Did Anchors Mislead Public On Iraq?
Appearing for the first time together on each of the major networks' morning programs to promote a Stand Up to Cancer telethon in September, Katie Couric, Charles Gibson, and Brian Williams defended themselves against claims in a new book by former White Ho use spokesman Scott McClellan that they fell for administration propaganda in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. Although none of the three was anchoring a network newscast at the time, each acknowledged that they felt pressure from the White House to present the administration's policy on Iraq in a favorable way. CBS's Couric appeared to echo previous statements by her predecessor Dan Rather that newsmen did not put hard questions to administration policy makers, a point McClellan also makes in his upcoming book, What Happened? Appearing at her old stomping grounds on the Today show, Couric said, "I know when we were covering it -- and granted the spirit of 9/11 people were unified and upset and angry and frustrated -- I do think we were remiss in not asking some of the right questions." Gibson said that he disagreed. "I think the questions were asked," he said, but the response was "just a drumbeat of support from the administration. It is not our job to debate them." Williams said that he was in Kuwait at the time and that he received calls on his cell phone from the the Pentagon "the minute they heard us report something that they didn't like. The tone of that time was quite extraordinary." He did not identify the Pentagon personnel who contacted him. Couric said that one unidentified press secretary called the executive producer of the Today show after an interview she conducted, "and they said, if you keep it up, we're gonna block access to you during the war." She added that anyone who questioned the administration's policies was "considered unpatriotic" and that public opinion affected "the level of aggressiveness that was exercised by the media."