A purely statistical Project on Excellence in Journalism study on Iraq war coverage on the cable channels seems to have gotten under Bill O’Reilly’s prickly skin.

The study documented that Fox News allots about half the airtime to Iraq war coverage that CNN and MSNBC routinely give it.

Bill O’Reilly, who sees liberal conspiracies in nearly everything, immediately concluded that his competition was covering the carnage in Iraq to make the war look like a mess, which he conceded it is, and more importantly, to make President Bush look bad. Ranting on The O’Reilly Factor, he lumped both channels together as part of the “anti-war media.”

Howard Kurtz brought this up on Sunday’s Reliable Sources on CNN. I questioned how O’Reilly could divine the motives of CNN and MSNBC from their news judgement. Another panelist, Emily Rooney, argued that O’Reilly himself didn’t really believe what he was saying and was only saying it to be provocative.

This provoked O’Reilly further and last night he refought World War II with Howard Kurtz on The O’Reilly Factor in an effort to prove that his show was being patriotic by downplaying the “carnage without context” in Iraq. Unfortunately, he was making this lame case on the same day that a horrific suicide bomb blast outside a mosque in Baghdad had killed scores and illustrated that , despite the Surge in American troops and the latest offensive, the insurgents can still cause mayhem in the Iraqi capital.

If that isn’t news, Bill, I don’t know what is.


Mark Jurkowitz of the Project for Excellence in Journalism made an interesting point on CNN’s Reliable Sources this morning in the midst of a discussion about the travails of CBS’ Evening News. A PEJ study of the network evening broadcasts shows that CBS, ABC and NBC offer roughly the same content and story selection these days. In other words, CBS’s response to Katie Couric’s lower-than-ever ratings has been to revert to a hard news format and dispense with the gimmicks.

Good move. We will see if it makes a difference over the coming months. CBS is in a street fight with ABC and NBC, and Katie will now get a chance to earn her $15 million on a level playing field.

A postscript: Rome Hartman, the former executive producer who had the unenviable task of tailoring CBS’ Evening News to Katie’s talents, now has a new job. The BBC recently hired Hartman, who CBS dumped in favor of Rick Kaplan, to head its new evening U.S. news broadcast, which Katy Kay will anchor out of Washington.

With Rome at the helm, and the BBC’s world-wide stable of talented correspondents, the new broadcast could have broad appeal to an American audience interested in international affairs. BBC America and public broadcasting stations around the country will carry the new broadcast. The BBC broadcast is not going to threaten the Big Three evening newses, but it could poach more than a few viewers from The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.


The network evening news broadcast may be a vanishing art form — its demise has been forecast for years — but in the meantime the three major broadcast network programs continue to draw more than 25 million viewers a night and generate lots of cash for their owners.

In recent weeks, we have seen another of the shifts in the ratings race that occur every few years: ABC’s Charlie Gibson is now in first place, with Brian Williams second on NBC, and as usual, CBS in the toilet in third place.

This recent realignment provoked new criticism of Katie Couric as the reason for CBS’s continuing souris. Her predecessor, Dan Rather, who in a radio interview this week accused CBS of “dumbing down and tarting up” the broadcast, became her latest critic. Les Moonves, the head of CBS, promptly attacked Dan for indulging in “sexist” comments about Katie.

The “dumbing down and tarting up” aphorism is actually one of Dan’s standbys. He used it in an interview I did with him on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer in 2001. He was referring to the pressure from management to brighten the evening news — his evening news — format in another vain attempt to lure younger viewers to the broadcast. His “tarting” phrase was gender neutral, and still is.

Katie Couric is a fine, professional broadcaster. She demonstrated almost perfect pitch as anchor of the Today Show: serious in the substantive interviews, bright and funny in the lighter stuff. Making her the CBS evening news anchor may have been a mistake, a possible misuse of her talents, but the decision had a certain logic. Bring in a morning star, a proven performer, to the evening news and see if she could light a fire.

It is clear Katie has been unable to do that. She has been hobbled from the start by an overly-cute, even precious story selection and format that doubtlessly annoys many viewers. Those people who have 30 minutes to sit down in front of the tube at 6:30 p.m. or 7:00 p.m. want hard news in the 21 minutes they get between commercials, not frivolous entertainment. Instead, the management at CBS stressed the gimmicks, in a vain attempt to reinvent a wheel that doesn’t require reinvention.

So, bottom line: Katie is neither the problem with the CBS Evening News, nor the solution..
This topic, incidentally, will be the lead discussion on tomorrow’s Reliable Sources broadcast on CNN at 10 a.m. EDT, Sunday, June 17. I’ll kick it around with the host, Howard Kurtz, and guests Mark Jurkowitz and Emily Rooney. Should be fun.



Anniversaries have a way of sneaking up on you. Amazingly, it has been 40 years since the outbreak of the Six Day War between Israel and her Arab neighbors on June 5, 1967. It seems like a very long time ago — another era, really — and yet the seeds of today’s standoff in the Middle East were sown in that one, hot, incredible week in June.
My memories of it are as vivid as if it was last week. I had arrived in Jerusalem 10 days before the war as a newly-assigned and breathtakingly-green foreign correspondent for The New York Times. I covered the battle for Jerusalem, the rout of the Arab Legion on the West Bank and the Israeli drive up the Golan Heights. Then I turned to report on the devastation in the Sinai.
Israel’s victory was complete: in less than a week, her armies defeated Egypt, Jordan and Syria and captured some 26,000 square miles of territory, roughly three times the size of pre-war Israel.
Since then, politically at least, everything has changed, and nothing has changed. The world is still dealing with the consequences.
When the guns fell silent, some 1.3 million Palestinians awoke under Israeli occupation. That occupation continues to this day. It has been a disaster for both sides, as corrosive to the morale and morals of the occupier as the occupied. It remains what it has always been: an agony for the Palestinians, a costly, demeaning headache for generations of Israelis, an enormous obstacle to peace and the source of deep bitterness between the two peoples.
But it wasn’t that way initially. In the weeks after the war, Israelis and Palestinians were intensely curious about each other. Especially in divided Jerusalem, they had lived within sight and sound of each other for 19 years, separated by a United Nations-patrolled no-man’s land.
As soon as they were able, Israelis from West Jerusalem poured into the east, not only to visit the Western Wall and other holy places that had been inaccessible for two decades, but in search of bargains. Everything was cheaper in the former Jordanian sector, and Israelis flooded the shops in the Old City, snapping up imported electronics, appliances and souvenirs. I remember that carved, wooden camels were a particularly hot item.
Commerce, the great leveler, was doing its job and in the process, Israelis were discovering the quiet pride and dignity of their neighbors and the Palestinians were finding that, contrary to their pre-war image, Israelis were not 10-feet tall. It was not Camelot, not love at first sight, but some friendships were made, some barriers fell and a lot of long-held myths were shattered.
Had there been a serious move towards a peace agreement then, in those first weeks after the ceasefire, there were people on both sides ready to go along. Many if not most Israelis assumed from the outset that the newly-occupied lands would be exchanged for peace. Many Palestinians expected that they would win their own state in any settlement.
On the diplomatic front, Israel’s foreign minister, Abba Eban, was calling for direct negotiations with the Arab governments.
“There are two possible maps,” he told me and other reporters gathered in a conference room in West Jerusalem on August 14, 1967. “There is the ceasefire map as it exists today and there is the new map of the Middle East which could be achieved only by a peace settlement.”
The Defense Minister, Moshe Dayan, famously said he was “waiting for the phone to ring” from Cairo, Amman and Damascus. Everything seemed possible. Indeed, after such a total and devastating victory, only the status quo seemed unsustainable.
But the window of opportunity did not remain open for long. Dayan’s phone did not ring. The Arab leaders remained defiant in defeat. In the street, the war was commonly referred to as “an-naksah,” or “the setback.” A setback? No one is prepared to give away the store — in this case, recognition of Israel — after a mere setback. A defeat, maybe, but not a setback.
And many Israelis began to question whether it made sense to return the territories. The land provided strategic depth that Israel lacked before the war. On a human level, Israelis simply became accustomed to having the West Bank as their enlarged backyard. After all, it was nice to take the family for a drive on Saturday to Ramallah or shop for a few bargains in Bethlehem.
Of course, nothing stands still in that part of the world. Before long the first zealous Jewish settlers began to set up rump outposts in the West Bank and on the Golan. For them, this was the biblical eretz Israel, or greater Israel, and they were determined to keep it.
When I asked Dayan what he and the government intended to do about these settlers, he smiled indulgently, waved his hand and said, “If we can negotiate peace with the Arab governments, believe me, the settlers will be no problem.”
Today, those few pesky settlers number 250,000 in 120 government-sanctioned settlements throughout the West Bank. Another 180,000 Israelis live in the high-rise communities that encircle the annexed eastern half of Jerusalem. Along with the 16,000 settlers on the Golan Heights, they constitute a formidable, hard-line force in Israeli politics. It will not be easy to dislodge them, nor for the Palestinians to accept them as neighbors.
Four decades of occupation have hardened hearts on both sides. Young Israelis who have served in the Army on the West Bank have grown understandably bitter after being stoned and shot at. Palestinians who have had their homes blown up, their towns divided by the security wall and their roads choked with checkpoints are understandably angry.
That brief, hopeful period of good feeling that followed the 1967 war has evaporated. Those few months when peace seemed likely and shopping rather than shooting was the major interaction between Israelis and the Palestinians on the West Bank are a distant memory. Deep-seated animosity has replaced it on both sides.
But that moment of opportunity, that few months when Israelis and Palestinians were talking to each other, not shouting at each other, is worth recalling on the anniversary of the start of the war, even if it is but one of the many squandered opportunities over the last four decades. The prospects seem dim at the moment, with both Israel and the Palestinians riven by internal turmoil, but perhaps it can be revived before another 40 years pass