Gumbel Joined “When Did He Know It?” Mantra; Dan Rather Fears Being “Necklaced...the Flaming Tire of Lack of Patriotism”
1) Friday morning Bryant Gumbel set up Dick
Gephardt: "What did the President know and when did he know it has a familiar ring to it. To your mind, what are the questions that are upper-most?" NBC’s Katie Couric talked about “warnings President Bush received” and how “the controversy over what could have been done to prevent the attacks of September 11th intensifies.” ABC featured a victims’ representative who said they were all “very angry” about not being warned. But, in a sign some rationality is creeping into coverage, ABC and NBC moved on to the problems with information flow amongst government agencies.
2) On the BBC Dan Rather compared suppression of dissent in the U.S. to how “there was a time, in South Africa, where people would put flaming tires around peoples’ necks if they dissented. And in some ways, the fear is that you’ll be necklaced here, you’ll have the flaming tire of lack of patriotism put around your neck.” He also claimed: “What you have is a miniature....version of what you have in totalitarian states, where they produce films about how great the Great Leader is, and how he’s getting greater in every way every day.”
Nothing in the August 6, 2001 briefing which has set off a media firestorm adds to our knowledge of how top government officials were aware that al Qaeda terrorists posed a threat. Recall how President Bush had an anti-terrorism meeting scheduled for the afternoon of September 12.
All of the current questions -- about whether appropriate counter-measures were taken or warnings announced -- are good lines of inquiry and could have been raised any time before this week. But they should be directed at specific agencies and their staffers. And if they are aimed at political leaders they should no more go toward President Bush than toward President Clinton or the entire Washington political establishment, including members of both parties on Capitol Hill, as to whether they put a high enough priority on fighting terrorism.
And given the reality that the public cannot assess risk rationally, what good would it have done, other than setting off a panic and ruining the travel industry, for anyone in government to have put out a vague warning? Just look at how many people have made fun of Tom Ridge’s color-coded warning system.
Yet, the news media continue to take one briefing President Bush received and blow it out of context in order to suggest that he could have prevented the terrorist attacks and that the whole administration has been part of a grand cover-up of what they knew.
The media’s excesses and distortions continued on today’s ABC, CBS and NBC morning shows, but there were signs of hope that rationality is finally influencing their news judgment.
ABC’s Good Morning America featured a representative of the families of September 11 victims who said they were “very angry.” He criticized the administration for not telling families about the vague warning: “What immediately occurred to me is that my wife should have known that information before she decided to fly.” But Charlie Gibson did steer the conversation toward the more relevant issue of specific clues the FBI collected but which were not passed on.
Similarly, while Katie Couric opened NBC’s Today by tying the problems to Bush personally -- claiming that “as more information comes out about warnings President Bush received about Osama Bin Laden last summer the controversy over what could have been done to prevent the attacks of September 11th intensifies” -- in interviewing Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld she moved off the one briefing and toward the procedures of agencies staffed by career civil servants.
But on CBS’s The Early Show, Bryant Gumbel stuck to the “What did he know and when did he know it” line in opening the show. And his first question to House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt: "Look, what did the President know and when did he know it has a familiar ring to it. To your mind, what are the questions that are upper-most?"
More about the May 17 morning shows as transcribed by MRC analysts Jessica Anderson, Brian Boyd and Geoffrey Dickens:
-- ABC’s Good Morning America. Charles Gibson announced: "As we've been reporting, it appears the White House is now revising what they knew and when they knew it regarding hijack warnings before September 11th. We went back through our own files and here's what Secretary of State Colin Powell said on this program, on Good Morning America, the day after the attacks on September 12th."
Secretary Powell: "In the first, you know, 24 hours of analysis, I have not seen any evidence that there was a specific signal that we missed."
And there still isn’t, as far as we know so far.
Gibson continued: "Well, Congress is now calling for an inquiry, the White House is defending itself, and this morning we're going to check in with the families of 9/11. Reactions have ranged from tolerance to fury. For the voice of many, we're joined by Stephen Push, who's co-founder of the Families of September 11th.”
Gibson asked Push: “Your reaction to the last few days as you've learned, A, that there were some FBI warnings that didn't get followed up and, B, now this warning that there was, buried in an intelligence briefing in August with the President, some generalized warnings about hijackings."
