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November 30, 2005
Fox News, MSNBC devoted scant coverage to initial aftermath of Rep. Cunningham's guilty pleas, resignation
In the hours after Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA) pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy and tax evasion and subsequently announced his resignation from the House of Representatives, Fox News and MSNBC devoted scant coverage to the unfolding story. A Media Matters for America review of the first four hours of the three cable news networks' coverage following Cunningham's pleas and resignation revealed that Fox News was the last to cover the story, mentioned it the fewest times, and devoted the least time to the story. MSNBC also offered limited coverage, reporting on the resignation only twice.
Cunningham entered his plea early in the afternoon and announced his resignation at a press conference held during the 2 p.m. hour. From 1 to 5 p.m. ET, CNN reported on the story five times, at least once per hour (1:49 p.m., 2:25 p.m., 3:31 p.m., 4:15 p.m., and 4:35 p.m.) for a total of 17 minutes of coverage. MSNBC reported on the story twice (at 2:32 p.m. and 3:16 p.m.) for a total of four minutes. Fox News covered the story only once (at 3:38 p.m.) for a total of three minutes.
Prior to his resignation, Cunningham sat on the House Appropriations Committee, occupying a position on the committee's Defense subcommittee. He pleaded guilty to taking $2.4 million in bribes in exchange for helping defense contractor MZM Inc. secure Department of Defense contracts.
While appearing as a panelist on Fox News' Fox News Watch, political analyst and Newsday columnist James P. Pinkerton falsely claimed that former CBS producer Mary Mapes worked for Sen. John F. Kerry's (D-MA) 2004 presidential campaign. Mapes was fired from CBS over her role in the controversial 60 Minutes Wednesday report that presented unauthenticated documents as evidence that President Bush received preferential treatment during his tenure with the Texas Air National Guard. Pinkerton awarded his Fox News Watch "Turkey Award," in which panelists "name the biggest turkeys in the media," to Mapes, stating, "This year, she's written a book in which she makes her case [that the 60 Minutes National Guard story was accurate] once again, forgetting the fact that she'd worked for the Kerry campaign -- leaving that part out." In fact, there is no record of Mapes ever having worked for the Kerry campaign.
Mapes joined CBS in 1989 and worked there until January 20, 2005. From 1999 until her termination, she was Dan Rather's producer for 60 Minutes Wednesday (also known as 60 Minutes II). Mapes has since authored a book titled Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power (St. Martin's Press, November 2005) about her time with CBS. Media Matters for America found no evidence that she was ever employed by the Kerry campaign.
On September 8, 2004, CBS's 60 Minutes Wednesday aired an investigative report -- for which Mapes was the producer -- into whether President Bush received preferential treatment while serving in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War. Among other sources, the report relied on disputed documents purportedly written by Bush's squadron commander, Col. Jerry Killian, which raised questions into Bush's fulfillment of his military duties at the time. The documents alleged that Bush violated a direct order from his superior by failing to report to an ordered physical exam and that Killian was facing pressure from his superiors to "sugar coat" Bush's records. The documents came under immediate fire from conservatives who alleged they were forged. An independent investigation into the story, which resulted in Mapes's firing after its release, found that CBS News failed to follow basic journalistic principles in the preparation and reporting of the piece; the report noted evidence challenging the documents' authenticity, but offered no conclusion about whether the documents were forgeries.
While there is no evidence that Mapes ever worked for the Kerry campaign, she reportedly arranged a phone call between Kerry-Edwards '04 campaign senior adviser Joe Lockhart and former National Guardsman Bill Burkett, who reportedly provided CBS with the disputed National Guard memos; Mapes said she arranged the call as a way to "gain favor" with Burkett. The Bush-Cheney '04 campaign claimed that the phone call showed "coordination" between the Kerry-Edwards campaign and 60 Minutes. Both Lockhart and Burkett have denied discussing the documents during their phone call, claiming they discussed strategy in responding to attacks on Kerry's military service by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
From the November 26 edition of Fox News' Fox News Watch, hosted by Eric Burns:
ANNOUNCER: Now that you've finished your Thanksgiving bird, it's time to name the biggest turkeys in the media. The Fox News Watch Turkey Awards are next.
BURNS: And now, in honor of both the holiday just passed and the lapses of journalists at all times, Fox News Watch proudly -- I wonder if "proudly" should be there; well, let's see -- proudly presents the Fox News Watch Turkey Awards. Jim Pinkerton presents the first one.
PINKERTON: Well, my -- my turkey is Mary Mapes, who was responsible for the disastrous and wrong CBS special last year. This year --
BURNS: About Memogate.
PINKERTON: About Memogate.
BURNS: She was the producer.
