Columnist David Broder of the Washington Post has written that, “If George Bush fails to be re-elected, we may look back on Thursday, July 10, 2003, as the day the shadow of defeat first crossed his political horizon.” Broder, who called it “Black Thursday,” said that the “CBS Evening News that night was like Karl Rove’s worst nightmare, and the other network newscasts?still the main source of information for the largest number of Americans?were not much better.”
Broder noted that the headlines announced by John Roberts, substituting for Dan Rather on CBS, were: “President Bush’s false claim about Iraqi weapons; he made it despite a CIA warning the intelligence was bad. More Americans say U.S. is losing control of Iraq. Also tonight, food lines in America; they’re back and getting longer.”
The headline for the Iraq story was false. The President’s claim still stands up under scrutiny, and the story by David Martin which followed that sensational headline was careful enough to note that the statement about uranium from Africa was “technically correct.” But Broder’s point is also correct, in that the coverage that evening was an orchestrated “Black Thursday” to undermine the administration.
It got worse. On July 21, CBS News correspondent David Hawkins reported, “In an exclusive interview with CBS News, three men who claim to have participated in several recent and deadly attacks on U.S. soldiers say they’re not doing it for love of Saddam?but instead for God and their country.” Hawkins said, “The three claim to be the ones who attacked a military convoy last week west of Baghdad?an attack that killed one American soldier. A Baghdad gun-runner arranged a meeting with them for CBS News.”
What a switch from the days when American reporters were embedded with U.S. troops as they fought Iraqi troops. At this rate, it may not be long before CBS News reporters are embedded with the Iraqi terrorists as they plot to kill more Americans. But not only is CBS News interviewing Iraqi killers, it also ran a story on July 19 charging that U.S. troops may have committed torture. The story, posted on the CBS News website, reported that, “Amnesty International is looking into a number of cases of suspected torture in Iraq by American authorities.” An American denial was dismissed by an Iraqi as a lie. Two days before that, on July 17, the CBS Evening News aired a story about low morale among some U.S. troops. That followed an ABC World News Tonight story about a few soldiers in Iraq demanding to go home.
These stories on the CBS Evening News are airing in the wake of revelations that the newscast has endured its smallest average audience in at least 10 years, perhaps ever. As noted by a story on CNN, “The evening newscast with Dan Rather, for several years third in the ratings behind NBC and ABC, has lately been losing even more ground to its rivals.” CBS News President Andrew Heyward said that while he wanted to reverse that trend, it wasn’t something to be “overly concerned about.” He claimed the broadcast was excellent. Viewers seem to disagree.