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Profile: Charles Gibson
Charles Gibson was a participant or observer in the following events:
The authors of the upcoming book Silent Coup, Leonard Colodny and Robert Gettlin, are interviewed on CBS’s Good Morning America. The book alleges that former White House counsel John Dean masterminded the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) to prove that Democrats were operating a prostitution ring, and that Dean’s wife Maureen had inside knowledge of the prostitution ring (see May 6, 1991). Dean has already convinced CBS’s flagship news program, 60 Minutes, not to air a segment on the book, and convinced Time magazine not to excerpt the book in its upcoming issue (see May 7, 1991). Dean says the book is false to the point of libel (see May 6, 1991). Dean has informed the Good Morning America producers of his intention to sue both the authors and the publisher of the book. Reflecting on the affair in his 2006 book Conservatives Without Conscience, Dean writes: “[W]e had mortally wounded the book and destroyed the carefully planned launch, which might had given the story credibility. Now it would be difficult to treat Silent Coup as legitimate news.” Dean recalls being less than impressed with the authors as they discuss their book with Good Morning America’s anchor, Charles Gibson. Colodny, whom Dean will describe as “a retired liquor salesman and conspiracy buff,” and Gettlin, “a journalist,” appear “tense.” Gibson does not believe their story, Dean observes. Gibson skims past the material concerning Dean and his wife, and focuses on the equally specious allegations about Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward (supposedly a CIA agent) and then-White House chief of staff Alexander Haig (who supposedly planned the “coup” of the title that forced Richard Nixon out of office). [Dean, 2006, pp. xix-xx]
A photo of a slain US soldier as broadcast on Al Jazeera. [Source: Al Jazeera / TheWE (.cc)]With the first broadcast of graphic, disturbing images from the Iraq war on Al Jazeera television news shows, the media coverage of the US strike begins turning away from what media critic Frank Rich will later call “cheerleading” (see March 19-20, 2003) to a more somber assessment of the events taking place in Iraq. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation, is embarrassed when host Bob Schieffer shows part of an Al Jazeera film clip of US troops being killed. (The Pentagon is also denying media reports that around ten US soldiers were either captured or missing. The juxtaposition is inopportune for Rumsfeld and the “shock and awe” story he and the Defense Department wish to tell.) The Pentagon will quickly decide that for the US media to show such images violates “the principles of the Geneva Conventions” and attempt to stop them from being shown in the American press. The Pentagon’s proscription of such images being published and broadcast is only partially successful. ABC news anchor Charles Gibson engages in an on-air discussion of the propriety of airing such images with reporter Ted Koppel. Gibson says to broadcast such disturbing images would be “simply disrespectful,” a point with which Koppel, embedded with the Third Infantry Division, disagrees. The news media is “ginning up patriotic feelings” in covering the war, Koppel says: “I feel that we do have an obligation to remind people in the most graphic way that war is a dreadful thing.… The fact of the matter is young Americans are dying. Young Iraqis are dying. And I think to turn our faces away from that is a mistake.… To sanitize it too much is a dreadful mistake.” However, Koppel’s is not a popular argument. CNN decided at the onset of the war to minimize its broadcast of graphic imagery in deference to “the sensibilities of our viewers.” The other US television news outlets make similar decisions, leaving it to the BBC and other non-American news organizations to show what Rich calls “the savagery and blood of warfare.” Ex-Marine Anthony Swofford, who wrote the bestseller Jarhead about his experiences during the 1991 Gulf War, later says the television coverage is so sanitized that he quickly shut off his TV “and stayed with the print.… [T]he actual experience of combat doesn’t make it to the other side of the screen.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 76]
Bill Moyers, John Walcott, Jonathan Landay, and Greg Mitchell on PBS’s ‘Journal.’ [Source: PBS]In his regular “Journal” broadcast, PBS political commentator Bill Moyers focuses on the role of the media in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. “America was deceived, with the media’s help,” Moyers declares, and interviews three media figures to help explain how: John Walcott, Washington bureau chief of McClatchy News; Jonathan Landay, one of Walcott’s “ace reporters;” and Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher, “known to many of us as the watchdog’s watchdog.” Part of the discussion focuses on the failure of most media reporters and broadcasters to question the Bush administration’s assertions about the Iraq war. Landay says, “I was just I was left breathless by some of the things that I heard where you heard correspondents say, ‘Well, we did ask the tough questions. We asked them to the White House spokesmen,’ Scott McClellan and others. And you say to yourself, ‘And you expected to get real answers? You expected them to say from the White House podium—“Yeah, well, there were disagreements over the intelligence, but we ignored them”’ when the President made his speeches and the Vice President made his speeches. No, I don’t think so.” Mitchell agrees, noting that ABC reporter Charles Gibson said that we “wouldn’t ask any different questions.” Mitchell says he found Gibson’s remarks “shocking.” Mitchell continues: “[T]hat someone would say we would even with the chance to relive this experience and so much we got wrong—going to war is—which is still going on over five years later, all the lost lives, all the financial costs of that. And then to look back at this, you know, this terrible episode in history of American journalism and say that if I could do it all over again, I’m not sure we would ask any different questions.” Walcott takes a different tack, saying that reporters “may have asked all the right questions. The trouble is they asked all the wrong people.” Landay notes that “you have to take the time to find those people,” and Mitchell adds that when you do find real information, “[y]ou can’t bury it.” Landay adds that some powerful, public admission of error and self-examination might go far to counter the perception that the media is just as untrustworthy as the government.
