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December 16, 2005
On the December 15 edition of Fox News' The Big Story, host John Gibson declared victory in the Iraq war, telling viewers, "Our friend [Democratic National Committee chairman] Howard [Dean] says the war is unwinnable. But it was won today."
Offering what he called "the correct interpretation of events in Iraq today" and "the real meaning of election day in Iraq," Gibson exclaimed: "We won. We won. We won. We won. A little too triumphalist for you? Feeling a little icky that we might say something that bold? You must be suffering from a touch of Euro today. Eat a Big Mac and get over it."
Gibson further explained that "[t]he main point of the war was regime change on Saddam," adding: "Believe me, it is changed when he's on trial for his life, rather than running people through chippers and chopping off limbs to emphasize a political point. I like the side of Saddam as O.J. [Simpson], because this time I don't think the defendant walks."
From the December 15 edition of Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson:
GIBSON: Now it's time for "My Word." Here is the correct interpretation of events in Iraq today, spoken in English but not run through the dull and dry translator software of official Washington, D.C. Ready? Here it is, the real meaning of election day in Iraq: We won. We won. We won. We won. A little too triumphalist for you? Feeling a little icky that we might say something that bold? You must be suffering from a touch of Euro today. Eat a Big Mac and get over it. We won. It's bold, but it's also true. Now, you don't like us saying, "We won, we won, we won," because you think we have not won? That's different.
Here's why I say we won. Saddam is on trial. The main point of the war was regime change on Saddam. Believe me, it is changed when he's on trial for his life, rather than running people through chippers and chopping off limbs to emphasize a political point. I like the side of Saddam as O.J. [Simpson], because this time I don't think the defendant walks. Then there is the little matter of all these purple fingers, Iraqis voting, Iraqis politicking, Iraqis forming parliamentary alliances. Can you spell democracy, Howard Dean? Our friend Howard says the war is unwinnable. But it was won today, and Howard is always, as always, the last guy to notice.
On the December 16 broadcast of National Public Radio's Morning Edition, Scott Silliman, executive director of Duke University's Center on Law, Ethics and National Security, claimed that "waterboarding, I think, would clearly be prohibited" under Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) amendment barring "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment" of prisoners in U.S. custody. But Silliman's interpretation of what the bill "clearly" prohibits is apparently not shared by the Bush administration. Host Renée Montagne failed to note that the administration, whose responsibility it will be to comply with the legislation, refused to rule out "waterboarding" as an unacceptable interrogation technique.
According to a November 18 ABC News report, "waterboarding" is a technique whereby:
The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.
From the December 16 broadcast of NPR's Morning Edition:
MONTAGNE: Could you give us an example? Cruel and inhuman and degrading treatment: What would that be? A stress position that goes beyond a couple of hours?
SILLIMAN: Exactly, Renée. What we're talking about would be use of excessive physical force such as beatings, or food, drink, or sleep deprivation for extended periods of time, where it starts to affect physical health. Or something I think the listeners have probably heard about, waterboarding, I think, would clearly be prohibited under McCain's amendment.
But, as a December 16 New York Times editorial pointed out, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, in a December 15 appearance on CNN's The Situation Room, refused to define waterboarding as "torture" or say whether the technique was a legal method of interrogation. On the program, anchor Wolf Blitzer pressed Gonzales twice to state whether waterboarding would be an acceptable technique, and both times, Gonzales refused to answer. Instead, Gonzales referred broadly to "torture" -- which is not literally what the McCain amendment addresses (the amendment enacts broader prohibitions than what would be considered "torture under current law") -- and refused to rule out any particular interrogation method, saying that whether a particular method would be illegal "would be something that would have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis."
From the December 15 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
BLITZER: I want to move on talk about the Patriot Act, but one final question on this issue of torture. I guess some people say it depends on your definition of the word "torture." One very sensitive interrogation technique is this waterboarding, where the detainee or the suspect thinks he is drowning. Is that something that you think is acceptable?
GONZALES: What I will tell you is that the Congress has defined what torture is, and it is the intentional infliction of severe -- I emphasize the word severe -- the intentional infliction of severe physical or mental pain or suffering. That is the definition that Congress says. That kind of conduct would constitute torture.
BLITZER: And waterboarding: Is that severe?
GONZALES: Well, again, that would be something that would have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. But -- the Congress -- Wolf, I'm not going to get into a discussion or debate with you about specific techniques. What I can reassure you is that we know what Congress has said torture means, and we try to provide guidance to ensure that everyone is meeting the standards as prescribed to us by Congress.
Writing about President Bush's change of course in endorsing Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) amendment to the defense appropriations bill that would ban "cruel, inhuman, or degrading" treatment of all prisoners in U.S. custody, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius wrongly claimed in his December 16 Post column that Bush admitted having made "mistakes" in the administration's policy on torture and in his prior opposition to the McCain amendment. In fact, Bush, who met with McCain and Sen. John Warner (R-VA) on December 15 to discuss the amendment, made no admission of error, but instead proclaimed he was "happy to work with him [McCain] to achieve a common objective."
From Ignatius' December 16 Post column:
The strongest argument for the compromise McCain and Bush reached yesterday is, to my mind, a national security one. Bush realized that harsh negative perceptions of America abroad were harming the country. The torture issue had become the most noxious symbol of what the world saw as America's arrogant lawlessness. But to Bush, it was also a symbol of his vow to do whatever it took to make the United States safe. So the two most stubborn men in America, McCain and Bush, struggled to find language they could both live with.
I credit Bush for realizing that he had to give ground. He needed to do something on the torture issue to protect the country's standing in the world -- even something that he rightly believed carried risks for the United States. The man who famously never wants to change course or admit mistakes finally did both. In formally renouncing the anything-goes mentality that followed Sept. 11, he has begun restoring America's badly tarnished image.
Ignatius made clear that he was talking about two separate actions by Bush: reversing course and admitting mistakes. He did not say that Bush's reversal of course was tantamount to admitting mistakes. Rather, he wrote that Bush "finally did both." In fact, rather than any admission of error, Bush remarked how the White House is "happy to work" with McCain to "make it clear to the world that this government does not torture." From Bush's December 15 meeting with McCain and Warner:
BUSH: Senator McCain has been a leader to make sure that the United States of America upholds the values of America as we fight and win this war on terror. And we've been happy to work with him to achieve a common objective, and that is to make it clear to the world that this government does not torture and that we adhere to the international convention of torture, whether it be here at home or abroad. And so we have worked very closely with the senator and others to achieve that objective, as well as to provide protections for those who are on the front line of fighting the terrorists.
McCain's amendment would limit all Department of Defense interrogations to techniques listed in the Army Field Manual and prohibit "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment" against any "individual in the custody or under the physical control of the [U.S.] government." The White House strongly opposed McCain's amendment, and "had pressed the senator to either drop the measure or modify it so that interrogators, especially with the CIA, would have the flexibility to use a range of extreme tactics on terrorism suspects" [Washington Post, 12/16/05]. The White House announced its support for the amendment on December 15 -- one day after the House approved the appropriations bill with McCain's amendment by a 308-122 vote. The Senate had already approved the amendment by a 90-9 vote.
Major news outlets ignored President Bush's decision not to attend the once-a-decade White House Conference on Aging (WHCOA), focusing instead on Bush's speech at a Virginia event designed to promote the Medicare prescription drug benefit. As WashingtonPost.com columnist Dan Froomkin noted in a December 14 post in his "White House Briefing" column, "Reporting that President Bush steered clear of the White House's own Conference on Aging yesterday -- making him the first president ever to do so -- fell to the regional newspapers and NPR [National Public Radio], not the big guys." Froomkin further noted that "had Bush attended, he would have been facing a very hostile audience."
Froomkin pointed to articles in the Palm Beach Post, the St. Petersburg Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and the Media General News Service, as well as a report on NPR's All Things Considered, as examples of news outlets that noted Bush's absence from the conference. In its December 14 article, the Palm Beach Post reported that Bush "received a stinging rebuke" at the conference and that "[r]ather than embracing the Medicare drug law and Bush's call for private Social Security investment accounts, delegates at work sessions on those issues overwhelmingly rejected those positions."
On the December 13 broadcast of All Things Considered, Julie Rovner reported, "While the conference on aging delegates was meeting in a hotel uptown, the White House motorcade set out in the opposite direction, to Greenspring Village, a high-end gated retirement community in suburban Virginia."
While USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and the Associated Press all carried articles about Bush's remarks at the Greenspring Village event, none of those articles noted that Bush had chosen that event over the WHCOA. In a December 12 article, USA Today did note that "many [WHCOA] delegates were upset that President Bush is not going to attend the conference, which started Sunday and continues through Wednesday."
From the December 14 USA Today article titled, "Medicare drug plan 'daunting,' Bush says":
President Bush acknowledged Tuesday that signing up for the government's new prescription drug benefits can be a "daunting task," but he said help is available for a plan that will save seniors money.
The new law offers an array of options, Bush said, and potential recipients who are wary can look to Medicare officials, family members, community centers and the AARP for help and advice.
