Accuracy in Media

The anti-Bush media bias that preceded the President’s re-election was back in a big way at the end of the year when officials of the United Nations and some influential journalists started a campaign blaming the U.S. for being “stingy” and “slow” to respond to the Asian tsunami disaster. The purpose of the campaign was two-fold?to rehabilitate the U.N., making the organization look relevant in world affairs, and to damage Bush politically as he attempts badly needed legislative reforms of the Social Security, legal, and income tax systems.

While a top U.N. aid official had made the “stingy” remark on Monday, December 27, just one day after news of the disaster was reaching the rest of the world, the anti-Bush media campaign went into high gear on Wednesday, December 29, with a front-page story in the Washington Post. “Aid Grows Amid Remarks About President’s Absence” was the headline over the story by John F. Harris and Robin Wright.

The “Skeptics”

The story cited “complaints” from anonymous sources “that the vacationing president has been insensitive to a humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions.”

The story added, “Skeptics said the initial aid sums?as well as Bush’s decision at first to remain cloistered on his Texas ranch for the Christmas holiday rather than speak in person about the tragedy?showed scant appreciation for the magnitude of suffering and for the rescue and rebuilding work facing such nations as Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and Indonesia.”

Bias Gone Overboard

The Post had reported, “Some foreign policy specialists said Bush’s actions and words both communicated a lack of urgency about an event that will loom as large in the collective memories of several countries as the September 11, 2001, attacks do in the United States.” Leslie H. Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, said the disaster was an opportunity for Bush to reach out to Muslims in the affected areas, but he was not directly quoted as saying anything critical of Bush.

Wesley Clark, “who as the military’s top European commander helped supervise NATO’s efforts to respond to a 1999 earthquake in Turkey,” urged Bush to take a higher profile, the Post claimed, although no direct quotation was attributed to him in this regard. Clark, of course, is also a partisan, having run for the Democratic presidential nomination last year.

Recognizing the questionable nature of the story, the Post published a reader’s letter-to-the-editor on January 1. The writer, a resident of the Washington, D.C. area, said:

“Normally I reject the idea that The Post is institutionally biased against President Bush, but the Dec. 29 front-page article regarding Bush’s ‘absence’ during the tsunami crisis in South Asia is truly inexplicable in any other way.

“The article claims that ‘skeptics’ criticize Bush for remaining in Texas, but it does not quote a single individual making that claim, except for the reporters themselves. A quotation from Leslie Gelb says nothing about Bush personally, and neither does a quotation from Wesley Clark. The writers of the article are the ones who make that analysis, paraphrasing the speakers. I have to believe that if either one had said anything directly about Bush, that the quotation would be in the article rather than one obscurely and allegedly referring to Bush. The only other quotation in the article on this matter is from an unidentified ‘administration official familiar with relief efforts,’ with the truly stunning and juvenile comment, ‘It’s kind of freaky.’ When do sentences like that pass editing muster for The Post?

“Perhaps the holidays have left the editing staff short-handed, and silly articles are more likely to get into the paper between Christmas and New Year’s Day, but I expected better from The Post.”

Joe Scarborough, host of MSNBC’s Scarborough Country, noted that Bush was facing similar charges of “missing in action” in the first days after the tsunami, from the New York Times. “It’s interesting that the same newspaper praised the corrupt leader of the United Nations?Kofi Annan?for standing ready to provide relief. And yet Annan stayed away on vacation even longer than Bush,” he said.

In a December 30 editorial, the Times declared that Bush had “finally roused himself from his vacation in Crawford, Tex., to telephone his sympathy to the leaders of India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia, and to speak publicly about the devastation?”

One day earlier, however, the Times had run a story by Warren Hoge about Annan assuming the leading role in coordinating assistance. “U.N. Leader Taking Reins of Relief Effort,” was the headline. Curiously, the story quoted Annan’s spokesman as saying that Annan had been vacationing “in an undisclosed place” when the disaster hit.

Undisclosed place? The paper’s investigative reporters couldn’t find out where Annan was vacationing?  

James Langton of the London Telegraph discovered the facts that seemed to elude the Times. He reported, “UN officials went to great lengths to conceal the whereabouts of Kofi Annan, the organization’s general secretary, who was on holiday when the tsunami struck and did not surface in New York until Thursday. In fact, it was revealed that Mr. Annan spent Christmas at the holiday home of James Wolfensohn, the president of the World Bank and a critic of the Bush administration, who owns a 160-acre ranch in the resort of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Only a handful of Mr. Annan’s most trusted advisers were allowed to know his location. One official said: ‘He did not want to be seen frolicking in the snow. It wouldn’t look good.’ So anxious were UN staff that his first interview, which was with the CNN cable news channel almost three days after the tsunami struck, was conducted by telephone, via the UN’s headquarters, and producers of the show were not told where Mr. Annan was speaking from.”

