“Media Matters”; by Jamison Foser

Even as poll after poll shows growing public disapproval - and distrust -- of President Bush, many reporters and pundits seem to retain an unshakable confidence that a Bush rebound is just around the corner.

This Week:

Bush poll numbers keep dropping; media figures keep predicting “rebound”

NY Times columnist ridicules “conspiracy” theory; majority of Americans disagree

Media finally begin to notice Karl Rove's apparent violation of his nondisclosure agreement

MSNBC's Chris Matthews repeatedly smeared Democrats; media looks the other way

Fox News gave Rosa Parks's memorial scant coverage; focused on celebrity cleavage instead

Bush poll numbers keep dropping; media figures keep predicting “rebound”

Even as poll after poll shows growing public disapproval - and distrust -- of President Bush, many reporters and pundits seem to retain an unshakable confidence that a Bush rebound is just around the corner. As we noted nearly two months ago:

While President Bush's approval ratings plummet amid widespread dissatisfaction with his handling of Hurricane Katrina, many news outlets seem to be doing their best to try to rebuild his reputation -- making false claims that his poll numbers are improving; baselessly asserting that Bush has again “risen to the occasion”; giving him undeserved credit for Katrina recovery efforts; and downplaying his paralysis in the face of the disaster.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer and Suzanne Malveaux falsely suggested at the beginning of the week that Bush's poll numbers were improving, with Blitzer excitedly exclaiming, “Mr. Bush's approval rating is up -- up! -- to 46 percent.” But in order to claim that Bush's approval rating is increasing, Blitzer compared polls conducted by different news organizations using different methodologies -- a dubious comparison, at best, particularly in light of the fact that every recent poll has shown dismal results for Bush. As the week continued, it became increasingly clear that the rosy picture painted by Blitzer and Malveaux wasn't based in reality; new polls by Fox News, CBS/New York Times, and NBC/Wall Street Journal, among others, all showed poor results for Bush.

Two months, and countless abysmal poll results later, things still haven't changed. Here's a (by no means comprehensive) look at recent claims that Bush has, or was about to, turn things around -- along with some headlines showing how wrong those claims were.

8/31/05: Washington Post headline: "President's Poll Rating Falls to a New Low; In Post-ABC Survey, 53 Percent of Respondents Say They Disapprove of Bush"

9/3/05: National Journal headline: "Bush's New Low"

9/7/05: Dick Morris in The Hill: “He may have had a terrible first week [after Katrina], but he will rebound big time in the months to come. ... Responding to disasters is a source of presidential strength and popularity, and Bush is about to show how it is done.”

9/8/05: White House Bulletin headline: “New Zogby Poll Finds Bush Job Approval At All-Time Low Of 41%”

9/9/05: White House Bulletin headline: “Pew Poll Finds Bush Job Approval At All-Time Low Of 40%”

9/10/05: UPI headline: “Poll: Bush approval at 38 percent”

9/12/05: CNN's Wolf Blitzer tells viewers, “Bush's stepped-up response to the Katrina disaster may be helping to push up his poll numbers a little bit. A new CNN/USA Today/Gallup survey out this hour shows Mr. Bush's approval rating is up -- up! -- to 46 percent.” Blitzer's colleague Suzanne Malveaux adds “we have seen poll numbers improve.”

9/13/05: Washington Post headline: "Bush's Approval Rating Drops To New Low in Wake of Storm; He Says Race Didn't Affect Efforts; Blacks in Poll Disagree"

9/16/05: The Wall Street Journal' OpinionJournal.com editor James Taranto, on the Fox program Hannity & Colmes: “Well, I think we've already seen the poll numbers start to bounce back.”

9/20/05: Gallup Poll News Service headline: "Bush Ratings Reach Low Points of Presidency"

9/26/05: William Kristol, writing in the October 3 issue of the Weekly Standard: “The good news is that Bush is poised to rebound by getting back to basics, and getting back to a core, winning agenda.”

10/2/05: Kristol, writing in the October 10 issue of the Weekly Standard: “A week ago we suggested in this space that a beleaguered President Bush was ”poised to rebound by getting back to basics, and getting back to a core, winning agenda." Sure enough, USA Today reported a week later that Bush's poll ratings had rebounded to 45 percent approval/50 percent disapproval from a low earlier in the month of 40 percent approval/58 percent disapproval."

