Jennings’ Anti-Bush Comments Re-Run; ABC Prods War Criticism; Time for Healing Not Gettysburg; “Civil Rights Collapsed Along with... Twin Towers”; Rather Scolds Reporter; Clinton Boasts to Letterman
1) Peter Jennings on Wednesday highlighted the very comments he made a year earlier which enraged some viewers, including: "Where is the President?...Pretty soon the country needs to know where he is." And: “The country looks to the President on occasions like this to be reassuring to the nation. Some Presidents do it well, some Presidents don't." After the montage, Jennings acknowledged the criticism: “Some people thought afterward we were criticizing the President. Not the case. We were just very determined that we needed to see him and we needed his leadership at the time.”
2) The middle of the day filled with commemorations was what Peter Jennings considered an appropriate time to highlight criticism of U.S. operations inside Afghanistan. Jennings rued how “it's been very difficult to criticize the war effort for people who believe it should be criticized.” When Senator John Kerry demurred from attacking Bush, Jennings prodded him: "A lot of people are paying attention today, and so I ask you these questions in the spirit of an honest and necessary debate of the democratic process.”
3) Katie Couric suggested to Mayor Bloomberg that it’s a time to “heal” and not for the reading of the Gettysburg Address or the Declaration of Independence. Couric also hit Senator Hillary Clinton from the left on arming pilots: “Of course a lot of critics have said this is insane, this is a ridiculous notion. Why did you decide to support that measure?”
4) NBC Nightly News highlighted the supposed awful plight of Muslims and Arabs in the United States. Tom Brokaw asserted: “For many, this has been the year -- as one observer put it -- that the American dream for them descended into nightmares.” Reporter Jim Avila proceeded to look at a Palestinian woman who is “now worried everything she learned as an American about justice and civil rights collapsed along with New York’s Twin Towers.”
5) A CBS reporter too biased for Dan Rather? After Mark Phillips in Baghdad referred to “the belligerent noises being made in Washington” toward Iraq, Rather gently reprimanded him, reminding him of how Mark Twain “said the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between fire and firefly.” Rather suggested that instead of “belligerence,” that “Washington sees it as a kind of quiet determination.”
6) The instant the second plane hit, former President Bill Clinton claimed on Wednesday’s Late Show, “I just blurted out, 'bin Laden did this.’” Clinton also told David Letterman that during his last three years in office “several times a week we talked about bin Laden in our security meetings.” Asked if when he heard about the attack he wished he were still President, Clinton insisted: “I didn’t really think about me one way or the other.” To groans from the audience, when asked about playing the sax, Clinton replied: “I blow away.”
7) Letterman’s “Top Ten Reasons New York is the Greatest City in the World.”
Strangely, during ABC’s all-day coverage Wednesday of September 11th commemorations, Peter Jennings chose to highlight the very comments he made a year earlier which enraged some viewers.
A bit past 11:30am EDT, ABC played clips of coverage from September 11, 2001, including Jennings demanding: "Where is the President of the United States? The President of the United States led -- I know we don't know where he is, but pretty soon the country needs to know where he is." And insisting: “The country looks to the President on occasions like this to be reassuring to the nation. Some Presidents do it well, some Presidents don't."
After the montage, Jennings acknowledged the criticism he had received, but disagreed with it: “Some people thought afterward we were criticizing the President. Not the case. We were just very determined that we needed to see him and we needed his leadership at the time.”
That’s a very Clintonian view of the role of the presidency.
MRC analyst Jessica Anderson took down ABC’s retrospective package, which Jennings introduced:
"We want to talk in this next half hour about how the government responded to the attacks and what it would do differently were something like this to happen again. We're going to begin, fairly obviously, with what the President was doing on the morning of September 11th, a year ago. Mr. Bush, I'm sure you remember, was at the Emma Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, listening to second graders read. There's a famous picture of when the White House Chief of Staff Andy Card whispered into his ear that the country was under attack. This just put the security apparatus into a huge tizzy and because of those security concerns, there were huge questions about where the President should go and what he should do. Mr. Bush, you'll recall, spoke very briefly to the nation in Florida and then he was rushed onto Air Force One and spent almost the entire day being shuttled from one part of the country to another until the security apparatus, the security environment surrounding the President, was satisfied that it was okay for him to come back to Washington. Here's how it went."
ABC showed the original time on screen during the playbacks.
