Bush-Cheney 04 cheerleader Kerik: What should the media have known and when should they have known it?


Throughout the 2004 presidential campaign, Bernard Kerik was a forceful and vocal advocate for President Bush. The Bush-Cheney '04 campaign could count on Kerik, and Kerik could count on the media to air his praise for Bush and his attacks on Senator John Kerry, including his suggestion that a terrorist attack was more likely if Kerry were elected. He was a frequent presence on network and cable news shows and frequently quoted in newspapers, which, perhaps like the Bush administration, assumed that his stature as former New York City police commissioner and as a senior adviser to the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior in charge of training the Iraqi police force allowed him near-immunity from scrutiny. He made dozens of appearances on television in support of the Bush administration's policies in Iraq and on terrorism and the president's reelection.

Much about Kerik has been uncovered by the media since his nomination for Department of Homeland Security secretary, and even more since that nomination was withdrawn, including allegations of corruption and abuse of authority during his tenure as police commissioner, questions surrounding his business associations and transactions, and questions about his abrupt departure from Iraq. But even before his nomination, there was plenty of available information -- including the very stridency of his attacks on Kerry -- that should have raised serious questions about his credibility. But the media, which so willingly gave him a forum to tout the president's war on terrorism (and rail against the purported threat Kerry posed to the country's security), never pursued those questions.

Between January 1 and November 2, 2004, Kerik made 15 guest appearances on CNN, 12 appearances on FOX News Channel, and six on MSNBC (CNN aired previously recorded Kerik quotes an additional 14 times, FOX and MSNBC aired clips of Kerik one time each), according to a search of transcripts available on Nexis. Kerik made one appearance on NBC News (on the March 13 edition of the Today show, where he was asked to comment in the aftermath of the Madrid train bombings); CBS News aired one clip of Kerik, and Kerik did not appear on ABC News.

Kerik used his media exposure to support the Bush administration's policies in Iraq, support Bush's reelection, and to unleash attacks against Kerry. Notable among those attacks was Kerik's suggestion, in the words of an April 22 New York Daily News report, that "another 9/11 attack is more likely if the Democrat [Kerry] wins the White House." The Daily News noted: "After a Bush-Cheney campaign official was asked if Kerik's assertion reflected the campaign's position, Kerik called The News back to clarify his comments. 'If there's another terrorist attack, I don't want John Kerry in the White House,' he said, adding he was simply trying to distinguish between Bush and Kerry." On the July 28 edition of CNN's American Morning, Kerik attempted to clarify his comments to the Daily News, telling CNN anchor Bill Hemmer: "I said that I fear another attack, and I fear that attack with a John Kerry, Senator Kerry, being in office, responding to it."

In Kerik's November 1 op-ed in the New York Post, titled "Promise Keeper: How Bush earned my vote," Kerik wrote that Bush "understood what John Kerry cannot grasp -- that our nation cannot endure another 9/11, that we can't afford to be defensive in the War on Terror, that the next plot might not be against our skyscrapers but our schools, that the next Madrid could be Penn Station and the next Beslan, Russia could be Bayonne, New Jersey." The Post failed to note Kerik's Bush ties in identifying him for his op-ed.

An October 20, 2003, Newsday article quoted Kerik as saying to critics of the Iraq war: "Political criticism is our enemies' best friend." Moreover, regarding the Bush administration and others' dubious attempts to connect Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda, Kerik was quoted as saying, "Saddam didn't do 9/11. But did Saddam fund, and train al-Qaida? The answer is yes. Then ask yourself, who hit the [World Trade Center] towers?" In fact, the 9-11 Commission report found that "no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States," and that "there was no 'convincing evidence that any government financially supported al Qaeda before 9/11' other than the limited support provided by the Taliban when [Osama] bin Laden arrived in Afghanistan," as CNN reported. The Newsday article did note that Kerik's comments "reveal[ed] him as a four-square supporter of President George W. Bush's policies."

The New York Times editorialized on December 9 that Kerik's fearmongering on the campaign trail should have itself raised questions about his fitness for the job of Homeland Security secretary:

But other parts of his record are less reassuring. A homeland security secretary should be above politics and respectful of civil liberties. But when he stumped for President Bush this year, Mr. Kerik engaged in fearmongering. He told The New York Daily News that he was worried about another terrorist attack and that "if you put Senator Kerry in the White House, I think you are going to see that happen." And he was quoted in Newsday as saying this about opponents of the Iraq war: "Political criticism is our enemies' best friend."

But Kerik's fearmongering appeared not to have given pause to television news bookers. In many instances, though not all, CNN, MSNBC, and CBS News identified Kerik as part of the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign and/or noted that he was appointed by Bush to serve as a senior policy adviser in the Interior Ministry in Iraq. But FOX News failed to mention Kerik's Bush connections even once, identifying him only as a former New York City police commissioner or as an adviser to the Iraqi interior ministry without making clear that he had been chosen by Bush.

While most of the allegations did not emerge until after his nomination to the Cabinet, there were some reports about the multitude of personal and ethical problems surrounding Kerik before and during the 2004 presidential campaign. His strident comments and "fearmongering" on the campaign trail alone should have raised red flags among media outlets about the appropriateness of continuing to provide a forum for him to speak on the administration's terrorism policies and to stump for the campaign; but in addition, the reports that did exist should have raised further questions among media outlets about continuing to feature the avid Bush campaigner.

