would cut spending on social programs for the poor by $50 billion while sacrificing $94 billion in government revenue to extend tax cuts, more than three-quarters of which would go to the 14 percent of U.S. households making more than $100,000 a year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). As the San Francisco Chronicle reported on November 19, the spending reductions would include $14.3 billion in cuts to student loan programs, $11.4 billion in cuts to Medicaid, and $4.9 billion in cuts to child support enforcement. The measure would also cut off 220,000 people from receiving food stamps.
But the December 14 protest was largely ignored by the media. The Associated Press (AP) and Reuters both issued wire reports mentioning the arrests, and a search of the 87 newspapers in the Nexis major newspapers database from December 13-15 found only 10 mentions of the event. While The Washington Post ran a December 14 article that reported the upcoming protest in the context of contrasting conservative and liberal religious leaders' views on the proposed budget, the only follow-up report in the paper was a photograph of the arrests, published on December 15. The San Francisco Chronicle also ran an article on December 13, prior to the protest, but did not offer a follow-up article discussing the arrests. The New York Times included a one-sentence description of the protest and subsequent arrests in a December 15 article focusing on Republican plans to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling. The St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Minneapolis Star Tribune each ran, on December 15, brief mentions of the protests in articles about political strategies or legislation before the House and Senate, and The Denver Post published a column discussing the protest on December 15 by staff columnist Diane Carman. Also on December 15, the Chicago Tribune ran an article on the protest, and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram printed the AP wire story about the arrests. Internationally, the Toronto Star mentioned the protest in a December 15 article on Pentagon budget requests.
NBC's Nightly News was the only broadcast evening news program that reported on the event. Neither ABC nor CBS acknowledged the protest on their evening news broadcasts, nor did any of the three network morning news shows: Today (NBC), The Early Show (CBS), and Good Morning America (ABC). Further, no prime-time cable news show mentioned the event.*
* Nexis searches of major newspapers, as well as, NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC news files, with search terms "protest! or activist! w/50 relig! or budget or sojourner or faith" from December 13 through 15.
Wash. Post, Special Report falsely cast Bush's claim that DeLay is innocent as inconsistent with White House response to CIA leak investigation
Both a December 15 report by Fox News correspondent Major Garrett and a December 16 Washington Post article by staff writer Jonathan Weisman mischaracterized as an aberration President Bush's recent statement that "I do" believe former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) is innocent of money laundering charges. Weisman wrote that Bush's statement was an "apparent inconsistency," when compared with how the White House has "deflected questions" about the CIA leak investigation "by saying they could not comment on ongoing investigations." On Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, Garrett similarly purported to identify the "difference" in how the White House handled questions about the DeLay and Plame investigations. In fact, the Bush administration's initial responses to the two investigations were completely consistent: In each case, the administration made a premature statement presuming that a White House ally was innocent before an investigation into the alleged wrongdoing had taken place. Moreover, in the CIA leak investigation case, administration officials continued to comment on the proceedings when they deemed it in their interests to do so, despite the administration's official position that it does not comment on ongoing investigations.
Weisman noted that in a December 14 interview on Special Report, Bush declared that he believes DeLay is innocent of the charges on which he has been indicted in Texas. But Weisman then relied upon White House press secretary Scott McClellan to falsely report that Bush's comment about DeLay is inconsistent with how the administration has handled questions about the Justice Department's investigation into the outing of former undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame:
During an interview Wednesday on the Fox News Channel, Bush was asked whether he believes DeLay is innocent of the charges of money laundering and conspiracy that led to his indictment in Texas and resignation from the House Republican leadership in September. "Yes, I do," the president replied.
That response pushed the White House on the defensive yesterday. Administration officials have repeatedly deflected questions about other legal probes -- especially Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald's inquiry into the leaking of CIA operative Valerie Plame's name -- by saying they could not comment on ongoing investigations. White House spokesman Scott McClellan called the apparent inconsistency a "presidential prerogative."
"The president was asked a question and he responded to that question in the interview yesterday, and made very clear what his views were," McClellan said. "We don't typically tend to get into discussing legal matters of that nature, but in this instance, the president chose to respond to it. Our policy regarding the Fitzgerald investigation and ongoing legal proceeding is well-known and it remains unchanged."
On the December 15 broadcast of Special Report, Garrett similarly framed the purported "difference" between how the White House handled questions related to the DeLay and Plame cases:
GARRETT: In an interview yesterday with Fox News Washington managing editor Brit Hume, the president declined to discuss Travis County [Texas] Prosecutor Ronnie Earle, but offered this opinion of DeLay's legal status.
[begin video clip]
BUSH: I want this trial to be conducted as fairly as possible. And the more -- the more politics that are in it, the less likely it's going to be fair.
HUME: Do you believe he's innocent?
BUSH: DeLay? Yes, I do.
[end video clip]
GARRETT: The White House has refused to comment on the ongoing Valerie Plame investigation, including this week's statement from columnist Robert Novak that he's, quote, "confident," unquote, the president knows who leaked Plame's identity while she was a CIA operative.
SEN. CHARLES E. SCHUMER (D-NY) [clip]: If the president can comment on an ongoing investigation relevant to Mr. DeLay, he can comment on an ongoing investigation relevant to the Plame affair.
GARRETT: The president's spokesman said the White House will continue to say nothing about the Plame investigation. He then tried to explain the DeLay difference.
[begin video clip]
McCLELLAN: We put a policy in place regarding this investigation.
DAVID GREGORY [NBC News chief White House correspondent]: You have a policy for some investigations and not others when it's a political ally who you need to get work done?
McCLELLAN: Call it, presidential prerogative.