"People will be able to match a program to their specific needs," Bush said during a visit to a retirement center outside Washington. He called the new program "a good deal for our seniors."
From the December 14 Los Angeles Times article, "Consumer Group Offers Seniors Tips on Drug Program":
With the Medicare prescription benefit scheduled to take effect in less than three weeks, President Bush acknowledged today that navigating the complex program can be a challenge -- a complaint often voiced by its detractors.
But in a related development, a leading consumer group released a report on how seniors can get bargains from the prescription benefit without sacrificing quality.
"We fully recognize that for some seniors, that this is a daunting task," Bush said after meeting with residents at the Greenspring Village Retirement Community in suburban Virginia. "When you give people choice and options, it can be a situation where people say, 'This is something I may not want to do.' "
From the December 13 Associated Press article, "Bush urges seniors to sign up for Medicare prescription drug benefit":
President Bush, acknowledging the Medicare drug plan seems perplexing, urged seniors on Tuesday to sign up anyway. "It's a good deal," he said of the program, which begins Jan. 1.
During a brief visit to Greenspring Village Retirement Community, just outside Washington, Bush said there are people who can help explain the choices offered. Under the program, the government subsidizes coverage for those covered, to a much greater extent for the poor.
Some seniors have found the enrollment process confusing, and signup has been slow.
"For some seniors, this is a daunting task," Bush said. "When you give people choice and options ... it can be a situation where people say, 'I don't really -- this is something I may not want to do.' "
In a December 14 article by Robert Pear, titled "New Problems in Medicare Drug Benefit," The New York Times also cited Bush's Greenspring Village remarks. The Times did not report on Bush's absence from the WHCOA.
The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and Reuters did not report on either the Greenspring Village Event or on Bush's absence from the WHCOA.
By far, CNN devoted the most coverage to Bush's Greenspring Village press event, reporting on it throughout the day on December 13 but never informing viewers that Bush had skipped the WHCOA. CNN noted the upcoming speech three times on American Morning. In one instance, CNN White House correspondent Dana Bash reported, "The president today will go to Virginia to focus on a major domestic initiative, and that is a prescription drug benefit for Medicare that Mr. Bush is trying to educate seniors about, explain what it is and why he thinks it's important for them to enroll in the program."
On CNN Live Today, anchor Tony Harris informed viewers: "Domestic policy takes priority today for President Bush, who was set to talk this hour with senior citizens promoting Medicare's new prescription plan. We'll air the president's comments from Virginia this morning as soon as we receive them right here at CNN." CNN then carried Bush's remarks live.
On CNN's Your World Today, Harris reported: "President Bush shifted focus today from Iraq to one of his top domestic issues, prescription drug coverage under Medicare. Earlier today, he visited a retirement community in Springfield, Virginia. He encouraged seniors to take advantage of the new Medicare drug benefit." The program then played footage of Bush's remarks.
And CNN's The Situation Room aired two separate reports (here and here) on the Medicare drug program, both of which featured footage of Bush's Greenspring Village remarks. Neither report mentioned the WHCOA.
On December 13, neither MSNBC nor Fox News reported on the WHCOA or Bush's failure to attend. Both networks briefly noted Bush's Greenspring Village event, but their coverage was far more modest than CNN's. MSNBC reporters and anchors mentioned it three times on December 13 -- during the 9 a.m., 10 a.m., and 11 a.m. editions of MSNBC News Live. MSNBC did not play footage from the speech. On the December 13 edition of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann, Olbermann told viewers: "We interrupt this week of Iraq news to bring you wall-to-wall coverage of the president's trip this morning to a Virginia retirement community touting his Medicare prescription drug plan. What are you, nuts? Nice try."
Fox News mentioned the Greenspring Village speech only once. On the December 13 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox News White House correspondent Wendell Goler reported, "The president travels to a retirement center in a Washington suburb today to talk about the prescription drug benefit for Medicare that goes into effect next month."
None of the three major television networks reported that Bush had skipped the WHCOA. However, on the December 13 broadcast of ABC's World News Tonight, co-anchor Bob Woodruff and correspondent Lisa Stark noted Bush's Greenspring appearance and played footage of his speech:
WOODRUFF: President Bush traveled to suburban Virginia today to reassure senior citizens struggling to understand the new prescription drug benefit for the elderly. Enrollment for the program began a month ago for coverage that kicks off in January. But many seniors are having a hard time choosing among the different coverage options being offered. Here's ABC's Lisa Stark.
STARK: At a retirement community outside Washington, D.C., the president met with seniors trying to wade through all the Medicare prescription drug plans. Mr. Bush admitted it's a daunting task but emphasized there are people who can help explain all the choices.
BUSH [clip]: What we want to assure seniors around the country is that there is help.
CNN Situation Room anchor Wolf Blitzer responded to a December 15 Media Matters for America item during that day's program, acknowledging that he incorrectly stated the previous day that Vice President Dick Cheney "never said hard and fast ... that there was a meeting" between 9-11 ringleader Mohammed Atta and Iraqi intelligence operatives in Prague in 2001. As Media Matters noted, Cheney asserted the now-discredited claim without hedging or qualifying on numerous occasions.
During the December 14 broadcast of The Situation Room, Democratic strategist Paul Begala said that Cheney "told us that Mohammed Atta, the leader of 9-11, had met with Iraqi intelligence. Our intelligence had told the White House that wasn't true. They said so anyway." Blitzer responded, "I think if you take a look at how the vice president phrased all those contacts, alleged contacts, between Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi official in Prague, he was always a little bit more cautious. He was talking about reports, unconfirmed reports, speculation. He never said hard and fast, I don't believe, that there was a meeting."
On December 15, during a discussion with Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and American Cause president Bay Buchanan, Blitzer referenced his discussion with Begala and said, "lo and behold, one website, Media Matters for America, points out there is a direct quote from the vice president to [CBS News contributor] Gloria Borger saying, 'I know this. In Prague, in April of this year, as well as earlier. And that information has been made public.' " Blitzer added: "Paul Begala was right, I was wrong."
As Media Matters previously noted, the claim that Atta met with Iraqi intelligence operatives in Prague has long since been discredited by a variety of intelligence officials and newspaper accounts. Moreover, the 9-11 Commission concluded in 2004 that no such meeting had taken place.
From the December 15 broadcast of CNN's The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer:
BLITZER: Yesterday, Paul Begala was standing where you were. He pointed out correctly that the vice president, Dick Cheney, did allege that there was a meeting in Prague between the CIA -- between Mohammed Atta, the ring leader of 9/11, and somebody from the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein. I suggested, "Well, I don't know if the vice president said it as hard and fast as you're saying, Paul Begala." But lo and behold, one website, Media Matters for America, points out there is a direct quote from the vice president to [CBS News contributor] Gloria Borger saying, "I know this. In Prague, in April of this year, as well as earlier. And that information has been made public." Paul Begala was right, I was wrong.
On the December 12 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly falsely stated that decisions made by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit are being overturned by the Supreme Court at a "record rate," while Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew P. Napolitano declared the 9th Circuit court "beholden to Hollywood." In fact, during its 2004-05 term, three other circuit courts were reversed by the Supreme Court at a higher rate than the 9th Circuit. Moreover, in the three terms prior to the 2004-05 term, the percentage of cases the Supreme Court reversed from those appealed by the 9th Circuit was almost identical to the national average for federal circuit courts -- either slightly higher or slightly lower.*
The 9th Circuit, also known as the Western circuit, is headquartered in San Francisco but also has courtrooms in Pasadena, California; Portland, Oregon; and Seattle.
In an on-air discussion with O'Reilly, Napolitano, a former New Jersey Superior Court judge, accused the judges who sit on the 9th Circuit of being "beholden to Hollywood." He said that the appeals court judges are "typical liberals in that they think they know better than people do. They second-guess jurors because they believe they're smarter than jurors. They second-guess prosecutors. They second-guess public defenders and defense counsel." Second-guessing -- or reviewing -- lower court actions is, in fact, the function of an appellate court.
As Media Matters for America has documented (here, here and here), the 9th Circuit's reversal rate of 76 percent during the 2003-04 Supreme Court term was virtually the same as the national average of 77 percent for all circuit courts. Likewise, the percentage of reversals -- 75 percent -- of 9th Circuit decisions for the 2002-03 Supreme Court term was almost the same as the national average of 73 percent for the total number of federal circuit court cases reviewed. For the 2001-02 term, the 9th Circuit's reversal rate was 76 percent while the national average was 78 percent. During the 1990s, however, the 9th Circuit's reversal rate did exceed the national average, most notably during the 1996-97 term, when the court's 95-percent reversal rate topped the national average of 71 percent and "earned the Western circuit its reputation as the nation's 'most reversed,' " according to a July 3, 2004, article in the Sacramento Bee.
