For those of us who are court buffs, the story that broke after we went off the air last night is both interesting and historic: Chief Justice William Rehnquist issued a statement saying he is NOT planning to resign any time soon. There is a backstory here: because of the tension level in the Supreme Court press office over the past several days (the Rehnquist resignation rumors, fed in part by journalist Robert Novak's prediction on CNN, had until last night reached a fever pitch... and networks like this one have been on round-the-clock standby as a result), a suggestion was made by the press corps that covers the court (an effort led by our own Pete Williams) that the justice issue a statement as to his intentions. This effort was actually born of the best intentions, and to calm tensions on both sides of the camera. It is known in Washington that the chief justice, on top of his medical problems, was suffering what's commonly known as "lens fatigue"... not being able to move publicly without being photographed. He was getting increasingly angry, and justifiably so, at the large number of photographers, camera crews and journalists camped outside his Virginia home each day. Through this first-of-its-kind statement, the chief justice sends a signal to the White House (only ONE nominee for the court should be considered for now, thank you very much), the media (we can stand down and get off his lawn) and the rest of the nation. With all the medical challenges the chief justice faces, I think everyone agrees he is due the dignity his position affords him and that he has earned on the bench... and should be allowed the same privacy we would all desire while being helped out of a wheelchair (as was the case today) and into a car.
Also tonight we'll cover the latest developments concerning the process of justice for some of the "enemy combatants" detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba ... we'll update the situation in Iraq, the history made on the links today , and our favorite story: the scientific study that calls a number of scientific studies into question. If you miss the old Fresca, if you worry about the health effects of Vitamin E, cholesterol, fat, carbs... just about anything that's ever been shared with a lab rat...this is a story you have to see. We hope you can join us for tonight's effort. Until Monday's posting....
Sourcing the key in Rove case
Novak, of course, is still not talking publicly. But as every reporter in Washington hunts for clues, a few dates become increasingly relevant: Joe Wilson published his first critique of the administration's record on WMD in the New York Times on Sunday, July 6. That same morning he appeared on Meet the Press, which I was hosting for Tim Russert. Another guest that morning: Bob Novak. Novak and Wilson had never met before they each arrived at our studio. The next day, the president left for Africa. On the plane, I'm told, was a classified State Department memo from the department's intelligence office providing background information on Wilson's trip and his wife's role in suggesting him for the mission. Did someone from the plane share that information with people back in the White House? The independent counsel, we're told, has subpoenaed phone records from Air Force One. Somehow, the next day, Novak already knew about Plame. At the end of a conversation with Rove for another column he was writing, he switched the subject to Plame's CIA role, and we're now told, Rove said something like, "Yes, I heard that too."
One of a number of intriguing questions: During that 10-day period in July 2003, how many reporters were circulating information about Wilson's wife to administration officials? More than a few, but clearly some failed to realize how seriously the CIA would take the disclosure of a covert officer's identity. Nor, clearly, did at least two administration officials who were the sources for Novak's column.
Today in Belmont, N.C., President Bush toured the Helm's Plant, a factory that makes yarn. Los Angeles Times reporter Warren Vieth was the pool reporter on the trip and shared this tidbit with his colleagues in the White House press:
"At one point, Reuters reporter Adam Entous felt a tap on his shoulder. It was Rove, who handed him a small bottle of Tylenol PM pills. 'You look like you could use this,' Entous said Rove told him.
Entous said he's not sure the 'You look like you could use these' quote is verbatim. He was not taking notes. But it's close if not exact, he said.
Entous said the small container of Tylenol PM was his, and had been in a compartment of his backpack that was unzipped. Rove apparently walked up behind him, saw the Tylenols, pulled them out and then handed them to Entous.
This incident occurred at the conclusion of the plant tour as we were preparing to leave. I did not observe it, and am basing this report on Entous' account."
The Operative Who Removed Her Glasses (Lisa Green)
I’m Lisa Green, senior producer, broadcast standards, NBC News. Brian’s invited me to give you an occasional look at the behind-the-scenes decisions we make about what we show — or decide not to show — on the air.
If you’ve been watching the program and following the leak investigation, you know the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame… but what about her face? In late 2003, she and her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, appeared in Vanity Fair magazine, with Ms. Plame cleverly — and stylishly — hidden behind sunglasses and a scarf. But this year, the couple has been photographed smiling — and fully identifiable — at a Washington power lunch. Still, Ms. Plame has resumed work at the CIA and isn’t granting interviews, and images of her were scarce on major media outlets. Our producers had the photo. Was it time to show you what she looks like?
