CyberAlert -- 02/08/2002 -- Don't Let Patriotism Mar Olympics

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Don't Let Patriotism Mar Olympics; NBC: Women Good, Men Bad; No Snow?: Global Warming; CNN Off Track on Amtrak; Alter's Obsession

1) Don't have much U.S. patriotism at the Olympics. NBC's Matt Lauer pressed the President of the U.S. Olympic Committee to agree: "We have to also be careful and draw a line not to let our patriotism get in the way of the games in general."

2) "New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd hit on a simple truth today," NBC anchor Tom Brokaw trumpeted Wednesday night in devoting a story to her theme that in Enron "the dividing line between those who appear to be in the wrong and those trying to stop them" is "very clear. Most of the wrongdoers are men. Most of the whistle-blowers are women."

3) A New York Times reporter described Finland's 59 percent income tax rate, "even on lower income brackets," as merely "relatively steep."

4) When Bryant Gumbel complained on the Early Show: "We never get any snow," Mark McEwen suggested: "Do you think it's global warming?" Gumbel enthusiastically agreed: "Yes, yes."

5) CNN's free ad for Amtrak's speed. CNN's Michael Okwu recounted how it took him about the same three hours to travel between CNN bureaus in Manhattan and Washington, DC on both Amtrak and the Delta Shuttle as he gushed that Amtrak cost $100 less. But it sure helped Amtrak that in both cities CNN's office is literally across the street from the train station.

6) Newsweek reporter Jonathan Alter scolded Don Imus for not questioning MRC President Brent Bozell over the failure of Bozell's "little newsletter" to have denounced Jerry Falwell for an intemperate post-September 11 remark. But in his obsession, Alter was wrong in every charge he made about the MRC's newsletter.

7) Novelist Norman Mailer told the BBC the U.S. is "living a halfway corrupt life." Mailer lamented to the London Telegraph that "this patriotic fever can go too far," rued how "America has an almost obscene infatuation with itself" and asserted: "The right wing benefitted so much from September 11 that, if I were still a conspiratorialist, I would believe they'd done it."


"Don't let our patriotism get in the way of" the Olympic games, NBC's Matt Lauer cautioned on Thursday's Today from Park City Utah, site of the games set to open tonight. Lauer pressed the President of the U.S. Olympic Committee to agree with his proposition: "We have to also be careful and draw a line not to let our patriotism get in the way of the games in general."

MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens caught this exchange on the February 7 Today:

Lauer: "You are expecting even a greater wave of patriotism here in the United States, in this particular time than other countries have shown when they've hosted the games."
Lloyd Ward, U.S. Olympic Committee President: "Well, you know, I don't know than other countries but I, I certainly expect the stands to be rocking. I expect the flags to be flying. And you know the expression of patriotism is fine for any country that, that hosts the Olympics. We want to express our nationalism as a part of the world's community and I expect to see that."
Lauer chided: "But we have to also be careful and draw a line not to let our patriotism get in the way of the games in general."
Ward agreed: "Absolutely. It is supporting the athletes from around the world with a particular emphasis on the U.S. athletes."


The front page of the New York Times sets the news agenda for all of the networks, but on Wednesday night NBC Nightly News took its cue not from a Times news story on the front page or somewhere inside the paper, but from a columnist. NBC devoted an entire story to the theme behind Maureen Dowd's column on Enron which, as anchor Tom Brokaw endorsed it, "hit on a simple truth today. The dividing line between those who appear to be in the wrong and those trying to stop them. It's very clear. Most of the wrongdoers are men. Most of the whistle-blowers are women."

Most, but not all.

Brokaw introduced the February 6 story on how one sex has proven itself superior: "This unfolding Enron mess can be difficult to follow. Even financial experts are baffled by how complicated it is. But New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd hit on a simple truth today. The dividing line between those who appear to be in the wrong and those trying to stop them. It's very clear. Most of the wrongdoers are men. Most of the whistle-blowers are women. NBC's Jim Avila from Houston tonight on the Enron gender gap."

