Brad Wilmouth is a contributing blogger to NewsBusters
Brad Wilmouth is a former Media Research Center news analyst and an alumnus of the University of Virginia.
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On Thursday’s CBS Evening News, Katie Couric incorrectly called one of the munitions reportedly used by the Israeli military a "banned weapon," and, after ignoring numerous violations of international law perpetrated by Hamas, relayed charges that Israel may have committed "war crimes." Referring to Israel’s alleged use of white phosphorus in Gaza, Couric introduced the report: "Hamas gave a thumbs-down to President Obama today, saying his Middle East policy is no different from President Bush's. Hamas just ended a bloody war with Israel in Gaza, and tonight there is growing evidence the Israelis may have used a banned weapon. Some even accuse them of war crimes." Video plus an online version of the story can be found here.
But the use of white phosphorus (WP) is not banned outright, though there are restrictions on its use near civilians areas, and the munition has actually been used by the American military in Iraq. After reports that WP was employed in Fallujah, Iraq, including criticism that it was employed too close to civilians, former Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace defended its use in a November 29, 2005 Pentagon briefing: "White phosphorus is a legitimate tool of the military. It is used for two primary purposes. One is to mark a location for strike by an aircraft ... The other is to be used ... as a screening agent so that you can move your forces without being seen by the enemy. It is not a chemical weapon ... it is well within the law of war to use those weapons as they are being used for marking and for screening."
During Tuesday’s inauguration coverage on MSNBC, the Today show’s Al Roker poked fun at co-anchors Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann as the NBC weather man, on location at the inaugural parade site, appeared with the MSNBC duo and joked that Matthews "got that tingle down his leg" because Obama looks good without a shirt. Discussing the admiration that so many young people feel for Obama, Roker declared: "It doesn’t hurt ... that he’s a good-looking guy! ... This is a guy, this is a President who can take his shirt off, you know. I mean, if I take my shirt off, people are running and screaming. You know, that’s, so I think it’s just an exciting, exciting time. And I know that’s why Chris got that tingle down his leg!"
After Matthews tried to go along with Roker’s jovial mood by quipping that "we tingle up the leg, okay? It is a big freakin’ difference. And don’t you forget about it, buddy," Olbermann set himself up to receive a jab as well, as he joked that "it’s left to me to be the referee." Roker, presumably referring to Olbermann’s penchant for delivering outlandish tirades on his Countdown show, shot back: "And what does that say, if Keith Olbermann is the referee, Keith Olbermann is the voice of reason?" Matthews added: "That is a strange role for Keith Olbermann. Very strange."
Below is a transcript of the relevant portion of the Tuesday, January 20, inauguration coverage on MSNBC from about 2:08 p.m.:
During Tuesday morning’s inaugural coverage on MSNBC, when spectators were heard booing President Bush as he was introduced, Chris Matthews seemed to become uncomfortable and criticized the protest as "bad form," remarking, "Don’t do that. Don’t boo, don’t boo, don’t boo." But minutes later, when protesters could be heard singing "Hey, hey, goodbye," co-anchor Keith Olbermann seemed to suggest that he was only bothered by the behavior because it distracted attention from Michelle Obama’s introduction. Olbermann: "Far be it for me to have been critical of anyone critical of this President, obviously, but, unfortunately, during that demonstration, something of the introduction of Mrs. Obama was lost because people were singing the, they still are, the ‘Hey, hey,’ song from various sporting events over the year, towards the 43rd President."
Ironically, just a minute earlier, Matthews seemed to praise his network for embracing Obama’s "change," and remarked that the spectators at the inauguration were part of MSNBC’s audience.
Below is a transcript of relevant portions of the January 20 inaugural coverage on MSNBC, which aired at about 11:32 a.m.:
During Tuesday morning’s inaugural coverage on MSNBC, Chris Matthews seemed to admit the liberal pro-Obama tilt of his network as he proclaimed that MSNBC "opened its heart to change," and that they are the "network of the 21st century," and that "this crowd knows us." Matthews: "It sure as hell helps to be on MSNBC today. Let’s talk straight here. This is the network that has opened its heart to change, to change and its possibilities. Let’s be honest about it. These people watch this network out here. ... This is the network of the 21st century, MSNBC, and I think we’re open to it, and that’s why this crowd knows us. ... We’re not crotchety about change and stuffy."
