- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 7, 2004

Does America still love Condi?

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is expected to be center stage this morning, appearing before the September 11 commission. Her testimony will be carried live by cable news and broadcast networks, which will bump normal talk and game shows at 9 a.m. for up to three hours of coverage.

Miss Rice may face a newly critical television audience, primed by unflattering print and broadcast coverage that has questioned her competence and painted her, in some cases, as “a warrior princess.”

“Is Condi the problem?” Time magazine asked this week.

“Doesn’t she have a problem telling the truth?” CNN’s Paul Begala asked yesterday, while the Orlando Sentinel categorized Miss Rice as “a sort-of second wife. She’s at the president’s beck and call.”

NBC’s Andrea Mitchell declared that “Rice is on the hot seat,” later noting she had a “steely shield.”

Broadcasters have been infatuated, however, with former White House counterterrorism chief Richard A. Clarke, says the Media Research Center’s Brent Baker.

“The nation had moved past blaming either the Clinton or Bush administrations for 9/11. But the media supported Clarke’s agenda, focusing on what the Bush White House did in the eight months prior to the attacks,” Mr. Baker said.

Yet broadcasters virtually ignored the moment when Mr. Clark — asked by the September 11 commission whether the Bush administration could have taken any actions to prevent the attacks — “simply said ‘no’,” Mr. Baker said.

“So all this discussion doesn’t matter. What matters is what the Bush team is doing now, and whether [presumptive Democratic presidential nominee] John Kerry can do any better,” he said.

Meanwhile, Miss Rice’s public image has begun to suffer.

A Gallup poll released yesterday found her disapproval ratings have risen from 16 percent to 25 percent in the past six months, while her favorable ratings have fallen from 55 percent to 50 percent, comparing surveys of 1,000 adults taken Oct. 24-26 and again March 26-28.

The second poll was taken after Mr. Clarke’s appearance before the commission and the release of his book, “Against All Enemies,” which criticized Bush administration counterterrorism policies.

“It may be that Rice’s image has been hurt by these events,” said Gallup director Frank Newport.

While not unprecedented, the decision by CBS, NBC and ABC to pre-empt lucrative daytime fare for Miss Rice’s testimony and trot out their big-name anchormen is unusual; Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, C-SPAN and PBS are “all ready all over the story like a big dog,” said one broadcast source.

“It’s definitely newsworthy,” CBS spokeswoman Sandy Genelius said yesterday. “Rice is clearly a big player on the Bush team and the commission wants to hear from her. We’ll stay on it as long as news warrants.”

Still, networks framed the story differently, according to a study released by the Center for Media and Public Affairs on Monday.

Based on an analysis of 59 news stories on Bush counterterrorism policies that aired in late March, the study found 49 percent of NBC stories were favorable to the White House, while three-quarters of the stories on ABC and CBS were negative.

Contact Jennifer Harper at jharper@washingtontimes.com or 202/636-3085.

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