10/6/05: UPI headline: “New CBS poll has Bush at new low

10/13/05: NPR headline: “John Harwood discusses Bush's poll numbers sinking to 10-year lows

10/30/05: VOA News headline: "Bush approval rating sinks to new low"

10/30/05: Kate O'Beirne on MSNBC's Hardball: "Things were looking up for him by Friday."

10/31/05: Kristol, writing in the November 17 issue of the Weekly Standard: “Last week the Bush administration's second-term bear market bottomed out. ... With the dénouement of the Miers fiasco and the Fitzgerald investigation, President Bush's beaten-down political fortunes should be ripe for a rebound.

11/2/05: Washington Times article headlined "Clouds clear quickly for Bush; Strategists predict rebound in polls after a 'good week' ": “President Bush, coming off one of the roughest weeks of his presidency, appears to have rebounded by holding on to his top political strategist and ending a conservative rebellion over the Supreme Court.”

11/2/05: MSNBC wonders if we're seeing a "Republican Rebound?"

11/4/05: Washington Post headline: "Bush's Popularity Reaches New Low; 58 Percent in Poll Question His Integrity"

Should Bush's poll numbers eventually “rebound,” we fully expect that Kristol, Blitzer, The Washington Times, et al, will say that they saw it coming all along -- and will pretend that their cheerleading had nothing to do with it.

NY Times columnist ridicules “conspiracy” theory; majority of Americans disagree

New York Times columnist David Brooks dedicated his November 3 column -- cleverly titled “The Harry da Reid Code” (get it? “Harry da Reid”? It's just like “Leonardo da Vinci”) -- to ridiculing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who Brooks portrayed as a pathetic conspiracy theorist, alone in his paranoid belief that the Bush administration may have manipulated prewar intelligence.

Brooks wrote:

Harry Reid sits alone at his kitchen table at 4 a.m., writing important notes in crayon on the outside of envelopes. It's been four weeks since he launched his personal investigation into the Republican plot to manipulate intelligence to trick the American people into believing Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

Reid had heard of the secret G.O.P. cabal bent on global empire, but he had no idea that he would find a conspiracy so immense.


Harry Reid sits alone at his kitchen table at 4 a.m. Odd thoughts rush through his brain. He cannot trust the letter ''r,'' so he must change his name to Hawwy Weed. Brian Lamb secretly rules the world by manipulating the serial numbers on milk cartons.

Reid realizes there is only one solution: ''Must call a secret session of the Senate. Must expose global conspiracy to sap vital juices! Must expose Republican plot to manipulate intelligence!''

Harry Reid sits alone at his kitchen table at 4 a.m.

Ha, ha! That wacky Harry Reid and his kooky conspiracy theories -- he's crazy! He's all alone! Nobody agrees with him! Ha, ha, ha!

Except ... the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 55 percent of Americans think that “in making its case for war with Iraq,” the Bush administration “intentionally misled the American public.”

And the latest CBS News poll found that 64 percent of Americans think the Bush administration was “mostly lying” about or “hiding important elements” of what they knew about weapons of mass destruction.

And the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll found that, by a margin of 53-45, most Americans think the Bush administration did “deliberately mislead the American public about whether Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.”

Maybe Harry Reid isn't sitting alone after all.

When not belittling Reid for being all alone in suggesting something the majority of the American people believe to be true, Brooks seemed to argue that the Bush administration could not have manipulated intelligence in 2002 and 2003 because Clinton administration officials warned that Saddam Hussein could be a threat in the late 1990s. Of course, the two things have little to do with each other - it's quite possible that the Clinton administration thought Hussein was a threat and the Bush administration manipulated intelligence -- but Brooks sneers at Harry Reid, portraying Reid as drawing insane connections between irrelevant facts:

Harry Reid sits alone at his kitchen table at 4 a.m., writing important notes in crayon on the outside of envelopes. It has been four weeks since he began investigating this conspiracy and three weeks since he sealed his windows with aluminum foil to ward off the Illuminati. Odd patterns now leap into his brain. Scooter Libby was born near a book depository but was indicted while at a theater. Karl Rove reads books from book depositories but rarely has time for the theater. What is the ratio of Bush tax cuts to the number of squares on a frozen waffle? It is none other than the Divine Proportion. This proves that Leonardo da Vinci manipulated intelligence on Iraq and that the Holy Grail is a woman!

This is the best the New York Times has to offer its readers?

Paul Krugman, Brooks's colleague on the Times op-ed page, appeared to be responding to Brooks's column when he, too, used literary references to make a point about the Iraq war:

Hans Christian Andersen understood bad rulers. ''The Emperor's New Suit'' doesn't end with everyone acclaiming the little boy for telling the truth. It ends with the emperor and his officials refusing to admit their mistake.

