Bush’s "Powerful Speech"; Bush Too "Fierce" for Donaldson; CBS Highlighted Military Decline; Cronkite: More U.S. Aid the Solution
1) Widespread network acclaim for Bush’s address:
ABC’s George Stephanopoulos: "He was resolved, he was reassuring,
he was sober, he was strong." CBS’s Dan Rather called it "a
powerful speech, powerfully delivered." NBC’s Tim Russert hailed it
as "an excellent speech" before historian Stephen Ambrose
described Bush’s language as Churchillian. Jeff Greenfield applauded on
CNN: "This speech definitely met the moment." Newsweek’s
Howard Fineman echoed on MSNBC: "He met the moment."
2) Sam Donaldson castigated Bush’s "fierce
speech" and warned that "if there isn’t a follow through,
it’s going to be a terrible, terrible let down." Claire Shipman
claimed that "this is not going to be reassuring to the international
community which was looking for something probably a little bit
3) CBS’s Dan Rather alerted viewers to how the military
is much weaker now than a decade ago. "When we embarked on the Gulf
War the U.S. military was enjoying all the benefits of Reagan buildup
during the 1980s," reporter David Martin confirmed.
4) Walter Cronkite argued to David Letterman that an end
to terrorism lies not in military action but in more U.S. aid to Arab
nations: "Those people have watched American television now and they
see all these riches and they are therefore set up for these people who
are plying upon that to create hate for us."
5) PBS featured a post-speech guest who denounced Tom
Ridge, Bush’s pick to head the Office of Homeland Security, as
unqualified because he’s "a very conservative, religious
George W. Bush earned largely rave reviews from network reporters and
anchors after his Thursday night address before a joint session of
Congress about the U.S. reaction to the terrorist attacks. (Two exceptions
were ABC’s Sam Donaldson, who called the speech "fierce" and
worried about follow-through, and ABC’s Claire Shipman who asserted that
"this is not going to be reassuring to the international community
which was looking for something probably a little bit softer." See
item #2 below for details.)
ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, however,
offered praise: "The President asked the country to be calm and
resolute, and tonight he led by example. He was resolved, he was
reassuring, he was sober, he was strong." CBS anchor Dan Rather
called it "a powerful speech, powerfully delivered to a nation now at
NBC’s Tom Brokaw thought Bush delivered an
"eloquent" speech with "very strong words that have added
up to very strong warnings in a very strong appearance by this
President." Brokaw implied, however, that the lack of any "talk
tonight about ‘smoke’em out of their caves’ or ‘wanted dead or
alive’" are signs of "growth" in office. "It was an
excellent speech," hailed Tim Russert before historian Stephen
Ambrose described Bush’s language as Churchillian with "lines that
are going to resonate with the American people for a very long time."
On the cable side, Jeff Greenfield applauded
on CNN: "This speech definitely met the moment." CNN colleague
Judy Woodruff believed "you felt what was in the heart of this
man." Fortune’s Jeff Birnbaum decided on FNC that "it was an
extraordinary speech." Also on FNC, Morton Kondracke of Roll Call
commended it as "a brave and determined speech." Brian Williams
exalted on MSNBC about how the language "soared at times" as
"there was some beautiful language throughout," while
Newsweek’s Howard Fineman echoed CNN’s Greenfield: "He met the
Below are more extensive quotes from the
networks, in alphabetical order, from after Bush’s September 20 address
at 9pm EDT. MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth helped with transcriptions:
-- ABC News. George Stephanopoulos offered
approval, but then applied some word parsing: "The President asked
the country to be calm and resolute, and tonight he led by example. He was
resolved, he was reassuring, he was sober, he was strong. And to me,
he’s never seemed so convinced before, never seemed so convinced of his
cause or so convinced in delivering it. He described a war that will be
long and difficult and different, but he also described a war that can be
won, and I thought one of the interesting sentences in his speech was he
said this war will not end until every terrorist group ‘of global
reach’ has been found, stopped, and defeated. That isn’t an objective
he can meet because, of course, of the qualification of global reach. He
defined the enemy, he defined the goal."
For more on ABC coverage, see item 2
-- CBS News. Dan Rather was impressed: "A
powerful speech, powerfully delivered to a nation now at war -- a nation
that now has before it a profound question. Can we as a people deliver,
carry through to the end, on what our President has promised. And to a
world that now has before it a stark decision: You are either with the
United States of America or against it. No President since Franklin Delano
Roosevelt, after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, has delivered
anything approaching a speech such as this and there may be those who
observe that no President in the history of our country has ever delivered
a speech such as this."
