When Fox News' Brett Baier asked Tony Snow to comment on Sen. John Kerry's remarks on Iraq a day earlier, Snow "was clearly ready" to respond and attack, even providing a "fuller quote" of Kerry's statement -- although the comment had, at the time, appeared in only local media and on conservative radio shows and weblogs. This raises the question of whether Snow and Baier coordinated to push Kerry's comments into the national media.
The media firestorm over Sen. John Kerry's (D-MA) remarks during an October 30 speech at a campaign rally in Pasadena, California, came after Fox News chief White House correspondent Brett Baier asked White House press secretary Tony Snow at an October 31 White House press briefing to comment on Kerry's statement. Specifically, Baier asked Snow to "react" to the following: "If I could follow up, on the campaign trail, Senator Kerry was in Los Angeles and speaking to some students, saying if they were able to navigate the education system, they could get comfortable jobs, but 'if you don't, you get stuck in Iraq.' " Snow did not merely "react" to Kerry's comments, he provided the press corps with a "fuller quote." As the Associated Press noted, Snow "was clearly ready" to address Kerry's remarks, "consulting his notes to read a fuller account of Kerry's statement and unleashing a sharp attack." Yet, prior to Baier's question, the only media that had reported on Kerry's comments were local California news outlets, two conservative talk-radio hosts, and right-wing weblogs. The Baier-Snow exchange, for which Snow was fully prepared, raises the question of whether the two coordinated to blow up comments by the former Democratic presidential nominee, a favorite right-wing target who is not running in the midterm election, that had until then received no national mainstream media attention.
As Media Matters for America has noted, during his October 30 appearance at a campaign rally for California Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides, Kerry said, "Education, you know, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq." In response to Republicans and media figures seizing on these remarks, Kerry's staffers gave reporters what they claim were Kerry's prepared remarks, which make clear that he intended to criticize Bush's intelligence -- not the troops' -- and his handling of the war in Iraq. The prepared remarks read: "Do you know where you end up if you don't study, if you aren't smart, if you're intellectually lazy? You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq. Just ask President Bush." Moreover, the Associated Press reported that Kerry made the remark after opening his speech "with several one-liners, joking at one point that Bush had lived in Texas but now 'lives in a state of denial.' "
Kerry's remarks were first noted October 30 in a Media News report about Kerry's campaign appearance supporting Angelides. The report ran in two local California newspapers, the Whittier Daily News and the Pasadena Star-News, and reported Kerry's remarks as follows:
Kerry charmed the crowd with tales of surfing at Mission Beach and got laughs for a series of one liners, including telling the crowd he had just returned from Texas, "Where the president used to live -- now he lives in a state of denial."
Kerry then told the students that if they were able to navigate the education system, they could get comfortable jobs -- "If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq," he said to a mixture of laughter and gasps.
That evening, Los Angeles TV station KNBC also aired Kerry's remarks during a report on Kerry's appearance at Pasadena City College. The KNBC report did not characterize Kerry's comments in any manner but simply noted Kerry's remarks as part of his speech given during his Angelides campaign appearance. Right-wing California radio host John Ziegler heard Kerry's statements on KNBC and posted the audio of Kerry's remarks late in the evening October 30. Zeigler appears to be the first media figure to directly characterize Kerry's remarks as insulting the troops, stating, on the October 30 broadcast of his radio show, that Kerry "really believe[d]" that those who serve in military are "losers." Right-wing pundit Michelle Malkin, referring to Ziegler, initially posted an entry on her blog about Kerry's remarks at 12:32 a.m. October 31. Conservative radio host Bill Bennett followed, leading with the story on the October 31 edition of his nationally syndicated radio show, Morning in America, which airs at 6 a.m. ET. Bennett appears to be the first national broadcast media figure to have discussed the story, declaring that Kerry "ended his political career yesterday." Bennett claimed that Kerry meant "dumb people go to Iraq." Shortly thereafter, conservative columnist Sher Zieve posted Kerry's remarks as "exclusive news" on the right-wing blog The Conservative Voice, at 6:44 a.m. ET. Zieve's posting was quickly picked up by other right-wing blogs, such as The Jawa Report and the Media Research Center's NewsBusters. As ABC News senior political correspondent Jake Tapper reported on the November 1 edition of Good Morning America, at some point on the morning of October 31, "Republicans emailed out the link" of Kerry's remarks "to YouTube and pounced." NewsBusters later updated its post to add a link to the YouTube video, which was posted October 31 by christia7373, who registered with YouTube that day and has only posted one video, a 10-second clip of Kerry's remarks.
At about 11 a.m. ET, Baier asked Snow's permission to "follow up" on his previous question about "a possible rift between the president and [Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-] Maliki," by asking Snow to "react" to Kerry's remarks. As the AP reported, Snow "was clearly ready" to address Kerry's statement, using the opportunity to expand on Kerry's comments and to attack Kerry for "insult[ing]" the troops.