[end video clip]
In fact, much like Bush suggesting DeLay is innocent, it was McClellan himself -- in an October 7, 2003, press briefing -- who prematurely stated that both I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, and White House senior adviser Karl Rove were "not involved" in outing Plame. Two years after McClellan's declaration, Libby was indicted on charges of perjury, obstruction, and making false statements about conversations he had about Plame with reporters, while it also became firmly established that Rove discussed Plame with reporters prior to her identity being publicly disclosed by syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak. Rove reportedly remains under investigation in the case.
Further, while the administration has repeatedly maintained in recent months that administration officials are not free to comment on the CIA leak investigation, they have apparently done so when they have considered it in their best interests. For example, the Associated Press noted in a November 20 report that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld denied he was the source who first disclosed Plame's identity to Washington Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward. Woodward is reportedly the first journalist to have learned that Plame worked for the CIA. The AP also reported that an aide to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice similarly denied that Rice first mentioned Plame to Woodward, and that "[a] person familiar with the investigation has said that Vice President Dick Cheney was not the unidentified source who told Woodward about Plame's CIA status."
As Think Progress has documented, in an October 18 press briefing, McClellan stated that "our policy is not to comment on an investigation while it's ongoing," including answering "any question relating to it." However, McClellan then responded to a question related to the CIA leak investigation: When questioned as to whether Bush and Cheney had been asked to appear before Fitzgerald a second time, McClellan answered that they had not.
From Bush's December 14 interview on Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
HUME: Do you hope and expect that Tom DeLay will return to be a majority leader?
BUSH: Yes. At least, I don't know whether I can expect that. I hope that he will.
BUSH: 'Cause, I like him -- and plus, I -- when he's over there, we get our votes through the House. We had a remarkable success of legislative victories -- a remarkable string of legislative victories. We've cut the taxes, which has yielded a strong economic growth and vitality. We've had an energy bill that began to put America on its way to independence. I say began, there's a lot more work to be done there. We've had some good legal reforms. We've had strong support for our troops in combat. We've had a good record. We were for Medicare, I mean, there's a string of successes, and I give Tom a lot of credit for it. The speaker [Dennis Hastert (R-IL)] gets credit, but Tom gets a lot of credit, too.
HUME: You know a thing or two about Texas politics. What is your judgment of the prosecutor in the case, Ronnie Earle?
BUSH: I'm not going to go there, simply because I want -- I want this trial to be conducted as fairly as possible. And the more -- the more politics that are in it, the less likely it's going to be fair.
HUME: Do you just -- Do you believe he's innocent?
BUSH: DeLay? Yes, I do.
From McClellan's October 7, 2003, press briefing:
QUESTION: Scott, you have said that you, personally, went to Scooter Libby, Karl Rove, and Elliot Abrams to ask them if they were the leakers. Is that what happened? Why did you do that, and can you describe the conversations you had with them? What was the question you asked?
McCLELLAN: Unfortunately, in Washington, D.C., at a time like this, there are a lot of rumors and innuendo. There are unsubstantiated accusations that are made. And that's exactly what happened in the case of these three individuals. They're good individuals, they're important members of our White House team, and that's why I spoke with them, so that I could come back to you and say that they were not involved [in leaking Plame's identity]. I had no doubt of that in the beginning, but I like to check my information to make sure it's accurate before I report back to you, and that's exactly what I did.
During ABC News' special coverage of President Bush's December 18 address to the nation, anchor Elizabeth Vargas claimed falsely that in his speech, Bush accepted "full responsibility" for the faulty intelligence used in making the case for war. In fact, Bush took responsibility only for the decision to invade Iraq and noted simply that "much of the intelligence was wrong."
From ABC News' special coverage of Bush's December 18 speech:
VARGAS: President Bush ending his remarks from the Oval Office tonight with the words of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, talking about the poem "Christmas Bells." This was the first time -- not the first time, but certainly the most high-profile time he's actually directly addressed the failures in intelligence that led up to the war, the failure to find weapons of mass destruction. He said, quote: "Much of the intelligence was wrong. I take full responsibility for that and for the decision to go to war."
But Bush never claimed responsibility for faulty intelligence. As he has done in other recent speeches, Bush accepted responsibility for the decision to invade, but not for bad intelligence. From Bush's December 18 speech:
BUSH: It is true that Saddam Hussein had a history of pursuing and using weapons of mass destruction. It is true that he systematically concealed those programs and blocked the work of U.N. weapons inspectors. It is true that many nations believed that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. But much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong. As your president, I am responsible for the decision to go into Iraq. Yet it was right to remove Saddam Hussein from power.
Vargas is the most recent media figure to wrongly credit Bush for accepting responsibility for bad prewar intelligence. As Media Matters for America documented, Fox News host Brit Hume, CNN hosts Wolf Blitzer and Soledad O'Brien, MSNBC anchor Chris Jansing, ABC host Robin Roberts, and National Public Radio (NPR) national political correspondent Mara Liasson also wrongly claimed that Bush took responsibility for failures in intelligence during a December 14 speech.
Clifford May and Andrew McCarthy provide misleading account of interrogation to defend controversial interrogation techniques
In a December 14 op-ed in USA Today, Clifford May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and former Republican National Committee communications director, and National Review Online contributor Andrew McCarthy misrepresented an incident involving the interrogation of an Iraqi police office with alleged ties to the insurgency. In their piece, which defends the necessity of using interrogation measures under certain circumstances that they say would be banned under the McCain amendment currently before Congress, McCarthy and May described the tactics used to extract information from the police officer, Yehiya Kadoori Hamoodi: "[U.S. Army Lt. Col. Allen] West fired his revolver to frighten the suspect. The trick worked. The terrorist talked. American lives were saved."