Below is a transcript of the relevant portion of MSNBC’s January 20 inaugural coverage from 11:31 a.m.:
During Tuesday morning’s inaugural coverage on MSNBC, Chris Matthews twice compared the Bush family to the Romanovs as he contended that the Bushes are now likely to go into hiding because of President Bush’s unpopularity: "It’s going to be like the Romanovs, too, and I mean that. There’s a sense here that they are fallen from grace, that they’re not popular, that the whole family will now go into retreat." Even liberal Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson had to call him out on the exaggeration as it sounds like he says in the background that "it didn’t happen exactly like the Romanovs," referring to the overthrow and execution of the Russian royal family after the Bolshevik communists seized power in 1917.
A few minutes earlier, claiming "this isn’t a partisan statement," Matthews raised the possibility that Obama could give such a good speech that he would join the "oratorical Mount Rushmore" of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy in making memorable inauguration speeches. Matthews: "And it seems like there’s a third opening there for Barack Obama. It’s almost the oratorical Mount Rushmore, that there’s so much open space among those Presidents. And only two stand out. And this isn’t a partisan statement. This is a fact. There’s FDR. There’s JFK. And there may be Barack Obama."
On Monday’s Countdown show, MSNBC host Keith Olbermann delivered his latest "Special Comment," in which he called on President-elect Barack Obama to prosecute President Bush and administration members on a charge of torturing prisoners, and invoked extreme examples such as slavery leading to the Civil War, and the handling of Germany after World War I leading to the rise of Nazism and World War II, to illustrate that "this country has never succeeded in moving forward without first cleansing itself of its mistaken past," and that Obama must try to prosecute Bush for the sake of the country’s future. After quoting Bush’s recent words about the interrogation techniques he authorized against 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and statements by Obama expressing reluctance to pursue prosecutions against the Bush administration, Olbermann began invoking extreme examples from history.
This country has never succeeded in moving forward without first cleansing itself of its mistaken past. ... We compromised with slavery in the Declaration of Independence, and, fourscore and nine years later, we had buried 600,000 of our sons and brothers in a civil war. After that war’s ending, we compromised with the social restructuring and protection of the rights of minorities in the South. And a century later, we had not only had not resolved anything, but black leaders were still being assassinated in the cities of the South. We compromised with Germany in the reconstruction of Europe after the First World War. Nobody even arrested the German kaiser, let alone conducted war crimes trials then. And 19 years later, there was an indescribably more evil Germany and a more heartrending Second World War.
On Saturday’s CBS Evening News, correspondent Bill Whitaker devoted a full story to an environmental activist in Utah, Tim DeChristopher, who disrupted an oil lease auction by illegally making bids that he knew he could not pay, which slowed down the process making it possible for Barack Obama to block President Bush’s directive allowing the auction. Anchor Russ Mitchell introduced the report: "The Bush administration has less than three days left, but almost to the end, it’s been taking actions that have environmentalists fuming. One young activist used an unorthodox tactic, as we hear from Bill Whitaker."
After recounting that DeChristopher moved to Utah to attend college and became enamored with the beautiful landscape, Whitaker continued: "But where DeChristopher sees beauty, others see bounty. When one of the last-minute acts of the Bush administration was to auction off some of this land for oil drilling, the 27-year-old student said he had to act."
On Wednesday’s The O’Reilly Factor, during the show’s regular "Miller Time" segment, Dennis Miller defended the practice of waterboarding terrorists to save the lives of Americans, calling the technique "heaven-sent." Miller: "Something that takes somebody who's willing to strap a bomb on and yet freaks them out to the point where they'll tell you where the next bomb is by pouring water down their nose and they don't even die, I think, wow, this is heaven-sent." He also heaped praise on President Bush for "keeping this country safe in the interim seven years" since the 9/11 attacks. Miller: "That's what I admire about him. He's willing to be hated for the rest of his life to do the right thing. And I just want to look in the camera. This is the last time I’ll be on this show when he's my President and my Commander-in-Chief and say, ‘Thank you, sir. I feel privileged that you were the President during this time in American history.’"
