Howard Kurtz on White House Radio Day: Conflict!

By October 25, 2006Media Relations

The Washington Post’s media columnist, Howard Kurtz, does a credible job in today’s paper reporting on the White House Radio Day, which this blogger had the privilege of attending yesterday. (Thanks, Scott!) Kurtz’s thesis, which he no doubt had in mind before the event, was that conservative talk-show hosts are angry at the Administration and Republicans for a variety of sins: Mishandling Iraq, overspending, immigration, etc. The talkers gave their guests the what-for yesterday, thereby proving Kurtz’s thesis (although he certainly acknowledged the radio hosts’ suspicions of the Democrats, too).

Having been in attendance, that seems about right. But Kurtz omits two things:

  • Talk radio is about conflict. When one party controls both chambers of Congress and the White House, if you don’t criticize them, you wind up with a pretty dull show. You expect mollycoddling from Neal Boortz?
  • A huge story yesterday, one which elicited raw anger from callers and hosts alike, was CNN’s broadcast of the terrorist propaganda video showing snipers shooting U.S. military personnel. You could hear different hosts proclaiming, “Would our WWII newsreels have shown SS films of Nazi snipers killing our GIs?” (Answer: No. Of course not.) Kurtz’s omission of that story left an incomplete picture of yesterday’s atmosphere. (Kurtz, we should note, hosts CNN’s media show, “Reliable Sources,” and is often criticized for failing to disclose any potential conflict of interest.)
  • Finally, the Post coverage — including this page one story — gave the impression that Radio Day was unusual, an exceptional outreach to disgruntled conservatives. Not exactly. USA Today, while covering the dissatisfaction on the right, provided the needed background:

    Michael Harrison, publisher of the trade magazine Talkers, said the White House has held “radio days” before, including one President Clinton hosted in 1993 to promote his health care proposal. The Bush White House hosted a radio day less than a week before the elections in 2002.

    More to come on White House Radio Day, as time permits. Now that the scene has been set, we’ll stick to economics, energy and manufacturing-related topics.

    P.S. Our friend, Scott Hennen of WDAY in Fargo, did ask Vice President Cheney about the CNN video. The Vice President’s response is in the extended entry.

    UPDATE: Later in the day, Hennen interviewed Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. He posed a similar question about the CNN video. Rumsfeld’s response is also in the extended entry.

    Q There’s a firestorm going on right now in the media. Our
    callers today are very upset about it. CNN elected to air a video they
    received from an insurgent group in Iraq, and it is essentially a
    propaganda piece where they have followed around a sniper who ultimately
    ends up killing a member of our U.S. armed forces. Should CNN have
    aired that video?

    THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don’t think so. I think all it does is
    encourage them to do more. The media has an obligation I think to
    conduct themselves in a way that doesn’t make the situation worse,
    obviously. Now, we have a free press, and that’s an important value in
    our society, and we care very deeply about it. And I don’t want to
    suggest anything other than a free press. But there’s a question of
    responsibility, too, if in fact, they allow themselves to be
    manipulated, as I think in this particular case, it would look as though
    a terrorist organization did, in fact, try to manipulate CNN.

    Hennen interview with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld:

    . HENNEN: I want to get your take a little bit on what happened this week with the airing of a video by CNN in which insurgents provided for a major network in this country a video of a sniper at work behind the scenes, firing at one of our soldiers on a Humvee up on a turret. It ultimately resulted in the death of that soldier. CNN received the video from the insurgent group, aired it. Was that wrong to do?

    SEC. RUMSFELD: I have not seen the video. I heard about it. It certainly — when one thinks about the way you characterize it, it is exactly what the terrorists want done. That is their goal. Their goal is to manipulate our media and to manipulate the American people. You know, the military has a phrase; the center of the gravity of the war is a certain place. Normally it’s the battlefield. In this case it’s back in Washington, D.C. and in the United States of America with the American people.

    And so the terrorists and the insurgents have media committees. They plan these things. And then they find ways to make use of the media in our country, free media, to advance their cause and to dishearten the American people. And that’s their goal, and that’s what they try to do. They get up in the morning and they do it very well.

    Sometimes they overstep by beheading people on television. And some people, instead of being terrorized or frightened by that, begin to see a glimpse of what the world would look like if these people won, if these people took over; the dire consequences for free people if, in fact, Iraq were to be turned over to the terrorists and the insurgents and the beheaders. It would be a terrible thing for the world.

    MR. HENNEN: Do you believe that CNN erred by participating in that effort you’ve just described very well of these media committees and what they intend to do, by actually airing a piece of propaganda for them?

    SEC. RUMSFELD: The — you know what it reminded — it recalled to my mind — I don’t have the facts precisely — but I recall some years ago — not too many — a senior CNN person, either at that time or previously had been with CNN, announced to the world that when he was in Baghdad, before the war, for CNN, that he purposely kept bad things about Saddam Hussein and Iraq off of CNN because he knew he wouldn’t be able to stay there and report out of there. So he only reported the things that Saddam Hussein and his regime wanted reported.

    It’s of a kind, it strikes me.

    MR. HENNEN: We received a call on the air yesterday from a father who had a son who was a soldier in Iraq. And as it turns out, he happened to operate a turret on top of a Humvee. So he sees this video and he thinks of his daughter and their grandchild, and he’s absolutely repulsed. I mean, I’ve not talked to a listener that thought this was a good idea. I’m curious if the secretary of Defense thinks it’s a bad idea for CNN to do it.

    SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, it is obviously a deep concern to all of us. We see that type of thing and wish that it would not be.

    MR. HENNEN: So is it up to the American people to reject it?

    SEC. RUMSFELD: I would think so. I have not seen it and I haven’t had a chance to talk to the people in the department about it. But we have a great country, and we have the ability to turn the knob, turn the switch, change the channel, listen to different people, read different newspapers, support those things we want to support and oppose those things we want to oppose.

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    • Michael Zak says:

      CNN’s decision to broadcast terrorist propaganda videos showing American soldiers being killed will cause terrorists to create more such “snuff films” to meet the growing demand.