I've laid my hands on additional material, which Andersen failed to publish, describing what happened after the imperial procession was over.


Fox News repeatedly played up possible finds of imperial clothing, then buried reports discrediting these stories. Months after the naked procession, a poll found that many of those getting most of their news from Fox believed that the emperor had in fact been clothed.

Imperial officials eventually admitted that they couldn't find any evidence that the suit ever existed, or that there had even been an effort to produce a suit. They insisted, however, that they had found evidence of wardrobe-manufacturing-and-distribution-related program activities.


Even though skeptics about the emperor's suit had been vindicated, TV news programs continued to portray those skeptics as crazy people. For example, the news networks showed, over and over, a clip of the little boy shouting at a party. The clip was deeply misleading: he had been shouting to be heard over background noise, which the ambient microphone didn't pick up. Nonetheless, ''the scream'' became a staple of political discourse.

The emperor gave many speeches in which he declared that his wardrobe was the ''central front'' in the war on nakedness.


Two and a half years after the emperor's naked procession, a majority of citizens believed that the imperial administration had deliberately misled the country. Several former officials had gone public with tales of an administration obsessed with its wardrobe from Day 1.

But apologists for the emperor continued to dismiss any suggestion that officials had lied to the nation. It was, they said, a crazy conspiracy theory. After all, back in 1998 Bill Clinton thought there was a suit.

And they all lived happily ever after -- in the story. Here in reality, a large and growing number are being killed by roadside bombs.

Media finally begin to notice Karl Rove's apparent violation of his nondisclosure agreement

We've repeatedly criticized the media's failure to report about Karl Rove's apparent violation of the nondisclosure agreement he would have had to sign to gain security clearance (see here; here; here; here and here).

Now, finally, some are beginning to notice this long-overlooked aspect of the Plame investigation. Newsweek's Jonathan Alter wrote this week under the headline “Is Rove a Security Risk?”:

The conventional wisdom in Washington this week is that Karl Rove is out of the woods. But while an indictment against him in the Valerie Plame leak case is now unlikely, he may be in danger of losing his security clearance.

According to last week's indictment of Scooter Libby, a person identified as “Official A” held conversations with reporters about Plame's identity as an undercover CIA operative, information that was classified. News accounts subsequently confirmed that that official was Rove. Under Executive Order 12958, signed by President Clinton in 1995, such a disclosure is grounds for, at a minimum, losing access to classified information.


While the law against revealing the identity of a CIA operative requires that the perpetrator intentionally disclosed such classified information (a high standard, which may be one reason Fitzgerald did not indict on those grounds), the executive order covers “negligence,” or unintentional disclosure.


The sanctions for such disclosure are contained in Section 5.7 of the executive order. That section says that “the agency head, senior agency official or other supervisory official shall, at a minimum, promptly remove the classification authority of any individual who demonstrates reckless disregard or a pattern of error in applying the classification standards of this order.” Any reasonable reading of the events covered in the indictment would consider Rove's behavior “reckless.” The fact that he discussed Plame's identity with reporters more than once constitutes a pattern.

Several news outlets reported this week that Democrats have questioned whether Rove should retain his security clearance. But, aside from Alter, few have addressed the matter beyond simply quoting Democrats.

MSNBC's Chris Matthews repeatedly smeared Democrats; media looks the other way

MSNBC Hardball host Chris Matthews repeatedly smeared Democrats this week, lying about a memo distributed by Democratic aides. Matthews described the memo about Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito as an example of Democrats “going after [Alito's] ethnicity” by saying Alito was “lenient on the mob back in an '88 case.”

In fact, the memo said nothing of the kind, as Media Matters noted. Matthews was flat-out lying. The document didn't say Alito was “lenient on the mob” or anyone else; rather, it said Alito lost a case. Matthews didn't quote the document; he simply waved it in the air -- as though it contained the names of dozens of “known communists” -- while lying about its contents. Contrary to Matthews's claims, the document made no mention -- not a single one -- of Alito's “ethnicity,” made no suggestion that Alito was “lenient,” made no claims that Alito “let the Lucchese family get off.” All of those allegations against Alito sprang from Matthews's overheated imagination, not from the Democratic memo.

