MSNBC and 'Patriotic Fever' in Run-Up to Iraq War

Last night, CNN congressional correspondent Jessica Yellin appeared on "Anderson Cooper 360," in part to discuss the brouhaha over former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan’s tell-all book about the Bush administration, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception.

At one point, Mr. Cooper asked Ms. Yellin about the allegations in the book that the national media was "too deferential to the White House," during the run-up to the war in Iraq.

"Did the press corps drop the ball?" asked Mr. Cooper.

Cue the controversy.

"I think the press corps dropped the ball at the beginning," said Ms. Yellin. "When the lead-up to the war began, the press corps was under enormous pressure from corporate executives, frankly, to make sure that this was a war that was presented in a way that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the nation and the president’s high approval ratings."

"And my own experience at the White House was that, the higher the president’s approval ratings, the more pressure I had from news executives—and I was not at this network at the time—but the more pressure I had from news executives to put on positive stories about the president," she added.

Mr. Cooper was surprised. "You had pressure from news executives to put on positive stories about the president?" he asked.

"Not in that exact—they wouldn’t say it in that way, but they would edit my pieces. They would push me in different directions," she answered. "They would turn down stories that were more critical and try to put on pieces that were more positive, yes. That was my experience."

Afterward, the exchange ricocheted around the Internet.

Prior to joining CNN, Ms. Yellin worked at ABC News and MSNBC. At which network, observers wondered, had executives pressured her to do positive stories about the president?

Today, on a CNN blog, Ms. Yellin responded to the uproar.

First, this involved my time on MSNBC where I worked during the lead up to war. I worked as a segment producer, overnight anchor, field reporter, and briefly covered the White House, the Pentagon, and general Washington stories.

Also, let me say: No, senior corporate leadership never asked me to take out a line in a script or re-write an anchor intro. I did not mean to leave the impression that corporate executives were interfering in my daily work; my interaction was with senior producers. What was clear to me is that many people running the broadcasts wanted coverage that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the country at the time. It was clear to me they wanted their coverage to reflect the mood of the country.

So ABC News is off the hook.

MSNBC execs? Not so much.

Over at the Politico, former Media Mobster Michael Calderone caught up with former MSNBC anchor Phil Donahue, whose prime-time show was canceled in 2003. For years, Mr. Donahue has alleged that MSNBC got rid of his show because he was too critical of the administration at a time when the president’s approval ratings were still high.

"The board members of the large megamedia companies, while America is waving the flag and supporting the president, do not want their cable or television channels to be occupied by dissent, protest, all the rights that have been fought for and died for in past wars," Mr. Donahue told Politico.