But, according to news accounts, interrogators did far more than fire a gun "to frighten the suspect." In fact, testimony from West's preliminary hearing into the incident revealed that American soldiers had beaten and threatened to execute Hammodi, according to a December 13, 2003, CNN.com article. Based on testimony and interviews of both West and Hamoodi, the May 27, 2004, New York Times offered this account of the interrogation:
Soldiers testified later that Mr. Hamoodi appeared to go for his weapon and needed to be subdued. Mr. Hamoodi said that one soldier punched him several times, and that he was handcuffed, shackled and blindfolded.
At the base, he said, they threw him, still bound, off the Humvee, then led him into the jail and eventually into an interrogation room. They pressed him for the details of an assassination plan, about which he knew nothing, he said. During the interrogation, he said, the translator kicked him in the shin and told him he needed to confess before Colonel West showed up to kill him.
Mr. Hamoodi said he felt relieved to hear the colonel was expected. He considered Colonel West to be ''calm, quiet, clever and sociable.'' When the colonel first entered the interrogation room, Mr. Hamoodi said, he thought, ''Here is the man who will treat me fairly.''
Then, he said, Colonel West cocked his gun.
Colonel West said that he did not then put a round in the gun's chamber but that he did place the pistol in his lap. He asked Mr. Hamoodi why he wanted to kill him. Mr. Hamoodi said that he protested, ''I've worked with you, I like you,'' but that Colonel West silenced his protest. Colonel West pressed for the names and locations of those involved in the supposed plot, and he got no answers.
Soon, the soldiers began striking and shoving Mr. Hamoodi. They were not instructed to do so by Colonel West but they were not stopped, either, they said. ''I didn't know it was wrong to hit a detainee,'' a 20-year-old soldier from Daytona Beach said at the hearing. Colonel West testified that he would have stopped the beating ''had it become too excessive.''
Eventually, the colonel and his soldiers moved Mr. Hamoodi outside, and threatened him with death. Colonel West said he fired a warning shot in the air and began counting down from five. He asked his soldiers to put Mr. Hamoodi's head in a sand-filled barrel usually used for clearing weapons. At the end of his count, Colonel West fired a shot into the barrel, angling his gun away from the Iraqi's head, he testified.
The Times article reported that West was fined $5,000 and retired from the Army.
May and McCarthy's article also stated as fact that after being beaten and threatened by U.S. interrogators, Hamoodi revealed information that saved "American lives," but the Times article called into question whether the police officer divulged useful intelligence:
But the record of his case is unclear on whether the Iraqi officer provided valuable information, and Mr. Hamoodi said in an interview that he did not, because he knew nothing.
According to the interpreter [who worked with U.S. interrogators], Mr. Hamoodi finally "admitted there would be attacks, and called out names." Mr. Hamoodi said that he was not sure what he told the Americans, but that it was meaningless information induced by fear and pain.
At least one man named by Mr. Hamoodi was taken into custody, according to testimony, and his home was searched. No plans for attacks on Americans or weapons were found. Colonel West testified that he did not know whether "any corroboration" of a plot was ever found, adding: "At the time I had to base my decision on the intelligence I received. It's possible that I was wrong about Mr. Hamoodi."
From the May-McCarthy op-ed in the December 14 edition of USA Today:
Contrary to what you might have heard, "ticking time-bomb" scenarios are not uncommon. Consider the situation faced by Army Lt. Col. Allen West: Fighting near Tikrit, he captured a suspect who refused to divulge information about a planned ambush.
West fired his revolver to frighten the suspect. The trick worked. The terrorist talked. American lives were saved. And West was accused of torture, charged with assault and drummed out of the military. Next time, will an officer in the same situation decide to let Americans be killed -- believing that's what Americans back home demand?
Following Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin's remarks criticizing U.S. global environmental policies, a number of conservative media figures have attacked Canada, hurling baseless accusations and derogatory comments at America's northern neighbor. Media Matters for America documented Fox News' host Neal Cavuto's December 14 attack on Canada. Cavuto asked: "[H]ave the Canadians gotten a little bit too big for their britches?" and "[C]ould our neighbors to the north soon be our enemies?" In the same vein, MSNBC host Tucker Carlson dismissed the entire country as "essentially a stalker," and "your retarded cousin you see at Thanksgiving." Also, Douglas MacKinnon, press secretary to former Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS), alleged that "the Canadian government not only willingly allows Islamic terrorists into their country, but does nothing to stop them from entering our nation."
From the December 15 edition of MSNBC's The Situation with Tucker Carlson:
CARLSON: Here's the problem, [radio host] Max [Kellerman]. Here's the problem with telling Canada to stop criticizing the United States: It only eggs them on. Canada is essentially a stalker, stalking the United States, right? Canada has little pictures of us in its bedroom, right? Canada spends all of its time thinking about the United States, obsessing over the United States. It's unrequited love between Canada and the United States. We, meanwhile, don't even know Canada's name. We pay no attention at all.
CARLSON: First of all, anybody with any ambition at all, or intelligence, has left Canada and is now living in New York. Second, anybody who sides with Canada internationally in a debate between the U.S. and Canada, say, Belgium, is somebody whose opinion we shouldn't care about in the first place. Third, Canada is a sweet country. It is like your retarded cousin you see at Thanksgiving and sort of pat him on the head. You know, he's nice, but you don't take him seriously. That's Canada.
Carlson's December 15 comments were not his first foray into Canada-bashing: On the November 30, 2004, edition of CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, Carlson said: "Without the U.S., Canada is essentially Honduras, but colder and much less interesting." That same day, on Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, right-wing pundit Ann Coulter quipped: "They [Canada] better hope the United States doesn't roll over one night and crush them. They are lucky we allow them to exist on the same continent."