The issue arose on Tuesday, with David Gregory preparing a report for Nightly and Jamie Gangel about to conduct an exclusive interview with Wilson for Today. NBC News management met to talk about the pros and cons. Was it appropriate to broadcast Plame’s image to a wide audience? What did her public appearances tell us about her need for privacy? Our conclusion: it seemed that Ms. Plame was no longer taking pains to hide from sight. So when David Gregory reported the story Tuesday, he included the photograph and told you that Ms. Plame and Mr. Wilson “have been recently photographed together in public.” A little context for an interesting picture that’s part of a fascinating story.
Editor's note: Because of restrictions on the photograph, we can't republish it here. But you can watch David Gregory's video from Tuesday's broadcast if you click here.
This is my fourth trip to the Kennedy Space Center. But it's my first launch. Or in this case —my first scrub.
As anyone who's been to any news conference can tell you, sometimes the best moments come before or after the news conference is "on the record."
Today was no exception.
Just before the NASA press conference (seen live on MSNBC and NASA-TV) got underway, a rather unfortunate moment for the cause of international understanding.
As the press crammed into the tiny briefing room, elbowing each other for a tiny spot along with 300 other reporters and photographers, the NASA media liaison pleaded with everyone to once again turn off their cell phones and pagers.
He then explained to a TV camera man that the camera man could not stand along the left wall.
"It's a long standing tradition," explained the liaison, "newspaper guys stand along the wall. The space is reserved for them."
Unfortunately, the camera man wasn't paying attention.
As the media liaison went on explaining the ground rules for the press conference, those newspaper folks standing along the wall were getting upset....a TV guy was standing in their space! TV guys think they run the place, and the newspaper guys would have none of this. They would stand their ground. HE had to move!
They nudged him, made not-so-subtle comments to each other, bumped up against his tripod, but the camera man was not getting the message.
Finally, a West Coast newspaper reporter snapped to the media liaison "would you please tell this guy to move it?" Still no response.
The media liaison once again implored the camera man to move.
And only then did the problem become apparent.
The camera man didn't speak a word of English. He was from TV Tokyo, sent to cover the launch of astronaut Soichi Noguchi. This launch has made Soichi a rock star in Japan. And the Japanese media have turned out in large numbers to cover his part of the mission.
Soichi was a symbol of the great understanding between our two countries — Japan and the U.S., working together for space exploration.
The poor fellow from TV Tokyo had no idea what anyone in the room was saying. And no idea why these Americans were giving him the hard elbow. He only got the message when another Japanese print reporter came over and explained it to him. We can only imagine what they must have said to each other about the manners of their American colleagues.
Welcome to the NASA press corps!
Moments later, the press was in stitches when that same media liaison explained why there weren't enough buses to take everyone back to the media parking lot. Half of the buses had broken down Wednesday after running their air conditioning at full throttle for much of the afternoon... even when there weren't passengers on board.
It seems the buses had been dedicated to the VIPs who showed up yesterday ....mostly politicians... who would surely melt in the 90 degree Florida sun. They'd shown up for the launch, but when it was scrubbed, they somehow made sure they were on stage for the NASA news conference with Administrator Michael Griffin.
NASA wanted to make sure the buses were kept cool, so they kept them running... until they died.
"Hey," said the media liaison, "we may be in the business of space travel, but this is still the government."
London pauses, shuttle paused (Brian Williams)
Our broadcast tonight will once again feature the work of Senior Investigative Correspondent Lisa Myers, who has been out ahead of a lot of the reporting going on in London. She is there with a superb team of ours, and again tonight will have details on this story that we believe will be exclusive to our broadcast. It was indeed chilling to see the first surveillance camera photos of a suspected bomber — and given the extraordinary number of cameras blanketing downtown London, I suspect we'll see much more of that in the days ahead. Today was also the week-later "moment of silence" observed throughout London, something we'll reflect with brief and appropriate silence of our own on the broadcast.
During our 2:30 editorial meeting just concluded, a lot of us had one eye on the closed-captioning version of the live NASA briefing. While the gauge problem apparently doesn't yet warrant pulling the shuttle back into the Vehicle Assembly building... we could be looking at an extended launch delay. .
A great bit of political nuance today: All the president had to do was walk to his helicopter with Karl Rove beside him... for it to be labeled a "show of support." As was pointed out in our editorial meeting, in Washington, simply knowing that few things happen without being planned in advance can turn a small gesture into a Grand Gesture.
We have an extraordinary piece in the broadcast tonight that we'll also be warning our dinner-hour viewers about: it comes to us from the emergency room in Baghdad. I'll leave it at that and let correspondent Richard Engel's superb work speak for itself.