For more on CBS, see item 3 below.
-- CNN. Aaron Brown argued: "To our ear,
as strong and as confident as we have ever heard George W. Bush."
Jeff Greenfield agreed: "This speech
definitely met the moment. Part of the speech was forged in steel, not
just the demands to Taliban, but the very tough language, ‘from this day
forward any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be
regarded as a hostile nation.’ There were also moments of tenderness
when he talked about the loss people have suffered. There were grace notes
toward other countries, toward the Muslim religion. And one very
interesting point that I don’t want to let pass: this was so nuanced in
terms of talking to the world that when he listed the enemies we have
defeated, he listed fascism, Nazism and totalitarianism. Not communism,
because he very much wants the support of China, the most populous nation
on Earth and still a communist nation, to be at his side. So he spoke to
Americans, both in terms of the grief we had and the certainty of victory,
but he was also talking to the world."
Judy Woodruff soon added: "I talked to a
couple of Democratic consultants today, just to get a sense of what people
who wouldn’t ordinarily support this President were expecting tonight.
They said he’s got to match the passion with the words and explain what
lies ahead for this country and he did that tonight. As he was reading the
speech, and we know it was a speech that was written ahead of time, you
felt what was in the heart of this man."
-- FNC/Fox News simulcast on Fox broadcast
stations. Brit Hume observed: "And so in an address lasting just
under 40 minutes, President Bush, at times stern, at times almost even
angry, and at times emotional, has called this country and, it seems fair
to say, much of the rest of the world to war. There you see him in a
moment that would have been remarkable in that chamber just a week ago or
ten days ago in an embrace with the Senate Majority Leader. His remarks
were interrupted more than 30 times for applause, and his recognition of
New York Mayor Giuliani and New York Governor Pataki was met with
thunderous applause, cheers, and whistles."
Bush impressed FNC’s panel. Jeff Birnbaum of
Fortune magazine lauded him: "Well, it was exactly what he should
have given, I think. It was an extraordinary speech. It laid out exactly
what he wants to have done in a way that he hadn’t before. He fingered
the Taliban government. He explained to the American public why we’re
going to war and what he expects of them."
Roll Call’s Morton Kondracke followed up:
"It was a brave and determined speech, and it was exactly right. This
is an occasion that called for ‘Churchill-ian’ sense of purpose, and I
think it was there. We are at war with terrorism all over the world.
We’ve got to win this war, he said, and we will win it."
William Kristol of the Weekly Standard
recalled: "It’s been 60 years since an American President has led a
united nation to war. Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, we were divided.
George Bush has the great advantage of having a united nation behind him.
He gave a speech that I think framed the issue very well, and now he just
has to win the war."
-- MSNBC. Anchor Brian Williams provided this
assessment: "Making his fourth prime time appearance as President,
the President some Americans don’t know all that well yet, came to the
House chamber tonight armed with language that soared at times, speaking
directly to a worried nation in a city under heavy security at a time
unprecedented in American history. He has been handed the greatest single
one-day disaster in the history of the republic, and George W. Bush
tonight spoke to the American people and told them what he plans to do
Bush met Newsweek political reporter Howard
Fineman’s goals: "He met the moment. He said our generation must
and that he will, and I think he backed that up all the way from beginning
to end. He talked about the need to do justice, he made the demands, he
bucked up the American people. He met the moment, and that was what was
required of him by history and the country, and I don’t think there’s
any question that he was up to it."
Williams: "This was, if I am allowed, this
was a tough speech to make it through. He made it. This is a crushingly
sad topic for this country."
Fineman: "Well, Brian, I think that while
the Bush family is famous for its emotion, it was important for him
tonight, I think he felt, to be strong, to be the shield. I thought that
that shield that he held up was a symbol of how he views what he must do,
a symbol of authority and protection, and it’s as good a metaphor for
that speech and for his role as you can find at this time."
Williams: "Presidents, Howard, are shaped by
the events they are handed in office. Some of them complete four-year
terms and never ever have to step up to a national or international
crisis. This President has just been handed such, such a tragedy of
earthshattering scope and international scope as well."
Fineman: "Brian, I’ve followed him closely
since maybe four or five years ago. At every step of the way, he rises to
the occasion. I saw it when he announced his campaign. I saw it when the
campaign was under pressure. I saw it in the debates. I saw it in his
first moves as President with China and with the budget and so forth. They
practiced this speech for a long time. It was written very carefully. It
was designed to take advantage of the symbols of authority of America.