Avila outlined the thesis: "The boys of Enron: grandfatherly Ken Lay, dot-comer Jeff Skilling, financial wizard Andy Fastow and Andersen fall guy David Duncan, the accountant who signed off on it all. Backed by a board of directors, one woman shy of all male, now being fitted for Hollywood black hats."
Prof. Garth Jowett, University of Houston: "Mr. Lay, rightly or wrongly in the national media, is now being portrayed as the kind of chief robber baron."
Avila: "The perfect Hollywood twist, the boys of Enron exposed by women. From Bethany McClean, the first reporter to ask in Fortune magazine, 'Is Enron stock overvalued?'"
Bethany McClean: "I'm innately skeptical, and especially of high-priced stocks."
Avila: "And in the lead whistle-blower role, Enron Vice President Sherron Watkins, already depicted as a hero in the media despite refusing to grant any interviews. People and Time magazine running photo spreads. Today's Maureen Dowd column in the New York Times lauding her as the natural star of the Enron movie. Her co-workers agree."
Wilma Williams, former Enron employee: "She is a hero in my, in my books."
Avila: "Supporting players all women, too. Maureen Castaneda, preparing to move, accidentally discovered Enron's shredded documents."
Maureen Castaneda: "I thought the shredded material would be good packing material."
Avila: "Experts say Enron's gender gap is no coincidence. It's not that women are necessarily more honest, but in today's corporate world have a better view than ever before of what the real decision makers are doing."
Prof. Hilarie Lieb, Northwestern University: "They could share this information because they had access to this information, and it wasn't that long ago that that wasn't the case."
Avila: "Hollywood is watching Enron carefully. A story writing itself every day, combining heroes and villains in classic fashion. Michael Shamberg produced 'Erin Brockovich.'"
Michael Shamberg: "I'd want to find both. I'd want to find the heroic person as well as the bad guy, because it's sort of like a dance, and you need both."
Avila concluded: "And in Texas today it's the women of Enron wearing all the white hats."

But NBC's story was no more accurate than the Erin Brockovich movie.

Thursday's newspapers carried a preview of congressional testimony to be delivered on Thursday by Enron lawyer Jordan Mintz, a man, who maintains that he warned of financial shenanigans last May, three months earlier than Sherron Watkins wrote her memo.

Washington Post reporters Susan Schmidt and Peter Behr began a February 7, 2002 story: "A senior Enron Corp. lawyer raised red flags more than a year ago about the corporation's approval of supposedly arm's-length deals with partnerships managed by Enron insiders, new documents show. He has told House investigators he was rebuffed.
"The lawyer, Jordan Mintz, also tried unsuccessfully last May to get then-Enron chief executive Jeffrey K. Skilling to sign a series of approval sheets on investments the Houston energy trader made with the partnerships in 2000."

The Post reporters elaborated: "Rep. James C. Greenwood (R-Pa.), chairman of the [Energy Committee's] oversight and investigations subcommittee, said last night that the Mintz memos tell more about the thinking of senior Enron executives than the scathing internal report a special committee of Enron's board of directors issued over the weekend. 'I think this goes to state of mind,' he said."

Mintz had issued warnings more than a year ago: "Mintz raised concerns about the partnerships that Fastow ran in December 2000 in a memo to Causey and Buy about a proposed new entity called LJM3, which was never formed. In another memo to the same two officials last March, he recommended changes in the approval process for deals between Enron and existing LJM partnerships."


Speaking of the New York Times, in a February 6 story an overseas reporter for the newspaper described Finland's 59 percent income tax rate, "even on lower income brackets," as "relatively steep." One wonders how high a tax rate would have to be for the Times to consider it just plain "steep."

The MRC's Tim Jones caught the description deep in a story headlined, "Not in Finland Anymore? More Like Nokialand." Reporter Alan Cowell in Helsinki, Finland looked at the influence of Nokia, which employs 22,000 in Finland.

Cowell wrote: "Indeed, all Finland listened in recent days when Jorma Ollila, Nokia's chairman and chief executive, not only confirmed that growth had slowed last year, but also wondered aloud about lowering Finland's relatively steep income-tax rate (59 percent even on lower income brackets)."