On Wednesday’s The O’Reilly Factor, during the show’s "Talking Points Memo," FNC host Bill O’Reilly slammed the New York Times and NBC News, presumably referring to MSNBC hosts like Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, accusing them of having "damaged their own country in a disgusting display of propaganda and outright lies" by "convincing the world that the USA is a nation of torture, a country that sadistically inflicts pain on both the innocent and the guilty." O’Reilly further attacked the "insane call for fishing expeditions to find something that will lead to prosecuting the President and Vice President," and added that he "despises, despises those who, in the name of ideology, want to weaken the country, putting us all in danger," and charged that doing so would be "un-American."
O’Reilly then hosted a discussion with FNC military analyst retired Colonel David Hunt and, to argue the liberal point-of-view, FNC analyst Bob Beckel, and Hunt contended that he had used "coerced interrogation" in the past that had "saved guys' lives."
On Tuesday’s Countdown on MSNBC, after a segment with the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson at the end of the program in which he and host Keith Olbermann lambasted Sarah Palin over her recent interview with Esquire magazine, the Countdown host made a crude joke at Palin’s expense as he introduced the Rachel Maddow Show. Olbermann: "But, apropos of Palin, I can’t remember who said this, but it came to mind: What’s the difference between a governor of Alaska and a pitbull? You can train a pitbull to occasionally keep its mouth closed. Do you know who said that? Because I can’t remember."
After laughing hysterically, Maddow responded: "No, I can’t. No, that’s new to me. Is that the safe thing to say here?"
Below is a complete transcript of the exchange from the Tuesday, January 13, Countdown on MSNBC:
One bright spot last week in CBS’s coverage of the war between Israel and the Gaza-based terrorist group Hamas came on Wednesday’s CBS Evening News as correspondent Richard Roth filed a story exploring Israeli life under a "siege mentality." Roth: " Spend a while in earshot of an air raid siren or cramped in a shelter, and it's hard not to have some sympathy. Or, if you want to understand what pushed Israelis past their limit, they'll tell you, just take a look at the numbers. Since the first one almost eight years ago, the army says more than 11,000 rockets and mortars have been fired from Gaza at southern Israel."
But CBS was only starting to catch up with NBC, which had previously devoted two full stories to the situation in Sderot, Israel. After the Sunday, January 5, NBC Nightly News showed the first report, which was previously documented by Newsbusters, on Monday, January 5, correspondent Martin Fletcher filed a second piece for the show, as he spent time with a firefighter in Sderot who had been one of the Israeli settlers forced by the Israeli government to leave Gaza in 2005 in an attempt to make peace with the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Fletcher noted the failure of Israel’s withdrawal: "Israel gave the land back to the Palestinians, hoping for peace. It didn't happen. The conflict continued. And now rockets are fired from his old home."
Add NBC to the list of news organizations that have shown a clip of two doctors, one of whom is the controversial pro-9/11 Norwegian doctor, Mads Gilbert, supposedly trying to revive a deceased Palestinian boy at Shifa Hospital in Gaza – a scene which some critics charge appears staged. Last week, on the Sunday, January 4, NBC Nightly News, correspondent Richard Engel filed a report in which he recounted the story of a 12-year-old boy, Mahmoud Basrowi, the brother of "Ashraf, a Gaza-based television producer contracted by NBC News," as Ashraf claimed his brother was killed while playing on his family’s roof "when the house was hit by an Israeli shell or rocket."
But in the Gaza Strip now, streets are mostly empty, fuel is running out and there's no electricity. Hospital officials say at least 430 Palestinians have been killed, 30 just today, including 12-year-old Mahmoud Basrowi. His family says the boy was playing on his rooftop with a cousin when the house was hit by an Israeli shell or rocket. Two doctors, one a volunteer from Norway, tried to save Mahmoud. Wrapped in a white funeral shroud, Mahmoud was taken by his brother Ashraf, a Gaza-based television producer contracted by NBC News.