In our back sections there will be room tonight for a look at the video gaming industry and the scourge of the mosquito this summer. That should round out the broadcast.
And one more thing, albeit an internal matter: There has been an elephant, of sorts, in the room during our editorial gatherings these days. There's rampant fear and concern on the part of the staff that our Executive Producer John Reiss, a superb journalist and great guy in every respect...has made an enormous mistake in his choice of paint color for his new office, which will also serve as our de facto conference room. It's a color vaguely in the blue family, but not normally seen outside the Corrections or Department of Motor Vehicles community. If it is not replaced soon by a shade in the known spectrum of interior colors, staffers are threatening to post a photo in this space in order to share their private hell with our readers and viewers.
For now, all efforts are focused on writing and compiling the broadcast, an exercise that given the above is a welcome distraction. We hope you'll join us.
Editor's note: NASA just announced a 2:30 p.m. EDT news conference to update the media, and the world, on Space Shuttle Discovery's status. You can watch it live on MSNBC-TV or here on MSNBC.com.
Waiting (again) at Cape Canaveral (Jay Blackman)
Sit and wait is the order of the day at the Kennedy Space Center. Mission mangaers and engineers have been holding meetings all day to discuss what to do about the sensors that caused the launch to be scrubbed yesterday. As of last night, the engineers were able to duplicate the intermittent fault, showing that the fuel tank was full when it was really empty. It's almost the same thing as you see on your vehicle's dashboard.
The crush of media has thinned significantly. Those of us still here in this much quieter press room just stare at a monitor with a shuttle on it that says "look here periodically for start time." At some point today, we hope, NASA will hold a news conference and tell us when or even whether Discovery will return to flight this month.
Editor's note: Jay Blackman is an NBC News producer on assignment for the shuttle launch. Tonight on Nightly News, Robert Bazell examines whether the shuttle has outlived its usefulness. Do its scientific benefits justify its costs?
McClellan vs. the press
Let me just say this is what happens when government officials mislead the press. They have to be accountable for what they say. If you think we have a political agenda, I'd refer you to briefings during the Clinton days when Monica Lewinsky was the topic. Those were pretty rough, too. I think we, as a group, are so energized because the White House has been forced to change its story. They ought to be held accountable for that. Particularly since Scott McClellan absolved Karl Rove of any crime two years ago — also in the midst of the investigation.
You may have noticed on Nightly News, we have taken great pains to point out that what we know thus far does not indicate Rove committed any crime . This is a legal story, but it has also become a political debate about Rove's actions.
What's also interesting is that no White House official I've spoken to thinks the blistering McClellan's receive has been unfair. They knew it was coming. They also admit they made a mistake telling him to go out there earlier this week and abruptly say the White House wouldn't comment any longer.
It's tough for any White House to balance a legal strategy with a political one. For the record, it's not personal. A few of us have kidded McClellan after hours in the press room that it must be fun to be the president's spokesman.
Shuttle Discovery scrubbed (Brian Williams)
The sight (on all the cable news channels and a few of the broadcast networks) of grown men fondling models of the space shuttle and its solid rocket boosters can only mean one thing: The launch of the shuttle has been scrubbed for the day. This is clearly a very delicate time for NASA. The agency is coming off a genuine human tragedy, and may be at a "tipping point" where public perception is concerned. People are questioning funding as they never did before. Mission statement... mistakes... margin for error... it's all in play and under the microscope now. The danger, of course, is that stories like yesterday's (a part falls off the launch craft and damages a tile) threaten to make NASA a component of a late-night monologue and that would be a tragedy for the agency that once was the embodiment of the very best of what America could do with imagination and purpose. We may indeed start off the broadcast tonight with today's scrubbed launch and the reasons behind it.
Prominent in tonight's broadcast will be the grand jury testimony of Time magazine journalist Matt Cooper, and how it all fits in the CIA leak case. The president broke his silence on Rove today (with Rove seated right behind him) saying he'll be more than happy to talk about the investigation when it's over .
Also prominent in the broadcast tonight: the hospitalization of Chief Justice William Rehnquist . We're told he was transported by ambulance last night, and we trust his condition is not too serious. This won't help the speculation that his resignation is imminent. We will update both matters tonight.
We'll have a report from Iraq tonight, exclusive new polling on how Americans see their president, and how the folks in charge of keeping us secure intend to do their jobs more efficiently.
And here's a hint for all of those who fly the N.Y.-D.C. shuttle frequently: There's good news on the way.
