Thursday, June 24, 2004


On Scarborough Country:

SCARBOROUGH: Make sure I get a ticket the next time. But I hear that it‘s very provocative and I also hear that it‘s great entertainment. Now, that doesn‘t necessarily make it a documentary.

But, Michael Isikoff, you actually wrote an article in “Newsweek” and you reported the following claims were made in “Fahrenheit 9/11.” Take a look at this, first, that when airspace was shut down after 9/11, the White House approved special charter flights to let Saudi citizens, including some bin Laden‘s, to get out of the country before being interrogated.

Moore claims that that‘s wrong. He says the movie acknowledges that most of the bin Laden‘s were interrogated and the flights happened after airspace reopened. Second, you reported that Moore accuses the Carlisle Group, a firm that had ties to the Bushes and the bin Laden‘s, of having gained financially from 9/11. Moore still stands by that claim. And also he accused you—quote—“of making completely false and misleading statements about facts and issues contained in ‘Fahrenheit 9/11.‘” Michael Isikoff, have you made false and misleading claims about Mr. Moore‘s movie?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, “NEWSWEEK”: No, I don‘t think so.

I actually think he did make a—it is a very provocative movie. It is worth seeing, regardless of where you come down on a lot of these issues. And some of the footage in the movie—and I wrote about this in the piece—is pretty gripping.

I think in particular, I don‘t think anybody has seen the footage of President Bush when he first learns about the second attack on the Trade Center, on the World Trade Center, and is told America is under attack and how he reacts. And, of course, as—the original White House accounts, Andy Card, who had whispered in his ear, had said President Bush had gotten up not that many seconds later.

In fact, as the footage in the movie shows, he sat there for seven minutes, was reading “My Pet Goat” to the second graders in the classroom in Florida. I think people are going to come out sort of debating a lot and talking a lot about the president and how he reacted and whether that was the right reaction or the appropriate reaction.

But, that said, I do think some aspects of the movie are a bit over the top. The movie clearly leaves the impression that these flights of the Saudis took place during a time when airspace was shut down. It shows Ricky Martin unable to get to the Latin Grammy Awards, unable to fly, and it says, some people didn‘t want to fly and then did fly, the bin Laden family, for instance. In fact, the report from the 9/11 Commission shows -states that the Saudi flights didn‘t begin until after federal airspace was reopened.

That‘s not made clear in the movie. There is an exchange which clearly leaves the impression that these people were not interviewed. Craig Unger, the author of the book called “The House of Saud,” says all that happened at the airport is that they were identified and that their passports were checked. Well, the report from the 9/11 Commission says that, on the bin Laden flight in particular, which seems to be the one that is the most focused on in the movie, I think 22 of the 26 people were interviewed.

And it says, many were asked detailed questions. And, thirdly, the whole sort of crux of that passage is that the White House approved these flights. And we do know who at the White House approved those flights, because there was testimony before the 9/11 hearings on this, and it was Richard Clarke, who actually was a holdover from the Clinton administration who was serving as counterterrorism czar. The thrust of the movie is that the flights were approved because of some special access that the Saudis had to President Bush and his family.

SCARBOROUGH: And, of course, Richard Clarke did testify that he was the one that approved it. And he said, you know what? I would make the same decision again if faced with that same decision.


LEHANE: Can I just jump in here?


SCARBOROUGH: I‘m sorry, Chris. We‘ve got another guest. We want to go to him first.


David SCARBOROUGH: Chris Lehane, you wanted to respond to some of the things that Michael Isikoff said?

LEHANE: Yes. And I have great respect for Michael. He is a wonderful reporter.

But I think, if you carefully look at the words that were employed and the facts that are employed in this movie on that particular portion that he is talking about, you will find that it‘s very, very hard to question it. First of all, we do not say that flights took off when federal airspace was closed.


SCARBOROUGH: Viewers don‘t look at a transcript, though, Chris. You know that. They are left with an impression by looking at images.

