Nets Declare Bush's Vietnam Lesson Hypocritical and Invalid, Only ABC Shows Skulls

The broadcast network evening news shows on Wednesday night pounced on President Bush's reminder that the U.S. pullout from Vietnam led to millions being killed, as all three shows featured historians to discredit Bush's parallel to what may happen if the U.S. withdraws from Iraq, and NBC portrayed Bush as hypocritical for raising Vietnam after earlier rejecting comparisons to Iraq as a Vietnam-like quagmire. Only ABC, leading into Bush recalling “killing fields,” showed a picture of stacks of skulls and ABC also uniquely featured two Vietnam vets who backed Bush's case.

NBC anchor Brian Williams asserted that “after years of rejecting any comparisons to Vietnam, today President Bush invoked the Vietnam War as a way of saying the U.S. must stay the course and not pull out.” Reporter Kelly O'Donnell noted that “after years of pushback rejecting the Vietnam-Iraq comparison, today in Kansas City, before the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the President made a turn and embraced his own Vietnam analogy.” O'Donnell insisted: “Mr. Bush's comments to the VFW today contrast with what he said last year when asked if he saw an Iraq-Vietnam connection.” Viewers then got just this very short soundbite from Bush at a June 14, 2006 press conference: “I don't see the parallels.” Contrary to NBC's implication, there is no conflict between scorning of a liberal comparison of Iraq to a Vietnam-like quagmire and suggesting other lesson about Vietnam.

The actual exchange at that June of 2006 press conference shows Bush simply rejected the Iraq as a quagmire assessment:
REPORTER: Do you see, as some of your critics do, a parallel between what's going on in Iraq now and Vietnam?

THE PRESIDENT: No.

REPORTER: Why?

THE PRESIDENT: Because there's a duly-elected government; 12 million people voted. They said, we want something different from tyranny, we want to live in a free society. And not only did they vote for a government, they voted for a constitution. Obviously, there is sectarian violence, but this is, in many ways, religious in nature, and I don't see the parallels.

O'Donnell proceeded to highlight how “some historians claim his use today of Vietnam was too simple and not accurate” and “Democrat and Vietnam veteran John Kerry calls the President's comparison irresponsible.”

On the CBS Evening News, Bill Plante ran a clip of Bush explaining that “one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like 'boat people,' 're-education camps,' and 'killing fields.'” But then Plante countered: “Historian Douglas Brinkley says there's no real parallel.”

Over on ABC's World News, Martha Raddatz forwarded how “for years, administration critics have likened the war in Iraq to the quagmire in Vietnam, a comparison President Bush has strongly rejected. But today, speaking before a supportive audience of veterans, Mr. Bush found a comparison to Vietnam he embraced.” As Raddatz described how “the President asserted that it was the American retreat from Southeast Asia that led directly to the carnage and displacement that followed,” viewers saw a zoom out from a picture of a big stack of skulls.

Like NBC and CBS, Raddatz featured an historian who rejected Bush's premise, but unlike the other network reporters Raddatz showcased how “at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington today, veterans offered support to the President.” One vet declared: “I think he's right. If we pull out now, it's going to be Vietnam all over again.” A second maintained: “We should have kept the politicians out of it, let the generals fight the war.”

The White House's text of Bush's August 22 address to the VFW convention in Kansas City.

he MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video to provide transcripts of the Wednesday, August 22 evening newscast stories:

NBC Nightly News:

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Two developments today in Iraqi politics today. In this country, a new ad campaign designed to get people to support the war in Iraq was revealed. And after years of rejecting any comparisons to Vietnam, today President Bush invoked the Vietnam War as a way of saying the U.S. must stay the course and not pull out. NBC's Kelly O'Donnell is traveling with the President.

KELLY O'DONNELL: After years of pushback rejecting the Vietnam-Iraq comparison, today in Kansas City, before the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the President made a turn and embraced his own Vietnam analogy.

GEORGE W. BUSH, AT VFW CONCENTION: Here at home, some can argue our withdrawal from Vietnam carried no price for American credibility. But the terrorists see it differently.