Our thanks to the kind people in Detroit for hosting us on Monday and Tuesday.
We're happy to be back home in the Nightly News studio for tonight's broadcast, and we hope you'll join us.
Buzzkill at Cape Canaveral (Jay Blackman)
The rain had stopped, the skies were clearing and most of us here at Kennedy Space Center were wondering whether the ocean breeze would be strong enough to clear the clouds which were looming over launch pad 39B. Watching the astronauts being strapped in, I figured they were wondering the same thing. They looked so excited as they entered the shuttle. Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi held up a sign with pictures of his family and was later seen jumping up and down holding a sign with the Japanese Space Agency logo. They've been training together for a long time, waiting for this day, hoping for a return to flight... but at 1:32 p.m. EDT, NASA's launch director radioed the crew and told them they didn't feel comfortable launching today and later said on NASA-TV:
"The vehicle, the eco-sensors for some reason didn't behave today. So we are going to have to scrub this launch attempt. So once we develop our scrub turn around plan for you we will get that back to you. We appreciate all we've been through together, but this one is not going to result in a launch attempt today."
The media frenzy in the press center was deafening, everyone talking at the same time, trying to get the same information. Reporters and camera crews surrounded any NASA official willing to do an interview, and flash bulbs popped all over the place.
When Discovery's crew emerged from the shuttle, you could sense disappointment. One by one they emerged from the shuttle's hatch and boarded the crew transport vehicle for what must have been a long ride back to the crew's quarters.
NASA administrator Mike Griffin now says the shuttle will launch no earlier than next Monday .
Editor's note: Jay is in Florida producing Tom Costello's report tonight, which will lead the broadcast.
Bush reserves judgment on Karl Rove
The president met today with his Cabinet, deflecting questions about his deputy chief of staff's possible role in the leaking of a CIA agent's identity. NBC White House Correspondent David Gregory has aggressively reported this story since it broke and will have new details on tonight's broadcast. He answered questions posed by an MSNBC.com editor on the subject earlier today. Click here to read it.
Editor's note: So much for promotion... NASA has called off today's launch of Space Shuttle Discovery because of a faulty fuel sensor. We'll have complete coverage tonight on the broadcast, but before then, you can read about it here .
Tonight's promoted story on Nightly News
After years of trouble shooting and soul searching, pride runs high once more at the Kennedy Space Center, but so does tension. With the first woman commander taking the controls, and the world watching, has NASA finally conquered its safety problems?
Editor's note: A last-minute change in the rundown tonight. Tom Costello will talk with Brian about Space Shuttle Discovery and a problem that may delay the launch. Viewers will have to wait for another day to watch Bob Faw's report on school children who live in Cape Canaveral's backyard.
A break in London; a ballgame in Detroit (Brian Williams)
With the 76th Major League Baseball All-Star Game serving as our backdrop, for the second and final night of this road trip, our broadcast will originate from Detroit this evening. And we will do a segment on what some fans may always remember as "the season of steroids" in the sport they love. We'll talk to the author of a new book on the topic as we look at how this season has differed from past seasons.
We'll likely begin the broadcast thousands of miles from here in London, where huge advances have been made in the investigation into the terrorist bombings there last week . We'll also update the situation Karl Rove finds himself in , and the increasingly tense mood in the White House briefing room as a result. David Gregory will report on the moving parts from there.
Also tonight, the president's upcoming choice of a replacement justice on the Supreme Court. Some interesting names are being thrown into the hopper, by everyone but the man making the choice. The president is remaining silent, while even his wife has commented on what kind of a justice she'd like to see.
We'll also have a look at the dangers of "distracted driving" tonight and we will preview tomorrow's planned shuttle launch through the eyes of some school children who attend a school named "Apollo," where the space program is quite literally in their back yard.
We hope you'll join us tonight.
Waiting for liftoff (Jay Blackman, NBC News producer)
All eyes here at NBC's workspace at the Kennedy Space Center are on the sky — wondering whether Florida's propensity for late afternoon summer thunderstorms will stand in the way of tomorrow's 3:51 p.m. EDT return to space for the crew of Space Shuttle Discovery and NASA as a whole. Interestingly enough, as I write this, a tornado warning was just announced over the loudspeaker.
There is a level of excitement here about the shuttle returning to space. You can see it in the eyes of all of the NASA officials here. It's an interesting juxtaposition when compared to the look on their faces as Columbia was lost in February 2003. The sad looks and the bags under the eyes are gone. If all goes well on this mission, a huge weight will be lifted off their shoulders.
