Archive for the ‘Steve Capus’ Category

NBC castigated for kowtowing insufficiently to the Propagandist-in-Chief

May 20th, 2008 No comments

A rather extraordinary series of public communications directed from the White House towards NBC News by Ed Gillespielong-time lobbyist, “communications” specialist and former director of the Republican National Committee and now chief replacement of spin-meister Karl Rove as wholly partisan “Counselor to the President” – sheds light on what urgent matters of international and domestic affairs preoccupy the White House:  massaging public opinion and keeping the mainstream media in line with the White House message

–  on the wisdom of George Bush as the Great Deciderer on the “War on Terror” (and its importance as a political tool against the appeasing, America-hating Democrats);

– that the level of civil conflict in Iraq (at least a few hundred thousand killed and millions displaced) does not rise to the level of a “civil war”; and

– that the Administration’s economic statistics are all trustworthy and reports that the economy is in trouble are false and irresponsible. 

In essence, Gillespie’s complaint is nothing more nor less than that NBC News, by showing a modicum of independence in exercising its editorial judgment, is failing to act in its proper role as mouthpiece for George Bush

What set Gillespie off?  A rather aggressive interview of George Bush by NBC correspondent Richard Engel, in which Engel questioned Bush about Iran policy, “appeasement,” the counter-productiveness of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and other aspects of policy in the Middle East.  NBC ran pieces of the interview on the Nightly News and on The Today Show, and put the whole interview up on its website. 

But Gillespie’s claims regarding the interview are extremely weak – that NBC “deceptively edited” the interview “to completely alter the nature of the President’s answer”, in a manner that was “utterly misleading and irresponsible”.  Well, editing was of course needed – the interview was just that, not a major policy speech, so NBC ended up airing 3:25 out of 15:20 minutes.  But did NBC completely alter the nature of the President’s answer?

Q In front of the Israeli parliament at the Knesset you said that negotiating with Iran is pointless — and then you went further, you saying — you said that it was appeasement. Were you referring to Senator Barak Obama? He certainly thought you were.

THE PRESIDENT: You know, my policies haven’t changed, but evidently the political calendar has. [People need to read the speech. You didn’t get it exactly right, either.]  What I said was is that we need to take the words of people seriously. And when, you know, a leader of Iran says that they want to destroy Israel, you’ve got to take those words seriously. [And if you don’t take them seriously, then it harkens back to a day when we didn’t take other words seriously. It was fitting that I talked about not taking the words of Adolph Hitler seriously on the floor of the Knesset. But I also talked about the need to defend Israel, the need to not negotiate with the likes of al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas. And the need to make sure Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon.

But I also talked about a vision of what’s possible in the Middle East.]

The bracketed language was edited out – how would leaving it in have changed the meaning Bush’s response?  It would have shown that Bush didn’t really remember his own speech, in which he not only stated that we should take seriously the words of evil men, but clearly indicated that it is a “foolish delusion” and “the false comfort of appeasement” to “believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals”.  The additional language would have also shown that yes, when Bush talked about “appeasement” in front of the the Israeli Knesset he was referring not only to those who would talk with Hamas, Hezbollah or al Qaeda, but also any who would talk with (“not take seriously” the words of) Iran’s leaders, and so, by implication, Bush was referring to Obama, among others. 

Gillespie claims that Bush’s full answer to this question “makes clear: (1). The President’s remarks before the Knesset were not different from past policy statements, but are now being looked at through a political prism,    (2).  Corrects the inaccurate premise of Engel’s question by putting the “appeasement” line in the proper context of taking the words of leaders seriously, not “negotiating with Iran,” (3).  Restates the U.S.’s long-standing policy positions against negotiating with al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas, and not allowing Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon.”

Nonsense.  (1)  Bush did not claim that he has previously made statements in foreign parliaments about appeasement, nor did he establish that he had no political intention in making such statements. 

(2)  Bush’s response in the interview correctly noted one of his strawmen (the “not taking seriously” the words of evil men), but the edited version certainly included that response. 