In a December 16 Washington Times op-ed, MacKinnon wrote of Canada:
Insulting and verbally attacking the United States has become such a national sport among liberal Canadian politicians that one conservative member of parliament said they displayed "a consistent attitude of anti-Americanism." As Mr. Wilkins stressed, "It may be smart election-year politics to thump your chest and constantly criticize your friend and your number one trading partner. But it is a slippery slope, and all of us should hope that it doesn't have a long-term impact on the relationship."
The ambassador's point raises a larger question: Can Canada really be considered our "friend" anymore? As someone whose family comes from Canada, a country I grew up loving as a child, it pains me to ask the question. That said, what other question can be asked when the Canadian government not only willingly allows Islamic terrorists into their country, but does nothing to stop them from entering our nation.
O'Reilly misrepresented Fox News poll results on Bush's Iraq speeches, saying majority does not "understand Iraq conflict"
On the December 15 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly opened the show by inaccurately quoting "a new Fox News poll [which] says 53 percent of Americans still don't understand the Iraq conflict." In fact, the poll asked a different question: "In the past couple of weeks, [President] George W. Bush has given a series of speeches on Iraq. Do you feel that the speeches have given you a better understanding of the situation in Iraq or not?"
The poll found that 53 percent did not feel that the speeches had given them a better understanding of the conflict in Iraq; 25 percent agreed that the speeches had enhanced their understanding of the conflict; 17 percent said they did not hear the speeches; and 5 percent did not know. The poll carried a margin of error of ±3 percent. O'Reilly suggested that the 53 percent who answered "no" constituted evidence that a majority of Americans possessed a general lack of understanding about the war in Iraq. However, even though the question posed specifically referred to recent speeches given by Bush, O'Reilly failed to mention them. After citing the poll as evidence that a majority of Americans "still don't understand" the war, O'Reilly introduced his guest, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, stating, "We hope to end that [lack of understanding] tonight."
However, the poll never asked respondents whether they understood the Iraq conflict, but instead probed the efficacy of Bush's attempts to explain and defend his administration's Iraq strategy. The poll specifically referenced a series of four speeches Bush had given leading up to the December 15 Iraqi elections: a November 30 speech at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland; a December 7 speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C.; a December 12 speech to the World Affairs Council in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and a December 14 speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.
From the December 15 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
O'REILLY: "The O'Reilly Factor" is on from Washington. Tonight, a new Fox News poll says 53 percent of Americans still don't understand the Iraq conflict. We hope to end that tonight. We have an exclusive interview with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
As you may know, it was a very successful election in Iraq today. Estimates are: more than 10 million people will have voted for a democratic government there -- whether you support the Iraq war or not -- that is an enormous achievement.
But it has come at a great price. American blood and treasure continue to be lost in Iraq, and a brand new Fox News poll says 53 percent of Americans still do not understand the conflict.
December 16, 2005
In a December 16 article by reporter Carl Hulse, The New York Times falsely suggested that only Senate Democrats have "assailed" Sen. Ted Stevens's (R-AK) proposed move to ensure passage of a provision to drill for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) by attaching it to the 2006 Senate defense bill. Hulse also reported -- without refutation -- the highly deceptive claim by unnamed Senate "aides" that no "chief defense spending negotiators" have objected to Stevens's proposal.
In fact, while it is unclear whether the chairman and ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services committee -- reportedly the primary negotiators of the bill in the Senate -- object to Stevens's plan, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who is one of the conferees and negotiators on the defense bill, is strongly opposed to the plan. McCain described Stevens's move as "disgusting" and "disgraceful," as both The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times noted. The Los Angeles Times also reported that Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) disapproves of Stevens's plan and that a bipartisan group of senators has begun drafting a letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) opposing the measure.
Although a December 8 CongressDaily report suggested that negotiations on the Senate defense bill (S. 1042) have been "limited largely" to the "chairman and ranking members of the [House and Senate] Armed Services committees," McCain, the second-ranking Republican of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is a conferee on the bill and has also been active in negotiations on it, sponsoring an amendment to it that would ban cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees in U.S. custody. McCain has expressed his steadfast opposition to Stevens's proposal to attach the ANWR drilling provision to the defense bill, as a December 16 Post article reported:
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) also sharply criticized Stevens's effort as "disgusting." But asked how he would vote on such a bill, McCain said: "That's the dilemma. I'd have to look at the whole bill. I think it's disgraceful that I have to be put in that position."
Further, McCain is not the only Senate Republican who has objected to Stevens's proposal. As a December 16 Los Angeles Times article reported, Coleman also opposes the plan to attach the ANWR provision to the defense bill, while a group of "senators from each party" is drafting a letter to Frist stating that senators "ought not to exploit ... the well-being of our troops" in order to advance the ANWR provision by attaching it to the defense bill. From the Los Angeles Times:
Democratic leaders were pressing their rank and file to stick together to strip the drilling measure from the military spending bill. Their central argument -- that Arctic drilling did not belong in a military appropriations bill -- also resonated with some Republicans.
Several senators from each party who have opposed Arctic drilling acknowledged that adding the measure to the bill would put them in a difficult position.
A group was drafting a letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) saying that senators "ought not to exploit ... the well-being of our troops" to advance the drilling measure.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a drilling opponent, said he wasn't sure how he would vote if the bill included the drilling measure.
"That's the dilemma," McCain said in an interview. "I think it's disgraceful I have to be put in that position."
Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), another drilling opponent, said that adding the measure to the military appropriations bill would make the vote "very uncomfortable for me."