Dr. Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor who has long been a pro-Palestinian activist and critic of Israel, and who, according to an article released by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), once expressed agreement with the 9/11 attacks which he considered to be a justified attack on civilians, has been seen numerous times in the last couple of weeks on broadcast network news shows – primarily on CBS and NBC. Without mentioning his extreme views, anchors and correspondents have treated him as a trustworthy source, as if he were a neutral foreign observer, regarding civilian casualties arriving at Shifa Hospital in Gaza amid the Israeli campaign against Hamas. But, according to CAMERA: "When asked by Dagbladet (a Norwegian publication) if he supported the terrorist attack on the U.S., he replied: 'Terror is a bad weapon, but the answer is yes, within the context I have mentioned.' (Sept. 30, 2001)"
The article "Norwegian Doctors in Gaza: Objective Observers or Partisan Propagandists?" by Ricki Hollander, can be found here.
On the January 5 The Early Show, correspondent Mark Phillips cited Gilbert’s charges that Israel was conducting an "all-out war against civilians" as "compelling evidence" contradicting "repeated claims by Israelis that civilians are not being targeted." Phillips: "Despite repeated claims by the Israelis that civilians are not being targeted and that they are even being warned by leaflets and phone calls to stay away from target sites, the dead and injured continue to be brought into Gaza's overrun hospitals. And the evidence provided by foreign doctors in Gaza is compelling." Then came a clip of Gilbert: "So anybody who tries to portray this as sort of a clean war against another army are lying. This is an all-out war against the civilian Palestinian population in Gaza, and we can prove that with the numbers."
On World News Saturday, during the show’s "A Closer Look" segment, ABC anchor David Muir gave attention to those who question whether CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta has sufficient qualifications to be Barack Obama’s surgeon general. Muir even played a clip of David Letterman poking fun at Gupta twice during the show: "The choice, it was between a Gupta, Dr. Phil, and a guy on Scrubbs. I don’t know what the hell-" He also recounted that Muir was forced to apologized to liberal filmmaker Michael Moore after making errors in a report fact-checking Moore’s film Sicko. As Muir gave voice to those in the pro-Gupta camp who believe it is important for the surgeon general to be well known to the public, the ABC anchor reminded viewers that Dr. C. Everett Coop talked about AIDS while President Reagan was "largely silent," and that President George W. Bush’s surgeon general resigned in protest in 2006 charging he had been "muzzled by the White House."
On Friday’s CBS Evening News, correspondent Mark Phillips treated with credibility accusations by Palestinians, "supported by UN officials," that the Israeli military was "targeting" civilians in Gaza, and played a clip of a woman accusing Israeli troops of "herding" her family into a house and shooting her husband. And, without informing viewers of the blockade’s importance in preventing Iran or Syria from supplying weapons to Hamas, the CBS correspondent seemed to imply that Hamas leaders were actually concerned about the welfare of the civilian population as he referred to Hamas wanting an end to the Israeli blockade "strangling" Gaza right before adding that "the innocent suffer." Phillips: "Israel is not only demanding the rocket fire stop, but that Hamas be kept from re-arming itself. And Hamas keeps fighting because it wants the Israeli blockade that is strangling Gaza lifted. And the innocent suffer. Allegations, some of them supported by UN officials in Gaza, continue to be made of Israeli targeting of civilians. This woman told CBS News 20 members of her family were herded into a house by the Israelis, that her husband was shot, and that tank fire badly injured her children. The Israelis deny these accounts."
Among the anchors and correspondents on the broadcast networks, NBC’s David Gregory has been unique in conveying to viewers the nature of Hamas as, on two occasions during the opening weekend of the airstrikes by Israel in Gaza, Gregory referred to Hamas as a "terrorist organization that is bent on the destruction of Israel." He also recently gave attention to the Hamas doctrine that the purpose of a ceasefire is to regroup and resume fighting later with greater strength.