During its 2004-05 term, the Supreme Court reversed 84 percent of the cases it chose to hear from appeals of 9th Circuit decisions, compared to a 73-percent average reversal rate for all circuit courts of appeals. But the high court reversed 100 percent of the decisions it heard from the 1st, 2nd, and 10th circuits.* Circuit court reversals in the 2004-05 term rank as follows:
These differences in percentages, however, are not substantively significant given the limited number of cases the Supreme Court chooses to review, resulting in comparisons of very small numbers. For instance, in the 2004-05 term, the Supreme Court heard 19 cases appealed from the 9th Circuit, reversing 16 of those decisions; the high court reversed all four cases it heard from the 1st Circuit and the two cases it heard from the 2nd Circuit. The 7th Circuit had one of its two cases reversed; with five of 10 cases reversed, the 11th Circuit had, along with the 7th Circuit, the lowest percentage -- but not the lowest number -- of cases reversed.
Because the 9th Circuit carries a larger caseload than any appellate court in the nation, critics of the Western circuit often express its reversal rate in absolute numbers rather than percentages. When expressed in absolute numbers, the 9th Circuit logically experiences the largest number of reversals by the Supreme Court. In 2004, the court disposed of 12,600 cases, leaving 14,900 still pending. By comparison, the 5th Circuit, which carries the second-largest federal appellate caseload, disposed of 7,700 cases, leaving 5,700 pending.
From the December 12 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
NAPOLITANO: The 9th Circuit, for historical reasons, has gathered most of the liberal judges. It is far and away more left-wing than all the other circuit courts in the country. They are beholden to Hollywood. They are typical liberals in that they think they know better than the people do. They second-guess jurors because they believe they're smarter than jurors. They second-guess prosecutors. They second-guess public defenders and defense counsel. They're looking for every little opportunity they can --
O'REILLY: And you can find -- you can find an ample opportunity in any criminal case.
NAPOLITANO: I also think there's some political ideology here. I think many of the judges of the 9th Circuit who have been reversing these convictions have been on death penalty cases where they don't believe in the death penalty.
O'REILLY: Do they try to impose their view?
O'REILLY: What can the Supreme Court do?
NAPOLITANO: The Supreme Court can enforce literally an act written by the Congress in 1996 which says when a federal court -- the 9th Circuit -- reviews a state prosecution, it starts with the presumption that the prosecution was valid, appropriate and fair. The 9th Circuit seems to be applying the pre-'96 mentality when federal judges were literally permitted to second-guess their state court counterparts. Congress put a stop to that, but the 9th Circuit hasn't done so.
O'REILLY: But the Supreme Court already overturned 75 percent of the cases from the 9th that it gets. Can it get anything other than continue to overturn at a record rate?
* Source: Senior Reference Librarian for the 9th Circuit
December 15, 2005
In the course of the public debate among Washington Post employees over Dan Froomkin's online "White House Briefing" column, Post executive editor Leonard Downie and national political editor John Harris have made public comments that suggest the controversy was sparked not by reader confusion over Froomkin's role but rather by complaints from conservatives and the Bush administration.
Downie has said that his goal is to "make sure people in the [Bush] administration know that our news coverage by White House reporters is separate from what appears in Froomkin's column." Harris has said that he has "heard from Republicans" that they think Froomkin is "unfair," and indicated that these complaints play a role in his desire to make "clear who Dan is and who he is not regarding his relationship with the newsroom."
Perhaps most tellingly, when Harris was pressed to give an example of the "liberal prism" through which Harris claimed Froomkin writes, Harris referred to a months-old post by an obscure "conservative blogger," whose argument Harris said "does not seem far-fetched." But the "conservative blogger" is actually Patrick Ruffini, a longtime Republican operative who was webmaster for the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign and who is currently e-campaign director for the Republican National Committee. When asked why he identified Ruffini merely as a "conservative blogger" rather than as a partisan political operative who has held senior positions in the Bush campaign and the RNC, Harris first claimed that Ruffini "wasn't at the time working for the Republicans," despite the fact that Ruffini was paid $10,000 by the RNC just a month earlier. Harris has refused to comment on the Ruffini matter further.
Explaining the impetus behind efforts to clarify Froomkin's role, Downie indicated in an interview with Editor & Publisher that his primary concern was how the Bush administration views Froomkin's column:
"We want to make sure people in the [Bush] administration know that our news coverage by White House reporters is separate from what appears in Froomkin's column because it contains opinion," Downie told E&P. "And that readers of the Web site understand that, too."
But "people in the administration" are presumably sophisticated enough consumers of news to recognize the difference between "news coverage by White House reporters" and Froomkin's column; after all, they deal with the Post's three White House reporters on a regular basis. In fact, Harris's Post colleague, White House reporter Peter Baker made exactly that point in an online chat:
Peter Baker: Can't say any White House staffer has ever mentioned Dan's column to me, at least not that I recall. They're pretty sophisticated over at the White House and understand he's not a reporter. I think the concern on the part of our ombudswoman and political editor is about readers more generally, including some in the political class who may not be as closely attuned to how this works as the White House. John Harris has told us that even some of his normally savvy contacts have been confused over this.
Why, then, does Downie "want to make sure people in the [Bush] administration know that our news coverage by White House reporters is separate from what appears in Froomkin's column"? Is it because the White House is genuinely confused about who is and who is not a White House reporter for The Washington Post -- a far-fetched notion that has been rebutted by one of the Post's own White House reporters? Or is because the White House has complained about Froomkin? Or some other reason?
John Harris, writing on the Post's blog, offered another explanation for the concern about Froomkin:
The confusion about Dan's column unintentionally creates about the reporter's role has itself become an obstacle to our work.
Harris gave no examples or explanation of how Froomkin's column has "become an obstacle" to the Post White House reporters' work, leaving readers to wonder if the "obstacle" is White House anger at the Post for employing Froomkin. Baker -- who works for Harris -- was asked about Harris's claim during an online chat. Baker was urged to "give your readers an example of how Froomkin's column has impeded your ability to report on the Bush administration." Baker's "response" didn't address the matter:
Peter Baker: Okay, lot of questions on this topic today, so let's go ahead and get into it. John's point is only one of clarity. Let's make sure there's no confusion. There shouldn't be any debate about that. We don't put Richard Cohen or George Will on the front page, we put them on the op-ed page where everyone understands what they write is based on their own opinions. The web site is less clear simply because we don't have the traditional design of the newspaper with a front page and an op-ed page.
In an interview with blogger and New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen, Harris confirmed that he has received complaints about Froomkin from Republicans:
Q: Have officials from the White House complained to you or to Post political reporters about Froomkin's column?
John Harris: They have never complained in a formal way to me, but I have heard from Republicans in informal ways making clear they think his work is tendentious and unfair. I do not have to agree with them in every instance that it is tendentious and unfair for me to be concerned about making clear who Dan is and who he is not regarding his relationship with the newsroom.
Rosen noted that neither Harris nor Post ombudsman Deborah Howell -- who in her December 11 Post column wrote that "[p]olitical reporters at The Post don't like" Froomkin's column, "which is highly opinionated and liberal" -- had offered a single example to support their contention that Froomkin, in Harris's words, presents commentary through a "liberal prism":
Q: You also said, "I perceive a good bit of his commentary on the news as coming through a liberal prism -- or at least not trying very hard to avoid such perceptions." But you don't give any examples or links to past columns, and Deborah Howell, who also made this point, doesn't give any examples, so it's hard for readers to judge what these observations are based on. Could you help me out here? What issues does WHB tend to view through a liberal prism? Can you point to columns that you had in mind? You also say that it may be true that Froomkin would do the column the same way if Kerry had won the '04 election; but if that's so, doesn't that undercut the notion of a liberal prism?
John Harris: How Dan would be writing about a Kerry administration is obviously an imponderable. Does Dan present a liberal worldview? Not always, but cumulatively I think a great many people would say yes -- enough that I don't want them thinking he works for the news side of the Post.
Without agreeing with the views of this conservative blogger who took on Froomkin, I would say his argument does not seem far-fetched to me.
As J. Bradford DeLong noted on his weblog, Harris's use of the phrase "this conservative blogger" is highly misleading. DeLong wrote:
Who is the "conservative blogger" that John Harris cites? His name is Patrick Ruffini. More interesting, Patrick Ruffini is eCampaign Director at the Republican National Committee.
Shouldn't John Harris have told Jay Rosen that Patrick Ruffini is not some grassroots "conservative blogger" outraged at Froomkin's bias but rather a Republican operative engaged in working the ref?
Ruffini also served as webmaster for the Bush-Cheney '04 presidential campaign and previously worked at the Republican National Committee and at the 2000 Republican National Convention. His blog, as DeLong noted, is somewhat obscure -- and the post Harris linked to is nine months old.
Ruffini's anti-Froomkin argument -- which "does not seem far-fetched" to John Harris -- begins with the headline "Dan Froomkin, Second-Rate Hack" and proceeds predictably from there, calling Froomkin a "trite Democratic partisan" and his work "second-rate hackery."
As evidence of Froomkin's supposed partisanship, Ruffini offers examples like this seemingly innocuous March 25 Froomkin headline: "Bush's Approval Takes a Tumble." And this Froomkin passage from March 10:
President Bush takes his Social Security show on the road again today and if past is prologue he will be surrounded by supporters, showered with praise and cheered like a winner.
