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Today's (Friday December 16, 2005) Los Angeles Times appears to have delivered two different versions of "headline news" yesterday morning. The actual print edition celebrated the election in Iraq with a generous headline and a jubilant color photo (see below). However, visitors to the same morning got a different lead story.

Actual Print Edition:

Picking up on a front page New York Times story, “Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts,” the three broadcast networks led Friday night with the revelation, which animated the cable networks during the day, about how post-9/11 the NSA has monitored communication by a few thousand people in the U.S. in touch with those on al-Qaeda lists captured in Pakistan, or an expanding chain of those connected to that initial cache. Despite the limited focus on identifying sleeper agents before they could murder Americans, the networks treated the policy as a violation of the rights of all Americans. With “Big Brother” in front of a picture of President Bush, ABC anchor Bob Woodruff teased: “Big brother, the uproar over a secret presidential order giving the government unprecedented powers to spy on Americans." NBC's Brian Williams teased: "Government spying. Tonight, revelations of domestic eavesdropping on hundreds of phone calls by the federal government, part of top secret orders by President Bush after 9/11." Williams insisted that now “the questions begin about civil liberties and privacy and the protection of all of us.”

Though the White House maintains the policy is legal and congressional leaders as well as a federal judge were told about it in 2002, CBS characterized the policy as illegal. CBS anchor Bob Schieffer asked: "Has the government been using its spy satellites to illegally eavesdrop on Americans?” Schieffer then declared as fact: "It is against the law to wiretap or eavesdrop on the conversations of Americans in this country without a warrant from a judge, but the New York Times says that is exactly what the President secretly ordered the National Security Agency to do in the months after 9/11.” (Transcripts of the newscast leads, and some excerpts from the New York Times story, follow.)

On the 4pm hour of CNN's The Situation Room, on air personality Jack Cafferty blasted the Bush administration's decisions to combat the War on Terror, especially the Patriot Act and the Iraq war. Cafferty also said the administration leaked name of CIA agent and "covert operative" Valerie Plame. This diatribe served as a segue for "The Question of the Hour", which asked reader's opinions about the New York Times' report of the NSA spying on American citizens. Cafferty offers no proof other than the report by a known left-wing publication.


Full transcript follows.

Newsweek correspondant Howard Fineman and New York Times' writer Anne Kornblut appeared on Hardball with Chris Matthews to discuss the Times report that the NSA was given permission by the Bush administration to spy on potential terrorists. This report just so happened to be printed on the front page of the Times a day after the successful election in Iraq. Surprisingly, Chris Matthews wanted to get the reason why the newspaper decided to print this information on the front page when the historic event in Iraq should have been the only story receiving big headlines. Matthews asked Kornblut "why did you break it today", only to get a simple response that "there was room in the paper". Matthews later followed up with "you have no criticism on this" [referring to the Times' decision to put this on the front page], Kornblut said "I was working on other things today so I don't know". How convenient.



Transcript follows.

David Bauder, television writer for the Associated Press, is reporting that conservative syndicated columnist Robert Novak is leaving CNN after 25 years to join Fox News:

“Commentator Robert Novak, who hasn't been seen on CNN since swearing and storming off the set in August, will leave the network after 25 years and join Fox News Channel as a contributor next month.

“Novak, 74, said Friday he probably would have left CNN anyway when his contract expired this month even if it hadn't been for the incident.”

The columnist seemed to want to play down the August incident when he walked off a set in the middle of a debate with Democratic strategist and commentator James Carville:

This morning’s New York Times article, “Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts,” has certainly created a huge buzz in the media that has taken some focus away from the good news concerning yesterday’s highly successful elections in Iraq: “Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.”

The Drudge Report, in an exclusive, just announced that this story by James Risen and Eric Lichtblau is just “one of many ‘explosive newsbreaking’ stories that can be found -- in [Risen’s] upcoming book -- which he turned in 3 months ago!” Yet, “The [Times] failed to reveal the urgent story was tied to a book release and sale.”

According to Drudge:

Jim Kelly, Managing Editor of Time magazine, appeared on Friday's Today show. The segment, airing just prior to 8AM, teased the identity of Time’s "Person of the Year" and indicated it might be a choice that would make liberals very happy. Kelly listed two finalists from the world of politics: President Bush and Valerie Plame. He noted that Bush "hasn’t had a very good year" and then added, "this would not be the first time we put the President on with a bad year. Lyndon Johnson was on in '67 with the war in Vietnam and bad opinion polls." Kelly appeared to be much more intrigued by Valerie Plame as a candidate: "Valerie Plame really interests me because without Valerie Plame there's no Patrick Fitzgerald. there's no Karl Rove in trouble."

Kelly recounted meeting Plame a few months ago, describing her as a "absolutely charming, really interesting person." Matt Lauer jumped in and asked, "But wouldn’t it be kind of different? I mean, she didn’t do anything on purpose to be put in that position. And shouldn’t someone have to initiate some kind of behavior or some kind of action?" Kelly noted this and replied, "Well, that’s fair enough. You could do Patrick Fitzgerald, I suppose."

The really interesting stories in today's Washington Post are hiding off the front pages. On page A-23 (and not even the TOP of A-23) is the Dan Balz story "Pelosi Hails Democrats' Diverse War Stances." That's a sunny way of saying again, "Democrats Have No Iraq Plan." Balz begins his summary of a Pelosi sit-down with the Post:

It was the MSM's worst nightmare-in-the-making: the prospect of a day, maybe more, of nothing but jubilant Iraqis waving those damn purple fingers, some of them no doubt soppily shouting "thank you, Mr. Bush!" Ugh. Can't let that happen.