After video of President Bush, speaking in Florida at 9:30am, ABC played what sounded like Claire Shipman on the phone at 9:42am: "And we're told that the White House itself, the West Wing at the very least, is being evacuated."
Jennings, 9:48am: "Precautions being taken everywhere. The U.S. Capitol is now being evacuated as a precautionary measure. All federal buildings in Washington have now been evacuated."
Shipman, 10:19am: "The Secret Service have essentially told me, 'We have an emergency plan in place for exactly this sort of thing, and of course, we're not going to tell you where we take our protectees, including the President.'"
Jennings, 12:37pm: "Where is the President of the United States? The President of the United States led -- I know we don't know where he is, but pretty soon the country needs to know where he is."
Jennings, 12:38pm: "Here's a bulletin about the President's whereabouts. The Bush, the President is about to make a statement at Barksdale Air Force Base shortly."
Jennings, 12:54pm: "The President and his response to this is also part of the psychological package because the country looks to the President on occasions like this to be reassuring to the nation. Some Presidents do it well, some Presidents don't."
Ann Compton, 12:55pm, by phone. "We landed here at Barksdale Air Force Base -- this is near Shreveport, Louisiana -- at about 11:45 eastern time. The President has just made a statement, Peter, a very emotional one, saying that freedom has been attacked, but freedom will be defended. Frankly, Peter, I thought the President not only looked grim, very solemn, but his eyes looked somewhat red. We may be scrambled out of here – are we leaving? Okay, Peter, we are leaving."
Jennings: "Where are you going, Annie?"
Compton: "Peter, I have no idea."
Shipman, 2:28pm: "He's got at least one more stop. Another interesting point along those lines–"
Jennings, interrupting: "Whoa, whoa, whoa, one more stop?"
Shipman: "One more stop between Shreveport and Washington. He's on his way now, we're told, to another undisclosed location."
Jennings, 3:28pm: "Ann Compton, who's been with the President all day, is on the phone from Nebraska. We don't want to lose her if we can have her. Annie, can you hear me?"
Compton: "Yes, Peter, I can."
Jennings: "What are you doing in Nebraska?"
Compton: "President Bush is here at the home of the Strategic Command. This is the base where those big doomsday aircraft are kept, and he has disappeared down the rabbit hole, Peter, down through a red brick, small building, he and a skeleton staff are with him, down into an underground bunker where Ari Fleischer tells us the President is going to chair a National Security Council meeting by teleconference. You know, in 27 years of covering Presidents in crises, we have never played the kind of hunted game that was played today."
Shipman, 3:55pm: "We've been told that the President may be back as early as this evening. The AP was also reporting he's considering some sort of address to the nation this evening."
Jennings, 6:57pm: "There's the President coming back from a trip that has taken him first to Florida today to talk about education. There's nothing that this President, this new and young President could ever have imagined was going to occur on his watch which would test his leadership qualities so."
President Bush, beginning his address to the nation at 8:31pm
Back on live, Jennings assured viewers: "It's another reminder of what it was like on that day. It's true that many of us were frustrated as to where the President was and wondered where he were. Some people thought afterward we were criticizing the President. Not the case. We were just very determined that we needed to see him and we needed his leadership at the time, and when you look back at it now, there are just so many things we know now that were not clear then."
I don’t agree with Jennings’ logic that President Bush was obligated to appear on TV from a known place, but at the time last year the MRC documented how much of the criticism of Jennings cited quotes which “fit into one of three categories: never uttered, distorted or taken out context.”
For the Media Reality Check by Rich Noyes, “September 11, 2001: What Did Jennings Say? ABC Anchor Never Insulted Bush During Crisis Coverage, But Did Label His Day Trip 'A Little Strange,’"
with my comments as it was published in the September 19, 2001 CyberAlert, go to:
Direct address for the Media Reality Check:
And for the Adobe Acrobat PDF of the two-pager:
Peter Jennings considered the middle of the day filled with commemorations of September 11th to be an appropriate time to highlight criticism of U.S. operations against terrorism inside Afghanistan.
Introducing an interview with Democratic Senator John Kerry, Jennings rued how “it's been very difficult to criticize the war effort for people who believe it should be criticized,” especially with a popular President in office. When Kerry expressed reluctance to attack Bush on the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks, Jennings prodded him: "A lot of people are paying attention today, and so I ask you these questions in the spirit of an honest and necessary debate of the democratic process.”