But outside the bubble, there are more signs of trouble.
DeLong later asked Harris about his use of Ruffini to substantiate his contention that Froomkin presents his commentary "through a liberal prism":
Q: I read you telling Jay Rosen that Dan Froomkin critic Patrick Ruffini was a grassroots conservative weblogger. And my jaw dropped because he is eCampaign Director for the Republican National Committee. A matter not of conservative grassroots complaints about liberal bias but rather Bush-can-do-no-wrong paid Republican operatives working the ref. So why did you characterize Ruffini in this way?
A: He wasn't at the time working for the Republicans, he wasn't when he wrote that piece [about Froomkin last March] ...
Harris didn't say how he knew whether Ruffini was "working for the Republicans" in March 2005. But Ruffini was paid $10,000 by the Republican National Committee on February 24, 2005, for "political consulting," and has held a variety of positions with the RNC and the Bush campaign in recent years, which seems to suggest he would be more accurately described as a Republican operative than a "conservative blogger."
Harris later refused to answer DeLong's questions about the Ruffini matter:
Q: Can you give any examples -- other than Republican National Committee eCampaign Director Patrick Ruffini -- of people who are seriously confused about Dan Froomkin's role at WPNI?
A: I cannot comment for the record because I've promised I won't comment on this.
Q: Did you, when you sent your answers to Jay Rosen yesterday, know that your "grassroots conservative weblogger" Patrickk Ruffini had been a Republican campaign operative in 2004?
A: I cannot comment for the record because I've promised that I won't comment on this.
Q: Did you, when you sent your answers to Jay Rosen yesterday, know that your "grassroots conservative weblogger" Patrick Ruffini was now eCampaign Director for the Republican National Committee?
A: I cannot comment for the record because I've promised that I won't comment on this.
During a December 15 online chat, Harris was asked about his refusal to comment on his use of Ruffini, and his description of Ruffini as merely a "conservative blogger":
Sterling, Va.: When will you fess up to what exactly you know/knew about Patrick Ruffini and when exactly you knew it?
Your unwillingness to comment makes the WP look -really bad- in light of the [Post assistant managing editor Bob] Woodward mess.
Or won't the White House permit you to comment?
John F. Harris: I said I was not going to return much to the Froomkin matter today, but I'm going to take this one because it bothers me. Also because many other questions I'm not posting are on a similar theme.
I did refuse to answer questions posed by a blogger named Brad Delong asking whether I knew that one of the people on record complaining about the confusion over White House Briefing was affiliated with Republicans.
As a journalist, I hate not answering questions, even from (in this case) someone who clearly was coming from a point of view quite hostile to me. But I had jointly decided with colleagues that I had responded enough to the blogosphere, so I took a pass.
I'll address the matter here.
But Harris didn't "address the matter here." Instead, he completely ignored the Ruffini incident in his response.
Responding in a December 14 column to listener comments on the issue, National Public Radio (NPR) ombudsman Jeffrey A. Dvorkin presented a list of the think tanks from which the radio network draws experts for comments and tallied the number of times experts from each think tank were interviewed in NPR stories. Before he presented the figures to his audience, Dvorkin asserted, "NPR does not lean on the so-called conservative think tanks as many in the audience seem to think." But those who read on would have learned that, in direct contradiction of Dvorkin's statement, the list demonstrates that NPR does in fact "lean on" conservative think tanks disproportionately.
Here is Dvorkin's list, which he described as "the tally sheet for the number of times think tank experts were interviewed to date on NPR in 2005," and his explanation:
American Enterprise -- 59
Brookings Institute [sic] -- 102
Cato Institute -- 29
Center for Strategic and Intl. Studies -- 39
Heritage Foundation -- 20
Hoover Institute -- 69
Lexington Institute -- 9
Manhattan Institute -- 53
There are of course, other think tanks, but these seem to be the ones whose experts are heard most often on NPR. Brookings and CSIS are seen by many in Washington, D.C., as being center to center-left. The others in the above list tend to lean to the right. So NPR has interviewed more think tankers on the right than on the left.
The score to date: Right 239, Left 141.
Yet contrary to his earlier denial, Dvorkin's "score to date" indicates that "NPR has interviewed more think tankers on the right than on the left."
One could argue whether centrist think tanks such as The Brookings Institution (which has been led in the past by Republicans, though its current president is a Democrat) and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (whose board of directors includes Henry Kissinger) provide "balance" to highly conservative institutions such as the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research and The Heritage Foundation. But even accepting the classification Dvorkin uses, he has found that 63 percent of the think tank experts quoted in the past year came from conservative institutions, while only 37 percent came from liberal institutions -- a pronounced conservative tilt.
The group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), using somewhat different criteria, has documented a similar preference for conservative think tanks in the American media more broadly over a number of years. FAIR's latest study is available here.
As Media Matters for America noted, on November 30, NPR's All Things Considered cited military analyst Daniel Gouré as "with the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Virginia, think tank," but it failed to identify the Lexington Institute as a "limited government" proponent with Bush administration ties. Dvorkin noted that listeners had written to NPR regarding this omission.
On the December 13 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, when a caller raised the topic of swearing in witnesses with a Bible, Fox News' Bill O'Reilly argued that historically, "if you swore on the Bible [before testifying in court] ... you would tell the truth" because "the Bible was considered a symbol that ... you didn't mess with." Continuing, O'Reilly argued that since "they've done away with" swearing on the Bible before one goes under oath, "[n]ow people perjure themselves all day, every day. O'Reilly then blamed, "secular progressives [that are] knocking out any spirituality" for the lack of a mandated religious oath before testifying in court.
O'Reilly failed to offer any support for his contention that incidents of perjury are on the rise.
From the December 13 broadcast of Westwood One's The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly:
CALLER: Long-time listener, Bill. I love your show.
O'REILLY: Thank you.
CALLER: Look, we're talking about separation of church and state. But what about, you know, when you're in court, you have to put your hand on the Holy Bible to be sworn in. You know --
O'REILLY: Not anymore.
CALLER: Not anymore?
CALLER: What about when the president's inaugurated into office?
O'REILLY: Well, he does. I mean you can choose to, but you don't have to, and some places have knocked it out entirely. But, look, the point of the matter is that it was there for about 100 and -- almost 200 years -- where you would go into court, and you would swear on a Bible to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And the Bible was considered a symbol that you didn't screw with, that you didn't mess with.
That if you swore on the Bible that you would tell the truth. That, of course, has gone away. Now, people perjure themselves all day, every day. We all know that. So, the Bible is a symbolic courtroom necessity, I think, but they've done away with it in many, many places.
Again: secular progressives knocking out any spirituality. They don't want it.
Wash. Post reported new characterization by Novak of CIA leak motive, ignoring his original, conflicting account
In a December 15 article by staff writer Carol D. Leonnig, The Washington Post reported that syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak said that the senior Bush administration officials who revealed the identity of former undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame to Novak were, in Leonnig's words, "casually providing a tidbit of information and did not seem to be trying to generate a story to discredit" former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV's mission to Niger. In fact, Leonnig misrepresented Novak's account of the leak scandal by leaving out the very different story Novak initially told of his exchange with administration officials regarding Plame's identity. Novak originally said that Plame's identity "was given to me" by two unnamed administration sources because "[t]hey thought it was significant." It was only after the Justice Department began an investigation into the leak that Novak wrote that his sources conveyed the information in an "offhand" way.
Wilson, Plame's husband, returned from Niger with findings that cast doubt on White House claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities -- claims that were used to build support for the war.
In a July 22, 2003, Newsday article, Novak gave reporters Timothy M. Phelps and Knut Royce an account of how he first learned of Plame's identity from the "two senior administration officials" he had cited in the July 14, 2003, column in which he revealed that Plame was "an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction." From the Newsday article:
Novak, in an interview, said his sources had come to him with the information. "I didn't dig it out, it was given to me," he said. "They thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it."
As Media Matters for America has previously noted, Novak altered his account after the Justice Department launched an official investigation into the leak case. Novak wrote in an October 1, 2003, column that the administration official who disclosed Plame's identity had not come to him with the information but, rather, had in an "offhand" way mentioned her role at the CIA in response to questions regarding Wilson's selection for the mission to Niger. Days later on NBC's Meet the Press, Novak again emphasized that the official had mentioned Plame's role at the CIA "offhandedly." In that interview, Novak alleged that his July 14 statement was not "very artfully put," but that there existed "no inconsistency between those two."
From the December 15 Washington Post article:
[Post assistant managing editor Bob] Woodward disclosed last month that he, too, learned about Plame's CIA role in a confidential conversation with a senior administration source. Many involved in the case believe that Woodward and Novak had the same source. Though neither journalist has identified the source publicly, both have said the official was casually providing a tidbit of information and did not seem to be trying to generate a story to discredit Wilson's mission.
