In a segment on whether Osama bin Laden will release a propaganda tape prior to the midterm elections -- as he did two years ago -- NBC's Lisa Myers omitted any discussion of bin Laden's motivations in releasing the 2004 message, which the CIA reportedly determined to be an effort to assist in the re-election of President Bush.
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On the October 31 edition of NBC's Today, senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers reported on the propaganda tape released by Osama bin Laden in the days before the 2004 presidential election and current speculation as to whether a similar message will surface prior to the November 7 midterm elections. Myers noted that bin Laden "pays close attention to American politics" and cited polls showing that the 2004 tape benefited Bush. But while the segment was titled "The Politics of Osama," Myers omitted any discussion of bin Laden's motivations in releasing the 2004 message. As Media Matters for America has noted, the CIA reportedly determined that bin Laden's intention was to assist in the re-election of President Bush.
"The midterm elections are just one week away," co-host Meredith Vieira stated in the lead-in to Myers's segment. "We all know it, and Al Qaeda does too." Myers then reported on speculation surrounding whether bin Laden or one of his deputies will attempt to "wade into the election" in the coming days. Myers noted that the message bin Laden released prior to the last election "helped focus voters' attention" on terrorism and cited an October 31, 2004, NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in which twice as many respondents said that the tape left them more inclined to vote for Bush than for Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), the Democratic presidential nominee.
At no point in the segment did Myers broach the subject of bin Laden's intentions in 2004. She did, however, air a clip of terrorism expert Evan Kohlmann stating that Al Qaeda will seize any opportunity to "take potshots at the White House," which was followed by a clip of elections expert Charlie Cook saying that, because the news coming out of Iraq is so bad for the Bush administration, "[I]f I were Osama bin Laden and wanted to hurt President Bush, I'd shut up and stay in my cave." In both cases, the underlying premise of these statements is that bin Laden and Al Qaeda "wade into" U.S. elections in order to simply criticize or oppose Bush and the GOP.
But Myers's segment -- and Kohlmann's and Cook's statements -- overlooked entirely the disclosure in investigative reporter Ron Suskind's recent book, The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11 (Simon & Schuster, June 2006), that CIA analysts agreed in 2004 that "bin Laden's message was clearly designed to assist the President's reelection," (Pages 335-336). Suskind's reporting undermined claims by Bush administration officials -- including Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice -- that terrorists might take actions to ensure Kerry would defeat Bush, and declarations from conservative media figures that the 2004 bin Laden videotape in particular demonstrated that bin Laden preferred Kerry.
As Media Matters noted, Suskind's revelation raised an important question largely ignored by the media: What does it say about the White House's terrorism policies that bin Laden would want Bush re-elected?
From the October 31 edition of NBC's Today:
VIEIRA: We have been saying it all morning: The midterm elections are just one week away. We all know it, and Al Qaeda does too. And, so, is Osama bin Laden planning any last minute surprises, like he did in the last election? Well, NBC's senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers is covering that angle. Lisa, good morning.
MYERS: Good morning, Meredith. A senior U.S. official says there is no intelligence suggesting that Al Qaeda might try to pull off an attack in this country before the election. But officials say they would not be surprised if Osama bin Laden tries to wade into the election some other way.
[begin video clip]
MYERS: After all, two years ago, in the closing hours of a close presidential election, there was this.
BROKAW (then-NBC Nightly News anchor): Tonight, Osama bin Laden has a message for America just four days before this country votes.
MYERS: That videotape -- which is the last time we actually saw bin Laden -- helped focus voters' attention in the final hours on what many consider the president's strength, the war on terror. An NBC News poll at the time asked voters about the impact of bin Laden's message. Twenty-four percent said they were more inclined to vote for Bush. Twelve percent more inclined to vote for John Kerry.
COOK: I can't see that -- how it helped Democrats at all.
MYERS: Counterterror analysts say bin Laden plays close attention to American politics and is likely to put out another propaganda tape in the next few days.
KOHLMANN: Every opportunity that Al Qaeda can find, they take potshots at the White House, the Bush administration. It seems almost incredible that they wouldn't take the same opportunity here and now.
MYERS: If not from bin Laden himself, analysts predict a pre-election tape by his number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri. What impact could that have? Analysts say anything that takes attention off Iraq might help Republicans a little.
COOK: The news coming out of Iraq is so bad that, you know, to me, that's what's holding the president down. And, you know, if I were Osama bin Laden and wanted to hurt President Bush, I'd shut up and stay in my cave.
[end video clip]
MYERS: Now, strategists for both parties say they can't imagine still another Al Qaeda propaganda tape actually changing many votes. But if bin Laden or Zawahiri were captured or killed, well, that would get voters' attention, Meredith.
VIEIRA: Lisa Myers, thank you.