You’ve been in that room during a joint session, Brian. It’s an
intimate gathering of the American family. There’s nothing else like it,
and he was the favorite son of the American family calling the country to
sacrifice in battle and warning the world to watch out."
Williams: "It sounds incongruous because it
was a tough-worded speech, but there was some beautiful language
Fineman: "There was, and it was very tough.
I think it was tougher in its language than some might have expected
because in addition to speaking to America, he was, in fact, speaking to
the world, laying down the parameters for the American people and for the
world of what we expected of the Taliban, who they were, and why we fight.
You know, before World War II and during it, the famous movie director
Frank Capra made a series of films called ‘Why We Fight.’ This was
George Bush’s ‘Why We Fight’ speech."
-- NBC News. Tom Brokaw announced at the
conclusion of Bush’s address: "George W. Bush, the 43rd President
of the United States, the son of another President who was tested by war,
tonight delivering very strong words that have added up to very strong
warnings in a very strong appearance by this President, a test of history
and leadership that he could not have imagined as a presidential
candidate. In the last ten days, his critics as well as his admirers have
remarked upon his growth. There was no talk tonight about ‘smoke’em
out of their caves’ or ‘wanted dead or alive.’ An eloquent speech by
the President of the United States to the nation and to the world."
Tim Russert extolled: "Tom, it was an
excellent speech and a necessary one. We are a country on the verge of war
hovering near a recession in a capital that was targeted for attack, and I
think the President laid out very, very clearly what’s ahead of us. I
was quite taken by him saying that the country is on a mission and found
our moment. He clearly is a commander-in-chief on a mission and knows this
is his moment in history. I was particularly also very much surprised and
really focused on the specific warning to the Taliban in
Brokaw turned to historian and author Stephen
Ambrose: "It was first Edward R. Murrow and then John F. Kennedy who
said of Winston Churchill that he mobilized the English language and sent
it into battle. Did this speech approach that for you tonight?"
Ambrose answered in the affirmative: "Yes, I
was hoping for lines we could all be drawn in by as Churchill said to this
Congress in this room very shortly after Pearl Harbor, ‘What kind of a
people do they think we are?’ And I think we got those kinds of lines
that will be remembered as long as September 11th is remembered, which is
as long as this Republic shall last, with the lines ‘Freedom and fear
are at war. This will not be an age of terror. This will be an age of
liberty. We will tire, we will not falter, we will not fail.’ I think
those are lines that are going to resonate with the American people for a
very long time."
delivered the most critical evaluations of President Bush’s Thursday
night address to Congress.
Sam Donaldson castigated Bush’s "fierce
speech" as he noted FDR’s request for a declaration of war did not
display such a "fierce presentation." Donaldson warned that
"if there isn’t a follow through, it’s going to be a terrible,
terrible let down." Claire Shipman claimed that "for the most
part, this is not going to be reassuring to the international community
which was looking for something probably a little bit softer."
Sam Donaldson grumbled to Peter Jennings:
"Peter, this was a fierce speech. It sounded fierce, the President
looked fierce. I mean, if you looked back at the old film of Franklin
Roosevelt asking that Congress for declaration of war, you do not see the
same type of fierce presentation. I mean, you look at it, Peter, and you
think of Shakespeare: ‘Cry havoc, let slip the dogs of war.’ Well, I
think that’s probably what the country wanted to hear. The mood of this
country is very angry. The President could not have gone forward and
seemed to be mild in his presentation.
"On the other hand, I suppose there are
those who worry that now this administration, this country, all of us,
have to deliver, have to come forward and, in fact, Osama bin Laden must
be brought to justice, hard to find as he may be in Afghanistan, assuming
that’s where he is. Other terrorist groups must be rooted out. Perhaps
even harder to find them. A war the President said would last for years
must be fought. And when he turned to the military and said be ready, you
will make us proud. It’s going to be the kind declaration, the kind of
fierceness that has to be followed through. If there isn’t a follow
through, it’s going to be a terrible, terrible let down."
Jennings later asked Claire Shipman outside
the White House: "Claire, the President said at one point, ‘From
this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism
will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.’ Should we be
taking that as the ‘Bush Doctrine’?"