Cowell rued: "In those comments, Finns heard an executive whom they feared may be ready to pull out of the country, jeopardizing the tax base that supports the state's extensive welfare benefits. About 22,000 of Nokia's 54,000 employees worldwide are in Finland -- but they include 11,000 of its main research and development staff, as well as the top management who could work wherever the company chooses to have its headquarters. Another 20,000 people are estimated to work for companies that depend on Nokia for contracts."

For the story in full, those registered with the New York Times can access it by going to:


The Early Show crew all agreed on Wednesday morning that global warming is to blame for the lack of snow in New York City.

MRC analyst Brian Boyd caught this exchange during the 8:30am weather update on February 6:

Mark McEwen: "Up and down the East coast, it's coming our way but we will probably see just rain in the big cities."
Bryant Gumbel complained: "We never get any snow."
McEwen: "Do you think it's global warming?"
Gumbel agreed: "Yes, yes."
McEwen: "Do you, Jane?"
Jane Clayson: "Yeah."
McEwen: "We're unanimous, we all think it's global warming."

Unanimously shortsighted. When temperatures plunge one day to below zero will they worry about global cooling?


CNN's off track tribute to Amtrak's speed and efficiency. In a story aired several times during the day on Thursday, CNN's Michael Okwu recounted his experiment of comparing travel time between New York City and Washington, DC on Amtrak versus the Delta Shuttle. Arriving at CNN's Washington bureau via Amtrak in three hours, Okwu proclaimed: "Almost the exact amount that it took us to leave from New York to get to Washington, D.C. [via airplane], except we did it on the train for about $100 less."

But while Okwu noted that on each end of the trip it only took him five minutes to walk to the train station, he failed to factor the very Amtrak-friendly locations of CNN's bureaus into his evaluation. The CNN Washington bureau (at 820 First St. NE) is literally across the street from Union Station and its New York bureau (5 Penn Plaza) is in a building across the street from Penn Station in lower Manhattan.

While it certainly is true that having train stations downtown, as opposed to airports in Queens and Arlington County, Virginia, reduces travel time from the stations to a meeting at a Manhattan or downtown DC office, most people do not leave to catch a train from next door to the train station or have their destination across the street.

On CNN's American Morning, tri-host Jack Cafferty set up CNN's experiment: "One of the most popular [Amtrak] lines is the so-called 'Northeast Corridor,' train service that connects Boston with New York, with Washington, D.C. But now with the planes flying again, which is better, the train or the plane? Our Michael Okwu did a little comparison shopping."

Okwu recounted, as MRC analyst Ken Shepherd checked the transcripts against the tape, how his day started at CNN Manhattan bureau: "It's about 8 right now. We're hoping to make the 9:30 Delta shuttle, which should take us about -- I'd say, about, 20 to 25 minutes to get there, and we should be on our way. I'm pretty lucky, rarely do I get a cab this fast, at this hour. The shuttle leaves from LaGuardia, the closest airport to midtown Manhattan. Today, traffic is a breeze. I reach the airport at 8:26. Well, that cost me about $20, with tip. We're now about to make our 9:30 shuttle. And we got here in about 25 minutes. Let's hope that we can get into the airport and not have to face too much security." As usual, I have an e-ticket waiting inside. A five-minute wait in line, a quick check of the itinerary, and then the usual questions -- was my bag with me at all times? Yes. The ticket costs $205. The security is priceless. Our plane takes off 20 minutes late because airline staff conducted random baggage and body searches at the gate. It's 10:34."

Okwu questioned a passenger as they walked inside Reagan National Airport in Virginia: "This fellow was on the flight with me. Why do you take the plane instead of the train?"
Man: "It's faster. It's a lot faster."
Okwu cast doubt: "It's faster? It's much more expensive."
Man: "It may be pricier, but I'm a corporate traveler, so I want to get there as quickly as I can."

Okwu confirmed: "He's right. The plane's pricier, but faster? We'll see. I arrive at the CNN offices at 10:55. From the time I hailed the cab in New York, it's taken about three hours."

