Warner Allows NBC to Again Hail Iraq 'Turning Point,' CBS: 'Major Blow' to Bush

Republican Senator John Warner's call for the withdrawal of 5,000 troops from Iraq by Christmas was trumpeted by the broadcast network evening shows Thursday night: CBS's Katie Couric touted a “major blow tonight to President Bush's Iraq policy” and ABC's Martha Raddatz saw a “stunning announcement that could have a powerful effect on the war” as the NBC Nightly News, for the fifth time in two years, heralded a “turning point” against the war. NBC anchor Brian Williams introduced “another major story we're covering this evening that could amount to a turning point in the debate over America's involvement in Iraq. Tonight, there has been a major defection from President Bush's camp.” (This wasn't the first time Williams has hailed the prescience of the very same Senator. When Warner warned last October that Iraq was drifting “side-wise,” Williams teased: “Is this a new turning point?”)

After a report from Andrea Mitchell, which began with “Turning Point?” on screen, Williams compared Warner to Walter Cronkite, reminding Tim Russert about how during Vietnam President Johnson “famously said, 'If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America.' Well, if George W. Bush has lost John Warner, how big is this, Tim?” Russert affirmed: “In a word: Very big.” Similarly, on the CBS Evening News, Bob Scheiffer declared that “John Warner is the single most influential Republican voice on Capitol Hill” and so his recommendation will “have a major impact.”

Thursday's discovery by NBC of a “turning point” in Iraq was at least the fifth “turning point” or “tipping point” the NBC Nightly News has championed in the past two years. Back on July 9, Williams teased: “Tonight, is Iraq policy at a tipping point?” With “Tipping Point?” on screen, he proceeded to lead his broadcast with how “there are signs and signals and indications that a turning point may be nearing on U.S. involvement in the Iraq war” because of defections by Republican Senators. (July 9 NewsBusters item)

Two weeks earlier, when Senator Richard Lugar “broke with the President on the Iraq war,” Williams proposed: “Tonight many are wondering if we're witnessing the beginning of some kind of turning point?” Williams earlier teased the newscast with the same formulation: “Is this a turning point in the war?” (June 26 NewsBusters item)

NBC, however, has a poor record of picking Iraq war “turning” or “tipping points.” In August of 2005 the newscast hailed Cindy Sheehan's protest near Bush's ranch as a “turning point” (August 26, 2005 MRC CyberAlert item) and last October, when the very same Senator John Warner warned that Iraq was drifting “side-wise,” Williams teased the NBC Nightly News: “Is this a new turning point?” (October 6, 2006 NewsBusters post)

To show the flavor of the coverage of Warner's remarks, the MRC's Brad Wilmouth gathered the intros and other noteworthy portions of the Thursday, August 23 broadcast network evening newscast reporting (Only CBS led with Warner; ABC and NBC went first with flooding and drought, then to Warner):

NBC Nightly News:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Now to another major story we're covering this evening that could amount to a turning point in the debate over America's involvement in Iraq. Tonight, there has been a major defection from President Bush's camp. The Senate's leading Republican on military matters, John Warner of Virginia, says it's time for the President to start ordering some troops to come home. He said that as this nation's spy agencies issued a grim new assessment saying Iraq's leaders currently are not up to the job. We'll start our coverage here with our chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell....

WILLIAMS, TO TIM RUSSERT: Tim, I was just thinking, during Vietnam, President Johnson, speaking about a television anchor, famously said, “If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America." Well, if George W. Bush has lost John Warner, how big is this, Tim?

TIM RUSSERT: In a word: Very big. Why, Brian? Because of the prestige that Senator Warner has amongst his fellow Republicans...
CBS Evening News:
KATIE COURIC: Hello, everyone. A major blow tonight to President Bush's Iraq policy. When it comes to the war, no Republican in Congress carries more influence than Senator John Warner. And now, he's calling on the President to do something he has so far refused to do: set a timetable for starting a pullout of U.S. troops. Here's Bob Orr....

COURIC TO BOB SCHIEFFER: Bob, why is John Warner's new public position so significant, in your view?

BOB SCHIEFFER: I think in this case, Katie, it's the messenger, not the message, that is the important thing. John Warner is the single most influential Republican voice on Capitol Hill. He's a former Secretary of the Navy. If Republicans were in control of the Congress, he would be the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee. When he talks, other Republicans listen when he's talking about defense matters. So I think this will give other Republicans -- and there are a lot of Republicans, Katie, who have supported the President up to now on this -- who have had real reservations about it. When they hear John Warner say what he has just said, that gives them cover, and I think you'll see others follow here. It is significant he did not say let's set a withdrawal when all of them have to be out, a date certain when they have to be gone. That's the Republican plan. But he said it is time to start bringing them home. This is going to have a major impact, Katie.
ABC's World News:
FILL-IN ANCHOR ELIZABETH VARGAS: We turn now to Iraq and a blunt message for President Bush today delivered by one of the Senate's most influential Republicans. Virginia's John Warner says U.S. troops should start coming home before Christmas. Warner's statement comes the same day as a bleak new National Intelligence Report on Iraq, and less than a month before General David Petraeus delivers his crucial assessment of the war. Here's White House correspondent Martha Raddatz.

MARTHA RADDATZ: It was a stunning announcement that could have a powerful effect on the war. Even before the results of General Petraeus' report are known, Senator Warner is urging the President to use that September assessment to call for a draw down....
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