Blitzer Joins MSNBC in Distorting Limbaugh, Advancing Far-left Smear

CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Monday night matched MSNBC in distorting the target of Rush Limbaugh's “phony soldiers” comment as the 7pm EDT hour of The Situation Room devoted a full story to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's attack on Limbaugh based on a Friday hit job on Limbaugh by the far-left Media Matters. “It's an angry new shot in the dispute over the war in Iraq,” Blitzer asserted before reporting that Limbaugh had charged “that some veterans who are criticizing the war are, in his words, quote, 'phony soldiers.'" In fact, on his show Friday and Monday, Limbaugh made clear he was referring to those who claimed to be soldiers, but never served, a point mentioned by reporter Dana Bash, but only after Blitzer framed the story by adopting as fact the spin of the left wing attack group.

Bash offered a favorable take on Reid's reasoning: “Harry Reid combined a biting attack on Limbaugh with a demand for an apology for what Democrats call an insulting rant against soldiers who joined Democrats in opposing the war.” Though Bash noted that “Limbaugh insists he was only talking about one anti-war soldier, Jesse MacBeth recently convicted of falsely claiming to have served in Iraq,” she proceeded to highlight how “Limbaugh's comments are burning up the liberal blogosphere. Watchdog group Media Matters, among the first to blast Limbaugh, says it doesn't buy his explanation.” She next vaunted how “this new escalation of the Iraq debate has Democrats looking to turn the tables after the controversy of MoveOn.org's attack on the commanding General in Iraq.” A strategy that will only work if the media play along. Bash did air a bit of Limbaugh's response to Reid: Laughter, followed by “he's got to be a nut!”

UPDATED with video (2:30): Real (4.3 MB) or Windows Media (5 MB), plus MP3 audio (900 KB)

Frankly, I'm disappointed in Blitzer who is usually a better journalist who, if he really felt Reid's rant was newsworthy, could have at least set up the story by giving equal weight to Limbaugh's explanation for the intent of the “phony soldiers” remark as to the derisive spin pushed by political enemies of Limbaugh.

This wasn't the first time Blitzer's program showcased an effort to silence Limbaugh. The June 3, 2004 MRC CyberAlert, “CNN’s Blitzer Showcases Demand Armed Forces Radio Drop Limbaugh,” reported on Blitzer's late afternoon show, then called Wolf Blitzer Reports:

CNN on Wednesday [June 2, 2004] elevated the calls, by a few left-wingers, to have the American Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS) remove from its radio side its one hour a day of Rush Limbaugh, into a full-fledged “controversy” worthy of a full story on the 5pm EDT Wolf Blitzer Reports program. “Rush Limbaugh. Why critics say American troops in Iraq are a captive audience,” Blitzer plugged the upcoming segment. Blitzer described as a “sort of interesting kind of story” the demand the government censor Limbaugh for “comparing the prisoner abuse scandal to what he suggested was fraternity hazing.”

CNN reporter Tom Foreman acknowledged “it’s a bit of tempest in a teapot,” but that didn’t inhibit CNN from devoting three-an-a-half minutes to it just past 5:30pm EDT. Foreman maintained that “this controversy over Rush Limbaugh's role in Iraq has been simmering for weeks and now it seems to be coming to a boil.”

More like its been “simmering” amongst a very small group of liberal activists.

So what did Foreman cite as justification for making it a story on Wednesday: “The folks in charge of the military radio service responded today to an angry Senator.” That Senator was liberal Democrat Tom Harkin of Iowa....

My Friday NewsBusters posting, “Show After Show, MSNBC Smears Limbaugh with 'Phony Soldiers' Distortion,” recounted:

All day Friday, even after Rush Limbaugh corrected the misinformation, MSNBC promoted a story fed to them by the far-left Media Matters about how Rush Limbaugh had called military personnel who served in Iraq and oppose the war “phony soldiers.” Limbaugh opened his noon EDT radio show on Friday by explaining how he was referring not to any real soldier but a phony one, notably Jesse MacBeth, who became a hero to the left when he recounted how his Army unit murdered innocent Iraqis. In fact, he hadn't even completed basic training.