Push: "It's very upsetting. When I first heard the news that President Bush had been briefed about the possibility of hijackings in August, what immediately occurred to me is that my wife should have known that information before she decided to fly. I think she probably wouldn't have flown that day, but even if she did, she had a right to know the risk that she was taking."
Gibson played a bit of a devil’s advocate: "But as the White House has been at pains to point out, this was just, you know, a very vague, generalized warning and that the President learned this as part of an analytical briefing as they analyzed what al Qaeda might be up to and not enough, perhaps, to worry the public or frighten the public."
If that’s a reasonable point to Gibson, then why all the media hype?
Push countered: "I disagree with that. What we're getting now is vague, generalized warnings. I don't know how to act differently on a yellow threat day as opposed to an orange threat day, but I do know that if there is evidence, credible evidence that terrorists may be planning to hijack planes, that I can make a decision not to fly on a non-essential business trip."
Gibson: "So generally, and I know you've been talking to a lot of families, their reactions have been?"
Push: "The families are very angry. Obviously they're angry because of the loss of their loved ones, but they're also, I think they're even more angry because not enough has changed and what we're trying to do is prevent other people from going what we've been through. I was very disturbed when I saw Condoleezza Rice's press conference yesterday, and I think the question is not what did they know and when did they know it, but what didn't they know and when didn't they know it? Because the U.S. intelligence community had the information before them and is it possible that the President was not briefed on this information? That in 1995, a terrorist confessed in the Philippines that al Qaeda was planning to use planes to, you know, slam them into buildings in the United States? That in July, an FBI agent in Phoenix was concerned about the number of Middle Eastern men who were coming to the United States to learn how to fly and was concerned that they were connected with bin Laden? That in August, an FBI agent in Minneapolis was concerned that Zacarias Moussaoui was learning how to use planes in this manner and why was not, why did the President not have this information in front of him when he made decisions?"
Gibson: "Well, that's the interesting question and we were trying to get at it yesterday and I suspect it's a question that people will try to get at in coming days, which is was there a failure to connect the dots: that FBI Phoenix warning, the arrest of Moussaoui, this generalized briefing for the President. Did we have a system that didn't pull it all together, couldn't pull it all together, as Condoleezza Rice said yesterday?"
Push: "It's clear they didn't because if they had all of that information before them, they couldn't possibly maintain that there's no way they could conceive of someone hijacking planes and crashing them into buildings -- it's clear. In fact, there's information in the public record that suggests they were trying to do that. There was a terrorist who hijacked a plane in Algeria and tried to force the pilot to crash it into the Eiffel Tower."
Of course, that incident in Paris was reported at the time and so on September 11th no one flying had been denied that information.
Gibson: "So your feeling today as opposed to, say, three days ago, four days ago?"
Push: "It's not just today and not just the last few days. It's this cascade of events that have occurred over the last eight months, as we get little dribs and drabs of information about the intelligence failures, the failures of immigration policy, the failures of aviation security. What we need is we need an independent commission to look at these problems and do a comprehensive survey of the events leading up to September 11th."
Gibson: "Something which a lot of people on Capitol Hill are calling for."
Push: "Absolutely. Senators Lieberman and McCain have been trying for months to get this bill passed to start this commission and our organization is having a rally on Capitol Hill on June 11th to support this."
-- CBS’s The Early Show. Bryant Gumbel opened The Early Show for the last time: "In light of revelations that the White House had several terrorist warnings prior to the 9/11 attacks, top Democrats are demanding to know what the President knew and when he knew it."
Gumbel soon commented to co-host Jane Clayson: "Just what we needed heading into the lazy, hazy days of summer, a Washington brouhaha."
Clayson: "Well, Vice President Cheney came out yesterday cautioning Democrats to be careful in their criticism of the President and the administration without full information."
Gumbel: "Right, he's leading the offensive, it seems out of the White House."
Clayson: "That is correct."
A news story from Bill Plante included soundbites from Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Cheney. Interviewing Gephardt, CBS’s only guest on the subject, Gumbel nicely set him up: "Look, what did the President know and when did he know it has a familiar ring to it. To your mind, what are the questions that are upper-most?"
In his last political interview of his career at CBS, Gumbel went out in form: Only one of his five questions challenged his liberal guest, and that one cued up Gephardt with “do you accept that as fact?”