LEHANE: Yes, but we are very, very careful. We make very clear that the flights didn‘t take off until after September 13, which is when federal airspace was opened.

And the Saudis that Michael is talking about, there were 140 Saudis on those flights, 142. Only 30 of them were interviewed in a way that was completely inconsistent with usual FBI and Justice Department protocol. In fact, even in the 9/11 Commission report that Michael is referring to, it raises some issues about the length of those interviews and the fact that the vast majority of folks who left the country after this terrible tragedy were not interviewed.

There‘s an FBI agent in the movie who personally talks about the fact that this was not consistent with the practices that should have been employed.



Michael, respond.

ISIKOFF: Well, Joe, I think the point you were saying, that the clear impression of the movie is a little different than some of the particular words that sort of slip by very quickly.

For instance, an example, Chris says that they never say that it was when federal airspace was shut down. They say it happened after September 13. But it doesn‘t say in the movie, at least not in any transcript I have seen or what I heard when I saw the movie, that that‘s when federal airspace was reopened.

LEHANE: But that‘s not what you wrote in your piece, Michael.


LEHANE: In the piece that you wrote in “Newsweek,” you specifically said that Michael Moore‘s movie stated that flights left while federal airspace was closed. The movie does not state that. Your piece was wrong on that.


ISIKOFF: Does the movie say that it—explicitly say that when federal airspace was reopened? Does it say that?

LEHANE: Did your story specifically state that the movie did state that? Is that what your story said?


LEHANE: This is important, because you wrote this specifically in your piece. And, as I said, you‘re an awesome reporter, but you had that one wrong.

SCARBOROUGH: Michael, did you have that one wrong?


One thing, I actually have asked Chris for over a week now for a full transcript of the movie, and I haven‘t seen one.

LEHANE: And, Michael, did I provide you a transcript of this portion of the movie?

ISIKOFF: A full transcript of the movie would be helpful on this issue.

LEHANE: But did I provide you a transcript of the portion of the movie that you are writing about?

ISIKOFF: You provided me some—a partial transcript of the movie.


LEHANE: And did you write in your story that Michael Moore stated in his movie that flights left while federal airspace was closed, yes or no?


LEHANE: Simple question.


ISIKOFF: As I told you, when we see the full transcript, we will

respond as to whether or not


SCARBOROUGH: Hold on, Chris. Let me ask the questions.

Will you provide Michael Isikoff and will you provide us a full transcript of this movie?

LEHANE: You can come to us whenever you want about any single fact that you want.


SCARBOROUGH: No, no. Answer the question.

ISIKOFF: He‘s not answering the question.


SCARBOROUGH: Will you provide a transcript?

ISIKOFF: Full transcript, full transcript.

LEHANE: You come to me with any issue that you have and I‘ll go over it with you.


SCARBOROUGH: Chris Lehane, will you provide us a full transcript, yes or no?

LEHANE: As I provided Michael Isikoff when he asked, I provided the transcript of the issue that he was looking at.

From Spikey Mikey's article:

The movie claims that in the days after 9/11, when airspace was shut down, the White House approved special charter flights so that prominent Saudis—including members of the bin Laden family—could leave the country. Author Craig Unger appears, claiming that bin Laden family members were never interviewed by the FBI. Not true, according to a recent report from the 9/11 panel. The report confirms that six chartered airplanes flew 142 mostly Saudi nationals out of the country, including one carrying members of the bin Laden family. But the flights didn't begin until Sept. 14—after airspace reopened. Moreover, the report states the Saudi flights were screened by the FBI, and 22 of the 26 people on the bin Laden flight were interviewed. None had any links to terrorism.

Note that Mikey manages to contradict himself. Unger never claimed that none of those on board the flights were interviewd, just that some weren't and those who were interviewed weren't exactly given sufficient attention following proper procedure. Mikey's own reporting tells us that 4 on board the "bin Laden flight" weren't interviewed.