From the New York Times article titled "Republicans Try to Outflank Democrats on Key Measures":
Senator Ted Stevens, Republican of Alaska, said he would try to achieve his longstanding goal of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration by adding the plan to a spending bill for the Pentagon. That move was likely to set up a procedural clash that could determine the fate of a separate proposal to enact about $45 billion in spending cuts.
"I have waited 25 years now," said Mr. Stevens, 82, who acknowledged that his approach amounted to a legislative end run. "God willing I have stayed here this long. I don't have another 25 years."
Democrats assailed the plan, which Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, called an "egregious abuse of power on behalf of the oil and gas industry to violate the Senate's rules and attach a special interest provision to this bill."
Mr. Stevens met Thursday with the other chief defense spending negotiators, and aides said there was no objection to adding the artic plan. Those conducting negotiating conferences have wide latitude to shape such measures, though the inclusion of extraneous provisions can often build opposition.
The negotiators must still make a formal decision to add it to the defense bill. Lawmakers and aides in the House and the Senate said privately that they were skeptical that Mr. Stevens could clear all the procedural and political obstacles to winning approval of his plan.
One top aide said there was also some concern that the defense measure was being packed with too many controversial initiatives.
Environmental activists who had been able to block the drilling plan as part of the budget measure said they were lobbying to strip it from the defense bill through the procedural challenge or by encouraging drilling opponents to support a filibuster.
"It is a shameless move by Senator Stevens - cynical, inappropriate and undemocratic," said Athan Manuel, who has been leading the effort by an advocacy organization, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, to block the drilling plan.
On the December 15 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto, Fox News contributor and former Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein announced that President Bush "is going to go down in history as one of the great peacemakers and democracy-builders in the history of the world." Stein further predicted: "I think his reputation is going to grow by leaps and bounds after this [the Iraqi election]. I think it's good for the market in the short run, although the market didn't do much about it today, as we know."
Stein's comments came during a panel discussion on whether the "positive turnout" for the December 15 Iraqi election would push the Dow Jones Industrial Average above 11,000. Stein said, "Dow 11,000, it seems to me, is virtually a certainty barring a new terrorist attack, but alas, the election and democracy didn't make it happen."
Host Neil Cavuto introduced the panel discussion by asking, "So, given the positive turnout in Iraq, will it be a positive for our U.S. markets and will it help finally take the Dow back above 11,000?" He added, "We didn't quite see it today, but it's sort of like Waiting for Godot. Eventually it will happen." In the play, Godot never actually shows up, though given that the Dow is currently at 10,878.16 -- and closed at 10,883.51 the day before the elections -- "eventually" could come very soon.
From the December 15 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:
CAVUTO: So, given the positive turnout in Iraq, will it be a positive for our U.S. markets and will it help to finally take the Dow back above 11,000? We didn't quite see it today, but it's sort of like waiting for Godot. Eventually it'll happen.
CAVUTO: Ben Stein, Ben Stein? What say you?
STEIN: I think it's an incredible plus for Mr. Bush. I think Mr. Bush is going to go down in history as one of the great peacemakers and democracy-builders in the history of the world. I think his reputation is going to grow by leaps and bounds after this. I think it's good for the market in the short run, although the market didn't do much about it today, as we know. But let's say it saves us 100 or $200 billion over the next couple of years as troop withdrawals start. That's a small amount in the context of the budget. This market -- the budget and the GDP [gross domestic product] -- this market is looking for an end to the Fed [Federal Reserve Board] march towards higher interest rates, and that's got to happen. This just makes no sense for the Fed to keep raising interest rates. And it's looking for a continued drumbeat of higher corporate earnings, and those I think we're going to see. Dow 11,000, it seems to me, is virtually a certainty barring a new terrorist attack, but alas, the election and democracy didn't make it happen.
On the December 14 edition of Fox News' Your World, host Neil Cavuto presented a segment highlighting recent remarks by Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin that were critical of America's global environmental policies. To introduce the segment, Cavuto asked, "[C]ould our neighbors to the north soon be our enemies?" and he later inquired, "[H]ave the Canadians gotten a little bit too big for their britches?" During the subsequent interview with Canadian lawyer and political analyst Patrice Brunet, Cavuto continually interrupted his guest and asked such questions as, "Do the Canadian people hate America as much as your politicians seem to?"
At one point, as Brunet asserted the prime minister's right to defend "Canadian values," Cavuto interrupted Brunet, exclaiming, "I beg you to stop!" Throughout the segment, on-screen text read: "CANADA: AN ENEMY OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA?"
Cavuto and Brunet were discussing Martin's recent comments criticizing the United States for not ratifying the international Kyoto Protocol to combat global greenhouse gas emissions. During a December 7 speech to open the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Montreal, Martin criticized nations he viewed as resistant to combating global climate change. In his speech, Martin stated that "climate change is a global challenge that demands a global response, yet there are nations that resist. ... Well, it is our problem to solve. We are in this together."
While Martin did not specifically mention the United States during his speech to the U.N. delegates, he did single out the United States for criticism during a press conference later by calling it a "reticent nation," apparently lacking a "global conscience." In a speech on December 13, U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins responded to Martin's criticism by calling it "election-year politics" and stating, "But it [criticizing the United States] is a slippery slope, and all of us should hope that it doesn't have a long-term impact on the relationship." Martin is running for re-election as Canadian prime minister in an election to be decided January 23.
From the December 14 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:
CAVUTO: All right, well, could our neighbors to the north soon be our enemies? The U.S. finally losing patience with Canada. After roundly criticizing us over Iraq, Canadian politicians have taken to criticizing us over, well, pretty much everything else. U.S. ambassador to Canada David Wilkins, fed up.