Purporting to explain why consumer electronics retailer Circuit City, in his words, refuses "to acknowledge Christmas," Fox News' Bill O'Reilly said, "I think people from India own" the store. Speaking on the December 13 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, O'Reilly told a caller who complained about what he suggested was the store's refusal to promote the words 'Merry Christmas,' "that's the problem there" -- meaning the nationality of the retailer's owners. In fact, none of the major stockholders of Circuit City Stores Inc. -- a publicly traded company -- is Indian.
The caller said it was "fantastic" that, in O'Reilly's words, "[discount retailer] Target's changed its policy" on using the greeting "Merry Christmas." He then continued by asking O'Reilly to "do something about Circuit City." After proposing the Indian ownership theory, O'Reilly suggested, "if you find it [the policy] offensive ... You vote with your wallet":
O'REILLY: Yeah, look, you know -- but again, if you go into any retail store and you're buying a Christmas present and they refuse to acknowledge Christmas, you know what I'm going to do. You know what E.D.'s [Fox News co-host E.D. Hill] going to do. ... And I'm not telling you to do that, but if you find it offensive, you know, you got a wallet. You vote with your wallet.
Contrary to O'Reilly's ownership theory, none of the major, direct, institutional, or mutual fund holders of the publicly traded company is Indian. The same appears to be true of the company's senior management and its board of directors. In addition, the retailer limits its business to the United States and Canada.
From the December 13 broadcast of Westwood One's The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly, which also featured co-host E.D. Hill:
CALLER: And, I am seeing signs around that say Christmas but the reason I'm here is, last night, for the first time, I saw -- I saw a commercial for Target, and at the end, a big "Merry Christmas" came up on the screen.
O'REILLY: Yeah, Target's changed its policy. And we appreciate that.
CALLER: That's fantastic. So, I hope now you can do something about Circuit City. I was in there last week --
O'REILLY: [Laughing] Circuit City --
CALLER: -- and --
O'REILLY: I think people from India own Circuit City. I think that's the problem there.
CALLER: Maybe so, but --
O'REILLY: I can't -- I can't do -- I can't do everybody. I'm trying to do the big ones that are all over the place. Yeah, look, you know -- but again if you go into any retail store and you're buying a Christmas present and they refuse to acknowledge Christmas, you know what I'm going to do. You know what E.D.'s going to do --
O'REILLY: Okay. And I'm not telling you to do that, but if you find it offensive, you know, you got a wallet. You vote with your wallet.
On the December 14 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, anchor Wolf Blitzer falsely claimed that Vice President Dick Cheney "never said hard and fast" that 9-11 ringleader Mohammed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence official in Prague in 2001. In fact, on numerous occasions, Cheney asserted the now-discredited claim without hedging or qualifying.
The December 14 Situation Room featured Democratic strategist Paul Begala and former Rep. J.C. Watts (R-OK) to discuss President Bush's speech that day at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington:
BEGALA: Look at the record. The president does a very artful thing. He wants to take credit for appearing like he's taking responsibility, but he says, "I was given bad intelligence." And you know, I went and looked it up just from newspaper sources. He told us -- Vice President Cheney told us that Mohammed Atta, the leader of 9-11, had met with Iraqi intelligence. Our intelligence had told the White House that wasn't true. They said so anyway. They said there were links to Al Qaeda, they had been trained in chemical and biological warfare. The CIA told the president that wasn't reliable. He said so anyway. Again and again they made a case that there was a threat, not simply WMD, and they repeated those four words today: "Iraq was a threat." That was the falsehood.
BLITZER: I think if you take a look at how the vice president phrased all those contacts, alleged contacts, between Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi official in Prague, he was always a little bit more cautious. He was talking about reports, unconfirmed reports, speculation. He never said hard and fast, I don't believe, that there was a meeting.
Cheney did, in fact, discuss the alleged meeting as an unqualified certainty. From Cheney's November 14, 2001, appearance on CBS's 60 Minutes II:
GLORIA BORGER (CBS News contributor): Well, you know that Mohammed Atta, the ringleader of the hijackers, actually met with Iraqi intelligence.
CHENEY: I know this. In Prague, in April of this year, as well as earlier. And that information has been made public. The Czechs made that public. Obviously, that's an interesting piece of information.
From the December 9, 2001, edition of NBC's Meet the Press:
TIM RUSSERT (host): The plane on the ground in Iraq used to train non-Iraqi hijackers. Do you still believe there is no evidence that Iraq was involved in September 11?
CHENEY: Well, what we now have that's developed since you and I last talked, Tim, of course, was that report that's been pretty well confirmed, that he did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April, several months before the attack. Now, what the purpose of that was, what transpired between them, we simply don't know at this point. But that's clearly an avenue that we want to pursue.
As Media Matters for America noted, the claim that Atta met with Iraqi intelligence in Prague has long since been discredited by a variety of intelligence officials and newspaper accounts. Moreover, the 9-11 Commission concluded in 2004 that no such meeting had taken place.
Following the last of President Bush's four recent speeches on Iraq, numerous media figures reported that the president had taken "responsibility" for flawed prewar intelligence. But Bush did no such thing. While he described the intelligence as "wrong," accepted responsibility for "the decision to go into Iraq," and said he was "responsible for fixing what went wrong by reforming our intelligence capabilities," he never stated he was responsible for the intelligence failures themselves.
In his December 14 speech, Bush addressed the issue of the intelligence he used in making the case for the Iraq war:
BUSH: When we made the decision to go into Iraq, many intelligence agencies around the world judged that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction. This judgment was shared by the intelligence agencies of governments who did not support my decision to remove Saddam. And it is true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong. As president, I'm responsible for the decision to go into Iraq. And I'm also responsible for fixing what went wrong by reforming our intelligence capabilities. And we're doing just that.
While the media largely described Bush as accepting responsibility for the decision to go to war on the basis of faulty intelligence -- an accurate characterization -- several media figures misconstrued Bush's statement as an acceptance of blame for the bad intelligence itself. These included 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.
Among those who misrepresented Bush's statement, Hume stands out. On the December 14 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, he asserted that Bush "said he takes full responsibility for the decision to invade and for any intelligence failures." Later in the show, Hume aired portions of his interview with President Bush -- conducted after the final speech -- in which the issue of prewar intelligence was discussed. As noted above, it is clear from the text of the speech that Bush did not accept "full responsibility" for the flawed intelligence. But if Hume had been confused about this point, his discussion with the president should have clarified it. During the interview, Bush defended himself against accusations that his administration misused the prewar intelligence by twice repeating the misleading claim that he and Congress "looked at the same intelligence" on the Iraqi threat -- a claim that would carry no weight if, in fact, he had earlier in the day accepted blame for "any intelligence failures":
BUSH: To the best of my ability, I have resisted dragging the presidency in the name-calling and the finger-pointing and the blaming. But no, you're right. And we took a pasting -- you know, a blasting -- and have begun, recently, to make the case in a more forceful way to the American people. First of all, rejecting this notion that, you know, we lied about intelligence, reminding people that some of those people making those accusations looked at the same intelligence I looked at and voted to send -- for the use of force in Iraq.
HUME: Tell me about the decision that was made to change all that, to make this set of speeches that you concluded today and to fire back in the ways that you and the others in the administration have been shooting back. How was that decision made? By whom, and what triggered it?
BUSH: Well, I think -- first of all, I was ready to make the case for Iraq coming out of the summer. And the problem was that strategy was derailed by [Hurricane] Katrina. For Katrina -- during Katrina -- it made it difficult to talk about anything other than Katrina. And so like anything else in the public arena, you have to understand the timing of how to take a message -- and so the decision was made after my foreign trips -- and remember, I was gone quite a while in the month of November, as well -- to come back here and to start laying out the case, as clearly as possible, not only in a series of speeches, but punching back when we were being treated unfairly. And one unfair treatment was this notion about -- that we had misused intelligence, particularly by the people that looked at the same intelligence I had.
From the December 14 edition of CNN's Live From ...:
BLITZER: Hi, Kyra [Phillips, anchor]. Thanks very much. Lots of news going on. Is there a new candidate for the White House in 2008? Speculation being fueled right now by a surprise announcement. We're checking the political pulse. Plus, on the eve of the historic election in Iraq, President Bush takes responsibility for bad intelligence. How will the nation move forward from here? We're looking at all of the sides.
From the December 14 edition of CNN's The Situation Room (4 p.m. ET edition):
BLITZER: Up next, the president today took responsibility for bad pre-Iraq war intelligence. Is that a smart strategy? I'll ask two experts, [CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist] Paul Begala, [former Rep.] J.C. Watts [R-OK], they're standing by, here in The Situation Room.
BLITZER: What do you think about the president? Let me play a sound bite first from what the president said on this whole issue of taking personal responsibility for the bad intelligence.
From the December 14 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
HUME: Earlier in the day, in the last of four speeches on Iraq, Mr. Bush said he takes full responsibility for the decision to invade and for any intelligence failures. Fox News chief White House correspondent Carl Cameron reports.
LIASSON: In other words, he has been able to kind of admit mistakes. Like today in his speech, he said he admitted that the intelligence was wrong and he takes responsibility for it, but he would do it again anyway. And there is something empowering about saying that you are wrong and not have it be a kind of hari-kari moment.