Nonetheless, MSNBC headlined a 4pm EDT segment “'PHONY SOLDIERS' INSULT; Rush Limbaugh: U.S. Troops Who Oppose Iraq War are 'Phony.'” Anchor Tamron Hall asserted: “Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh never served in the armed forces, so when he made the following comments about Iraq War veterans who return home to oppose the war, it set off a firestorm of outrage.” Hall ran a clip of Limbaugh saying it is Democrats who need to apologize for insulting the troops, but failed to relay Limbaugh's explanation of who he said was “phony.” Pairing it with MoveOn's “General Betray Us” ad, retired Colonel Jack Jacobs called it “stupid talk” and suggested those in the military “would like people who don't know what they're talking about to just shut up.”

At the top of the next hour, Chris Matthews teased Hardball: “Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh says veterans who support withdrawing the troops are 'phony soldiers.' Those are his words.” A guest charged Limbaugh “didn't go to Vietnam because he had a bump on his butt. So, I mean, this guy's a draft-dodger.” Then at 8pm EDT, with “Limbaugh Bashes Vets for Withdrawal” on screen, and briefly “...Phony Soldiers...” over video of Limbaugh, Keith Olbermann teased Countdown: “Comedian Rush Limbaugh tries to back out of his quote: Servicemen protesting the war are quote, 'phony soldiers.'”
Now, back to CNN and a transcript of the story which ran at about 7:28pm EDT during the third hour of the October 1 The Situation Room on CNN:
WOLF BLITZER: Tonight, a top Democrat is coming out guns blazing against conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh. It's an angry new shot in the dispute over the war in Iraq and Limbaugh's charge that some veterans who are criticizing the war are, in his words, quote, “phony soldiers.” Our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is watching all of this unfold. Dana, the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, he took this straight to the Senate floor today.

DANA BASH: He sure did and Senator Harry Reid is part of this controversy now that Rush Limbaugh calls a Democratic campaign to smear him. But Senator Reid made clear today that he was using this controversy to, in his words, to make clear that “neither party holds a patent on patriotism.” The Senate Majority Leader took the floor and took, aim not across the aisle or at the President, but at a conservative radio host.

SENATOR HARRY REID ON THE SENATE FLOOR: Rush Limbaugh took it upon himself to attack the courage and character of those fighting and dying for him and for all of us. Rush Limbaugh got himself a deferment from serving when he was a young man.

BASH: Harry Reid combined a biting attack on Limbaugh with a demand for an apology for what Democrats call an insulting rant against soldiers who joined Democrats in opposing the war. Limbaugh spoke with a caller last week.

[CALLER TO LIMBAUGH's SEPT 27 SHOW: They never talk to real soldiers. They like to pull these soldiers that come up out of the blue and spout to the media-
LIMBAUGH: The phony soldiers.
CALLER: The phony soldiers. If you talk to a real soldier, they're proud to serve.]

BASH: Limbaugh insists he was only talking about one anti-war soldier, Jesse MacBeth recently convicted of falsely claiming to have served in Iraq. But Limbaugh's comments are burning up the liberal blogosphere. Watchdog group Media Matters, among the first to blast Limbaugh, says it doesn't buy his explanation. And this new escalation of the Iraq debate has Democrats looking to turn the tables after the controversy of MoveOn.org's attack on the commanding General in Iraq.

REID ON THE SENATE FLOOR: If we take the Republicans' side at their word that last week's wote on another controversial statement related to the war was truly without patriotism, not politics, the I have no doubt that they will stand with us against Limbaugh's comments.

BASH: Limbaugh's response?

LIMBAUGH, ON HIS RADIO SHOW MONDAY: [laughing] He's got to be a nut! This is, this is, I cannot believe that they are actually going this far with this. [Text of Limbaugh's challenge to Reid]

BASH: Now Limbaugh accused Democrats of engaging in McCarthyism and he even alluded to a quote used against Senator Joseph McCarthy himself as Limbaugh said, “have you no decency left, have you no shame whatsoever?” Now a spokesman for Senator Reid responded in kind with a quote from Edward R. Murrow. Wolf, that quote, “we must not confuse dissent with disloyalty.” Wolf.

BLITZER: I guess this battle's going to continue for some time, Dana. Thanks very much.
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