Fast forwarding to the afternoon, Okwu picked up his story: "Our business is done in the Washington bureau, and now I'm trying to make a 2:00 Acela Express on Amtrak back to New York. Luckily, Union Station is just a five-minute walk from the bureau."

A pleased Okwu noted: "After a two-minute wait, I pick up my ticket for Amtrak's new high-speed train. Cost, $145, $60 cheaper than the plane ticket."

Okwu allowed a woman on the train to complain: "The one thing that, I'll be honest with you, that troubles me, is the lack of security on the train. Nobody checked my bags, no metal detectors."
Okwu reassured: "Amtrak says it spent more than $16 million this year on security, much of it behind the scenes on train yards, bridges, tunnels, plainclothes police. This traveler occasionally takes a morning flight to New York."
Man: "To take the 6am shuttle from National Airport, commute from my home, get there the requisite number of hours beforehand doesn't save me anytime at all.

Okwu relayed: "We arrive at New York's Penn Station at 4:48pm. So now it is almost 5, and the CNN bureau is about a five-minute walk away from here. So that means that it took us about three hours to get from Washington, D.C. to New York City's midtown, almost the exact amount that it took us to leave from New York to get to Washington, D.C., except we did it on the train for about $100 less."

Now try the same trips assuming Okwu worked for NBC News instead of CNN. Getting to LaGuardia from Rockefeller Plaza would probably take the same amount of time, maybe a little less, and it would take a bit longer for a cab ride from Reagan National Airport to NBC's bureau on Nebraska Avenue. But the return trip on Amtrak would take much longer. First, he'd have to get across DC from Nebraska Avenue to Union Station and that would take a lot more than five minutes. More like a good 30 via cab. Second, on the New York end, he'd have to make his way through about 15 blocks of late afternoon Manhattan traffic from Penn Station at 34th Street to Rockefeller Plaza up at 48th Street. And if he worked for ABC News on West 66th Street, that would be about a 40 block trip.


Alter's obsession. Appearing on MSNBC's simulcast of the Imus in the Morning radio show on Wednesday, Newsweek reporter Jonathan Alter scolded Imus for not questioning MRC President Brent Bozell, who appeared earlier in the show, over the failure of Bozell's "little newsletter" to have castigated Jerry Falwell for an intemperate post-September 11 remark.

But in his obsession with something which occurred four months ago, Alter was wrong about every charge he made.

On the February 6 show, Alter whined to Don Imus: "I have a problem with the questioning of Brent, in this context. He did one of his little newsletters about all the people who he thought were engaged in Blame America First thinking about 9-11. And it was a good effort by him because there were some people who their first reaction in September and October was 'this is our fault, we had this coming.' It made me pretty sick to read it as well. But offender number one was Jerry Falwell. Remember that?"
Don Imus: "Of course."
Alter: "And in his newsletter, you know, he goes after Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings and me and lots and lots of other people for various offenses. And he's got this particular 'Blame America First' category. Who is missing? Jerry Falwell, because he swings from the right side of the plate."

Where to begin with Alter's errors? Let me recite them:

First, the MRC never published a "Blame America First" newsletter. He was referring to the October 1 edition of Notable Quotables, titled "Terrorist Attack on America." The subtitle, "Media Coverage: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly."

Second, the issue did not contain any quote from Peter Jennings. It did feature a quote from Tom Brokaw -- but in "the Good" category. In fact, far from somehow impugning Jennings, last October the MRC published a Media Reality Check documenting how some had mis-reported what he said on September 11.

Third, at the top of every NQ the MRC describes it as "a bi-weekly compilation of the latest outrageous, sometimes humorous, quotes in the liberal media" -- not in the religious media.

As noted in the December 18 CyberAlert after Alter denounced the MRC on for not castigating Falwell: "Jesse Jackson, many left-wing professors and some far-left politicians also made some pretty stupid comments, but we didn't quote them either because they are not in the mainstream media. And, unlike Sontag, are not part of New York's literary community given a forum in an establishment magazine or, unlike Maher, do not host a broadcast network show dealing with politics. The 700 Club doesn't pretend to be an unbiased news show so the MRC does not monitor it, just as we never quoted what Jackson said on his old CNN show since we were able to differentiate it from the rest of the CNN schedule. But I'm sure this is obvious to everyone but Alter."

