Bennett Corrects Blitzer on Limbaugh as CNN Highlights 'Chicken Hawk' Insult

Bill Bennett corrected CNN's Wolf Blitzer's presumption on Monday that Rush Limbaugh's “phony soldiers” comment was directed at soldiers who served in Iraq and now oppose the war, but in setting up the “Strategy Session” segment on Tuesday's The Situation Room, Blitzer again adopted as fact the spin of the far-left group pushing the attack on Limbaugh. With the text on screen, Blitzer highlighted how “Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania...says: 'Someone should tell chicken hawk Rush Limbaugh that the only phonies are those who choose not to serve and then criticize those who do.'” To Bennett and Donna Brazile, Blitzer wondered: “What do you make of this strategy that Harry Reid...and others are saying now that Rush Limbaugh was inappropriately offensive to veterans?” Bennett retorted with “not much” and observed: “When you shoot at a king, and he's the king of talk radio, you better get him. They didn't get him here.”

On Monday night, Blitzer had dismissed Limbaugh's explanation, that he was referring to anyone who claims to have served in Iraq but has not, and introduced a story on “Limbaugh's charge that some veterans who are criticizing the war are, in his words, quote, 'phony soldiers.'" Meanwhile, on Tuesday's American Morning, CNN anchor Kiran Chetry proposed: “Two weeks after Republicans went after MoveOn.org's 'General Betray Us' ad, the Democrats are turning the tables on Rush Limbaugh. They say that he made hateful and unpatriotic remarks about U.S. troops on his radio show.” Not until the end of the story, after relaying Senator Tom Harkin's insult that “maybe he was just high on his drugs,” did Chetry provide Limbaugh's take.

CNN's on screen tag during the 4:45pm EDT Situation Room segment during the first hour of the program: “DEMS BLAST LIMBAUGH; Claim: Offends U.S. Troops.”

Bennett informed viewers that “the argument was that he used the phrase 'phony soldiers.' He was talking about a phony soldier,” namely Jesse MacBeth, and both the AP and ABC News ran pieces on “phony” soldiers. My Friday NewsBusters posting pointed out how ABC's World News, in a September 24 story on what anchor Charles Gibson described using the same “phoney” term as Limbaugh, looked at “phoney heroes” -- those passing themselves off as Iraq war veterans. Reporter Brian Ross noted:
The authorities say the most disturbing case involves this man: 23-year-old Jesse MacBeth. In a YouTube video seen around the world, MacBeth became a rallying point for anti-war groups as he talked of the purple heart he received in Iraq and described how he and other U.S. Army Rangers killed innocent civilians at a Baghdad mosque. It was a complete fabrication.
Noel Sheppard's Sunday post has the full transcript and a link to the ABCNews.com video of the ABC story which aired three days before Limbaugh's remark, and the Radio Equalizer blog also has a transcript along with video from YouTube of the Ross story.

The Monday night NewsBusters posting, with video, “Blitzer Joins MSNBC in Distorting Limbaugh, Advancing Far-left Smear,” began:
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!”...
For MSNBC's approach on Friday, check my Friday item: “Show After Show, MSNBC Smears Limbaugh with 'Phony Soldiers' Distortion.”

A transcript of the relevant portion of the “Strategy Session” on the October 2 The Situation Room (CNN.com's transcript has an unusual number of errors that are not below):
WOLF BLITZER: What do you think of this Democratic strategy now to go after conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh? One Democratic Congressman, Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania, a veteran himself, he says [text on screen], "Someone should tell chicken hawk Rush Limbaugh that the only phonies are those who choose not to serve and then criticize those who do." What do you make of this strategy that Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader and others are saying now that Rush Limbaugh was inappropriately offensive to veterans by some of the comments he recently made?