But spring from Matthews's imagination they did, and it didn't take long for right-wing commentators and bloggers to start repeating Matthews's false claims. The Republican National Committee put out a press release approvingly quoting Matthews; its unofficial newsletter, The Washington Times, also repeated his claims. Conservative websites including WorldNetDaily and NewsMax repeated the false claims, as did right-wing weblogs such as Captain's Quarters, Blogs for Bush, and RedState.org.

Meanwhile -- though Matthews referred to the memo again and again, bringing it up on at least four separate occasions, and though the false claims echoed throughout the media -- no reporter corrected Matthews's lie. Matthews's colleagues simply looked the other way as he lied about the memo and smeared Democrats -- just as reporters looked the other way (or joined in) while their colleagues lied about Al Gore in 2000, falsely claiming that he had taken credit for discovering Love Canal.

This is a textbook example of how completely false, made-up claims about progressives have repeatedly become accepted as fact over the past several years. A “mainstream” pundit says something about Democrats that's blatantly false; a few others join in, and the rest of the media looks the other way, daring not to criticize one of their own. Before you know it, it's accepted as “fact.”

Sure enough, by the end of the week, at least two prominent Democrats were criticizing the memo -- even though it didn't say what Matthews claimed it did.

The New York Post reported on November 2:

Meanwhile, a top Italian-American Democrat, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, warned fellow Democrats against trying to paint Alito as soft on the Mafia, as the Democratic National Committee did in unsigned talking points.

“I hope, as a Democrat, that was put out just out of clumsiness,” Cuomo told The Post, meaning the DNC claim that a top reason to oppose Alito is that, as U.S. attorney, he lost a mob case 20 years ago. Cuomo took no stand on Alito.

And on Hardball that night, Matthews (falsely) described the memo as “a hit sheet saying he was soft on the mob,” and asked former Clinton administration press secretary Dee Dee Myers about it:

MATTHEWS: You know, he made a big hit against a mob. New Jersey's got problems, obviously, there Dee Dee. But, he made a big kill the next year. He got three big indictments, including the chief hoodlum in one of the big families up there.

Do you think the Democrats are a little bit stupid to be making that an issue, when there's so many things to go after? To lead with that, this was the No. 1 item on their hit sheet.

MYERS: I thought that was a little hard to understand, as well. You heard Governor Cuomo put a weigh in on that and say that he hoped it didn't involve other issues as well, since Alito is a name of Italian descent, I guess.

Did Myers see the memo? Did Cuomo? Or did they only have it described to them by Matthews and by New York Post reporters? At this point, it hardly matters: Chris Matthews lied about the Democratic memo; some of his colleagues repeated the lie while others ignored it; conservative activists seized on and amplified the lie, and not one prominent progressive stepped forward to forcefully and clearly say, "That isn't true. Stop lying."

And so it has become true, like the fiction that Al Gore took credit for discovering Love Canal.

Fox News gave Rosa Parks's memorial scant coverage; focused on celebrity cleavage instead

A Media Matters analysis of the cable news channels' coverage of the memorial service held in honor of Rosa Parks found:

As 4,000 people gathered in Detroit to pay their final respects to civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks during four hours of her funeral ceremony on November 2, Fox News devoted just 23 minutes of air time to live coverage, compared with 108 minutes of coverage on CNN and 100 on MSNBC. Dozens of politicians and business and religious leaders participated in the funeral ceremony for Parks at Greater Grace Temple.

In lieu of coverage of Parks's funeral, Fox News ran several reports on terror warnings, avian flu, the Democrats forcing a closed-door session of the Senate on November 1, and a manhunt for two escaped convicts in South Carolina. During the 1 p.m. hour, on DaySide, Fox News hosts Mike Jerrick and Kiran Chetry interviewed talk show host, cookbook author, and former Wilson Phillips band member Carnie Wilson. The segment included the following:

  • Wilson spoon-feeding Jerrick her special “Fall to Your Knees Mac and Cheese.”
  • A critique of Camilla Parker Bowles's wardrobe [...]
  • An extended discussion, with accompanying visuals, of the top-five ranked celebrities from InTouch Weekly magazine's Best Cleavage in Hollywood poll, including speculation whether each was real.

Parks's funeral received no coverage during the 1 p.m. hour on DaySide.

Fox wasn't the only news outlet to pay surprisingly little attention to Parks. ABC News sends out frequent “Breaking News” alerts via email, often as many as four or five times a day. Recent email alerts include:





Conspicuous in its absence was any mention of Parks's death.

Jamison Foser is Executive Vice President at Media Matters for America.