CNN Duped

As Langton indicated, the CNN interview with Annan aired on December 28, with Sam Champion of WABC in New York sitting in for Larry King as the host. Annan was interviewed by telephone, with no one disclosing that he was in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, still on vacation.

“Tonight,” said Champion, “an exclusive. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan speaks out, in his first and only TV interview in this catastrophe.” Yes, but it was from an “undisclosed location” and the call was routed through U.N. headquarters in New York to Jackson Hole to mislead the press about where Annan really was.

ABC Promotes Annan

Annan reportedly arrived in New York on Thursday, December 30, just in time to sit down for a face-to-face interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC’s This Week show, which aired on January 2. Stephanopoulos didn’t ask any embarrassing questions about Annan’s vacation or the staged and manipulative telephone call with CNN. But he did bring up the oil-for-food scandal in the context of the world body being able to use the tsunami to prove that it was a worthwhile organization.

Tossing softballs, Stephanopoulos’ questions included, “?.could this crisis, as horrible as it is, become an opportunity for the U.N. to prove to the world what it can do?”

Annan replied, “It could be, and I would hope so. I would hope so. We want to help the people in need. We want to do it as effectively as possible. We have only one U.N. It’s not perfect, but we have to be efficient and effective. And we are going to try to do that.”

ABC touted this as an “exclusive interview,” but it failed to generate any news about why Annan had waited longer than Bush to publicly speak about the tsunami and where the U.N. chief had been.

On the same January 2 edition of ABC’s This Week program, another guest was James Wolfensohn of the World Bank, who had been hosting Annan at his home in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Needless to say, Stephanopoulos didn’t ask Wolfensohn any embarrassing questions about his vacation.

At a time when international agencies were on the spot to provide financial contributions to help the victims, Stephanopoulos also didn’t ask Wolfensohn why the World Bank had spent $160 million a few years ago on a new Washington, D.C. headquarters. The executive dining room features gold leaf adorning a curved wall, costing some $3,600.

The White House Response

The facts about the White House response are as follows:

On December 26, the White House issued a statement declaring, “On behalf of the American people, the President expresses his sincere condolences for the terrible loss of life and suffering caused by the earthquake and subsequent tsunamis in the region of the Bay of Bengal. The United States stands ready to offer all appropriate assistance to those nations most affected including Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Thailand, and Indonesia, as well as the other countries impacted. Already relief is flowing to Sri Lanka and the Maldives. We will work with the affected governments, the United Nations, non-governmental organizations, and other concerned states and organizations to support the relief and response to this terrible tragedy. Again, we extend our sincere condolences to all the people of the region at this time of suffering.”

The next day, December 27, White House spokesman Trent Duffy noted that the President had sent letters of condolence to leaders of the seven countries that were affected. He added, “There is a significant loss of life. And our thoughts and prayers are with all those who are suffering. The United States, at the President’s direction, will be a leading partner in one of the most significant relief, rescue and recovery challenges that the world has ever known. And the USAID briefed earlier today about all those efforts underway. As we said yesterday, the United States expresses its sincere condolences for the loss of life and suffering, and we’ve been working since early yesterday morning to support American citizens who may have been affected in the region through the various embassies.”

The White House View

On December 28, Duffy said that the President had “received a special update on the disaster, as well as the relief and the recovery effort underway. The news reports continue to be very grim and the President, on behalf of the American people, wants to again extend our thoughts and prayers to all those who are suffering in the region and throughout the world as we confront this tragedy.”

“As I indicated yesterday,” Duffy went on, “the President has authorized and directed the United States to play a leading role in the rescue, relief and recovery effort which is underway. And I would just say, of course, that the United States and the American people are the single largest contributors to international aid efforts across the globe. We have been for the past few years and I have every expectation that that will continue. Those contributions take the form of official government assistance, as well as individual charitable contributions to the Red Cross and to other international and non-governmental organizations.”

He added, “I think the State Department has briefed recently about some of the efforts underway. I’ll quickly summarize them. There has been an initial commitment of $15 million to support the relief efforts. USAID has just recently added $20 million to that, for the earthquake relief. Included in that is $2 million for Sri Lanka, $1 million for Indonesia, $100,000 each for India, the Maldives and Thailand; as well, an additional $4 million has been sent to the International Red Cross to support their efforts.

“The United States military is also playing a role. The Thailand government has offered the United States a base to use as a regional support center in the recovery effort, and we welcome that. There are a dozen C-130s from the Pacific Command that are hauling in relief supplies as we speak, including food, water, blankets, emergency shelter?you name it, it’s on its way and those relief supplies will continue to flow.”