Most NASA stories I have covered are of the gee-whiz variety: "Wow, look at the pictures of this planet or that star! How cool is that?" Same goes for the three shuttle launches I have covered here at Kennedy Space Center, some days, you can't believe you get paid for doing this job.
For me, and for many Americans, shuttle missions became routine by 2003. But my attitude changed after getting a call from NBC's Washington desk that they had lost Columbia on radar. The feeling in the pit of my stomach was overwhelming, because I knew the astronauts were gone. I spent the better part of the next six months on planes back and forth to Houston, watching the twists and turns of the investigation into the disaster and wondering whether NASA could solve its many issues — with hardware and with its culture.
Now on the eve of what NASA calls its "Return to Flight," my eyes and the eyes of the nation are looking at the clouds, hoping they move away and allow NASA's announcer to say " We have liftoff of the Space Shuttle Discovery."
Editor's note: You can find complete online coverage of NASA's "Return to Flight" here, including a daily MSNBC-TV blog from Cape Canaveral.
Tonight's promoted story on Nightly News
Editor's note: More and more American drivers are taking bad risks behind the wheel. It's not how they drive; it's what they do while they're driving! NBC's Kevin Corke reports on surprising new findings that have safety experts sounding the alarm about all the electronic gadgets in cars.
Live from Detroit (Brian Williams)
Tonight's broadcast will originate from Detroit, which will serve as the backdrop for our reporting on the auto industry, and the decidedly mixed picture it faces for the future. Tomorrow night we will take advantage of the All Star Game being played here, and take a look at the baseball season at the halfway point: specifically, the steroid issue that has marked this season so far.
We will likely begin the broadcast with the unusual July hurricane that is tonight more of a loose mass of rain and wind covering an enormous amount of the eastern half of the U.S. Our correspondents will show us the extent of the damage from Dennis, especially in places where the damage from the last hurricane season is not yet repaired. It is fair to say that while the storm was a big one and left damage and mayhem behind in its wake, we are largely fortunate that a number of factors (cooler air and water temperatures and a high forward speed, according to the experts) combined to degrade it so quickly. In the end, it is not the story we expected to be covering today.
There are new developments in the CIA source case, and now Karl Rove finds himself firmly in the news... David Gregory reported to our afternoon editorial meeting that it has been an interesting day in the White House briefing room. We will hear from David on this story tonight, and will hear what the president had to say on the topic of terrorism today.
We'll have a follow-up from London on the grim and tragic recovery after the terrorist attack of last week. And we have new details from the investigation that we will pass along tonight.
We'll close the broadcast with a look at what makes Washington melt: A baby panda bear. All that power centered in one city... and truth be told a new arrival at the National Zoo is a welcome diversion from leaks, the Supreme Court and the issues before the returning members of Congress.
We hope you will join us tonight from Detroit.
Waiting at the High Court (Pete Williams)
After it was bombarded with rumors last week about potential retirements, the Supreme Court was oddly quiet Monday.
Reporters spent most of Friday chasing the escalating rumors that Chief Justice William Rehnquist was about to step down. Sources in Congress, legal circles, and outside pressure groups feverishly passed along the latest hot tips that he would submit a letter to the White House, perhaps by Monday at noon. But none turned out to be true.
Monday, by contrast, was a day of silence. The rumor pipeline, which gushed Friday, was dry. The chief justice himself came to work at his usual time and was home by mid-afternoon. He gave no hint, and neither did anyone else at the Supreme Court or the White House.
"We are prepared for additional vacancies," said White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan in his daily briefing, adding, "if they should occur."
Some prominent lawyers in Washington who admire Rehnquist have taken to wondering why he doesn't do something to clarify his intentions. If he has made no decision on his future, they suggest privately, he should somehow indicate that through friends or a court spokesman.
But others in the small circle of lawyers who appear before the Supreme Court believe it would be unseemly for a member of the court to respond to rumors that are not of the justice's own making. Why, they wonder, should the chief justice say he hasn't decided when he has done nothing to encourage the speculation?
Complicating the waiting is the fact that there's no protocol for a justice to announce a retirement and no requirement for informing the White House in advance. When Lewis Powell decided to step down in June 1987, he did not give the president any advance notice, nor did he tell most of his colleagues on the bench. He did confide in Chief Justice Rehnquist, who called the White House chief of staff just before Powell's decision was announced in court.
Editor's note: The broadcast originates tonight from Detroit. Among the stories we're following at this early hour: Hurricane Dennis, the first big storm of the season; the latest on the bombing investigation in London; and prescription drug abuse.
Check your local listings for when to watch "Nightly News" on your local NBC station.