Despite Poor U.S. Evacuation Efforts in Libya, CBS Gives Response an 'A+'

While even the liberal National Public Radio blog highlighted how the "U.S. Struggles to Evacuate; Others Don't" in Libya, on Saturday's CBS Early Show, correspondent Harry Smith gave the effort high marks: "If they were handing out a report card, as far as the embassy is concerned, it would be an A+." [Audio available here]

Co-host Rebecca Jarvis implied some displeasure with the evacuation in her question to Smith: "How do the Americans that you're talking to feel about the job that the U.S. embassy did throughout the ordeal in getting them to safety?" Smith dismissed any criticism of the government response: "There's so much anti-government sentiment in America about how different parts of the bureaucracy respond to things....the way that everything was handled was just absolutely impeccable."

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As the NPR blog post noted: "U.S. efforts to evacuate hundreds of Americans from Libya are being stymied by bad weather on the coast – and by the refusal of Moammar Gadhafi's government to allow American charter planes to land there....The weather did not stop China from using two large ferries to take 4,500 Chinese workers to safety on the island of Crete, the AP reports. And aircraft from France and Britain have been able to get citizens from those two countries out of harm's way."

In an earlier report on Saturday's Early Show, Smith played sound bites of two ferry passengers. Keith Diehold described the conditions: "It was a very difficult ride back home. A lot of people were getting sick. We spent 2 ½ nights sleeping on the boat without a shower." However he quickly added: "But it was – we all – there was no bellyaching. Everybody got along very, very well. Just glad to be back."

Smith justified the use of a boat: "The ferry, arranged by the American embassy, was the only sure way out for many, because the Tripoli airport was overwhelmed." Bernie Diller exclaimed: "I had two flights booked and neither one left. So they were all canceled before we even got there. So this ferry was a great deal for us. We were really happy the State Department came through like that."

In his later report with Jarvis, Smith declared how ferry passengers "feel like they're getting kid glove treatment. So, people are very satisfied with how things have transpired."

As NewsBusters' Ken Shepherd earlier reported, the media was initially silent on growing criticism of U.S. evacuation efforts. Apparently, CBS decided to break its silence by praising the response.

In addition to cheering the U.S. evacuation of Libya, on Thursday, CBS touted the Obama administration's "strong words" on the crisis, even as liberal commentators on MSNBC were noting how weak the President's reaction had been. On Monday's Early Show, co-host Erica Hill finally noticed such criticism: "Senators McCain and Lieberman came out with some very strong words for the President, saying that he didn't act quickly enough, or perhaps in terms of rhetoric, strongly enough, to this situation."

Speaking to political analyst John Dickerson, Hill wondered: "Why did it take so long for the administration to come out and say, point-blank, it is time for Moammar Qadhafi to go?" Dickerson repeated the White House line: "When I talked to administration officials during that period, where the President was being tepid and soft in his remarks, they kept saying, 'Look, we're worried about Americans in Libya and we've got to make sure they get out of there.'"

Here is a transcript of Smith's February 26 reporting on Saturday's Early Show:

8:04AM ET SEGMENT:

REBECCA JARVIS: Americans and thousands of other foreign nationals are fleeing the chaos in Libya. For nearly 200 Americans it was a long and harrowing escape from Tripoli to Malta by ferry, the U.S.-chartered Maria Dolores. CBS News correspondent Harry Smith is live from Valletta, Malta with the latest. Good morning, Harry.

HARRY SMITH: Yeah Rebecca, it's interesting. It's about a 220-mile trip from Tripoli to here in Malta. But for those Americans trying to get out of Libya, it just as well be a world away. And while they didn't get home, getting here to Malta is the next best thing.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: The Battle for Libya; Americans Safely Evacuated to Malta]

Weary and relieved. After two days of waiting for the seas to calm, 338 people poured off a ferry from Tripoli late last night. Among them, 183 Americans.

KEITH DIEHOLD: It was a very difficult ride back home. A lot of people were getting sick. We spent 2 ½ nights sleeping on the boat without a shower. But it was – we all – there was no bellyaching. Everybody got along very, very well. Just glad to be back.

SMITH: The ferry, arranged by the American embassy, was the only sure way out for many, because the Tripoli airport was overwhelmed.

BERNIE DILLER: I had two flights booked and neither one left. So they were all canceled before we even got there. So this ferry was a great deal for us. We were really happy the State Department came through like that.

(...)


9:02AM ET SEGMENT:

JARVIS: Thousands of foreign nationals, including Americans, are fleeing the bloodshed in Libya by ferry, foot, and plane. And CBS News correspondent Harry Smith is live in Valletta, Malta, where nearly 200 Americans arrived yesterday by ferry, after a harrowing journey. Good morning, Harry.

SMITH: Yeah, quite a scene last night. We were at the ferry terminal last night as the boat pulled in. It's about an eight-hour journey, 200 miles or so, from Tripoli to Malta. High seas, a lot of people had gotten seasick. But so relieved to be here, at least one step closer to home. And it was quite interesting. We talked to the U.S. ambassador to Malta last night. He said they were ordering a second ferry, as you well know by now, the embassy in Libya has been shut down. The American embassy has been shut down, and so whatever remaining personnel need to get out of the country, presumably, will be on that second ferry.

JARVIS: Harry, how do the Americans that you're talking to feel about the job that the U.S. embassy did throughout the ordeal in getting them to safety?

SMITH: You know, it's interesting. Because there's so much anti-government sentiment in America about how different parts of the bureaucracy respond to things. And if they were handing out a report card, as far as the embassy is concerned, it would be an A+. People were so happy that they were able to get out of the country and the way that everything was handled was just absolutely impeccable. And even to the end, that there's some embassy personnel, Libyan – I should say American embassy personnel from Libya, who are in the hotel where we are, and they've handled everything here, and they feel like they're getting kid glove treatment. So, people are very satisfied with how things have transpired.

JARVIS: Good to hear it. Harry Smith in Valletta, Malta, thanks for being with us.

— Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC