- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 15, 2002

The thrum of conspiracy buzz has surrounded MSNBC's Phil Donahue.
Whether it proves beneficial buzz remains to be seen, however.
On his talk show Tuesday night, Mr. Donahue featured an interview with Jean Charles Brisard, author of "Forbidden Truth," a contentious book published in France in November and released in the United States two weeks ago.
It promotes the idea that the Bush administration protected its "big oil" interests at all cost, maintaining secret diplomatic links with both Saudi Arabia and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which ultimately caused the September 11 attacks.
"All the dots connect to Saudi Arabia," Mr. Donahue told the author. "And those dots include George Bush, senior Bush, as well as al Qaeda and the U.S. government itself."
The Bush family, Mr. Donahue continued, "had an interest in seeing the construction of this pipeline through Afghanistan continued or moved forward, and that, you're suggesting, slowed us up and reduced our enthusiasm for going after al Qaeda and terrorism."
Mr. Donahue's next guest was a September 11 widow who wants an independent investigation of the terrorist attacks. "To have the right to be answered, we have to beg," she said. "And it's disgusting."
The show riled one specific audience yesterday after Rumor Mill News, a California-based alternative news site, urged its readers to support Mr. Donahue and demand the news media "tell the truth" about September 11.
The site supplied a sample letter and hundreds of e-mail addresses for print and broadcast journalists, executives and analysts and even MSNBC brass themselves.
"Thank you, Donahue I can already see a number of prominent news people tinkering with the biggest news story to ever not happen in the history of mankind and the media wants to expose the truth, but the truth is often the first casualty in war," read one missive.
"From the beginning, Phil Donahue said he wanted to give a voice to those who have not been heard," said MSNBC spokeswoman Cheryl Daly. "That must be what happened last night."
The sudden alliance between Mr. Donahue and the alternative news media may be unpredictable, though.
"This idea did not originate with my Web site. And the big media e-mail list didn't start here either," said Michael Rivero of Whatreallyhappened.com, a Web site that featured the Rumor Mill directives.
"I only urge my readers to contact their elected officials, not the media," Mr. Rivero said. "And while I think the intentions behind the e-mail campaign were honorable, this buzz may actually cause more harm than good for MSNBC. Reporters don't like getting bombarded with messages, particularly from alternative sources. This may actually alienate Donahue from the rest of the media."
But buzz is buzz, and Mr. Donahue could use some.
When MSNBC debuted its new prime-time lineup July 15, the veteran host had 660,000 nightly viewers. The number fell to 393,000 last week, with CNN rival Connie Chung beating Mr. Donahue by 44 percent. Fox News' Bill O'Reilly gets 1 million viewers a night.
"The mood at MSNBC has turned from hopeful to grim," the New York Daily News observed yesterday, though the network's prime-time chief Phil Griffin dismissed the impact of short-term ratings.
"We're not worried," Mr. Griffin said. "If [Fox News chief] Roger Ailes judged O'Reilly after four weeks, O'Reilly would be selling hot dogs in Times Square."

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