On last Sunday’s Meet the Press, he read form a blog posting by Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, in which Goldberg quoted Nizar Rayyan, the ranking Hamas member recently killed when the Israeli military bombed his home, as Rayyan once proclaimed his views about a ceasefire with Israel. Goldberg: "There was no flexibility with Rayyan. This is what he said when I asked him if he could envision a 50-year hudna (or cease-fire) with Israel: ‘The only reason to have a hudna is to prepare yourself for the final battle. We don't need 50 years to prepare ourselves for the final battle with Israel. There is no chance,’ he said, ‘that true Islam would ever allow a Jewish state to survive in the Muslim Middle East. Israel is an impossibility. It is an offense against God.’ ‘What are our crimes?’ I asked Rayyan. ‘You are murderers of the prophets and you have closed your ears to the Messenger of Allah,’ he said. ‘Jews tried to kill the Prophet, peace be unto him. All throughout history, you have stood in opposition to the word of God.’"
On Tuesday’s NBC Nightly News, correspondent Ron Mott filed a report featuring incoming Republican Congressman Joseph Cao, the first Vietnamese-American elected to Congress, and the man who defeated corrupt former Democratic Congressman William Jefferson in heavily Democratic New Orleans. Brian Williams introduced Mott’s piece: "There was new ground broken on Capitol Hill today, where the first Vietnamese-American Congressman in the history of this republic was sworn in. Joseph Cao of Louisiana is also the first Republican in more than a century to win the seat representing New Orleans."
Mott recounted Cao’s escape from Vietnam and his victory against Jefferson, who was involved in a bribery scandal: "The 41-year-old Republican Congressman, Joseph Cao, is now a standout on Capitol Hill, traveling a very long way to get there. As a boy, he was among tens of thousands airlifted out of Vietnam after the fall of Saigon, without his parents, who feared he was killed at the airport. ... He later studied for the priesthood, eventually became a lawyer, and then last year, took on a political institution in New Orleans, Democrat William Jefferson, embroiled in a bribery scandal."
On Friday’s The Early Show on CBS, correspondent Mark Phillips oddly used the word "victim" to describe one of the Hamas leaders, Nizar Rayan, who was killed in his home by Israeli airstrikes. He also seemed to treat with skepticism the Israeli military’s announcement that they make phone calls to some Hamas leaders to warn them in advance of airstrikes as he relayed that Israelis "claim" to do so. Phillips further declared that Israelis "admit" that they are targeting Hamas leaders, as if doing so were something to be ashamed of. Phillips: "The number of victims now well over 400. But there is one victim who's being talked about more than any other, and he is the one the Israelis say they targeted deliberately. Not only do the Israelis admit they are targeting Hamas leaders, they claim they are actually calling them on the phone to warn them the bombs are coming. If true, it is certainly an unconventional tactic, which the Israelis say allows potential targets to choose whether to take cover."
On Friday’s NBC Nightly News, correspondent Andrea Mitchell filed a report that reminded viewers of an embarrassing political episode from Hillary Clinton’s past: the controversial hug and kiss she shared with Yasser Arafat’s wife, Suha, during a trip to the West Bank. The NBC correspondent related that Clinton had taken a position favoring a Palestinian state early on, but, after her controversial "embrace" with Mrs. Arafat, she became known for being "an unrelenting supporter of Israel," and argued that Mrs. Clinton’s popularity in the Arab world, and that of former President Clinton, would be an asset as Secretary of State.
Mitchell: "As first lady, Hillary Clinton was an early advocate of a Palestinian state until a misplaced embrace of Yasser Arafat's wife, Suha, backfired politically back home. From then on, Clinton was an unrelenting supporter of Israel but, experts say, is still well known and liked by Arab leaders."
On Sunday’s NBC Nightly News, correspondent Martin Fletcher gave rare attention to the plight of Israelis who live in the towns of Sderot and Ashkelon, which have for years been frequent targets of rockets fired from Gaza by Hamas because of their relative proximity to the Gaza Strip. Devoting an entire report to the issue in which he informed viewers of how many years the rocket attacks have spanned over, Fletcher began: "This is why Israel invaded Gaza. Thirteen more rockets hit the town of Sderot today. Since April 2001, 5,000 rockets have hit in and around the town." After showing a clip of a boy named Angel Yamine expressing his fear of the Hamas rockets, Fletcher continued: "The threat to Israeli citizens from Hamas rockets is still very real. This is David and Panina Yamine in Ashkelon. They can't stop watching the war. They live in fear, afraid of rocket attacks."
Then came a soundbite of Angel's mother Panina: "Where you can live like this? Eight years people live like that. It's not life."