O'DONNELL: The President claimed America's modern enemy, al-Qaeda, saw weakness, that if a war became unpopular enough, the U.S. would leave. A parallel campaign launched today involves new TV ads fighting the PR battle.

US SOLDIER IN AD BY FREEDOM'S WATCH: I know what I lost. I also know that if we pull out now, everything I've given in sacrifice will mean nothing.

O'DONNELL: Injured veterans and military families appear in these spots from a group backed by Bush donors, friends and former Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. The spots target 20 congressional districts.

US SOLDIER IN AD: It's no time to quit. It's no time for politics.

O'DONNELL: On the other side, a TV campaign from a group long critical of many Bush policies, targeting Republicans, like Maine Senator Susan Collins.

VOICE IN AD FROM AMERICANS UNITED FOR CHANGE: Tell Susan Collins it's time to take a stand. End the war.

O'DONNELL: Mr. Bush's comments to the VFW today contrast what he said last year when asked if he saw an Iraq-Vietnam connection.

BUSH, June 14, 2006: I don't see the parallels.

O'DONNELL: Some historians claim his use today of Vietnam was too simple and not accurate.

STANLEY KARNOW, Vietnam historian: He's invoking Vietnam for political purposes. What he says about Vietnam is not entirely true.

O'DONNELL: Democrat and Vietnam veteran John Kerry calls the President's comparison irresponsible, while presidential candidate Hillary Clinton reacted, saying the U.S. needs to stop refereeing the war and begin getting out now. Kelly O'Donnell, NBC News, Kansas City.

CBS Evening News, Bill Plante's story joined in progress:
PLANTE: Speaking today to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Mr. Bush offered a new rationale for staying the course: Don't let Iraq become another Vietnam.
BUSH, AT VFW CONVENTION: One unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like 'boat people,' 're-education camps,' and 'killing fields.'

PLANTE: Historian Douglas Brinkley says there's no real parallel.

DOUGLS BRINKLEY: You're not going to be able to sell the lessons of Vietnam being we should have stayed a decade longer.

PLANTE: But if things don't get better soon in Iraq, members of Congress aren't going to care as much about past history as they are about future elections. Bill Plante, CBS News, the White House.
ABC's World News:
FILL-IN ANCHOR ELIZABETH VARGAS: President Bush launched an aggressive new defense of his Iraq policy today. Facing a showdown with Congress over the war, the President urged perseverance. He told veterans in Kansas City that America's withdrawal from Vietnam was a mistake with tragic consequences, and that leaving Iraq now would be just as disastrous. Our chief Washington correspondent, Martha Raddatz, reports from Washington.

MARTHA RADDATZ: For years, administration critics have likened the war in Iraq to the quagmire in Vietnam, a comparison President Bush has strongly rejected. But today, speaking before a supportive audience of veterans, Mr. Bush found a comparison to Vietnam he embraced.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Then as now, people argued the real problem was America's presence, and that if we would just withdraw, the killing would end.

RADDATZ: The President asserted that it was the American retreat from Southeast Asia that led directly to the carnage and displacement that followed.

BUSH: The price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like "boat people," "re-education camps" and "killing fields."

RADDATZ: Historians quickly seized on the President's remarks.

Prof. ROBERT DALLEK, Boston University: What is Mr. Bush suggesting? We should have stayed there forever? We should have invaded North Vietnam? It just doesn't make any historical sense to me.

RADDATZ: Reaction from Democrats was swift, as well, with some making their own comparisons.

Senator JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE) If, in fact, the President does not change policy, we're going to see a repeat of what we saw in Saigon at the end of that war with helicopters lifting people desperately clinging to the ladder of a helicopter to get out of Iraq.

RADDATZ: At the Vietnam Memorial in Washington today, veterans offered support to the President.

UNIDENTIFIED VETERAN #1: I think he's right. If we pull out now, it's going to be Vietnam all over again.

UNIDENTIFIED VETERAN #2: We should have kept the politicians out of it, let the generals fight the war.

RADDATZ: As for the criticism, the administration seems unphased. Elizabeth, the President will give a similar speech next week.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center