CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller's response to Bill Moyers' "Buying The War" documentary was lamentable and hilarious in its imperviousness despite its tragic implications.
As a member of the Washington press corps Mr. Knoller is offended by the suggestion that he and his colleagues have done anything wrong, despite mounds of evidence, and the clear portrayal of the press' abdication of its responsibilities laid out by Mr. Moyers. Mr. Knoller clearly believes that as a reporter, especially a Washington based reporter that his word should always be taken as truth and that he and the press corps at large are above reproach and questioning. (Glenn Greenwald has examined this fantastical notion on several occasions)
Mr. Knoller, who called "Buying The War" "unfounded" and "misrepresentative", provides no evidence to support his claims. The best that Mr. Knoller can do is to complain about Mr. Moyers' coverage of the Presidential press conference held on March 6, 2003. Mr. Knoller states:
The broadcast began by focusing on the performance of reporters at President Bush’s news conference on March 6, 2003. We didn’t know it at the time, but it turned out to be 13 days before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.If Mr. Knoller truly believes that the questions asked were pointed why does he not quote them directly instead of hinting at what was said?
Moyers charges in his opening sentences that the press “largely surrendered its independence and skepticism” and joined with the Bush Administration in marching to war.
Pointing to that news conference, Moyers claims that the White House press corps asked “no hard questions” about the president’s arguments for war.
He shows only a single, brief example of a question – deep in the news conference – in which a reporter asked Mr. Bush to reflect on how he was guided by his faith at that difficult time. Admittedly, it was a softball.
But Moyers did not cite any of the other much more pointed questions put to the President that evening in the East Room.
Richard Keil of Bloomberg News questioned the Administration’s intelligence claims about Saddam Hussein and the doubts of U.S. allies.
Jim Angle of Fox News also challenged the President’s assertions about Saddam.
John King of CNN asked the President to respond to critics who portray his animosity toward Saddam as personal. Further, he asked whether US action would make the world a more dangerous place. King also wanted Mr. Bush to address the risks of going to war and the impact on the American people.
Terry Moran of ABC also pressed the President about the doubts and reservations of U.S. allies to his approach.
My colleague Bill Plante challenged Mr. Bush to present hard evidence to back up his claims of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq.
And so on.
Now, I can understand if Moyers didn’t like the President’s answers. Fair enough. But to portray reporters as mindless conduits of White House policies is unfounded.
Here is my response to Mr. Knoller in his comments section:
As for Mr. Knoller's claims of "much more pointed" questions being asked of Mr. Bush on March 6, 2003, here are Mr. Knoller's words followed by the actual questions. The full transcript of the press conference is available here:Mr. Knoller,Posted by hcoppola at 12:46 PM : Apr 27, 2007
Your response to Mr. Moyers' well researched,and direct documentary demonstrates precisely the problems currently inhabiting the Washington press corps.
Why do you not quote your colleagues questions from the March 6th press conference? You hint that actual questions were asked and that they were not all 'soft-ball' setups. However the transcript of the press conference does not support your insinuations.
You further omit the fact that President Bush only called on predetermined reporters from a list, a fact that he callously admitted halfway through the press conference. You were called on during that press conference Mr. Knoller, had you submitted the question that you asked of Mr. Bush in advance?
Your summations that you, the Washington press corps, behaved as true journalists is not supported by the facts in evidence as presented by Mr. Moyers, Gary Kayima in Salon.com, and others.
Mr. Knoller your statements are shallow and false. They are defensive and misleading in the extreme, you sir, should be embarrassed to call yourself a journalist. Even now you fail to pursue the truth and provide it to your audience.
For a more in depth dissection of your complaints as to Mr. Moyers portrayal of the March 6th press conference please visit my blog at:
(post available soon)
I will write again in response to your challenge of this morning.
I thank you for at least engaging your critcs, even if you do so dishonestly.
Mr. Knoller - Richard Keil of Bloomberg News questioned the Administration’s intelligence claims about Saddam Hussein and the doubts of U.S. allies.
Mr. Keil's actual question - Mr. President, you have, and your top advisors -- notably, Secretary of State Powell -- have repeatedly said that we have shared with our allies all the current, up-to-date intelligence information that proves the imminence of the threat we face from Saddam Hussein, and that they have been sharing their intelligence with us, as well. If all these nations, all of them our normal allies, have access to the same intelligence information, why is it that they are reluctant to think that the threat is so real, so imminent that we need to move to the brink of war now?