WILKINS [clip]: And it may be smart election-year politics to thump your chest and constantly criticize your friend and your number one trading partner. But it's a slippery slope, and all of us should hope that it doesn't have a long-term impact on our relationship.
CAVUTO: So have the Canadians gotten a little bit too big for their britches? Patricia Brunet says -- or Patrice Brunet says no, and Canada will not be bullied by America. He is an attorney and political analyst in Canada. Patrice, good to have you.
BRUNET: Yeah, hi. How are you?
CAVUTO: I'm fine, but aside --
BRUNET: Well, you know --
CAVUTO: What do you think of that? That -- that maybe there's just this anger coming from Canadian politicians towards the U.S. Why is that?
BRUNET: Well, I think the issue is being framed in the wrong way. Paul Martin -- first of all, we are in an election campaign in Canada, and the issue was not framed this way by Paul Martin. Last week, Paul Martin said all countries should look at global warming as an issue, and that, of course, included the United States, but he never named the United States. What happened afterwards on December 9, two days later, is Jim Connaughton from the Council on Environmental Quality, who is part of the executive office of President Bush, who came back and he framed it as a Canada issue and a Canada-U.S. issue. So, it's really -- the debate has really gone from south of the border and back to Canada. And, Paul Martin --
CAVUTO: Well, you know, you're not. No, no, you're not. You're not. No, no -- you're not.
CAVUTO: You've got to answer my question here. The fact of the matter is -- whether it's your prime minister badmouthing this country over its refusal to sign on to the Kyoto Accord; or whether it's Iraq; or whether its tariffs we slapped on your country because we think your country is cheating on a variety of issues. It's again and again and again. What I'm asking you, whether the Canadian people hate America as much as your politicians seem to?
BRUNET: Ha. No, the Canadians love America, but there are a number of issues that we don't agree with. The war in Iraq was one of those issues, and to this day we still don't agree with that. Now, that's another debate. The debate on the environmental change was a debate that was created by the United States and not Canada. Now, Paul Martin is in an election campaign right now, and of course, he will defend Canada's values. And, we will support him in defending Canada's values. But to this point, and to this day, he has not attacked, specifically, the United States. He has rallied every -- he has sent an invitation to all the countries to rally behind the convention last week.
CAVUTO: But, wait a -- wait a minute. He said --
BRUNET: Well, now --
CAVUTO: Wait a minute! You got to --
BRUNET: The United States --
CAVUTO: I beg you to stop! He has said this administration has been no friend to Canada. He says, this president has been no friend to the environment. Those campaigning have continued to say -- now, you're free to say whatever you want about this president and all, but by extending it to the American people, as if, you know, we're some sort of persona non grata. What's the deal?
BRUNET: Well, yesterday, on December 13, Paul Martin said, "I have not made the United States or any country a target in the campaign." He's made all the countries a target, not specifically one country. So, you know, the last time I looked on my world map, the United States were on there. So, if the United States feel that they have been singled out, well, that's something they have to address. But, Paul Martin was there last week on the conference --
CAVUTO: But, wait a minute. Patrice, Patrice, Patrice, we're not just -- Stop it! We're not just any country, right? We're your largest trading partner, as you are with us. We are responsible --
BRUNET: Don't mix trade with the environment. Don't mix trade --
CAVUTO: I'm not --
BRUNET: Don't mix, don't mix trade with the environment.
CAVUTO: I am saying why is there this feeling that things have gotten icy between us? Have they? Yes or no?
BRUNET: I think of the past years it's true that Canadian government has taken a stance on a number of issues that are different from the United States. We don't view ourselves as rubber-stamping whatever the United States does. And, I think that a lot of your American citizens view that as a benefit -- that Canada is there as a counterpart.
BRUNET: We agree on, I would say, on 95 percent of the issues. But, the soft lumber issue is still a driving thorn to our --
BRUNET: -- relations. And I -- we welcome last week, the position from the government office -- from the president's office -- the position that was taken on to reduce the tariff. But, you know --
CAVUTO: OK --
BRUNET: -- there are a number of issues where we have to take a stand.
CAVUTO: All right Patrice, thank you.
BRUNET: And we will always support Paul Martin into taking a stand --
CAVUTO: All right, All right.
BRUNET: -- for Canadian values.
CAVUTO: All right, you go. All right.
The December 15 editions of both Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor and MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann aired portions of a poem by Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) attacking Fox News host Bill O'Reilly's claim that there is a "war" on Christmas. Yet, the clip O'Reilly played on his show omitted the stanzas imploring Congress to discuss other, more important issues. Dingell read his poem on the House floor prior to the passage of a resolution (House Resolution 579) calling for support of "the symbols and traditions of Christmas." The vote was 401 for and 22 against, with 228 Republicans, 172 Democrats, and one independent voting in favor of the measure. Twenty-two Democrats voted against it. The poem suggests that the legislature's time might be better spent on other things.
O'Reilly's edited version characterized the poem as merely a malevolent attack on Fox News and The O'Reilly Factor. But other portions of the poem that were aired on Countdown to accompany a Dingell interview, focused on preventing the so-called "war" on Christmas from distracting from topics like Hurricane Katrina relief, the war in Iraq, and energy prices.
The poem in full:
'Twas a week before Christmas and all through the House,
Katrina kids were all nestled snug in motel beds,
Gas prices shot up, consumer confidence fell.
We will pretend Christmas is under attack,
This time of year, we see Christmas everywhere we go,
At Christmastime, we're taught to unite.
You should sit back and relax, have a few egg nogs.
'Tis the holiday season; enjoy it a pinch.
Ho, ho, ho. Merry Christmas.