Drowned Out - Walcott notes that even when reporters found informed sources willing to talk about the realities behind the push for war, they were drowned out by “Donald Rumsfeld at the podium or Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice saying, ‘We can’t allow the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud’” (see September 4, 2002 and September 8, 2002). “Over and over again,” Moyers notes. “Over and over again on camera,” Walcott continues. “[T]hat trumps the kind of reporting that John and [Landay’s partner] Warren Strobel did from these mid-level guys who actually know that there’s no prospect of any smoking gun let alone a mushroom cloud. And so when it gets to packaging television news, it’s picture driven, it’s celebrity driven, and that doesn’t allow much room for this kind of hard-nosed reporting under the radar.” Mitchell says, “There’s been at least six opportunities in the last two months for the media to do this long delayed and much needed self-assessment, self-criticism to the American public and it hasn’t happened.”
Liberal vs. Conservative Media - Moyers notes that many conservative media outlets “do not believe they got it wrong. I mean, Fox News was reinforcing the administration’s messages back then and still does today.” Walcott notes, “You know, if Fox News’s mission is to defend Republican administrations then they’re right, they didn’t fail.” He notes that in his book, McClellan draws a distinction between the conservative and the “liberal” media (presumably the New York Times, Washington Post, etc). “I don’t understand what liberal versus conservative has to do with this,” Walcott says. “I would have thought that conservatives would be the ones to ask questions about a march to war. How much is this gonna cost us? What’s the effect of this gonna be on our military, on our country’s strength overseas? I don’t think it’s a liberal conservative question at all. I think that’s, frankly, a canard by Scott.”
Celebrity 'Experts' - Moyers asks about the “experts” who predicted that the war would be quick, bloodless, and successful. Even though they were “terribly wrong,” Moyers notes that most of them are “still on the air today pontificating. I mean, there seems to be no price to be paid for having been wrong about so serious an issue of life and death, war and peace.” Walcott says they are not news analysts so much as they are celebrities. Big name actors can make bad movies and still draw million-dollar salaries for their next film: “It’s the same phenomenon. A name is what matters. And it’s about celebrity. It’s about conflict. It’s about—” Landay completes Walcott’s sentence: “Ratings.”
'Skunks at the Garden Party' - Perhaps the most disturbing portion of the discussion is when Walcott notes that the kind of old-fashioned investigative reporting exemplified by Landay and Strobel is “by definition… unpopular.… Because the public doesn’t wanna hear it.… Doesn’t wanna hear the President lied to them. Doesn’t wanna hear that the local police chief is on the take. You know, people don’t like necessarily to hear all that kind of stuff. And when you’re worried about, above all, your advertising revenue, you become more vulnerable to those kinds of pressures.… Well, the skunks don’t get invited to the garden party. And part of our job is to be the skunks at the garden party.” [PBS, 6/6/2008]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Charles Gibson, Bush administration (43), Bill Moyers, ABC News, Fox News, Washington Post, Public Broadcasting System, Editor & Publisher, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, McClatchy News, Warren Strobel, Jonathan Landay, Greg Mitchell, Scott McClellan, John Walcott, New York Times
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
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