Jennings set up the 1:30pm EDT segment caught by the MRC’s Jessica Anderson: "It's been very difficult to criticize the war effort for people who believe it should be criticized. It's often difficult or more difficult at a time of war, it is difficult to criticize a Commander-in-Chief who has such a huge popularity rating in the country, and President Bush's popularity rating in our latest polls now show that his popularity is greater now, or his popularity in how he's doing his job, is greater now than throughout the entire presidency of Ronald Reagan, so it isn't always easy, but one politician who has taken at least the Afghan campaign on so far, Senator John Kerry. He's a Democrat from Massachusetts and he is with us today in Boston. Senator Kerry, what made you decide in first instance -- I don't mean to paint you with too dark a brush here – but what made you decide in the first instance that it was necessary to criticize aspects of the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan?"
Jennings pushed Kerry: "Let me interrupt you for one second, just to say that I was also sensitive when I knew I was going to talk to you about whether or not this was the day to talk about failures of government or perceived failures of government, and I agree with you, it's a sensitive moment. On the other hand, sir, a lot of people are paying attention today, and so I ask you these questions in the spirit of an honest and necessary debate of the democratic process. We hear reports about al-Qaeda going back to Afghanistan, and if that turns out to be the case, what does the United States do? Does the United States have the right policy in place to deal with them now?"
Not happy with Kerry’s answer, Jennings directed him to take on Bush’s Iraq policy: "Let me interrupt you again, because there is the beginnings of a debate about what the President's policy should be about Iraq and whether or not the President, among other things, is not distracting or being distracted or distracting from the war against terrorism by talking so much about unilaterally hitting Saddam Hussein."
A time for healing, according to NBC’s Katie Couric, not for the reading of the Gettysburg Address or the Declaration of Independence. In the fifth hour of Wednesday’s Today, Couric also hit Senator Clinton from the left on arming pilots: “Of course a lot of critics have said this is insane, this is a ridiculous notion. Why did you decide to support that measure?”
At the top of the September 11 show, MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens noticed, Couric scolded Mayor Michael Bloomberg about the then-upcoming “Ground Zero” ceremony:
“There will be some very moving silences, frankly, during the ceremony. But you made the decision not to have any original speeches. The Gettysburg Address will be read, the Declaration of Independence, later you’re gonna be reading the, of course, Freedoms, written by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Why that decision? Because some people might say, 'Mr. Mayor, you know, we need, we need words to help us heal. We need relevant words to put this into context and give us some understanding.’”
Two hours later, at just past 9am EDT, Couric’s colleague Matt Lauer took up the concern with historian/cut and paste from other people’s books author Doris Kearns Goodwin: “I’m joined in the studio by Doris Kearns Goodwin, a presidential historian. And Doris I’d like to ask you about the significance and, and, in your opinion the appropriateness of the Gettysburg Address being read by Governor Pataki on this occasion.”
Lauer at least countered her criticism: “But Doris some people think that the Gettysburg Address is a great example of, of a leader rising to the occasion and reaching for words to describe the uncomprehensible. And, and shouldn’t our leaders try to do the same?”
Just before 12 noon EDT, Couric hit Senator Hillary Clinton from the left: “When it comes to the government I wanted to ask you, you voted in favor of having guns in cockpits of airplanes. Of course a lot of critics have said this is insane, this is a ridiculous notion. Why did you decide to support that measure?”
It’s not Americans who should be angry about being attacked, it’s Arabs in America who are justifiably upset about how they are being treated.
During the expanded, hour-long NBC Nightly News on Wednesday night, anchor Tom Brokaw highlighted the supposed awful plight of Muslims in the United States: “For many, this has been the year -- as one observer put it -- that the American dream for them descended into nightmares.”
Reporter Jim Avila proceeded to look at a woman who is “an American of Palestinian descent” who is “now worried everything she learned as an American about justice and civil rights collapsed along with New York’s Twin Towers.”
All because the FBI came to one woman’s house to see her son, who they thought was at least a teen, but turned out to be much younger, so they left; and another’s mosque was targeted one day by protesters.
Brokaw set up the September 11 NBC Nightly News story, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: “That brings us to America’s growing Arab and Muslim communities. For many, this has been the year -- as one observer put it -- that the American dream for them descended into nightmares.”
Avila began: “Weeks after the September 11th terrorist attack, Arab-American social service worker Aifidel Shilabi (sp?) heard a knock on her suburban Chicago door. It was the FBI.”