Concerning his activities as New York City correction commissioner and police commissioner, a May 19, 2003, New York Daily News article reported that Kerik "once ordered a coverup of accusations that his top aide had beaten up a girlfriend and threatened her at gunpoint." A March 11, 2002, New York Times article discussed other alleged instances of Kerik's abusing his power as police commissioner. The article mentioned the dispatch in November 2001 of "at least five of the city's leading homicide investigators" to investigate reports of a missing cell phone and necklace belonging to former FOX News host Judith Regan, with whom Kerik was linked romantically and who was the publisher of Kerik's autobiography, The Lost Son: A Life in Pursuit of Justice (HarperCollins, 2001). The article also noted: "Last month, the Conflicts of Interest Board fined Mr. Kerik $2,500 for using a police sergeant and two detectives to do some of the research for his book." None of these reports were mentioned by any of the networks or cable news channels.

On May 16, 2003, the Daily News reported that Kerik would be traveling to Iraq to "help restore police, prisons, border security and other vital operations as coalition forces transfer control to an interim government." According to the article, Kerik said he would be in Iraq "in excess of six months, but no one really knows ... as long as it takes to get the job done." A May 16, 2003, New York Times profile of Kerik noted: "He ran afoul of the city's Conflict of Interests Board, however, and was fined for using police personnel to conduct research on his mother's death for a book he was writing." In early September of that year, after only three and a half months, Kerik suddenly left Iraq and his duties; the Iraqi police force remained largely ineffectual against insurgent violence.

There were some questions raised around the time of Kerik's abrupt departure from his position in Iraq. A September 5, 2003, Associated Press report acknowledged that "Kerik's departure comes amid severe security problems in Iraq," and noted that "Kerik was quoted in published reports as saying he would stay in the job for at least six months." The AP story also reported that Defense Department officials claimed that Kerik had stayed in Iraq longer than they had originally anticipated, and that "[a] spokeswoman for Kerik in New York said his job was supposed to have lasted only 90 days." A September 5 New York Sun article reported that "[T]ough-talking former New York City police chief, Bernard Kerik, who was taken on as a security adviser by the coalition in Iraq, has left his job in Iraq and returned home. ... Officials did not say why Mr. Kerik had left his post." A September 7, 2003, New York Post article reported Kerik as saying of his job in Iraq: "I came to stand up the Ministry of the Interior, and it's back up and running all the way to the level of the minister himself." However, Iraq's police forces, which Kerik was charged with developing, were still largely ineffectual at the time of his departure. A September 16, 2003, New York Times article reported: "The main problem with the [Iraqi] police, senior officials admit, is that there are just not enough and they remain ill equipped. Three weeks ago, the 60 officers at Al Nasr shared seven guns, two cars and no radios." Kerik himself was not available for questioning by the media following his return from Iraq, as he was on vacation at an undisclosed location.

Even before Kerik's nomination, the media were aware that questions surrounded his stint in and departure from Iraq. A November 18 New York Daily News article weighed various candidates for the position of Homeland Security Secretary and mentioned that Kerik was thought to not likely be in contention for the position because he "left after only four months to return to work as a highly paid consultant for another long-shot successor to Ridge, Rudy Giuliani. And the new Iraqi police force has been notoriously ineffective and corrupt."

Though no answers have been provided as to why Kerik abruptly abandoned his position in Iraq, his nomination brought increased attention to his time spent there. The post-nomination questions raised by media figures about Kerik's departure from Iraq suggest that there is plenty the media should have perhaps been more curious about when he first returned from Iraq and when he was given such a high media profile during the presidential campaign:

  • A December 3 Washington Post article reported:

    A high-ranking business executive who is familiar with Kerik's tenure as police commissioner and as head trainer of Iraqi police recruits expressed shock at his selection, and said Kerik is not an accomplished manager. "Management just simply isn't his strong suit," the executive said.

  • According to a December 8 Newsday column by Ellis Hennican:

    Kerik showed up in Baghdad, vowing to bring law-and-order to the local police. He left three months later, barely halfway through his promised term. He didn't even hang around for his farewell address. Does anyone really believe the job was done?

  • The December 9 New York Times editorial also questioned Kerik's tenure in Iraq:

    There are chapters of Mr. Kerik's career that are worthy of particular scrutiny. In the summer of 2003, he spent several months in Iraq training police officers. But his time there appears to have been cut short, right around the time of some serious terrorist attacks, and the state of the force since his departure has been bleak. Given the relevance of that work to his new duties, it would be instructive to know what, if anything, went wrong.

  • A December 10 column by Leonard Levitt in Newsday noted:

    But he [Kerik] has never explained his premature departure from Iraq. Had he junked his training of the Iraqi police, said to be among the least prepared of that nation's law enforcement agencies? Did he fear for his safety, as many in law enforcement believe?

It was also not until after Kerik's nomination to Secretary of Homeland Security on December 3 that the media aggressively investigated Kerik's questionable activities as New York City correction commissioner and police commissioner, among other allegations. CBSNews.com, journalist and blogger Joshua Micah Marshall, and Columbia Journalism Review's CJR Daily have detailed the various allegations against Kerik.

Posted In
Government, Nominations & Appointments
2004 Elections
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