PINKERTON: This year, she's written a book in which she makes her case once again, forgetting the fact that she'd worked for the Kerry campaign -- leaving that part out. Don't take my word for it. Redstate.org compared her to the Symbionese Liberation Army in terms of her craziness. The Washington Post, the Columbia Journalism Review, the American Journalism Review have all slammed her big time. But the most compelling proof that she's a turkey of turkeys is in her own book. She reveals an acronym that I had never heard: FEA. And it stands for F-apostrophe-E-M All. F'em all. That's what she thinks -- and that's what she and Rather would say to each other just before a show. That's what they really think about us out there in journalism viewerland. And that makes her not only a turkey, but a bad person.
BURNS: She's trying to get fired up to go on the air. Did she really do that? That's a -- wow. Obviously my ignorance. I haven't read the book.
On the November 27 broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press, Washington Post national political correspondent David S. Broder and Post associate editor and opinion columnist Eugene Robinson said that Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward's conduct in the Valerie Plame controversy has caused "[c]onsternation" at the Post. Woodward waited until October 2005 to disclose to Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. that a senior Bush administration official had told Woodward in June 2003 that Plame, the wife of former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, worked at the CIA. In discussing the "consternation" Woodward had caused at the Post, Broder also mentioned media appearances in which Woodward repeatedly criticized special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald and his inquiry into the Plame case, without disclosing his own involvement in the case.
On November 14, Woodward testified under oath that an administration official divulged Plame's identity to him in a conversation a month before syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak reported in his July 14, 2003, column that she was a CIA operative.
From the November 27 broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press:
TIM RUSSERT (host): Let me turn to the CIA leak investigation. Time magazine reports that Viveca Novak of Time magazine has now been subpoenaed to testify. David Broder, Bob Woodward of The Washington Post, as you know, has testified before the, before Patrick Fitzgerald, the special counsel. What's going on at the Post, in light of that?
BRODER: Consternation, to be honest with you. I think none of us can really understand Bob's silence for two years about his own role in the case. He's explained it by saying he did not want to become involved and did not want to face a subpoena, but he left his editor, our editor, blindsided for two years, and he went out and talked disparagingly about the significance of the investigation without disclosing his role in it. Those are hard things to reconcile.
RUSSERT: Gene Robinson?
ROBINSON: I agree with David. Consternation, a certain amount of embarrassment. And, and, you know, the fact that we can't understand why Bob did what he did. You know, I think that's a very interesting question in this whole incident about confidential sources, about access, about the tradeoffs that we all make for access in granting anonymity to sources. And, you know, I think that's going to continue. I think people are looking at us skeptically.
NY Times repeated false claim that Hastert "simultaneously" praised Murtha while criticizing his proposal for Iraq withdrawal
A November 28 New York Times article by reporter Carl Hulse cited a false claim by a spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL): that Hastert "expressed his strong respect" for Rep. John P. Murtha (D-PA) "while simultaneously differing" with Murtha's call for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. In fact, the two events were not simultaneous. Hastert initially responded to Murtha's proposal on November 17 by accusing Murtha of "prefer[ring] that the United States surrender to the terrorists who would harm innocent Americans." It was only a week later, on November 23, that Hastert praised Murtha as "a good man" while maintaining that he "disagreed" with Murtha's proposal.
The article marked at least the second time in less than a week that the Times mischaracterized -- or outright ignored -- a prominent Republican's dramatic change in tone toward Murtha, from initial attacks to praise.
Reporting that Hastert objected to Sen. John Kerry's (D-MA) claim that Hastert had labeled Murtha a "coward," Hulse noted that Hastert had issued a written statement that "said that America 'must not cower' in fighting the war on terror and that Mr. Murtha and other Democrats 'want us to wave the white flag of surrender.' " Hulse then quoted Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean's claim that Hastert "expressed his strong respect for the Democratic lawmaker while simultaneously differing on Iraq policy" and noted that Hastert "wrote last week" that Murtha is "a good man."
But by uncritically reporting Bonjean's false assertion that Hastert's praise of Murtha and criticism of Murtha's resolution calling for withdrawal from Iraq were "simultaneous," Hulse ignored Hastert's abrupt shift in tone in discussing Murtha. In fact, Hastert initially responded to Murtha's resolution with an attack-laden November 17 statement, which was posted by Bonjean to the Speaker of the House's weblog:
I am saddened by the comments made today by Rep. Murtha. It is clear that as Nancy Pelosi's top lieutenant on armed services, Rep. Murtha and Democratic leaders have adopted a policy of cut and run. They would prefer that the United States surrender to the terrorists who would harm innocent Americans. To add insult to injury, this is done while the President is on foreign soil.
Rep. Murtha and other Democrats want us to retreat. They want us to wave the white flag of surrender to the terrorists of the world. It is unfortunate that this is all politics all the time. We need to have a strong consistent policy that will protect our men and women who are fighting to protect us overseas. We must not cower like European nations who are now fighting terrorists on their soil. This is the highest insult to the brave men and women serving overseas.