Indeed, following Alter's reasoning the MRC should criticize Alter for not quoting Katie Couric in a story on congressional reaction to Bush's State of the Union address.

To read all the quotes in the MRC's special October 1 four-page edition of Notable Quotables, "Terrorist Attack on America. Media Coverage: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," go to:

To access the Adobe Acrobat PDF of the hard copy version, go to:

To read Alter's December 14 MSNBC piece, go to:


An actual case of blaming America first. Novelist Norman Mailer denounced President Bush's "axis of evil" line, telling the BBC "that is opposed to a wake-up call, that's an anodyne." Mailer, who lives on Cape Cod, claimed the U.S. is "living a halfway corrupt terms of world affairs and economics," so "if you are half evil, nothing soothes you more than to think that the person you are opposed to is totally evil."

Talking to a London Telegraph reporter, Mailer lamented how "this patriotic fever can go too far," and bemoaned how "America has an almost obscene infatuation with itself." Mailer asserted: "The right wing benefitted so much from September 11 that, if I were still a conspiratorialist, I would believe they'd done it."

In the past couple of days both's "Best of the Web" and FNC's Brit Hume have cited some of Mailer's latest screeds, but below is the worst of the worst from his two interviews.

-- A February 4 BBC Newsnight interview with Kristy Wark (sounds like the name of a character on Star Trek). Wark asked about Bush's "axis of evil." Mailer propounded:
"He can't make a speech without using the word 'evil' 13 or 15 or 22 times. But where is the evil? They can't even locate Osama Bin Laden? They don't know if he is alive or dead. Fighting evil is a way of dulling people's minds. It's as if in America, because we have so few roots, an Israeli in America, you can find the place where they were born. They even redid the hospital where the person was born, because we rebuild and rebuild, and we make things uglier and uglier every time we rebuild. Given that, there are no roots, compared to European countries we have very few roots. You need something to believe, and patriotism becomes it."
Wark: "Finally, do you think that America has had a wake-up call about how others in the world view America?"
Mailer: "Probably not, so long as they keep saying, "Evil, evil, evil". That is opposed to a wake-up call, that's an anodyne. It's to soothe feelings here. If you are going along and you are living a halfway corrupt life, as certainly America has been doing in terms of world affairs and economics. I don't have to bring in Enron to make my point, then, if you are half evil, nothing soothes you more than to think that the person you are opposed to is totally evil. If the person you are opposed to is half evil also, as indeed I am sure they are, then what you have is the old human mix, which is full of complication, and every question can keep you up all night. For that reason, the attempt in America has been to close the wound quickly, and if it putrefies later, some other doctor will take care of that."

For the complete transcript:

For a picture of Mailer:

-- An interview with Michael Sheldon in the February 6 London Telegraph. An excerpt:

"What happened on September 11 was horrific, but this patriotic fever can go too far," he says. "America has an almost obscene infatuation with itself. Has there ever been a big, powerful country that is as patriotic as America? And patriotic in the tinniest way, with so much flag waving? You'd really think we were some poor little republic, and that if one person lost his religion for one hour, the whole thing would crumble. America is the real religion in this country."

These days, such talk will definitely start a fight in many American cities, yet Mailer is not averse to throwing the first punch. With a mischievous smile, he says: "The Right wing benefitted so much from September 11 that, if I were still a conspiratorialist, I would believe they'd done it."

Like Mark Twain before him, Mailer has a way of saying outrageous things in a perfectly charming manner. At home, he is a congenial host who never raises his voice, and who seems as warm and mellow as a lazy cat at the fireside. To look at his beaming face, you would never suspect that he is the same man who, in 1960, was committed for a short period to a mental hospital after repeatedly stabbing the second of his six wives.

END of Excerpt

The entire article is online, but you'll have to register with the Telegraph to read it:

I doubt that if he were alive today Mark Twain would buy into Mailer's suggestion that the "right wing" has improperly benefitted from September 11. -- Brent Baker

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