When Condoleezza Rice raised her right hand to begin a much-anticipated TV show on April 8 -- broadcast live for three hours on ABC, CBS and NBC -- the absurdities were already in full swing.
Absurdity No. 1: Where was the "news" here? The September 11 Commission was learning almost nothing new, since Rice had already testified for four hours in private. All that was left was a political spectacle. The liberal media-Democrat complex wanted to give the impression that the Bush Administration had done something criminally wrong.
That might seem hypersensitive, but wasn't it that very hypersensitivity to impressions that caused the networks to dismiss reflexively any idea of live coverage of Clinton-scandal hearings, including the Senate impeachment trial in 1999, which they dropped like a hot potato within 90 minutes? The TV elite did not want to give the impression that Clinton had -- gasp! -- done anything wrong at any point. Back then, the network stars suggested those hearings were primarily designed to "embarrass the president." Where was that sensitivity for the current president?
Absurdity No. 2: The idea that the September 11 Commission was utterly nonpartisan. That's utter bunk. For months, the Bush team was trashed for opposing an "independent" commission looking into these matters in a sensitive political season. But can anyone now look at the Democratic badgering, interrupting and dismissing of Rice and see a nonpartisan picture?
We were told that the commission's chairmen, Republican Tom Kean and Democrat Lee Hamilton, were so scrupulous about a nonpartisan image that they preferred to do every interview as a team. While Kean and Hamilton have acquitted themselves quite well in their nonpartisanship, this obviously did not extend to the Friday morning TV shows on ABC, CBS and NBC.
They all featured commission member (and former Democratic presidential candidate) Bob Kerrey fulminating about all the Bush Administration's laxity before September 11. If the partisan pounding on Rice in the live coverage (complete with Kerrey's off-point anti-Iraq war speech, followed by audience applause) wasn't enough to convince the public that the hearings were a partisan effort, then Kerrey's trilogy of trash talk should have done the job.
Absurdity No. 3: The idea that the activists who forced the creation of this politicized "independent" commission were just a group of nonpartisan widows with no political axes to grind. How dishonest.
For weeks now, the networks have celebrated a very selective set of widows to dish out their anti-Bush outrage and ignored the families who support President Bush. On the day of Rice's testimony, NBC and then MSNBC championed four women known as the "Jersey Girls," who uniformly hate Bush, especially Kristen Breitweiser, who has coldly and routinely declared that 3,000 Americans were "murdered on Bush's watch."
Meanwhile, a Nexis search quickly shows that NBC has aired no news story with the words "widow" and the U.S.S. Cole, where terrorists killed 17 Americans in 2000. NBC aired no news story with the words "widow" and the embassy in Kenya, where terrorists killed 12 Americans in 1998. NBC aired no news story with the words "widow" and the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, where terrorists killed 19 Americans in 1996. These grieving families have never been given a nationwide TV platform on NBC to express their opinions on how the Clinton administration handled investigations of those incidents.
Absurdity No. 4: While everyone chewed over the public testimony of Rice in the morning, the private testimony of Bill Clinton in the afternoon was almost totally ignored by the press.
Here's the entirety of Dan Rather's coverage: "The 9-11 Commission also met in private today, taking testimony from former president Bill Clinton behind closed doors for more than three hours. In a statement, the panel said the former president was, and I quote, 'forthcoming and responsive' to its questions, but gave no other details." The next morning, NBC's Ann Curry briefly mentioned: "Former President Clinton has testified before the 9-11 commission behind closed doors. Commission members described Thursday's three-hour meeting as frank and constructive."
What did he say? The networks didn't seem to care. On FOX, reporter James Rosen found Clinton wasn't exactly apologizing: "the former president also said that he has been racking his brain to see over and over again what else he might have done, and he can't think of anything else he would have done to target Al Qaeda." Commissioner Slade Gorton suggested to FOX that "a great deal" of the commission's private Clinton time was devoted to assessing future needs and discussing what recommendations should go into the commission's final report, not grilling Clinton about his failures.
It's not hard to predict that whatever the commission puts into its report, the criticism of Clinton within the document will be minimized, and the comments that make Bush look bad will saturate the news -- just like the "news" coverage of April 8.