From the December 15 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
O'REILLY: In "The Factor" follow-up segment, tonight, Congressman John Dingell, a committed liberal, took to the House floor yesterday to discuss the Christmas controversy, and me, in verse.
DINGELL [clip]: 'Twas a week before Christmas and all through the house, no bills were passed about which Fox News could grouse.
We need a distraction, something divisive and wily, a fabrication straight from the mouth of O'Reilly. We will pretend Christmas is under attack, hold a vote to save it and pat ourselves on the back.
At Christmastime, we're taught to unite. We don't need a make-up reason to fight.
So on O'Reilly, on those right-wing blogs,
you should sit back and relax, have a few egg nogs.
'Tis the holiday season, enjoy it a pinch. With all our real problems, do we really need another Grinch?
So, to my friends and my colleagues, I say with delight, "A Merry Christmas to all," and to Bill O'Reilly, "Happy Holidays."
O'REILLY: Well, at least the congressman has a sense of humor.
From the December 15 edition of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann:
OLBERMANN: We readily admit to making things up sometimes here on Countdown. Of course, we always emphasize that we have made them up, because we're not just honest about it, we're also smug about it.
But when a fictional controversy concocted to drive the ratings and stuff the wallets of a couple of cable fatheads, who do quasi-newscasts, makes it all the way to the government, then we must protest.
Our third story on the Countdown, run for your lives; the "war" on Christmas has reached Capitol Hill.
Congress chose to spend part of one of its last days before the holiday break debating Resolution 579, offered by Mrs. [Jo Ann S.] Davis [R] of Virginia, Mr. [Roscoe] Bartlett [R] of Maryland, and Mr. [Virgil H.] Goode [R] and Mr. [Walter] Jones [R] of North Carolina, a proposal, quote, "expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected," and suggesting that the House, quote, "One, recognizes the importance of the symbols and traditions of Christmas; two, strongly disapproves of attempts to ban references to Christmas; and three, expresses support for the use of these symbols and traditions."
The ridiculousness proved all too much for one congressman, John Dingell of Michigan, who used his time on the floor to read a little poem expressing his feelings about House Resolution 579 and his feelings about the "Big Giant Head" who started this imaginary war.
DINGELL [clip]: 'Twas a week before Christmas, and all through the House, no bills were passed about which Fox News could grouse. Tax cuts for the wealthy were passed with great cheers, so vacations in St. Bart's soon should be near.
Katrina kids were all nestled snug in motel beds, while visions of school and homes danced in their heads. In Iraq, our soldiers need supplies and a plan, and nuclear weapons are being built in Iran.
Gas prices shot up, consumer confidence fell. Americans feared we were on a fast track to -- well
Wait, we need a distraction, something divisive and wily, a fabrication straight from the mouth of O'Reilly.
[begin video clip]
O'REILLY: The mail continues to pour in a frightening rate about the Christmas controversies. What many do oppose is banning the word, "Christmas." Come on, even Santa's appalled.
O'REILLY: Shut up.
[end video clip]
DINGELL: We will pretend Christmas is under attack. Hold a vote to save it and pat ourselves on the back. "Silent night," "The First Noel," "Away in the Manger": Wake up, Congress, they're in no danger.
This time of year, we see Christmas everywhere we go, from churches to homes to schools, and, yes, even Costco. What we have is an attempt to define and destroy it, when this is the season to unite us with joy. At Christmastime, we're taught to unit, we don't need a make-up reason to fight.
So on O'Reilly, on Hannity, on Coulter, on those right-wing blogs. You should sit back and relax. Have a few egg nogs. 'Tis the holiday season, enjoy it a pinch; with all our real problems, do we really need another Grinch?
So, to my friends and my colleagues, I say with delight, a "Merry Christmas" to all, and to Bill O'Reilly, "Happy Holidays." Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas.
OLBERMANN: And the crack staff amplified in this presentation, the congressman's poem, that that was his work.
And also, by the way, after 40 minutes of debate on that Christmas resolution, the House decided to postpone further proceedings on the motion. I'm sure it will be the first thing on the agenda come January.
Representative Dingell joins me now from the Capitol. Thanks for some of your time tonight, sir. We appreciate it.
DINGELL: Thank you. Ho, ho, ho.
OLBERMANN: Indeed. As you pointed out in that poem, there are a few more important things that need to be sorted out in Congress before Christmas than this imaginary attack on Christmas itself. How did Resolution 579 ever get to the floor, let alone take up 40 minutes of taxpayer time there?
DINGELL: Well, I have no idea. Christmas should be in churches, in the hearts and souls of men.
Christmas is with Easter, one of the two most precious and sacred days of Christians, Catholics, and Protestants. It is a day that has special meaning to me, where I attend mass and spend time with my family. And I don't think we need to defend it. What I think we need to do is to practice it.
OLBERMANN: Have you seen any evidence that there's actually any kind of attack on it other than in the minds of the people who have been spreading this story for ratings and book sales?
DINGELL: I found no weakness of Christmas or Christians in my house, my family, my friends, my constituents, the people I serve in southeast Michigan. It's a sacred time, and it's a time when, thank God, we celebrate the coming of the Lord, and we worship His doings and deeds, and we thank Him for his salvation to us.
OLBERMANN: Back for a moment to 579 -- it was only postponed. Nobody -- there was no actual vote on it. Could this actually turn up on the floor again after the New Year? Is more time going to be wasted on this?
DINGELL: Oh, it was voted on today. And it passed overwhelmingly. And its defect is not that we are for or against Christmas.-- Christmas, thank God, is a reality for us -- but Christmas also is something that we should celebrate in our hearts. And Christmas is very, very precious. There is no attack on Christmas.