From the December 15 edition of CNN's American Morning:
O'BRIEN: The president is taking responsibility for Iraq intelligence failures. Could he also clear up the big questions in the CIA leak investigation? Columnist Robert Novak, quoted as saying, he thinks President Bush knows who leaked Valerie Plame's name to the media.
From the December 15 broadcast of ABC's Good Morning America:
ROBERTS: As Iraqis make their historic trip to the polls, President Bush is accepting responsibility for the faulty intelligence which helped lead the country into war. The blunt admission comes in the last of the president's recent series of speeches designed to shore up public support.
From the December 15 edition of MSNBC News Live (10 a.m. hour):
JANSING: Well, in yesterday's speech -- you know, there was a series of four speeches that the president gave leading up to today's elections - he took responsibility for faulty intelligence leading up to the war, although he still does believe that it's helping create a free and democratic Iraq, and that's the right thing to do.
Nationally syndicated radio host Neal Boortz earned the runner-up spot in the "Worst Person in the World" segment on the December 14 edition of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann for his weblog post -- noted by Media Matters for America -- that predicted riots and looting by "aspiring rappers and NBA superstars" if Stanley "Tookie" Williams, the Crips gang co-founder who was convicted of murder in 1979, did not receive a last-minute commutation of his death penalty.
Boortz's December 12 blog post, titled "They're Just Looking For A Excuse, Not A Reason," predicted that California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) would grant Williams clemency because allowing his execution would spark "wide scale looting" in "South Central Los Angeles and elsewhere." Boortz also wrote, "There are thugs just waiting for an excuse."
Williams was executed early on December 13, and, as Boortz noted on his blog later that day, the event spurred no riots. "Someone correctly opined yesterday that it was too cold in Los Angeles for riots right now," Boortz wrote.
In naming Boortz runner-up for "Worst Person," Olbermann said, "So, the guy's not only got no handle on predicting events, but he's also a racist? OK."
During the segment, Olbermann showed a photo of a man incorrectly identified as Boortz; in fact, the picture is of former Sen. Max Cleland (D-GA).
From the December 14 broadcast of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann:
OLBERMANN: The runner-up: Neal Boortz, who was another one of those radio commentators who give free speech a bad name. In a blog posting, Boortz predicted that California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger would commute the sentence of convicted killer Stanley "Tookie" Williams because if he didn't, quoting Boortz here, "there will be riots in South Central Los Angeles and elsewhere." Boortz added, "there are a lot of aspiring rappers and NBA superstars who could really use a nice flat-screen television right now." So, the guy's not only got no handle on predicting events, but he's also a racist? OK.
CLIPS: O'Reilly compared Catholic leaders' silence over "war" on Christmas to Church's reaction to pedophilia scandal
Asserting that Catholic leaders are "MIA in the Christmas controversy," Fox News' Bill O'Reilly compared what he said was the Church leadership's silence on the "war" on Christmas to the Church's handling of the pedophilia scandal. O'Reilly's guest on the December 14 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, Rev. Richard McBrien, professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, responded by saying, "This controversy over a Christmas celebration ... is a very minor issue in comparison."
O'Reilly attempted to further compare what he depicted as Catholic leaders' indifference toward the "war" on Christmas with Protestant-led Christmas movements, citing the leadership of Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder and chairman of the Moral Majority Coalition and American Family Association president Don Wildmon. McBrien countered that Falwell and Wildmon represent "a certain segment of the Protestant side ... But mainstream Protestants generally are in the same boat, as it were, as mainstream Catholics and their bishops."
McBrien then asserted:
Today there are many, many millions of non-Christians beyond the Jewish community. And so, you know, business is business. It's out to make a profit, and it doesn't want to alienate potential customers.
O'Reilly's responded: "[T]hat's dopey, Father."
Promoting the segment earlier that day on his nationally syndicated radio show, The Radio Factor, O'Reilly asked, "Why aren't the prelates of the Catholic Church in America, the cardinals and the archbishops standing up for Christmas? Why? ... If you don't stick up for the baby Jesus, who are you going to stick up for?"
From the December 14 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
O'REILLY: Now, Father, we had almost the exact same discussion -- Father McBrien -- about the priest pedophilia scandal, when I just said, "Look, we can't get one cardinal, one archbishop to come on the program and say anything." And now here we are again; the same thing except for [Archbishop of Santa Fe, New Mexico, Michael] Sheehan. What's going on?
McBRIEN: Well, first of all, Bill, this is a very different sort of issue. I mean, the pedophilia crisis and scandal that it was associated with it was enormously significant. In fact, I think the most important crisis the Catholic Church in America has ever faced.
This controversy over a Christmas celebration -- whether to say "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas" or to allow nativity scenes, crèches, and so forth, or to call Christmas trees "Christmas trees" rather than "Holiday trees" -- is a very minor issue in comparison.
O'REILLY: Look, look, here's the deal. We've got 65 million American Catholics. OK? And they don't hear a word from any Catholic leadership on the subject at all.
The Protestants have at least a half dozen -- what, you got, Falwell, Wildmon (they're going to be on next week); we've got campaigns that the Protestants have organized to say to retailers, "Hey, listen, if you don't -- if you disrespect the holiday of Christmas, we're going to let our people know." All of this is in play on the Protestant side; zippo on the Catholic side.
McBRIEN: But --
O'REILLY: Listen -- go ahead.
McBRIEN: But, Bill, it's only, it's a certain segment of the Protestant side, and I'm not -- I don't intend to diminish them or to put them down. But mainstream Protestants generally are in the same boat, as it were, as mainstream Catholics and their bishops.
Look, for decades, Catholics and mainstream Protestants have bemoaned the commercialization of Christmas, the using the religious aspects of the feast to sell products.
And what's happened -- two things have happened -- one is that this nation has changed. In 1955, Will Herbert, a very famous social scientist, wrote a book called "Protestant, Catholic, Jew." In 1955, that was the religious landscape of this country. The only real non-Christians in this country were Jews, and they were a small minority. Today, there are many, many millions of non-Christians beyond the Jewish community. And so, you know, business is business. It's out to make a profit, and it doesn't want to alienate potential customers.
O'REILLY: Yes, but that -- you know that's dopey, Father.
From the December 14 broadcast of Westwood One's The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly:
O'Reilly: And, uh, we also have a very provocative segment, why aren't the prelates of the Catholic Church in America, the cardinals and the archbishops standing up for Christmas? Why? There's only one who will talk to us, Sheehan out in New Mexico. Archbishop Sheehan. Where are the others? Where are they? If you don't stick up for the baby Jesus, who are you going to stick up for?
Now, they were MIA in the priest/pedophilia scandals. Now, they're MIA in the Christmas controversy. What the heck's going on with them? So we're going to do that, and I'll probably get excommunicated again. How many times can you get excommunicated? No, I haven't been excommunicated, not that I know of.
A December 14 New York Times editorial incorrectly suggested that Congress had defied Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) and cut from a spending bill $442 million originally given to Alaska to finance the construction of two widely derided bridges there. The bridges, according a November 17 Times article, included "a mile-long, 200-foot-high bridge connecting Ketchikan to a sparsely populated island and regional airport and a second one linking Anchorage to a port nearly two miles across an inlet."
Here's what the Times wrote in its December 14 editorial, titled "The Senator Who Cried Wolf":
Alaska drilling should never be palmed off as a money-saving measure, but that is the sleight-of-hand being attempted. House moderates who oppose the drilling as well as the welfare cuts must stand fast.
They should keep in mind the senator's earlier melodramatic vow to resign from public office if pork money was rescinded for Alaska's notorious bridges to nowhere. An embarrassed Congress nevertheless scuttled the requirement to build the bridges. Alas, Senator Stevens remains at work.
The editorial brought up the bridges to attack Stevens's steadfast support of drilling for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), which is currently banned. Stevens has said he will not approve any budget bill compromise that does not include it. In encouraging House Republicans to call Stevens's bluff and vote against drilling in ANWR, the Times recalled Stevens' October 20 threat to resign if the funding for the two bridges were cut. But the editorial wrongly implied that an "embarrassed Congress" acted in defiance of "the senator's melodramatic vow to resign" if the earmark were rescinded. In fact, Congress did not defy Stevens. What Congress did, as the Times' November 17 article reported, was to simply eliminate the requirement that the money be spent on the two specific bridges. According to the news article, "The change will not save the federal government any money. Instead, the $442 million will be turned over to the state with no strings attached, allowing lawmakers and the governor there to parcel it out for transportation projects as they see fit, including the bridges should they so choose." Rather than defying Stevens, Congress actually gave Alaska more, in the form of greater latitude to decide where to spend the money.
CLIPS: Fox News' Kilmeade: Sting would "be happy" in the Brazilian rainforest "raising money for those with plates in their lips"
On the December 15 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade remarked that musical artist Sting, who founded the Rainforest Foundation in 1989 with wife Trudie Styler, would "be happy to be down there [in Brazil] raising money for those with plates in their lips." Kilmeade made his comment while discussing "holiday stuff" on the Fox & Friends set with co-hosts Steve Doocy and Lauren Green.