-- "It's been eight months since 9/11, do you see anything suspicious in the fact that it's been eight months, it's taken eight months for this news to surface?"
-- "Let me rephrase if I might, you had a lot of private security sessions with the President. Why do you think he never shared any of this information that he had these warnings prior to 9/11? Why do you think he never shared that with you?"
-- “The administration contends there was no specific, credible warning to disseminate and to act on. Do you accept that as fact?"
-- "Let's talk politics here, much like we just heard Vice President Dick Cheney, your fellow Missourian Senator Kit Bond of your state has said, I'm quoting him, ‘Democratic efforts to blow this up into a scandal are irresponsible.’ Your response?”
-- NBC’s Today. Katie Couric launched the broadcast: "Good morning. The White House on the defensive. As more information comes out about warnings President Bush received about Osama Bin Laden last summer the controversy over what could have been done to prevent the attacks of September 11th, intensifies today, Friday, May the 17th, 2002."
Couric soon explained: "Newspapers around the country are focusing on this story. The headline in the Washington Post this morning, 'An Image of Invincibility Is Shaken By Disclosures.' Thursday night Vice President Cheney warned Democrats not to play politics with this firestorm. Meanwhile national security advisor Condoleezza Rice said the information the President received was not specific and focused on threats overseas. We're gonna have more on this ongoing story in a moment when we talk with Defense Secretary Donald
Today, which on Thursday interviewed Republican Senator Richard Shelby, brought aboard Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Couric set up the segment:
"On Close Up this morning the Bush administration, the terror warnings. As we've been reporting controversy is swirling about what the President knew about threats from Al Qaeda and what could have been done about them before September 11th. Donald Rumsfeld is the Secretary of Defense, Mr. Secretary thanks so much for joining us this morning.”
Couric’s questions, in which she moved off of hanging it all on one man and moved on to organizational shortcomings within the FBI:
-- “Certainly you've heard about all the controversy with Dick Gephardt asking what the President knew and when he knew it. Many newspapers across the country are focused on this story. What is your reaction that the Bush administration perhaps did not act quickly enough or efficaciously enough when it came to warnings that some kind of terrorist attack might occur on this country?"
-- "But there is some feeling Mr. Secretary that some warnings were not properly heeded by the powers that be. For example the FBI memo that was written or the FBI agent who warned about people training at U.S. flight schools, about, about foreigners doing that back in July. There were other memos and, and sort of more generic CIA briefings. Should these things have been taken in total and should more, more, should more have been done as a result of these things?"
-- "But is it, is it, is it possible, Mr. Secretary to have better coordination among all the agencies who might getting, be getting these bits and pieces and scraps of information so they can join forces and prevent something like this happening in the future. It's pretty disconcerting and unsettling that some of these warnings, albeit disparate, were surfacing prior to September 11th."
-- "What do you think about congressional hearings and Dick Cheney's comment that the Democrats should not make political hay with this. Because it's not just Democrats. Richard Shelby, a Republican of Alabama talked about getting to the bottom of this, yesterday on our program."
For earlier CyberAlert coverage of the media-fueled controversy about one line in a memo:
In some interviews earlier this year Dan Rather complained that fears of being considered unpatriotic inhibit journalists from asking questions they might otherwise pose. But he went over the top into wackyland in an interview aired Thursday night on the BBC’s
In a story pegged to how entertainment shows, such as VH1’s Military Diaries, get more access to the troops in the field than journalists, Dan Rather charged:
“It’s an obscene comparison, and I’m not sure I like it, but there was a time, in South Africa, where people would put flaming tires around peoples’ necks if they dissented. And in some ways, the fear is that you’ll be necklaced here, you’ll have the flaming tire of lack of patriotism put around your neck.”
He also claimed: “What you have is a miniature, I would say, a miniature, a miniature version of what you have in totalitarian states, where they produce films about how great the Great Leader is, and how he’s getting greater in every way every day.”
And: “I worry that patriotism run amok will trample the very values that the country seeks to
I’m not sure what Rather is talking about since virtually no one opposes having tough questions posed. It’s the “gotcha” attitude of the media to which people object where the media play a derisively negative role, always playing the contrarian just for the sake of being adversarial. The military might not object to having journalists accompany troops if they could trust them to not take one little incident they tape and take it out of context and blow it up into a big scandal.