Don't worry, MSM: the New York Times, with a nice assist from the Washington Post, have got your back.

The Times has admitted that, in response to a administration request, it had been holding the story on alleged US spying on Al-Qaida-linked phone numbers in the US for a year. From the Times article:

"After meeting with senior administration officials to hear their concerns, the newspaper delayed publication for a year to conduct additional reporting." [emphasis added]

So when do the Times and the WaPo choose to break it? Why, today of course, just in time to rain on the Iraqi election good-news parade.

Inspired by a pro-Christmas resolution voted on in Congress earlier in the day, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann devoted an entire segment of Thursday's Countdown show to attacking FNC personalities for conveying their concerns about the word "Christmas" being driven out of the public eye, declaring that it was a "fictional controversy concocted to drive the ratings and stuff the wallets of a couple of cable fat heads who do quasi newscasts." The Countdown host then promoted the anti-conservative views of Democratic Congressman John Dingell by spending over two minutes displaying footage of the Congressman reading a poem in which Dingell not only attacked Bill O'Reilly and Fox News for "concocting" the controversy, but also made other attacks on Congress from the left.

Olbermann opened the segment : "We readily admit to making things up sometimes here on Countdown. Of course, we always emphasize that we have made them up because we're not just honest about it. We're also smug about it. But when a fictional controversy concocted to drive the ratings and stuff the wallets of a couple of cable fat heads who do quasi newscasts makes it all the way to the government, then we must protest." After quoting the resolution in question, Olbermann then introduced Dingell's poem "expressing his feelings about House Resolution 579 and his feelings about the big giant head [referring to O'Reilly] who started this imaginary war."

Countdown staff added graphics and clips of O'Reilly to the clips of Dingell reading his poem. At one point, they mocked O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter by displaying their photos side-by-side with reindeer antlers painted on their heads, with a red nose painted on Hannity, and with an eyepatch painted over one of Coulter's eyes.

One of two things must be happening at The Boston Globe:
  • It must really be gnawing at the editorial writers at The Globe that the GOP has controlled the governor's mansion in Massachusetts, nearly the bluest of all blue states, for over a decade, and they just couldn't take it any more.
  • The Editorial Board has raised the standards of conduct for presidential aspirants to dizzying heights.
How else to explain The Globe's December 15 editorial (HT to James Taranto of Best of the Web) demanding that current Governor Mitt Romney, who recently announced that he will not run for reelection in 2006, resign immediately?:

On MSNBC's Countdown show Thursday night, host Keith Olbermann corrected his show's "Worst Person in the World" segment photo mixup from the night before when MSNBC displayed a photo of former Democratic Senator Max Cleland while Olbermann attacked conservative radio talk show host Neal Boortz.

The three broadcast network evening newscasts, particularly ABC and NBC, led Thursday night with glowingly positive spins on the election in Iraq. ABC's Elizabeth Vargas, the only anchor in Iraq, celebrated in her tease: “So much pride. So much joy. The chance at a better future.” She then led World News Tonight with how “millions of Iraqis went to the polls in unprecedented numbers. They did so to elect a parliament which will write a new constitution and elect a new government.” Remarkably, she pointed out how “the Bush administration set this process into motion nearly three years ago with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.” Campbell Brown, filling in for Brian Williams, teased NBC Nightly News: “A huge turnout. Millions casting their votes on a peaceful and historic day." She began her program by trumpeting: “It has been quite simply a remarkable day in Iraq, one that could have a real impact on the U.S. mission there. Millions of Iraqis all across the country lined up to cast ballots in today's historic elections. Even among Iraq's Sunni Arabs, as well as Shiites and Kurds, the turnout was heavy.”

Bob Schieffer suggested surprise at the success as he teased the CBS Evening News: “Iraq held an election and millions voted. It really happened, but what happens next?” Schieffer then delivered a positive, yet more muted than ABC or NBC, lead in which he described “one of the largest turnouts for a free election in the history of the Arab world.” (Transcripts follow.)

Last Friday, the National Security Archive, a research institute and library located at George Washington University that collects and publishes declassified documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, celebrated its 20th anniversary. Former PBS host Bill Moyers gave a speech to the attendees that evening in which, as has been typical for him, he didn’t have very nice things to say about the Bush administration. The full text is too long to do justice to the breadth of Moyers’ antagonism towards this White House, but some of the lowlights are: 

  • “It has to be said: there has been nothing in our time like the Bush Administration's obsession with secrecy.”
  • “No wonder the public knows so little about how this administration has deliberately ignored or distorted reputable scientific research to advance its political agenda and the wishes of its corporate patrons. I'm talking about the suppression of that EPA report questioning aspects of the White House Clear Skies Act; research censorship at the departments of health and human services, interior and agriculture; the elimination of qualified scientists from advisory committees on kids and lead poisoning, reproductive health, and drug abuse; the distortion of scientific knowledge on emergency contraception; the manipulation of the scientific process involving the Endangered Species Act; and the internal sabotage of government scientific reports on global warming.”

Today's Chicago Tribune story on a group protesting Republican Congressional efforts to curb social spending identifies Rev. Jim Wallis as a "Christian activist."  The article reports he is a leader of "a Christian social justice group" and speaks of "Wallis and other progressive religious leaders."