Shilabi: “Someone had phoned in a tip anonymously about that I’m raising a terrorist for Hamas.”
Avila: “The FBI was looking for a terrorist. Aifidel is a widow and her son’s in grammar school. When the boy they wanted to question was summoned, the agent’s eyes widened. He was eight years old.”
Shilabi: “Shock and amazed, and I said, 'You didn’t know?’ They’re like, 'No, we thought he was older.’”
Avila: “This is Jenin Ahman, an American of Palestinian descent. Born 42 years ago in suburban Chicago. Now worried everything she learned as an American about justice and civil rights collapsed along with New York’s Twin Towers.”
Jenin Ahman: “All of a sudden, this, you know, the regular Constitution doesn’t apply to Muslims somehow.”
Without noting how the terrorists of 9/11 did meet in mosques to plan their deadly strategy, Avila relayed: “By evening September 11th, many of this country’s 1200 mosques were suddenly targets of retaliation. Here where Jenin’s family worships, riot police were called in to protect Muslims. Jenin heard President Bush tell America the attackers were not true followers of Islam. And right away, she knew that peaceful American Muslims needed to reinforce that message by connecting to the mainstream -- leave the cocoon, as she calls it, practicing Islam in isolation, her children in Islamic school, and tell her non-Muslim neighbors of the innocence of her religion.”
Ahman: “I felt like really that Islam was taken hostage with, and hijacked along with those planes.”
Avila: “Jenin found a receptive audience in a completely different culture -- the Catholic church in an adjacent suburb. Five Muslim women meeting monthly with five Catholic women...Elaine Rand says she had no Muslim friends before 9/11. Now she has five -- and new wisdom.”
Elaine Rand: “Get to know a person always before judging them as a group, to know what the Islam religion is about, and to accept Muslim people.”
Avila concluded: “Lessons millions of innocent Muslims pray their fellow Americans learn before that next knock on the door.”
Earlier, NBC offered a more positive assessment of how Arabs and Muslims have been treated in the U.S. as Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria assured Katie Couric on Today that “mostly I’ve had experiences that have been wonderful, that is people have been, have been nice, generous.”
MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens caught this exchange on Wednesday’s expanded Today:
Couric: “In closing I wanted to ask you about life as a Muslim here in the United States. You have a PhD, you were editor of Foreign Affairs when you were just a pup, 28 years-old. You are a complete, brilliant guy, wonderful writer. And yet you’ve had some experiences here in this country in the aftermath of September 11th, haven’t you?”
Zakaria: “Well mostly I’ve had experiences that have been wonderful, that is people have been, have been nice, generous. I’ve had a lot of searches at airports. You know people who say that young, young swarthy men aren’t being checked, you know, trust me, we’re being checked a lot. I don’t really mind it as long as the system is intelligent. As long as there is some, some purpose to it. Where I, you have the feeling that the government doesn’t have a good feel for how it should go about these things. But on the whole I’ve gotta say post-September 11th, for in the year that I’ve been here it’s made me all the more grateful to be an American citizen.”
A CBS News reporter too biased even for Dan Rather? After reporter Mark Phillips in Baghdad referred to “the belligerent noises being made in Washington and some other places,” Rather gently reprimanded him, reminding him of how Mark Twain “said the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between fire and firefly.”
Rather suggested that instead of “belligerence,” that “Washington sees it as a kind of quiet determination.” Phillips conceded that he came up with the description as Iraqi officials do not use the term.
MRC analyst Brian Boyd caught Rather chiding his colleague at just past 1pm EDT during CBS’s 9/11 anniversary coverage.
Rather introduced Phillips: "Along with pursuing the war on terrorism triggered by the events of last September 11th, President Bush has been forcefully pushing for a new war against Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein from power. As a result, feelings are running high in Baghdad as you might imagine. CBS News' veteran foreign correspondent Mark Phillips is in Baghdad, Mark."
Phillips began: "Dan, I have to tell you that I'm speaking to you from, given the belligerent noises being made in Washington and some other places, from a remarkably calm and business-like Baghdad here tonight.”
Phillips went on to extol the wonderful availability of everything for sale that an Iraqi could want, before noting how the regime celebrated the attack on the U.S.:
“And when I say business-like there's a lot of business being done here. The town is awash in consumer goods, you can buy any car, any computer, there's plenty of food around. Basically, if you want to buy it, you can do it here in Baghdad.