Shipman offered a criticism not highlighted on
the other networks: "I think so, Peter, and it’s interesting
because this was a very firm message to the international community, and
it’s not necessarily the message those abroad wanted to hear. Moderate
Arab nations, even NATO allies, were not looking for a lot of bellicose
language about war. They weren’t looking for ultimatums. But that’s
what they got, and that’s what they’ve been hearing in private. In
fact, the only thing that I think some of the nations abroad, especially
the moderate Arab nations, were looking to hear was the fact that this is
not a war against Islam, it’s not a war against Arabs. They got that
part of the message, but for the most part, this is not going to be
reassuring to the international community which was looking for something
probably a little bit softer."
ABC had time for Shipman’s spin because it,
unlike every other network, skipped the Tom Daschle/Trent Lott comments
which occurred a few minutes after Bush finished. Instead, ABC featured
analysis from its reporters while Jennings also talked to Iman Hendi, the
Muslin Chaplain at Georgetown University, and Ruth Simmons, President of
after Bush completed his address on Thursday night, CBS’s Dan Rather
alerted viewers to how the U.S. military is much weaker now than during
the Persian Gulf War a decade ago. "When we embarked on the Gulf War
the U.S. military was enjoying all the benefits of Reagan buildup during
the 1980s," Pentagon reporter David Martin confirmed.
Rather pointed out to Martin: "The U.S.
military is not nearly at the strength today it was when we embarked on
the Gulf War."
Martin agreed: "That’s true, when we
embarked on the Gulf War the U.S. military was enjoying all the benefits
of Reagan buildup during the 1980s. The U.S. military today is 40 percent
smaller than the force that went to war in the Gulf War and, as a couple
of people have pointed out, the globe is not 40 percent smaller and there
are not 40 percent fewer bad guys out there. So this is a smaller,
stripped down version of the military that fought in Desert Storm."
Rather followed up: "Let’s give a
specific, correct me if I’m wrong, at the time of Desert Storm we had
perhaps 18 U.S. Army divisions. We now have what, ten?"
Martin noted how it’s worse than that:
"Down to ten, but it goes beyond that Dan because these divisions are
now broken up and deployed in various places around the world. When you
take a division in the United States and put it in Bosnia, it’s not
really a division any more."
terrorism through more foreign aid and a bigger Peace Corps? Appearing on
Thursday’s Late Show with David Letterman, former CBS Evening News
anchor Walter Cronkite urged consideration of a non-military response to
the terrorist attacks.
Cronkite insisted during the interview on the
show taped before Bush addressed Congress: "We must keep in mind that
there may be other solutions to the problem than that the President may
propose tonight, or that may be being considered in our government."
Cronkite claimed that "rather than the military action that seems to
be planned, there is a body of opinion right now that’s rising that says
this is the wrong way to go about it, that invasion of Afghanistan is a
bottomless hole." He warned that will only generate more hatred of
Cronkite’s solution: "We should be, as
we should have been all along, paying attention to the economic status of
these people which has led to some of this hatred." He argued that
"television is partially responsible for this" as he suggested
TV helped bring down the Berlin Wall by showing those under communism that
a better life existed. But for Arabs, he warned, TV "has helped
create some of this enmity, which is purely envy in the very depressed
parts of the Arab world. Those people have watched American television now
and they see all these riches and they are therefore set up for these
people who are plying upon that to create hate for us."
Letterman pressed Cronkite: "Has it
worked in the past? Have we neutralized enemies by lifting them up
Cronkite couldn’t provide a record of success:
"I can’t say we specifically have to the degree that we have
quashed all envy around the world, but on the other hand look at the
successes at the little bit of money we’ve spent, but the devotion of
the people in the Peace Corps."
Of course, the U.S. already spends quite a bit
on foreign aid, including over $100 million this year on humanitarian aid
to Afghanistan. And Osama bin Laden is hardly poor.
to PBS to find a negative and ideological angle to President Bush’s
decision to name Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge to head a new Office of
PBS followed Bush’s address with a two-hour
show, America Responds: A National Conversation, in which a bunch of PBS
affiliates contributed interview or local audience segments. Naturally,
PBS made sure Bill Moyers, at WNET-TV in New York, got the most time.
Two hours of uninterrupted PBS is too much for
me to handle, but I did catch this shot at Ridge from Harvard University
law professor Alan Dershowitz, who was the featured guest during the
segment produced by Boston’s WGBH-TV: "That’s not who we need. We
need a brilliant, neutral, non-partisan expert on terrorism. Not some
politician who in effect happens to be also a very conservative, religious
That Ridge is "a very conservative,
religious Republican" is probably news to Ridge and anyone who has
followed his career.
Sadly, even in a time of national crisis, PBS
cannot restrain its liberal instincts.