As Media Matters has noted (here, here, and here), after Snow's press conference, the mainstream media seized on Kerry's remarks, devoting significant coverage to the issue, leading to, as MSNBC host Chris Matthews stated during the October 31 edition of Hardball, the "choreograph of press releases" in which "Republicans collaborated in a chorus of attack[s] on" Kerry.
From the October 31 edition of Salem Radio Network's Bill Bennett's Morning in America:
BENNETT: But that's not what we want to lead with. What we want to lead with is -- this is funny and horrible. But it's also significant. I told you, oh, a couple years ago -- oh no, I guess I didn't tell you, I wasn't on the radio. I wrote an article that [former Vice President] Al Gore's political career was finished with a speech he gave in San Francisco. John Kerry ended his, was it yesterday?
BENNETT: Ended his political career yesterday, with this comment. Listen to this. I want to play this once or twice. Go ahead.
BENNETT: So, dumb people go to Iraq. If you work hard at your education, you can stay away from Iraq, but if you study, you -- if you don't study, you go Iraq. Let's hear it again.
From the October 31 White House press briefing, as seen on the 2 p.m. ET hour of the October 31 edition of C-SPAN:
BAIER: Tony, on Iraq, can you wrap up [national security adviser] Steve Hadley's trip -- what was accomplished -- and address the continuing part of the story that there's a possible rift between the president and Maliki?
SNOW: I don't know. Let me -- let me start with the second half first. Let's see, we've now had the prime minister saying there's no rift, the president saying there's no rift, the national security adviser of Iraq saying there's no rift, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq saying there's no rift, the U.S. national security adviser saying that there's no rift, and my telling you, on the basis of my observation of the secure conference call the other day, that there's no rift.
So there's no rift. Now, I mean, you know, I don't know how many more people you can marshal, but it seems that all the people who've been in the room and have been in critical positions are saying that.
What Steve's doing is paying a visit and assessing the situation, and also talking about the prime minister.
I think -- again, let me stress the thing that has been most impressive to us, which is the assertiveness of the prime minister when it comes to wanting to take over important security operations within Iraq. We could not be happier that we've got a prime minister who is a man of action and a man who's making decisions. That is absolutely essential for the future of Iraq.
And he's not simply doing it on the security side. I mean, he's been very aggressive in recent weeks, as I've pointed out, on the political side, reaching out both to Shia and to Sunni. He's been very aggressive on the economic front, and he was giving a readout of economic success in the country. So, he understands that to be a prime minister means more than simply having to be a commander in chief. It means to be a unifying force in a country where a lot of people are yearning to have a free and democratic society. They expressed that with their votes last year.
So, far from having a rift between the two sides, what you have is precisely what the president hoped he would see when he first met the prime minister, which is somebody who is willing to make hard decisions, who is willing to lead, who is assertive and also pretty clear-eyed about the challenges that await him.
BAIER: If I can follow up, on the campaign trail, Senator Kerry was in Los Angeles and speaking to some students, saying if they were able to navigate the education system, they could get comfortable jobs, but, quote, "if you don't, you get stuck in Iraq." Can you react to that?
SNOW: Well, yeah, I'll actually give you a fuller quote. He said: "You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. And [sic] if you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."
It sort of fits a pattern. You may recall that, last year, Senator Kerry -- on CBS' Face the Nation -- accused U.S. soldiers of terrorizing kids and children in Iraq and recently also described troop concentrations in Baghdad as, quote, "having failed miserably."
What Senator Kerry ought to do first is apologize to the troops. The clear implication here is if you flunk out, if you don't study hard, if you don't do your homework, if you don't make an effort to be smart, and you don't do well, you, quote, "get stuck in Iraq." Bret, an extraordinary thing has happened since September 11th, which is a lot of people -- America's finest -- have willingly agreed to volunteer their services in a mission that they know is dangerous but is also important. And, you know, Senator Kerry not only owes an apology to those who are serving but also to the families of those who have given their lives in this.
This is an absolute insult, and I'm a little astonished that he didn't figure it out already. I mean, you know, if I were Senator Kerry -- I mean, you've seen me, I say something stupid, I apologize as quickly as possible. And this is something for which he ought to apologize.
Meanwhile, it's probably reasonable to ask some of the Democrats -- ask a Jim Webb [Democratic candidate for Senate in Virginia] or a Tammy Duckworth [Democratic congressional candidate in Illinois], both of whom are citing their military record -- OK, what do you think about it? What do you think about this quote? Do you agree with him? He was your presidential nominee. And as for the notion that, you know, you can say this sort of thing about the troops and say you support them, it's -- it's interesting.
From the November 1 edition of ABC's Good Morning America:
TAPPER: But Republicans emailed out the link to YouTube and pounced.