The past 24 hours have given us a great civics lesson in the power of the modern presidency. By declaring last night's 16-minute speech from the Oval Office "an address to the nation," President Bush was given time (prime-time at that, on a big viewing night) on all of the major broadcast networks and at least four major cable networks. Again today, in calling a year-ender press conference, he was afforded the same coverage. In a remarkably short period of time, the administration has shown a new side of the President by all accounts, and shown more candor and contrition than at any other time since the start of the war in Iraq. The President (this president and others who follow) has an extraordinary ability, in this time of ubiquitous, blanket-coverage media, to change the debate and the conversation across the country. That's part of what we're seeing unfold right now. Today's gathering with the media focused on two major points: the tricky issue of domestic surveillance and the debate over renewal of the Patriot Act. Tonight our coverage will reflect both of those fronts: with Kelly O'Donnell at the White House and Andrea Mitchell reporting on the background. Chip Reid will be our closer on the issue, reporting from the Hill on the wrap-up of this legislative session...the accomplishments and the work yet to be done.
We're also watching the scene unfold in Miami... this proved to be a bad day for initial reports from an aircraft accident. At least one cable network, via the anchor on the air and the lettering on the screen, called it a "hydroplane" crash (it's a seaplane) and at least one network zoomed in on face-down dead bodies being towed in the water by rescue divers... apparently thinking they were living people. It was gruesome. The early reporting, as is often the case, was sketchy and ill-informed, and the pictures were way ahead of the facts. MSNBC is now showing what appears to be a cellphone photo of the smoke plume at the initial moment of the crash. The thought of those poor souls still strapped into their seats on board that submerged aircraft is a horror.
Also in the broadcast tonight, our series on the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina, and the rush to mail and ship this time of year (this is the peak day in that business) along with the other news of this busy Monday.
Apologies again for the crash we suffered on Friday. I know a lot of users were flummoxed when they came to us and saw days-old postings. I also know a lot of people hustled to fix the problem, but we're only as good as our last posting, and so I apologize for not being in the game for a good portion of the day. Onward. We hope you can join us for our Monday night effort.