USA Today hailed Giuliani as “hero of 9/11,” omitted Kerik controversy

A USA Today article referred to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani as a “hero of 9/11.” But, while mentioning a leaked memo in which Giuliani's campaign staff set out potential areas of vulnerability, the USA Today article did not note the memo's reference to a particular scandal relating to terrorism preparedness.

On February 1, USA Today reported on former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani's (R) potential presidential candidacy in a front-page article that bore the headline “Giuliani: Can hero of 9/11 win over his own party?” The article, which said that Giuliani was "[d]ubbed 'America's mayor' after he led New York City's response to the Sept. 11 attacks," discussed a leaked memo that details Giuliani's campaign plans, but omitted the memo's mention of a scandal relating to preparedness for terrorism.

The article noted that the memo included “questions about [Giuliani's] private-sector businesses,” “his current and former wives,” and "[h]is stance on social issues." However, the memo also included the word “Kerik” as a “prob[lem],” presumably referring to Giuliani's former police commissioner Bernard Kerik, whom the USA Today article did not mention. Giuliani had pushed President Bush to nominate Kerik as homeland security secretary, but Kerik withdrew because, he said, he had failed to make “required tax payments and related filings” for a housekeeper. As Media Matters for America noted, Columbia Journalism Review's Campaign Desk weblog (now known as CJR Daily) suggested the so-called “nanny problem” was given as the reason to draw attention away from Kerik's alleged misdeeds, including various lawsuits, allegations of corruption, and potential conflicts of interest.

In the book Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11 (HarperCollins, 2006), Village Voice senior editor Wayne Barrett and senior producer Dan Collins documented Kerik's history as part of a pattern of security-related cronyism in Giuliani's administration. On 9-11, “Giuliani's preference for the comfort of a huge entourage had disconnected the city's management and its fighting force at a crucial moment,” Barrett and Collins concluded (Page 350). They added that Kerik was “a prime example of this managerial dysfunction all morning” because in the 102 minutes between the first impact of a plane into the World Trade Center and the collapse of the North Tower, “Kerik became Giuliani's bodyguard, just as he had been in the 1993 mayoral campaign,” rather than leading the police's efforts (Page 350).

In 1993, when Kerik met Giuliani, Kerik was “the lowest rank above patrol. ... He'd never passed a promotional exam. He was 24 credits short of a college degree in a department where you couldn't become a lieutenant without one” (Page 317). Barrett and Collins described Kerik as “a man whose personal, financial, and social life was a mess, and whose concern for following the rules and avoiding ethical conflicts appeared close to nonexistent” (Page 321). Nevertheless, Giuliani made Kerik police commissioner and supported Kerik's nomination for secretary of homeland security, “conclud[ing] that Kerik was competent to lead one of the nation's largest and most critically important bureaucracies” (Page 321).

In addition to Kerik, Giuliani's first-responder leadership included fire commissioner Thomas Von Essen and emergency management commissioner Richard J. Sheirer. On Page 353 of Grand Illusion, Barrett and Collins described their background:

All three had no real management credentials until Giuliani promoted them. Von Essen and Kerik went from the lowest ranks of their departments to the very top without ever passing a promotional exam. Giuliani had begun his mayoralty with a circle of managers, like [former Boston police commissioner Bill] Bratton and [former Office of Emergency Management director Jerome M.] Hauer, with track records elsewhere. He was ending it with a cult of personality.

A September 9, 2002, New York Times article (subscription required) described Hauer as “by all accounts among the nation's quintessential emergency professionals.” Barrett and Collins claimed that Hauer's replacement, Sheirer, was a “Giuliani loyalist who had spent most of his career as a fire alarm dispatcher and a leader of one of the few unions to endorse Giuliani's 1993 candidacy, the dispatchers' union” (Page 31). Similarly, prior to Von Essen's nomination for fire commissioner, he had “never moved up the promotional ranks a single step [but] delivered his union to Rudy Giuliani in the 1993 election” (Page 60).

The USA Today article did not analyze Giuliani's performance on 9-11 or his record on preparedness for terrorism. Several media figures have noted that Giuliani's ties to Kerik could reflect badly on Giuliani during a campaign. As Media Matters noted, on the July 16, 2006, edition of the NBC-syndicated Chris Matthews Show, NBC News chief foreign correspondent Andrea Mitchell attempted to bring up the criticism Giuliani received for pushing Bush to nominate Kerik as a possible setback to Giuliani's candidacy. As Media Matters also noted, on the May 2, 2006, edition of MSNBC's Hardball, Chuck Todd, editor in chief of National Journal's The Hotline, also cited Giuliani's association with Kerik as an obstacle to Giuliani's presidential ambitions.

Media Matters has documented the media's seeming reluctance to look past Giuliani's reputation as "America's Mayor" despite the numerous controversies marking Giuliani's political career.

From the February 1 USA Today article “Giuliani: Can hero of 9/11 win over his own party?”

Rudy Giuliani would seem to have all the credentials a candidate for president could want: A hero of 9/11, a crime-busting federal prosecutor, a two-term Republican mayor in an overwhelmingly Democratic city and one of the most admired politicians in the country.

He's got a big problem, though. First, he has to be nominated by Republicans who don't yet know his views on social issues.

“People remember how he provided leadership at a time the city needed it and the country needed it,” says coin-company executive Jeff Marsh, 41, as he waits to greet Giuliani at the annual dinner of the Littleton (N.H.) Chamber of Commerce. While Marsh's admiration of Giuliani the man is evident, however, his support for Giuliani the presidential candidate is no sure thing. Giuliani's advocacy of abortion rights gives him “some pause,” Marsh says ruefully.


Giuliani, who declined to be interviewed for this story, also shows appeal beyond the GOP.

Dubbed “America's mayor” after he led New York City's response to the Sept. 11 attacks, Giuliani had a nearly 4-1 favorable rating among all those polled. McCain had a 2-1 favorable rating, and the rating for Democratic hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton was only a bit more positive than negative.


Giuliani's strategists recognize his vulnerabilities. A campaign memo leaked to the New York Daily News last month and acknowledged as authentic by spokeswoman Sunny Mindel listed some of them: questions about his private-sector businesses, which have made him a millionaire and entangled him with clients from thoroughbred racing to the energy industry. Controversies around his current and former wives, a soap-opera saga played out in public. His stance on social issues, to the left of any major GOP contender since the party adopted an unyielding anti-abortion line in its 1980 platform.

“Probs (problems) that are insurm (insurmountable)?” asks the memo. “Does any of it cause RWG (Giuliani) to lose his lustre?”