And in relation to that, today, the British Foreign Minister, Jack Straw, suggested at the U.N. that it might be time to look at amending the resolution, perhaps with an eye towards a timetable like that proposed by the Canadians some two weeks ago, that would set a firm deadline to give Saddam Hussein a little bit of time to come clean. And also, obviously, that would give you a little bit of a chance to build more support within the members of the Security Council. Is that something that the governments should be pursuing at the U.N. right now?
Where does Mr. Keil question the Administration's intelligence claims? Mr. Keil hints at a reluctance among American allies nothing more. It should also be noted that Mr. Keil's question was the first one asked on what Mr. Bush admitted was a scripted list for the press conference. Mr. Bush's response of 450 cleanly and clearly prepared words belies the nature of this soft question.
Mr. Knoller - Jim Angle of Fox News also challenged the President’s assertions about Saddam.
Mr. Angle's actual question - Thank you, Mr. President. Sir, if you haven't already made the choice to go to war, can you tell us what you are waiting to hear or see before you do make that decision? And if I may, during the recent demonstrations, many of the protestors suggested that the U.S. was a threat to peace, which prompted you to wonder out loud why they didn't see Saddam Hussein as a threat to peace. I wonder why you think so many people around the world take a different view of the threat that Saddam Hussein poses than you and your allies.
Mr. Angle does not even begin to challenge Mr. Bush's assertions about Saddam, rather he offers the President an opportunity to further belittle his detractors. Which Mr. Bush quickly and happily does.
Mr. Knoller - John King of CNN asked the President to respond to critics who portray his animosity toward Saddam as personal. Further, he asked whether US action would make the world a more dangerous place. King also wanted Mr. Bush to address the risks of going to war and the impact on the American people.
Mr. King's actual question - Thank you, Mr. President. How would -- sir, how would you answer your critics who say that they think this is somehow personal? As Senator Kennedy put it tonight, he said your fixation with Saddam Hussein is making the world a more dangerous place. And as you prepare the American people for the possibility of military conflict, could you share with us any of the scenarios your advisors have shared with you about worse-case scenarios, in terms of the potential cost of American lives, the potential cost to the American economy, and the potential risks of retaliatory terrorist strikes here at home?
Mr. King does actually ask Mr. to respond to critics who say that his invasion of Iraq would be personal. Mr. King does not ask Mr. Bush if his mission to oust Saddam Hussein is personal, which would be the 'pointed' question in this place. Instead of answering the question Mr. Bush said:
Saddam Hussein is a threat to the American people...He has weapons of mass destruction...He has trained and financed al Qaeda-type organizations before, al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.The question may have arguably been a decent one, it is not enough, however to simply pose the question. The story could then have become that Mr. Bush dodged that question and instead offered false claims to scare the American public in a blatant effort at fear-mongering. Unfortunately Mr. King, Mr. Knoller and the rest of the Washington press corps did not, as Mr. Moyers notes, make this the story.
Mr. Knoller - Terry Moran of ABC also pressed the President about the doubts and reservations of U.S. allies to his approach.
Mr. Moran's actual question - Thank you, sir. May I follow up on Jim Angle's question? In the past several weeks, your policy on Iraq has generated opposition from the governments of France, Russia, China, Germany, Turkey, the Arab League and many other countries, opened a rift at NATO and at the U.N., and drawn millions of ordinary citizens around the world into the streets in anti-war protests. May I ask, what went wrong that so many governments and people around the world now not only disagree with you very strongly, but see the U.S. under your leadership as an arrogant power?
A surprisingly direct question from Mr. Moran, one that was once again ignored by Mr. Bush who went on to say in his answer that:
I think you'll see when it's all said and done, if we have to use force, a lot of nations will be with us...While they may disagree with how we deal with Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction, there's no disagreement when it came time to vote...I believe Saddam Hussein is a threat -- is a threat to the American people... So there's a lot more at stake than just American security, and the security of people close by Saddam Hussein. Freedom is at stake, as well, and I take that very seriously.Again just asking a question of the President is not enough. Actual reporting must then be done on both what the Administration says and what it does. There would be no mention that Mr. Bush also ducked Mr. Moran's question and there would be no mention of the security experts who disagreed with Mr. Bush either.
Mr. Knoller - My colleague Bill Plante challenged Mr. Bush to present hard evidence to back up his claims of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq.