From the December 15 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
DOOCY: Take a look, we've got a whole bunch of holiday stuff on board.
KILMEADE: I feel overwhelmed.
GREEN: We have poinsettias.
KILMEADE: I feel like Sting at a concert in Brazil.
DOOCY: What's that mean?
GREEN: Okay, what does that mean?
KILMEADE: He's a rainforest guy. He loves the rainforest.
DOOCY: So he would be happy to be down there?
KILMEADE: He'd be happy to be down there raising money for those with plates in their lips.
GREEN: That came from totally, like, over here.
KILMEADE: You ever see that?
DOOCY: I have had a subscription or two to the National Geographic.
KILMEADE: There you go.
According to the Rainforest Foundation: "The Foundation's first major initiative was to campaign globally for the protection of the lands of the Kayapo Indians in Brazilian Amazonia." Kilmeade may have been referring to the Kayapo Indians, who have traditionally worn disks in their lower lips.
In his December 13 column, syndicated columnist Thomas Sowell claimed that "after Nazi Germany surrendered at the end of World War II, die-hard Nazi guerrilla units terrorized and assassinated both German officials and German civilians who cooperated with Allied occupation authorities" -- echoing an analogy promoted by Bush administration officials to the current situation in Iraq. But, according to several sources, Sowell's assertion is baseless. The resistance to the Allied occupation was extremely limited and disorganized, unlike the Iraqi resistance of today.
Sowell's claim that "guerrilla units terrorized and assassinated" German officials and civilians recalls comments by administration officials including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld -- who have equated postwar German rebels known as "werewolves" with current insurgents in Iraq. But the history indicates otherwise. According to numerous sources, the group did not "terrorize" or "assassinate" German officials or civilians after the war. As Daniel Benjamin, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, discussed in an August 29, 2003, Slate.com article, the most notable instance of this "guerrilla unit" assassinating a German official occurred on March 25, 1945 -- nearly two months before the war in Europe ended. Benjamin wrote: "Werwolf [Werewolf] tales have been a favorite of schlock novels, but the reality bore no resemblance to Iraq today." He went on to explain:
In practice, Werwolf amounted to next to nothing. The mayor of Aachen [a Germany city] was assassinated on March 25, 1945, on [SS Chief Heinrich] Himmler's orders. This was not a nice thing to do, but it happened before the May 7 Nazi surrender at Reims. It's hardly surprising that Berlin sought to undermine the American occupation before the war was over. And as the U.S. Army's official history, The U.S. Army in the Occupation of Germany 1944-1946, points out, the killing was "probably the Werwolf's most sensational achievement."
An August 26, 2003, Los Angeles Times article also disputes Sowell's claim that the guerrilla group terrorized Germans after the war:
The Werewolves were founded in September 1944 by SS chief Heinrich Himmler, who saw them as a special force that would work behind U.S. lines to sabotage equipment and kill U.S. troops ... But according to Perry Biddiscombe, a historian of postwar Germany who wrote a 1998 book on the Werewolves, the force was designed only to assist the German army in winning the war. It was not created to be an underground movement after a German defeat.
"After the end of the war there's a lot more ambiguity," said Biddiscombe.
It's possible, Biddiscombe said, that some isolated Werewolf cells or officers may have continued to operate for a few months after the war. Guerrilla-style attacks did take place against U.S. soldiers -- wires strung across roads to decapitate soldiers or sand poured in gas tanks, for example -- and there were several suspicious deaths of U.S.-appointed mayors. In some towns, leaflets and posters threatened Germans who cooperated with the U.S. occupiers. But none of that activity can be directly attributed to the Werewolves, historians say.
"The Army put bars on jeeps to prevent decapitation by wires, but that was the only action taken by the Army," said [Lt. Col. Kevin] Farrell [a historian at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas]. "There's very little evidence of the Werewolves offering effective resistance." Moreover, historians say, the comparison between postwar Germany and postwar Iraq is questionable because of the scale of events taking place now in Iraq.
An October 12, 2003, Dallas Morning News article noted that apart from the "Werewolves," there were a few instances of attacks, but their scope was not remotely comparable to the Iraqi insurgency:
...the Werwolf largely consisted of teenage Hitler Youth members. They were trained to make bombs using soup cans packed with plastic explosive and taught to kill sentries using a garotte, as recounted by historian Antony Beevor in The Fall of Berlin 1945 (Viking, 2002).
By implying that the catalog of sabotage he recited occurred after the German surrender of May 8, 1945, Mr. Rumsfeld's speech was misleading, said Mr. Biddiscombe, a professor at the University of Victoria in British Columbia.
Almost all incidents of the sort Mr. Rumsfeld described occurred before the war ended, as Allied forces fought their way across Germany, and Werwolf quickly fell apart after the surrender, Mr. Biddiscombe explained. "There's no doubt about the fact that if you look at it objectively, the intensity of these actions diminished after the war," he said.
Attacks on U.S. troops in the American sector of occupied Germany were so rare that some who were there deny any took place.
"It's a lot of baloney," scoffed Albert G. Silverton, 85, a Californian who was an Army Counter Intelligence Corps officer stationed near Heidelberg in 1945-46. "It sounds very intriguing and very romantic and sensational, but believe me, the Werwolf was a totally ineffective joke," Mr. Silverton said. "I don't know of one case where any of our men were ever shot like is happening in Iraq."
The "Notebook" section of the September 8, 2003, edition of The New Republic also contained an item refuting this claim:
To be sure, few would argue that rebuilding Germany was easy. But that's where the comparison [with Iraq] ends -- in fact, postwar Germany was marked by a surprising lack of guerrilla violence. "There was basically no violence directed at us or allied servicemen after capitulation," says Peter Fritzsche, professor of German history at the University of Illinois. Most Nazi officers were busy trying to save their own skins, and the vast majority of Germans were only too glad to see the war end and the Hitler regime toppled.
From Sowell's December 13 column:
The media seem to have come up with a formula that would make any war in history unwinnable and unbearable: They simply emphasize the enemy's victories and our losses.
Losses suffered by the enemy are not news, no matter how large, how persistent, or how clearly they indicate the enemy's declining strength.
What are the enemy's victories in Iraq? The killing of Americans and the killing of Iraqi civilians. Both are big news in the mainstream media, day in and day out, around the clock.
Utter ignorance of history enables any war with any casualties to be depicted in the media as an unmitigated disaster.
Even after Nazi Germany surrendered at the end of World War II, die-hard Nazi guerrilla units terrorized and assassinated both German officials and German civilians who cooperated with Allied occupation authorities.
But nobody suggested that we abandon the country. Nobody was foolish enough to think that you could say in advance when you would pull out or that you should encourage your enemies by announcing a timetable.
There has never been the slightest doubt that we would begin pulling troops out of Iraq when it was feasible. Only time and circumstances can tell when that will be. And only irresponsible politicians and the media think otherwise.
Accuracy in Media (AIM) editor Cliff Kincaid argued in a December 14 commentary posted to the right-wing media watchdog website that news organizations should engage in a "Quit Gay Sex" campaign against "the dangerous and addictive homosexual lifestyle," using as justification for his argument the November "Quit to Live" anti-smoking campaign launched by ABC News after veteran journalist Peter Jennings died of lung cancer. Kincaid argued that news organizations should take up similar campaigns against homosexuality, given that "[l]ife-threatening sexually transmitted diseases among homosexuals are on the increase."
Kincaid wrote, "As if it wasn't bad enough that the homosexual men are HIV-positive, they simply cannot stop having sex with other men. ... They think this is 'responsible' sex. But they are increasing their risk of acquiring other sexually transmitted infections, including new resistant strains of HIV."
Jennings, who was the anchor and senior editor of ABC's World News Tonight for more than 20 years, was diagnosed with lung cancer in April and died August 7. In November, ABC News launched its "Quit to Live" campaign in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Cancer Institute, and the North American Quit Line Consortium. The campaign included a series of documentaries on the dangers of smoking, methods to quit smoking, and lung cancer research and prevention.
From Kincaid's December 14 "Media Monitor" column at Accuracy in Media:
Have you noticed that many news organizations, in honor of former ABC News anchorman Peter Jennings, have embarked on a quit smoking campaign? So why don't our media launch a campaign advising people to quit engaging in the dangerous and addictive homosexual lifestyle? Life-threatening sexually transmitted diseases among homosexuals are on the increase.
That's performing a good public service. But let's take this humanitarian impulse one step further. We would suggest that ABC News take on another dangerous practice--homosexuality. The latest reports indicate a rising pattern of sexually transmitted diseases nationwide. The 2005 estimate for syphilis cases is the highest in a decade, and the number of gonorrhea cases will exceed any other year's count since 1993. Federal officials attribute the increases mostly to HIV-positive homosexual men having sex with one another. The practice is called "serosorting."
The practice shows the dangerous and addictive nature of the homosexual lifestyle. As if it wasn't bad enough that the homosexual men are HIV-positive, they simply cannot stop having sex with other men. So they are still having sex, this time with other HIV-positive men. They think this is "responsible" sex. But they are increasing their risk of acquiring other sexually transmitted infections, including new resistant strains of HIV.