BILL BENNETT: Not much. You know, I'm willing to criticize Republicans and conservatives when they have it wrong. You've heard me do it on the show any number of times. Not this time. You know, when you shoot at a king, and he's the king of talk radio, you better get him. They didn't get him here. The argument was that he used the phrase "phony soldiers." He was talking about a phony soldier. The AP ran a story called "Phony Soldiers." ABC three days before Rush's comments ran a story called "Phony Soldiers." He was talking about a guy who was lying. He wasn't a corporal in the Army, he didn't get a Purple Heart. That's the guy Rush was talking about. Media Matters left that out.

I have been savaged by Media Matters unfairly. They did it this time. There's plenty to disagree with Rush if you're on the left. But this isn't, this wasn't fair. Let me tell you why. The Petraeus thing has really hurt the Democrats. They say it doesn't and it was all fair. But this thing is not going away. This is a soldier, commander in the field. And it really stung and they're looking for revenge.

BLITZER: As Bill says, Donna, a lot of people suggest that what Senator Harry Reid and the Democrats were doing in trying to go after Rush Limbaugh on this issue, quote, "phony soldiers," was sort of payback for the MoveOn.org and the "General Betray Us" ad that a lot of people think backfired on the Democrats.

DONNA BRAZILE: Well, a lot of Americans who care about our troops, we think our troops and we believe that what they're doing is noble and courageous. And the left can condemn MoveOn, the right should be able to condemn Rush Limbaugh the comments he made about phony soldiers. Not only did he talk about this one soldier who may be discredited but he also used Jack Murtha. And many of us believe Jack Murtha is a courageous American, he stood up and he fought for his country. And when Rush Limbaugh takes on Jack Murtha, then the left has every right to call on Rush Limbaugh to apologize.

BENNETT: He took on Jack Murtha. He did not call Jack Murtha a phony soldier. He took Jack Murtha on on the merits of the argument. That's an entirely different case. He can take on Rush Limbaugh, he can take on George Bush, take on Jack Murtha. Name calling was about a phony soldier.

BLITZER: Because you saw Bill Clinton last week in the interview with Anderson Cooper. He was really irate.

BENNETT: Seething.

BLITZER: He was seething -- I think that's a good word -- when he pointed out that the Republicans went after veterans like Max Cleland and John Kerry with the swift boat attack and all that.

BRAZILE: He said phony soldiers. So he didn't make a distinction that he was just referring to Mr. MacBeth. He was referring to soldiers who have come out against this war. And over a third of MoveOn.org members are soldiers, many of them who served in Iraq and they're now opposed to the war. So many people on the left believe that he was taking on those soldiers as well as Mr. MacBeth.

BENNETT: All you have to do is listen to the show and it is perfectly clear, crystal clear. Couldn't be clearer who he is talking about.
A short news update item at about 7:30am EDT on Tuesday's American Morning:
KIRAN CHETRY: Two weeks after Republicans went after MoveOn.org's “General Betray Us” ad, the Democrats are turning the tables on Rush Limbaugh. They say that he made hateful and unpatriotic remarks about U.S. troops on his radio show last week. Here's the conversation.

[CALLER LAST THURSDAY ON LIMBAUGH's RADIO SHOW: They never talked to real soldiers. They like to pull these soldiers that come up out of the blue and spout to the media.
RUSH LIMBAUGH: The phony soldiers.
CALLER: The phony soldiers. If you talk to a real soldier, they are proud to serve.]

SEN. HARRY REID ON THE SENATE FLOOR ON MONDAY: 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.

CHETRY: Senator Harry Reid has called on Limbaugh's boss, the chief executive of Clear Channel Communications, to denounce his remarks. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa then followed Reid saying: “Maybe he was just high on his drugs.” Here's how Rush responded.

LIMBAUGH ON HIS RADIO SHOW ON MONDAY: He's got to be a nut. This is, I cannot believe that they are actually going this far with this.

CHETRY: Limbaugh insists he was talking about one anti-war soldier who was actually convicted of lying about serving in Iraq, and that they took his comment out of context.
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