All of this was on the public record when the Post ran its December 29 front-page story claiming that, according to unnamed skeptics, Bush was acting in an insensitive manner.  

More Bias From CBS

On the CBS Evening News, White House correspondent Bill Plante gave a very misleading and inadequate chronology of the White House response. Plante declared that, “The big waves hit on December 26. The U.S. made its first pledge of $15 million the next day. But the President didn’t talk publicly about it until December 29. And it wasn’t until December 31 that Washington, lagging behind other Western nations, raised its commitment to $350 million.”

Plante ignored all of the statements that had come out of the White House, cited above, about the U.S. response.

Plante then showed Leslie Gelb of the Council on Foreign Relations saying, “They finally made up for that lost ground and now they’re on a good course and they’re playing a leadership role. But many people around the world won’t forget the delay.”

Delay? What delay? The White House response was immediate.

To make matters worse, Plante added this zinger at the end of his report: “It’s also about the hope that the U.S. hasn’t missed the chance to show South Asia, especially its Muslims, that it has more to offer than bombs and bullets.”

Gelb’s Role

Leslie Gelb, of course, was one of the persons quoted in the controversial Post article, but without any direct and specific complaint about the U.S. response.

Gelb is far more than just the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. He was a columnist, deputy editorial page editor, op-ed page editor, national security correspondent, and diplomatic correspondent for The New York Times. From 1977 to 1979, he was an Assistant Secretary of State in the Carter administration, serving as director of the Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs.

Gelb’s appearances in the Post and CBS stories strongly suggest that either he was a main instigator of the media outrage toward President Bush and his administration or that he was used for this purpose by the media.

There is another piece to this puzzle, however.

Secret Meeting

On January 3, the New York Times published a story by Warren Hoge, the same reporter who couldn’t find out where Annan was vacationing, about a secret meeting of “veteran foreign policy experts” who had met with Annan and were “united” in “personal regard for him and support for the United Nations.” The purpose was to figure out a way to improve the U.N.’s image.

Hoge reported, “The meeting was held in the apartment of Richard C. Holbrooke, a United States ambassador to the United Nations under President Clinton. Others in attendance were John G. Ruggie, assistant secretary general for strategic planning from 1997 to 2001 and now a professor of international relations at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard; Leslie H. Gelb, a former president of the Council on Foreign Relations; Timothy E. Wirth, the president of the United Nations Foundation, based in Washington; Kathy Bushkin, the foundation’s executive vice president; Nader Mousavizadeh, a former special assistant to Mr. Annan who left in 2003 to work at Goldman Sachs; and Robert C. Orr, the assistant secretary general for strategic planning. Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations from 1998 to 2003, was invited but could not attend.”

So Gelb was meeting with Annan on “one recent Sunday,” as Hoge put it, and when the tsunami hit, Gelb was suddenly bad-mouthing the administration on relief assistance while Annan was emerging in the media as the world’s point man on saving the victims of a terrible tragedy.

It would have been nice if Hoge had put it all together, making it plain that what we were witnessing was a public relations campaign to use the tsunami to make the U.S. look bad and the U.N. look good.

By the time the damage to America’s reputation was already done, the Post published a column on December 31 by Andrew S. Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, noting some critical facts.

Setting The Record Straight

“After the most powerful earthquake in 40 years triggered tidal waves Sunday that killed more than 119,000 people, USAID moved into action even before I had left church,” he said.

He explained, “By Monday, barely 24 hours after the tsunami hit, the initial U.S. commitment was $15 million to start up our government’s response to the crisis. That included $4 million toward an initial appeal for $7 million from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

“We set up a response management team at USAID headquarters?staffed round-the-clock?to coordinate all information coming in from the field and shipments of food and other relief.

“On Monday we also sent out a team of 21 experts known as DART ?Disaster Assistance Response Team?to assess needs and hand out cash on the spot to relief groups for emergency food, water, medicine and other help. The following day, as the scale of the crisis increased, we mobilized 20 search-and-rescue specialists we had trained and equipped at the Los Angeles and Fairfax County fire departments.

“The U.S. military also dispatched a dozen C-130 cargo planes, several P-3 search planes, and ships from Guam, Diego Garcia and Hong Kong to supply helicopters, move aid and provide fresh water.”

Assuming that there was a delay by the President in racing to get in front of the TV cameras, what about the further delay by U.N. boss Annan? Our media let him off the hook and instead presented him as the world’s leader on the assistance effort. Of course, if the President had rushed to get in front of the TV cameras to express his concern and compassion, he probably would have been accused by the media of exploiting the tragedy for political gain. The “blame America first” media mentality was on display again.

What You Can Do

Send the enclosed cards or cards and letters of your own choosing to Washington Post publisher Bo Jones, William Novelli of AARP, and Paul Krugman of the New York Times.

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