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As Brent Baker noted last night, the networks were far more excited about the supposed scandal of the administration having “a staged event” where the President talked by satellite with soldiers serving in Iraq. (Speaking of “staged,” how often do you think Brian Williams or Bob Schieffer sit down in the anchor chair and just wing it?)

Andrea Mitchell pretty much gave it away on Thursday’s Nightly News, allowing that “Many administrations, Democrat and Republican, stage-manage events. And often the news media ignore the choreography.” But the networks didn’t want to “ignore the choreography” yesterday, because it didn’t fit their spin. Mitchell preferred to expose what she called “a rare look behind the curtain of a White House trying to sell an increasingly unpopular war.”

If the Iraq war is “increasingly unpopular” — and polls suggest it is — one reason may be because the broadcast networks have heavily skewed their news agenda toward the bad news coming out of Iraq: car bombings, U.S. casualties, terrorist attacks, squabbling among Iraqi politicians, etc., etc.

I just finished a study of every Iraq story aired on the three broadcast network evening newscasts this year, from January 1 through September 30, nearly 1,400 stories. (More)

George Clooney gave an interview to Village Voice critic J. Hoberman on his Murrow tribute film. Before Clooney passed on that esteemed film critic "Dan Rather loves, loves, loves this movie," he explained why he made it: "I was concerned about the lack of debate. The conception changed only in that a book came out about how great McCarthy was and how wrong Murrow was." Hoberman asked: "Ann Coulter’s 'Treason'?" Clooney said: "Yes.

It was Gene Shalit's turn on Today Thursday to hail "Good Night and Good News," the George Clooney movie glorifying CBS's Edward R. Murrow hatchet job on Joe McCarthy. Please read Jack Shafer's very thorough takedown for Slate. Shafer reminds that Andrew Ferguson said the Murrow show was "a compendium of every burp, grunt, stutter, nose probe, brutish aside, and maniacal giggle the senator had ever allowed to be captured on film." He also has a link to the show's original transcript.

Mirroring the same evening's NBC Nightly News (see earlier NewsBusters item), on Thursday night's Countdown show, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann led with the rehearsed meeting between President Bush and U.S. troops serving in Iraq. Olbermann spent considerable time showing and making fun of clips from this event and from a contentious White House press briefing with Scott McClellan before proceeding to an interview with Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank, during which he seemed to play along with and was amused by Milbank mimicking the accent of an Iraqi soldier at the Bush event, a politically incorrect action which would bring ridicule if performed by a conservative: "I just want to say thank you, Mr. Olbermann. I like you's, I like anything."

Video of Milbank: Real or Windows Media

Thursday's NBC Nightly News led, yes led, with how, as anchor Brian Williams put it, President Bush had that morning conducted “a staged event" via satellite with ten U.S. soldiers and one Iraqi soldier in Iraq. “Today's encounter was billed as spontaneous,” Williams intoned. “Instead, it appeared to follow a script.” Andrea Mitchell warned that “the troops were coached on how to answer the Commander-in-Chief” and, indeed, not until two minutes into her three-minute story -- after showing clips of how a DOD official had told the soldiers the questions Bush would ask -- did Mitchell note how “the White House and at least one of the soldiers says the troops weren't told what to say, just what the President would ask." So, the answers were not staged. The soldiers, naturally nervous about appearing on live TV with the President of the United States, were simply told who should answer which question and to “take a breath” before answering. Scandalous! Over video of Bush on the aircraft carrier, Mitchell went on to remind viewers of how “this isn't the first time this administration used troops to help sell the Iraq war.” But she also admitted a media double-standard: “Many administrations, Democrat and Republican, stage-manage events and often the news media ignore the choreography.”

ABC's World News Tonight also devoted a full story, though not the lead, to the media-generated controversy. Terry Moran contended that “the fact that this was so carefully choreographed...shows just how urgently the White House wants not just a success on the ground in Iraq, but a PR success at home for this embattled President." Over on the CBS Evening News, anchor Bob Schieffer opined that “unfortunately for the President, after satellite cameras caught administration aides rehearsing the soldiers beforehand, Democrats dismissed the whole thing and said the troops deserved a lot better.” Lara Logan managed to cover other material in her story and uniquely showcased a soldier who told CBS: "The truth is that everything that was said was meant to be said, though it may have sounded scripted in some places. Nerves kick in, for one. Two, everyone puts their thoughts together. You put it down, you go over and over it a hundred times."

MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann also led Thursday with the “staged” event and the AP distributed a story breathlessly headlined, “Bush Teleconference With Soldiers Staged.” But on FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume, Hume noted complaints the event was "not entirely spontaneous" before Carl Cameron pointed out that Bush posed an unplanned question to the Iraqi soldier. In the panel segment, Washington Times reporter Bill Sammon recalled how when “back in December” a soldier asked Rumsfeld about armor, a question that “had been planted by a reporter, I didn't hear any outcry from the press.” (UPDATE with CNN coverage and transcripts follow.)

     For the media, Hurricane Katrina has been a story of zeroes – the more, the better. While reports before the hurricane’s landing incorrectly warned of tens of thousands of deaths, one prediction that has panned out is the gargantuan cost of the storm. Katrina wrought tens of billions of dollars in destruction and set in motion a $250-billion rebuilding effort.

At today's White House Press Briefing, Helen Thomas wanted to know what a 'total victory' meant in Iraq. As Scott McClellan was answering the question to her dissatisfaction, she interrupted and tried to trip him up again. Scott, tired of her anti-War rhetoric, came right out and said she was against the War on Terror. Helen responded and said that the Middle East knows we invaded Iraq and ended her remarks with "I'm opposed to preemptive war".

Washington Post columnist Tina Brown today took the opportunity to mark the 80th birthday of Margaret Thatcher, Britain's first female prime minister, with a scathing attack on Harriet Miers.

In, "You've Come a Long Way, Ladies," Brown begins:

Cam Edwards, a talk-radio host at, drew out CBS Public Eye facilitator Vaughn Ververs on the subject of "60 Minutes" star Mike Wallace appearing at a $250-a-pop fundraiser (and birthday party for political humorist Art Buchwald) for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Ververs took that question to Wallace and CBS senior vice president for standards Linda Mason.

Search as you may, it will still be difficult for you to find much good news about anything taking place in either Afghanistan or Iraq. It isn’t that positive news is in short supply. It is the “If it bleeds It leads” mentality of the mainstream media that keeps death and bombings in the headlines and relatively uplifting accomplishments banished to the inside pages of publications and almost always omitted from radio and television newscasts.

Bruce Thornton has a good article at about journalists who raise a fuss and then ask people what they think of the fuss they've created.

Imagine that you started receiving letters in the mail accusing your neighbor of being a child molester. Occasionally you receive photographs or even a video showing the neighbor with a child on his lap or dressed up like a clown at a children`s party.

NBC's Tim Russert proclaimed, "It's a year away but the Democrats are feeling almost giddy this morning," as he ran down the negative news from NBC's own poll. Matt Lauer opened this morning's Today show with a teaser for the Russert political analysis segment: 

The Times gives Democrats room for hope to take over Congress in 2006. Was the Times as enthusiastic about Republican prospects in 1994?

Robin Toner's Page One New York Times story ("Democrats See Dream of '06 Victory Taking Form") begins: "Suddenly, Democrats see a possibility in 2006 they have long dreamed of: a sweeping midterm election framed around what they describe as the simple choice of change with the Democrats or more of an unpopular status quo with the Republican majority."

Here is an interesting item linked to by Matt Drudge. London's Daily Mail reports that 60-year-old Sylvester Stallone will star in a new Rocky movie and a new Rambo movie.

Josh Rushing served as a Pentagon spokesman in Doha in 2003, during the first months of the invasion of Iraq. Now he is joining an all-English network owned by Al Jazeera. The new network, Al Jazeera International, is set to launch next year.

Joining him will be BBC veteran journalist Sir David Frost.

Rushing will report from the bureau in Washington and Frost will be in London.

Rushing was featured in "Control Room," a documentary about American efforts to create a positive image during the early stages of the war.