It appears that the homosexual lifestyle is as addictive as smoking.
During a wide-ranging presidential interview broadcast on the December 12 edition of NBC's Nightly News, anchor and managing editor Brian Williams asked almost no follow-up questions and rarely challenged President Bush's answers. Aside from Hurricane Katrina, Williams asked only one follow-up question of Bush -- on torture. On other topics, such as Iraq or the economy, Williams asked single questions and did not point out issues or inconsistencies in Bush's answers. On the topic of Katrina, a subject that moved Williams enough at the time that he wrote weblog entries describing his frustration with the government's lack of a response, he asked some follow-up questions, but failed to challenge any of Bush's problematic responses.
Here are the substantive questions and answers between Bush and Williams, with the rare Williams follow-up question. Media Matters for America has included suggestions for some follow-up questions that would seem to flow logically from Bush's answers.
WILLIAMS: A lot of people have seen, in this series of speeches you're giving on Iraq, a movement in your position. They call it an acknowledgment that perhaps the mission has not gone as it was originally planned, that the U.S. would be welcomed as liberators.
BUSH: I think we are welcomed, but it was not a peaceful welcome. There were some in society -- rejectionists and Saddamists and the terrorists that have moved in to stir them up -- that said, `We're going to prevent a democracy from emerging.' But I think a lot of people are glad -- I know a lot of people are glad we're there -- and they're glad we're helping them train their troops so they can take the fight.
Williams's follow-up: none
Possible follow-up: Williams could have asked about a December 12 ABC News/BBC/NHK (Japan)/Der Spiegel/Oxford Research poll, which, by contrast with Bush's assertion that "a lot of people are glad we're there," found that two-thirds of Iraqis oppose the U.S. presence in Iraq:
There's other evidence of the United States' increasing unpopularity: Two-thirds now oppose the presence of U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq, 14 points higher than in February 2004. Nearly six in 10 disapprove of how the United States has operated in Iraq since the war, and most of them disapprove strongly. And nearly half of Iraqis would like to see U.S. forces leave soon.
WILLIAMS: Was the force in Iraq, looking back, too small for the job?
BUSH: I remember the debate at the time. I remember [Sen.] John McCain [R-AZ], for example, saying, "You needed more troops." And -- but I -- I relied upon the judgment of General Tommy Franks. I felt then, and I feel now, that we had the troop levels that we needed. History will make that determination.
Williams's follow-up: none.
Possible follow-up: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld has similarly asserted that he merely approved Gen. Franks' judgment. However, as Media Matters has documented, substantial evidence suggests that in developing the Iraq war plan, Rumsfeld rejected the advice of top military commanders, including Franks, who warned that more troops would be necessary to secure postwar Iraq. An October 17, 2004, Knight Ridder article reported that Rumsfeld's claim -- that he simply approved what battlefield commanders requested -- ignores his own role in keeping down the number of troops those commanders requested:
Bush, Rumsfeld and other top officials insist that their military commanders were given everything they requested, and Franks wrote in his book, "American Soldier," that Rumsfeld supported his war plan. Technically, that's accurate. However, three top officials who served with Franks at the time said the plan was the product of a lengthy and sometimes heated negotiation between the Central Command and the Pentagon, in which Rumsfeld constantly pressed Franks and other senior officers to commit fewer troops to Operation Iraqi Freedom.
WILLIAMS: And how about the oil revenues?
BUSH: You mean on the Iraqi side?
BUSH: Yes, they're not as great as we thought they'd be. Yet, they're substantial.
Williams's follow-up: none.
Possible follow-up: "What we thought they'd be": Prior to and shortly after the invasion of Iraq, administration officials stated that projected oil revenues would enable Iraq to pay for its own reconstruction:
WILLIAMS: Can we talk about torture for a moment? The United States right now is locked in talks, and they're going on in Washington. Why can't the United States be definitively against torture, the current definition they're talking about?
BUSH: Yeah, we will be. We are and we will be, at home and abroad. The American people expect us to do that which we can do within international law and our own declaration of supporting the premises of international law -- is what I really meant to say -- to protect -- protect us. I mean, if they know something, we need to know it. And we think we can find it without torturing people.
WILLIAMS: Can you meet [Sen.] John McCain [R-AZ] at his definition?
BUSH: Yes, I'm confident we can. On the other hand, we want to make sure that we're in a position to be able to interrogate without torture. These are people that still want to hurt us, Brian.
Possible follow-up: Williams might have further explained the difference between Bush's definition of torture and McCain's, namely that McCain has proposed banning "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment," in addition to torture, which has a narrow legal definition. Bush's assertion that "[w]e are and we will be" definitively against torture "at home and abroad" means that the United States does not violate that very narrow legal definition. Williams failed to contrast this definition with a recent NBC News report [anchor at "NBC Nightly News"] on the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) suspected use of waterboarding, an interrogation method in which, according to a New York Times article, an individual is strapped to a board and made to believe he is drowning. By contrast, as ABC News reported [anchor at "Chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross"] on November 29, McCain has described waterboarding as "very exquisite torture" and said it should not be allowed.
WILLIAMS: Let's talk about the economy, a subject I know you're anxious to talk about.
BUSH: Thank you.
WILLIAMS: Are you frustrated that more of the good economic news isn't front and center these days?
BUSH: I think it's -- a little bit, but I also think it's important to understand why people don't see or don't feel the improved economy. We do have a strong economy. It's -- third-quarter growth was great. We've added 4.5 million new jobs since April of 2003. Homeownership is at an all-time high. Small businesses are flourishing. I mean, this economy is good, and it's strong.
Williams's follow-up: none.
Possible follow-up: In asking this question and then not following up, Williams ignored the possibility, supported by economic statistics other than Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth, that a reason a majority of Americans have a negative view of the economy is that average Americans' economic well-being may not be as sound as the president's selected statistics indicate. For example, mean household income in 2004 dollars decreased from $62,671 in 2000 to $60,528 in 2004. Similarly, median household income in 2004 dollars also decreased each year over that period, from $46,058 in 2000 to $44,389 in 2004. Another potential indicator from the 2004 U.S. Census Bureau's data that the average American isn't "better off" today than four years ago is the percentage of Americans living without health insurance. That figure increased from 14.2 percent in 2000 to 15.7 percent in 2004.
WILLIAMS: Were you watching the [Hurricane Katrina news] coverage? Were you seeing the same pictures that Americans were seeing?
BUSH: I was -- I was. I guess my reaction was "Where is the communications?" I mean, we had news people able to really be the fact -- witness on the ground when, in fact, it should have been government officials at all levels gathering the information, sending it back to headquarters so there could be an appropriate response.
WILLIAMS: After the tragedy, I heard someone ask rhetorically, "What if this had been Nantucket, Massachusetts, or Inner Harbor, Baltimore, or Chicago, or Houston?" Are you convinced the response would have been the same? Was there any social or class or race aspect to the response?
BUSH: I -- somebody -- I heard, you know, a couple of people say -- you now, said, "Bush didn't respond because of race" -- or "He is a racist" or alleged that. That is absolutely wrong, and I reject that. Frankly, that's the kind of thing that -- you can call me anything you want -- but do not call me a racist. Secondly, this storm hit all up and down. It hit New Orleans, but it hit down in Mississippi, too, and people should not forget the damage done in Mississippi.
WILLIAMS: Biloxi was hit terribly hard.
BUSH: And Pascagoula and Waveland. You know it. You saw it firsthand what it's like. And we had people from all walks of life affected by that storm. I remember saying that -- when I thanked those chopper drivers from the Coast Guard who performed brilliantly, they didn't lower those booms to pick up people saying, "What" -- you know, "What color skin do you have?" They said, "A fellow American is in jeopardy, and I'm going to do my best to -- to rescue that person."
WILLIAMS: It's been two months since your last visit to the [Gulf Coast] region. Was there any notion of -- of making it a domestic Marshall Plan of your administration, of saying, "Let's get together and rebuild this area?"
BUSH: Well, we're doing that. We've got $62 billion on the table. And, Brian, as you know, the devastation is so big it's going to take awhile to rebuild. I think it's very important for people to not focus on politics, but focus on how we work together to achieve what we all want, which is a Louisiana and a -- that's vibrant -- a New Orleans that's a shining -- shining light down there, and a Gulf Coast of Mississippi that's been rebuilt and is vibrant and thriving.
Williams' follow-up: none
Possible follow-ups: Williams might have asked about widespread criticism of FEMA and the administration's efforts to provide housing assistance to Katrina victims; or why FEMA had decided to stop paying for hotel rooms provided to Katrina evacuees while they wait for housing. A federal judge has since ordered FEMA to continue paying for evacuees' hotel rooms through February 7, 2006.
Williams asked no questions about senior White House advisor Karl Rove or the CIA leak investigation, even though, so far, it has resulted in the first indictment of a sitting White House staffer in over 100 years. Further, Williams could have pressed Bush on the contradictory statements he has made about the standard for firing Rove.
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