OLBERMANN: You mentioned, in your poem and thus endeared yourself to our staff permanently -- Mr. O'Reilly of Fox News, obviously the real problems of society are a little too complicated for him to deal with, so he and poor John Gibson have fixated on this thing.
Would it surprise you, sir, that as they have warned us about this rush to change "Merry Christmas" into "Happy Holidays," that the biggest transgressor in the area might be Fox News itself? I mean, they sold O'Reilly "Christmas decorations" and called them "Holiday" ornaments for your "Holiday tree." And instead of a Christmas party this year, their parent company has just held a Holiday party? Did you know about that?
DINGELL: Well, I really, really can't make a good comment on that because it's always been Christmas trees, Christmas time, Christmas day, Christmas ornaments, Christmas gifts. And it's a time of worship and happiness and prayer to the Lord. And it's a day on which we celebrate the coming of the dear Lord Jesus to save us and to rise again on Easter.
OLBERMANN: Is there also, not to it, as well, sir -- I've always thought that this was a unique thing, perhaps, in human existence, that there is a -- they're kind of hand-in-hand. There is a religious Christmas and a secular Christmas going on simultaneously. And the greatest thing about it is that you can participate in one or both or neither as you personally see fit.
DINGELL: Well, that's one of the great things about this country. You know, we're not just Christians or Catholics or Protestants or Jews or Muslims or whatever. We're everything. But we're one country. And we all love this country. And it gives us all extraordinary freedoms for which we are all grateful to the Lord.
And it does something else for us. It gives us the opportunity to worship our God in our own way, and to find our own way to salvation.
OLBERMANN: Representative John Dingell of Michigan, Congressman and poet. Thanks greatly for your time tonight and, in advance, Merry Christmas.
DINGELL: Thank you. Ho, ho, ho.
Roll Call executive editor Morton M. Kondracke misrepresented an ABC News report on CIA interrogations in his December 15 column (subscription required), claiming the network reported that, according to CIA officials, the waterboarding interrogation technique extracted "valuable information" from Al Qaeda leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. In fact, the November 18 ABC News report Kondracke cited indicated that the CIA officials reported "debatable results" from that interrogation. Kondracke referred to the ABC report in arguing against passage of Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) amendment that would prohibit cruel, unusual, and degrading treatment of detainees during interrogations. Media Matters for America previously noted that a Wall Street Journal editorial similarly misrepresented ABC's reporting on CIA interrogations and waterboarding in arguing against passage of McCain's amendment.
Kondracke wrote, "According to ABC News, CIA officers said that the highest-ranking al Qaeda operative yet captured, Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, held out for two and a half minutes before begging to talk. The CIA claims it got valuable information from him."
However during the November 18 broadcast of ABC's World News Tonight, chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross reported that "CIA officers say 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed lasted the longest under waterboarding, two and a half minutes, before beginning to talk, with debatable results."
In a written report on its website discussing waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods, ABC cited "Two experienced officers [who] have told ABC that there is little to be gained by these techniques that could not be more effectively gained by a methodical, careful, psychologically based interrogation."
Kondracke claimed that ABC News reported the CIA's success with the waterboarding technique as an argument against McCain's amendment, which "surely would fall under most definitions of 'cruel' or 'degrading' and would therefore be banned."
A segment on the December 5 edition of World News Tonight reported that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made the claim that the use of six interrogation methods sanctioned by a presidential finding -- including waterboarding -- had extracted useful information from detainees. That report offered no indication that ABC News had done any independent reporting to verify or refute her claim.
In a similar argument against the McCain amendment published on December 13, a Wall Street Journal editorial claimed that ABC News reported that "11 of 12 captured al Qaeda kingpins who have talked only did so after being waterboarded." The Journal continued, "This would appear to contradict so many glib suggestions ... that such techniques 'just plain don't work.' The truth is that sometimes they do work." However as Media Matters noted, neither the December 5 nor November 18 ABC News segments reported that 11 out of 12 detainees talked after waterboarding. While the December 5 broadcast reported Rice's statement that the interrogation methods in question had extracted useable intelligence, it did not indicate that she was referring to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's waterboarding, nor did it verify her claim independently.
From the December 15 edition of Roll Call:
There's a question about whether waterboarding constitutes "torture" -- McCain says it does, while the administration apparently thinks it doesn't -- but it surely would fall under most definitions of "cruel" or "degrading" and would therefore be banned.
Waterboarding consists of tying a prisoner to an inclined board, wrapping his face with cellophane and pouring water on him, stimulating a gagging reflex and convincing the victim that he's drowning.
Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), a reserve Naval Intelligence officer who's been subjected to the technique himself, told me that "everyone breaks" when waterboarded, usually in less than a minute, and that U.S. combat troops, pilots and others who might be captured routinely undergo the procedure as part of their training.
According to ABC News, CIA officers said that the highest-ranking al Qaeda operative yet captured, Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, held out for two and a half minutes before begging to talk. The CIA claims it got valuable information from him.
Clearly, the House and Senate Intelligence committees should determine whether waterboarding and other coercive techniques produce good information and should speak out if they don't.
From the November 18 broadcast of ABC's World News Tonight:
ROSS: The CIA sources say the sixth, and harshest, technique is called "waterboarding," in which a prisoner's face is covered with cellophane, and water is poured over it -- meant to trigger an unbearable gag reflex.
JOHN SIFTON (terrorism and counterterrorism researcher for Human Rights Watch): The person believes they're being killed, and as such, the thing really amounts to a mock execution, which is illegal under international law.
ROSS: The CIA officers say 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed lasted the longest under waterboarding, two and a half minutes, before beginning to talk, with debatable results.
ROBERT BAER (former CIA case officer): You can get anybody to confess to anything, if the torture's bad enough.
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