I have known John Murtha to be a long-term veteran of this institution. He has stood up for our troops and has helped to provide them with the right equipment to do their job. We all saw the same pained faces among Americans when terrorists slammed into the Twin Towers. Did he see the faces the rest of America saw when terrorists plowed into the Pentagon or when the plane that was headed for a Washington target went down in Pennsylvania? I saw the faces that day, and, Mr. Murtha, that was no illusion.
A week later, in a November 23 statement, Hastert softened his rhetoric towards Murtha, emphasizing that he "has the utmost respect" for Murtha even though he "disagreed with the pull out plan he [Murtha] announced last week":
As you know, last week, we rejected a resolution to withdraw troops from Iraq immediately. It was the right thing to do. I have said all along that I think we need to win in Iraq. We are winning. Progress is being made. The Iraqis now have a constitution and they are about to elect a government with participation by voters from all factions. We've got to stay on the offensive against these terrorists. None of us wants to see this fight occur here on U.S. soil.
But that said, I need everyone to understand that I have known Congressman (John) Murtha a long time. He's a good man. I have the utmost respect for him. In fact, I'm pretty sure he knows that. I disagreed with the pull out plan he announced last week.
Hastert's about-face from his previous attacks on Murtha recall a similar move by the White House, which the Times also ignored. As Media Matters for America has noted, a November 22 Times article quoted Vice President Dick Cheney commending Murtha as "a good man, a marine, a patriot" but omitted any reference to the Bush administration's initial assessment that Murtha was "endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic party."
From the November 28 Times article titled "Hastert Disputes Comments Kerry Made During Political Appeal":
"Dennis Hastert -- the speaker of the House who never served -- accused Jack Murtha of being a coward," Mr. Kerry said as he listed Republican attacks on Mr. Murtha.
[Kerry spokeswoman Jenny] Backus said that comment was based on news reports and the general tone of an initial statement released by the office of Mr. Hastert, Republican of Illinois. It said that America "must not cower" in fighting the war on terror and that Mr. Murtha and other Democrats "want us to wave the white flag of surrender."
But Mr. Bonjean noted that Mr. Hastert did not use the term directly about Mr. Murtha and expressed his strong respect for the Democratic lawmaker while simultaneously differing on Iraq policy. In his blog, Mr. Hastert wrote last week: "I need everyone to understand that I have known Congressman Murtha a long time. He's a good man."
On the November 27 broadcast of NBC's syndicated The Chris Matthews Show, nearly half of the Matthews Meter -- a group of 12 journalists and commentators host Chris Matthews polls weekly on current political questions -- declared the 2008 presidential election decided, three years before any votes have been cast. Five of the 12 journalists and pundits polled said that if Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) wins the Republican Party nomination, he will "inevitably" win the election, regardless of whom the Democrats nominate. The show did not disclose the identities of those who declared McCain unbeatable.
Matthews posed the following question to his panel of regular guests: "If McCain wins the nomination, will he inevitably win the general election, no matter who the Democrats run against him?" Despite the fact that Matthews found the five "yes" replies "surprising," he did not say, or indicate in the accompanying Meter graphic, which of the 12 members stated that McCain would prove unbeatable in 2008.
Two members of the Meter who voted in the poll -- MSNBC chief White House correspondent Norah O'Donnell and BBC News host Katty Kay -- were also guests on the November 27 broadcast during which Matthews revealed the Meter poll's results. After revealing the results, Matthews initiated a discussion of possible nominees for the 2008 elections with O'Donnell and Kay. He did not indicate which way either voted, and did not ask for their opinion on the poll itself. However, later during the broadcast, Matthews asked his four guests, "Who's the most likely nominee in the Republican Party next time?" Three out of four -- including Kay, Time magazine Washington bureau chief Michael Duffy, and Washington Post columnist Terry M. Neal -- said McCain would be the nominee; O'Donnell picked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice."
The 12 Matthews Meter members are:
Gloria Borger, CBS News contributor and U.S. News & World Report contributing editor
Campbell Brown, NBC News correspondent
Tucker Carlson, MSNBC host
Sam Donaldson, former ABC News anchor
Howard Fineman, Newsweek chief political correspondent
Paul Gigot, Wall Street Journal opinion page editor
David Gregory, NBC News chief White House correspondent
Katty Kay, BBC News host
Joe Klein, Time magazine columnist
Norah O'Donnell, MSNBC chief White House correspondent
Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune columnist
Andrew Sullivan, former editor of The New Republic and commentator
From the November 27 broadcast of NBC's The Chris Matthews Show:
MATTHEWS: Welcome back. The great male hope: John McCain wants to be president in 2008. Will it happen? Let's go to the Matthews Meter. Again we asked 12 of our regulars: If McCain wins the nomination, will he inevitably win the general election, no matter who the Democrats run against him? Seven say no, he's beatable. But a surprising five of our regulars say no matter who he opposes in the general election, McCain wins the White House. Question: but can he get the nomination?
MATTHEWS: Who's the most likely nominee in the Republican Party next time?
O'DONNELL: Condi Rice.
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