Mr. Plante's actual question - Mr. President, to a lot of people, it seems that war is probably inevitable, because many people doubt -- most people, I would guess -- that Saddam Hussein will ever do what we are demanding that he do, which is disarm. And if war is inevitable, there are a lot of people in this country -- as much as half, by polling standards -- who agree that he should be disarmed, who listen to you say that you have the evidence, but who feel they haven't seen it, and who still wonder why blood has to be shed if he hasn't attacked us.
Again Mr. Knoller has drastically misrepresented the nature of the question posed by his colleague. Mr. Plante never issued a challenge to Mr. Bush never even mentioned WMD. In fact Mr. Plante did Mr. Bush a favor by prompting one of Mr. Bush's favorite talking points that "we're not going to wait until he does attack."
None of the questions to which Mr. Knoller alludes could in reality be called "pointed" especially given the answers to them and the subsequent failure in the reporting on the press conference.
Mr. Knoller does not mention the scripted nature of the press conference, which is central to Mr. Moyers' report, or his own presence and question at on March 6th.
Mr. Knoller provided the prompting for Mr. Bush to talk about the UN Security Council and its possible authorization of force:
Q Mr. President, are you worried that the United States might be viewed as defiant of the United Nations if you went ahead with military action without specific and explicit authorization from the U.N.?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I'm not worried about that. As a matter of fact, it's hard to say the United States is defiant about the United Nations, when I was the person that took the issue to the United Nations, September the 12th, 2002. We've been working with the United Nations. We've been working through the United Nations.
Secondly, I'm confident the American people understand that when it comes to our security, if we need to act, we will act, and we really don't need United Nations approval to do so. I want to work -- I want the United Nations to be effective. It's important for it to be a robust, capable body. It's important for it's words to mean what they say, and as we head into the 21st century, Mark, when it comes to our security, we really don't need anybody's permission.
A softball? You be the judge. I put it again to Mr. Knoller; did you submit your question ahead of time for prior approval? Did you understand the true nature of your question and the way that it would be manipulated? Were you not aware of how your question was abused, and did you not feel a responsibility to report on the nature of the President's answers?Mr. Knoller has responded to the comments he has received after his initial response to Mr. Moyers' documentary. Mr. Knoller claims to have been surprised at the "nature, depth and fury" of the comments His surprise is an all too clear indication of the fact that the Washington press corps has no idea how far they have fallen. Mr. Knoller and his colleagues clearly believe that they have done nothing wrong and that they remain above reproach. In reality the Washington press corps is broken and bankrupt, admitting their culpability in the situation in Iraq is the first in a long series of steps that will have to be taken before the public can once again trust the national media.
Mr. Knoller continues in his defensive posturing, by issuing a challenge to his critics:
YOU be the reporter!Before issuing his challenge Mr. Knoller continues to claim that he and his colleagues were not "duped" and that "concerns and reservations" were published as well. The problem is that Mr. Knoller's claims are not supportable by any facts in the historical record. Just because Mr Knoller says he reported honestly does not mean that he actually did, Mr. Knoller should provide actual evidence or he should cease to claim his innocence in the face of ever mounting evidence incriminating the Washington press corps for their collective failure.
It’s March 6, 2003. Pres Bush is moving closer to ordering an attack on Iraq.
You’re in the East Room for his primetime news conference – and he calls on you.
What do you ask?
What finely-crafted question do you pose that both serves the public interest and will get a meaningul response?
I assure you my colleagues and I will read what you write.
In his challenge Mr. Knoller manages to miss the point completely. It was not solely the nature of the questions posed at the March 6th press conference but the manner in which the entire charade was conducted. Mr. Bush called on an admittedly scripted list of reporters who provided him with a chance to answer previewed questions. All the while the rest of the press corps played along, raising their hands as though Mr. Bush might call on them and thus perpetrating the hoax that it was an actual engagement of the press by Mr. Bush. As Matt Taibbi put it "The White House Press Corps politely grabs its ankles."
Mr. Knoller should know that the questions were not the real problem, they were but a symptom of the disease that has crippled the Washington press corps.
The only way that Mr. Knoller and his colleagues will wise up is if they are repeatedly called out when they provide such flimsy excuses and wrap themselves in such blatant falsehoods.
Visit Mr. Knoller's website, take his challenge and express your disgust.
Bill Moyers has a response to Mr. Knoller and other members of the Washington press corps who have complained about their portrayal here.