“But I can tell you as well that as you might expect the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks are being noted in quite a different way here. In fact, there was just an official announcement on Iraqi television just a few minutes ago summing up government policy and I've jotted down a few of the salient points and they do make interesting reading. The attacks here are being interpreted for public consumption as very much the result they say of American foreign policy. That basically, according to the Iraqi line, America got what it deserved on that day.
“Interestingly though they then talk about a declared war on behalf of the United States against Arabs and Muslims, the launching of an aggressive war in Afghanistan. How the attacks show that the U.S. security is in fact a lot more fragile than it was made out previously to be. And interestingly again how the Bush administration is using the attacks the Iraqis say to distract the American public from the financial scandals of the past few months....”
Sounds like the liberal line echoed in the U.S. by some in the media.
Rather cautioned his colleague: "Mark Phillips, I know you agree with Mark Twain who said the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between fire and firefly. I say that as a preference to asking, and I hope which is a gentle spirit, you said that response to President Bush's or America's 'belligerence.' Now of course, what Washington sees it as a kind of quiet determination to do what President Bush feels the United States must do, is the word belligerence, is that one that the Iraqi government has been attaching to Washington and President Bush's policy as a way of getting their propaganda across the Arab world?"
Phillips conceded: "Well, it, I haven't heard the word belligerence, but I have heard the word used again tonight of American arrogance. It's a phrase we've heard before and we're hearing it again that American hegemony in this part of the world, the American desire to control the oil supply coming from this part of the world and that kind of thing...”
The instant the second plane hit, former President Bill Clinton claimed on Wednesday’s Late Show, “I just blurted out, 'bin Laden did this.’ I just knew.” Clinton also told David Letterman that during his last three years in office “several times a week we talked about bin Laden in our security meetings.”
Asked if when he heard about the attack he wished he were “still running the show,” Clinton insisted: “I didn’t really think about me one way or the other.”
A saxophonist played as Clinton walked out, so when he sat down Letterman first asked if he still played the sax. Clinton used unfortunate wording in his reply: “I do. I set up a music room in my house up in Chappaqua and I blow away.” That prompted groans and snickers from the audience.
Recalling how he was in Australia on September 11th 2001, Clinton maintained bin Laden’s name immediately came to mind:
“And I got a call from two former staff members of mine who were in Tribeca (sp?) and had a clear view of the World Trade Center. And then they called me back as the second plane was hitting and I just blurted out, 'bin Laden did this.’ I just knew.”
Clinton soon maintained: “We spent time working on this every day. I must have talked, the last three years I was President, several times a week we talked about bin Laden in our security meetings.”
Letterman wondered: “You talked about a year ago you were in Australia, you got the news. A man in your position, when something like that happens, I don’t know, I don’t have that perspective. Did you for a moment think I wish I still had the reigns, I wish I were still running the show, or do feel like 'thank God this is on somebody else’s watch’?”
Clinton insisted he didn’t think about himself at all: “I didn’t think that at all. I didn’t think either one, actually, at the moment. What I thought was that bin Laden was responsible, immediately, and I thought of all the things that would have to be done. Then I thought about, I tried to get hold of my wife because I knew she’d be in the Senate, and I did. And I wondered about our daughter, and Hillary spared me, because I was so far away, the knowledge that Chelsea was in lower Manhattan at the time and was one of the throng basically running back up the island. But I mostly thought about what it meant and what needed to be done. I didn’t really think about me one way or the other.”
That contradicts what those around him have told reporters.
From the September 11 Late Show with David Letterman, the “Top Ten Reasons New York is the Greatest City in the World.” The Late Show Web page:
10. On every block, quaint local stores like Blockbuster and Starbucks
9. Parking spaces? Well, we’ve got almost 20 of them
8. Muggers now accept E-Z Pass
7. There’s no Frank Sinatra song “Milwaukee, Milwaukee”
6. Not uncommon to see a pigeon give someone the finger
5. The city that never sleeps, which could explain the crankiness
4. On the sidewalks: free gum!
3. Where else can you punch a World Series-winning pitcher?
2. A dozen rats per person is not just a statistic, it’s a promise
1. It’s the home of America’s favorite talk show host -- Regis Philbin
I may not know how to spell “Tribecca,” but I bet #2 is all too true.
-- Brent Baker
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