NBC Stacks Deck Against Petraeus -- and Takes a Shot at McCain Too

NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams led Tuesday's newscast by listing the burden of the Iraq war in years, troops, deaths and cost before Jim Miklaszewski, unlike reporters on ABC and CBS, found it newsworthy to show a man, in the Senate hearing for General David Petraeus, shouting “bring them home!” In the next story, Andrea Mitchell decided to highlight, again unlike ABC or CBS, how John McCain “stumbled...by again describing al Qaeda as Shiite” and Williams turned to Richard Engel, NBC's Iraq reporter, who described Petraeus' decision to end troop withdrawals in July as “frustrating and disheartening in that the rules of the game have changed.” Williams opened:
The war's now five years old. That's longer than U.S. involvement in World War II. There are currently 162,000 U.S. troops serving in Iraq. Death toll is now over 4,000. And the price tag of this war for military operations alone: nearly half a trillion dollars so far.
Before and after audio of a man yelling “bring them home!”, Miklaszewski helpfully suggested: “A protestor voiced what some Americans are demanding for U.S. troops.” In a piece by Mitchell on how the three presidential candidates approached Petraeus, she pointed how that “the Republican Senator also stumbled, briefly, by again describing al Qaeda as Shiite.” She countered: “Al Qaeda is Sunni, not Shiite. McCain immediately corrected himself.” So, if he immediately corrected himself, why highlight it?

NBC has been the most-interested in McCain's references to al-Qaeda as Shia or the Shia Iran helping the Sunni al-Qaeda. My March 20 NewsBusters item, “Moving on from Obama's Pastor, NBC Focuses on McCain 'Mistake,'” recounted:
A day after Barack Obama's speech in reaction to the bigoted and hateful rants of his long-time pastor, the network evening newscasts moved on -- with only ABC briefly mentioning the topic -- while NBC Nightly News, which has run just one clip of Jeremiah Wright and on Friday had instead featured a whole story about Obama's childhood friends cheering him on, centered a Wednesday night story around “a mistake” by John McCain. Anchor Brian Williams provided an ominous plug: “Did John McCain slip, or was his mistake intentional? His choice of words making news tonight.”

Kelly O'Donnell soon proposed: “Defense and national security are central to McCain's campaign. So a mistake he repeated this week has stood out. At least three times McCain incorrectly asserted that Iran is aiding al Qaeda.” After video of Senator Joe Lieberman whispering in McCain's ear, McCain corrected himself as O'Donnell explained: “The mistake, al Qaeda is a Sunni group while Iran is a Shia nation.” O'Donnell highlighted how “Senator Obama seized on the error,” concluding with the suggestion the one comment undermined McCain's image: “Leaving McCain to defend his expertise during a trip in which he intended to showcase it.”
How ABC and CBS framed the story on Tuesday, April 8:

Charles Gibson, ABC's World News:
Good evening. The senior commander of forces in Iraq told Congress today that significant, buty fragile, progress had been made in the war. And then, as expected, General David Petraeus called for an indefinite pause of troop withdrawals this summer. He refused to say if or when troop withdrawals might resume. And he would not offer an estimate of how many American forces would still be in Iraq after the election in November. Among those questioning the General on Capitol Hill today, all the presidential candidates. ABC's Jonathan Karl is at the Capitol.
Katie Couric, CBS Evening News:
Good evening, everyone. Seven months ago, America's top General in Iraq went before Congress to declare the surge was working and the U.S. could start bringing some troops home. Today, General David Petraeus returned to Capitol Hill, but this time he announced plans to stop those troop withdrawals in July with no timetable for resuming them. David Martin begins our coverage tonight.
Some highlights from the NBC Nightly News coverage:

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Good evening. The man in charge of the war effort in Iraq, General David Petraeus, today reported to Congress on the status of the fight and what the future looks like to him. By his side was the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and, across the gulf of photographers, two Senate committees with a full day of questions about what's going on over there. The war's now five years old. That's longer than U.S. involvement in World War II. There are currently 162,000 U.S. troops serving in Iraq. Death toll is now over 4,000. And the price tag of this war for military operations alone: nearly half a trillion dollars so far [on screen: “at least $430 Billion”]. Those are the stakes. Now the testimony and the politics of the day, we have it all covered. Our Pentagon correspondent, Jim Miklaszewski, starts us off live on Capitol Hill tonight....


ANDREA MITCHELL: While today's witnesses echoed McCain's stay the course approach, the Republican Senator also stumbled, briefly, by again describing al Qaeda as Shiite.

SENATOR JOHN McCAIN TO PETRAEUS: Do you still view al Qaeda in Iraq as a major threat?

PETREAUES: Certainly not as major a threat as it was say 15 months ago.

McCAIN: Certainly not a obscure sect of the Shiites overall.

MITCHELL: Al Qaeda is Sunni, not Shiite. McCain immediately corrected himself....


RICHARD ENGEL, IN STUDIO: I watched it and overwhelmingly I came away with the impression that it was somewhat frustrating and disheartening in that the rules of the game have changed. For years, military commanders have said that once conditions on the ground improve then troops can start to pull back. Today, General Petraeus said conditions on the ground have improved, but you know what? The troops have to stay. And I think if I was the mother or father of the one of the soldiers serving in Iraq, I'd be proud because he said they've achieved tremendous successes, but I'd also be upset that, if I listened to him, he'd say they would have to stay there in order to maintain that success.
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