(3)  Bush restated old policy positions, but that’s hardly the point, which that he raised the other strawman that talking with one’s opponents is itself appeasement.

In the interest of “fairness and accuracy” Gillespie demanded that NBC News “air the President’s responses to both initial questions in full on the two programs that used the excerpts”!

Gillespie then decided to further hector NBC by:

  • protesting and challenging NBC’s decision to refer to take the position a “civil war” was underway in Iraq:

Gillespie implied that NBC went beyond its rightful role as a news program by deciding in November 2006, “to no longer just cover the news in Iraq, but to make an analytical and editorial judgment that Iraq was in a civil war,” and that NBC was wrong not to change its mind despite protests by the US government and the “government” of Iraq;

Gillespie noted that around September 2007, NBC “quietly stopped referring to conditions in Iraq as a ‘civil war'”; and

Gillespie inquired whether “Is it still NBC News’s carefully deliberated opinion that Iraq is in the midst of a civil war? If not, will the network publicly declare that the civil war has ended, or that it was wrong to declare it in the first place?”

  • protesting and challenging NBC’s questioning of the accuracy of the Administration’s economic reporting:

Gillespie noted that, “when the Commerce Department on April 30 released the GDP numbers for the first quarter of 2007, Brian Williams reported it this way:  ‘If you go by the government number, the figure that came out today stops just short of the official declaration of a recession’  and to ask: “Are there numbers besides the “government number” to go by?  Is there reason to believe “the government number” is suspect?  How does the release of positive economic growth for two consecutive quarters, albeit limited, stop “just short of the official declaration of a recession”?”

Finally, Gillespie expressed concern about “the increasing blurring of th[e] lines” between “”news” as reported on NBC and the “opinion” as reported on MSNBC” and asked NBC to reassure its viewers “that blatantly partisan talk show hosts like Christopher Matthews and Keith Olbermann at MSNBC don’t hold editorial sway over the NBC network news division”.  As if Gillespie and the White House – which carefully manipulate every story of concern to it and manage a whole fleet of sympathetic and partisan “journalists, lawmakers, lobbyists, conservative bloggers, military groups and others with talking points” on matters such as the “surge”, while doing their best to prevent government transparency – really care about “truth”, as opposed to maintaining their own power over government and the American people.

NBC News President Steve Capus responded to Gillespie that “there was no effort to be “deceptive,” and that Gillespie’s position that this was, “deceitful editing to further a media-manufactured storyline,” is a gross misrepresentation of the facts.” Capus declined to comment on the questions of the Administration’s economic reporting or whether there is a civil war underway in Iraq, but further noted that

“In fact, the entire interview was posted Sunday on our website,, thus allowing everyone to draw their own conclusions about it, the subject matter and our editing. In addition, the entire section in dispute has already aired, unedited, on NBC’s Today program and in edited form on other NBC News broadcasts.

“Editing is a part of journalism.”

Gillespie then had the chutzpah to post another public reply, which asserted:

“While we appreciate that viewers can visit the MSNBC website to see how NBC News edited the interview to completely alter the nature of the President’s answer, we know that most will not – it’s simply absurd for people to have to log onto the internet and stream video to get accurate information from NBC News.

“We also look forward to hearing their response to our additional concerns about their labeling Iraq as a “civil war”, and if they have reason not to believe official economic data.”

I think that Ed Gillespie has done us a public service – not only is his loud screeching a clear indication that the Administration is losing control of the media, but he has helped to put a spotlight on how the Administration hypocritically calls for “truth” when its modus operandi is lies and deceit and how it strains to control what should be a private and truly independent media.  He has also challenged the media and others to show how the Administration is lying with its economics data.  One hopes that this episode with help to stiffen the spines of the media and set various people to work to on explaining the vast cooking of books that the Administration has been conducting with respect to its mismanagement of government and the economy.

Thanks, Ed!  (Believe me, these are issues that will concern you, too, once you find yourself outside of the Administration in a few months.)