The Drudge Report ( www.drudgereport.com ) and Jim Romenesko’s MediaNews (http://www.poynter.org/medianews ), both have up links to stories about Rather’s comments, but the MRC has transcribed everything he said.
Drudge links to a story in The Independent in England:
Romenesko links to an AP story on Yahoo:
And to the BBC text story about it by the reporter who did the story on air, Madeleine Holt:
At the moment, the entire May 16 Newsnight is online in RealPlayer format under “Latest Programme” at:
But it will soon be replaced by today’s edition, though they may add it to “recent highlights.”
If you can find the show, it starts with part three of an interview with Tony Blair, move forward to 30 minutes into the program to find the story featuring Dan Rather.
MRC intern A.J. Ruiz today went through the 15 minute story and took down everything Rather said. His comments were interspersed with complaints from reporter Madeleine Holt about how the U.S. inhibits journalists and clips of R.J. Cutler, producer of VH1’s Military Diaries, who produced the War Room film about the 1992 Clinton campaign. For Military Diaries Cutler gave video cameras to 80 people in the military to tape their activities.
Here is everything the BBC showed Rather saying:
-- “There’s never been an American war, small or large, in which access has been so limited, as this one.”
-- “It’s an obscene comparison, and I’m not sure I like it, but there was a time, in South Africa, where people would put flaming tires around peoples’ necks if they dissented. And in some ways, the fear is that you’ll be necklaced here, you’ll have the flaming tire of lack of patriotism put around your neck. Now it’s that fear that keeps journalists from asking the toughest of the tough questions and to continue to bore in on the tough questions so often. And again, I’m humbled to say, I do not except myself from this criticism.”
-- “War is real mud and real blood, the real screams of the dying, and real death. That’s war. What you see in a Hollywood movie, or made for television quote, ‘reality series,’ is not war, it’s somebody’s glamorized view of war. And even when they say, listen, we’re going to tell it like it really is. I’m sorry, baloney.”
-- “What you have is a miniature, I would say, a miniature, a miniature version of what you have in totalitarian states, where they produce films about how great the Great Leader is, and how he’s getting greater in every way every day.”
-- “I worry that patriotism run amok will trample the very values that the country seeks to defend. And a constitutional republic, based in the principles of democracy such as ours, you simply cannot sustain warfare without the people at large understanding why we fight, how we fight, and have a sense of accountability to the very top.”
-- “Let us take Operation Anaconda. Which was presented to the American people, and remains presented to the American people as an outstanding victory. But there are some very serious questions, particularly the early hours of Operation Anaconda. Somebody sent some of America’s best into a trap.”
-- “What’s being done practically, in real terms, is in direct variance with what the Pentagon’s stated policy is. The Pentagon’s stated policy is maximum access and maximum information consistent with national security.”
-- “Well what’s going on, to a very large extent, I’m sorry to say, is a belief that the public doesn’t need to know. Limiting access, limiting information, to cover the backsides of those who are in charge of the war is extremely dangerous, and cannot and shouldn’t be accepted. Now I’m sorry to say, that up to including the moment of this interview, that overwhelmingly it has been accepted by the American people. And the current administration revels in that. They relish that. And they take refuge in that.”
-- “It starts with a feeling of patriotism within oneself. It carries through with the knowledge, the real and certain knowledge that the country as a whole, and for all the right reasons, felt and continues to feel this surge in patriotism within themselves. And one finds oneself saying, ‘I know the right question, but now is really not the right time to ask it.’”
-- “The belief runs so strong in both the political and military leadership in the current war effort, that those who control the images will control public opinion. They realize what an entertainment-oriented society ours has become, therefore, in one way of looking at it, it’s quite natural. They say to themselves, ‘hey, we’ve had the Hollywoodization of the news. We’ve had the Hollywoodization of almost everything else in society. Why not the Hollywoodization of war?’ I want to say quietly, but as forcefully as I can, that I hope this doesn’t go any further. It’s gone too far already. I am appalled by it. I do think it’s an outrage, this is a personal opinion.”
Wow. In Dan Rather’s world George W. Bush’s America is a combination of murderous racist oppression and Sadam Hussein-like adulation.
-- Brent Baker
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