CNN Cites Omission of Bush’s Name at Debate, Quotes Daily Kos

NewsBusters.org - Media Research CenterA report on Thursday’s "The Situation Room" tried to make an issue out of the fact that President Bush’s name was only mentioned a few times at the Republican presidential debate that they organized with YouTube. CNN correspondent Carol Costello compared the President’s name to a curse word in her introduction to the report. "It sure seems like Bush has become a four-letter word you don't want to mention if you are a Republican running for office. They've taken to talking about him in code, not daring to say 'Bush,' but not shy about promoting his agenda."

During the report, which aired at the bottom half of the 5 pm Eastern hour, Costello went on to say that "the Bush moniker [was] uttered just four times in two hours." This is indeed the case if you look at the CNN transcript of the debate. But this doesn't tell the entire story.

The 34 debate questions were selected by CNN from a pool of over 5,000, which were submitted to YouTube. CNN senior vice president David Bohrman oversaw the selection process. Questions about key policy issues dominated the debate - four questions about immigration, 3 about federal spending, one about taxes, three about gun control, two about abortion, one about the death penalty, and two about homosexuality.

Only five questions dealt directly or indirectly about Bush administration policies. In the first question, which was the only one which referred to President Bush by name, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist asked about the candidates’ commitment to the Bush tax cuts during the first hour the debate.

During the second hour of the debate, a Muslim woman asked about repairing America’s image in the world, which in her view, was damaged by the Iraq war. Next, someone asked the candidates about Senator John McCain’s stance against waterboarding. The fourth question dealt with a possible long-term commitment to Iraq. The last question of the five dealt with the power of the vice president, which was asked by an animated caricature of Dick Cheney.

So, if CNN is surprised by the lack of mention of President Bush during the debate, then how come they didn’t select many questions that dealt with him personally or the policies of his administration?

The oddest moment of the report came when Costello tried to make something out of Congressman Duncan Hunter's decision to invoke Ronald Reagan during the debate.

COSTELLO: And even though they won't readily admit it, most of these candidates agree with the Bush agenda. For example, President Bush cut taxes. Congressman Duncan Hunter voted for them. But who does he credit?

DUNCAN HUNTER: I came in with Ronald Reagan in 1980 to cut taxes, and I probably voted for more tax cuts than anybody here.

Did Costello forget that Reagan's tax cuts came before Bush's?

After pondering over the reason that the Republican candidates "don’t take on an unpopular president head-on," Costello cited the "progressive website" Daily Kos on how there is a "danger of not overtly criticizing Bush."

COSTELLO: "According to the publisher of Daily Kos, a progressive website, if Democrats remind voters the Republican platform, and Bush's policies are one in the same, victory will be assured in the general election."

The full transcript of the report from Thursday’s "The Situation Room:"

WOLF BLITZER: He's been in the White House for almost seven years. But you never know it if you listen to the Republican presidential candidates who want to take over his job. President Bush all but unmentionable at last night's CNN/YouTube Republican debate. Carol Costello is standing by. She's joining us. Why was the President of the United States, himself a Republican -- his name hardly mentioned by these candidates last night?

CAROL COSTELLO: It's kind of strange, isn't it? It sure seems like Bush has become a four-letter word you don't want to mention if you are a Republican running for office. They've taken to talking about him in code, not daring to say 'Bush,' but not shy about promoting his agenda.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.

CAROL COSTELLO (voice-over): Once upon a time, when President Bush's approval ratings hovered around 70%, Republican candidates clamored for Bush to be by their side. But with Bush's plunge in popularity, Republicans running for president have tried to make the leader of their party invisible. Take Wednesday's YouTube debate.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: There is actually a Republican President of the United States, and he was almost never mentioned.

COSTELLO: The Bush moniker uttered just four times in two hours. But make no mistake. Try as they might, the biggest presence on that debate stage weren't the eight Republican hopefuls, but Bush.

Kathleen Jameson co-wrote 'Unspun.'

KATHLEEN JAMESON, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: The Republican candidate for president is running on an issue agenda largely framed by the Bush presidency.

COSTELLO: And even though they won't readily admit it, most of these candidates agree with the Bush agenda. For example, President Bush cut taxes. Congressman Duncan Hunter voted for them. But who does he credit?

DUNCAN HUNTER: I came in with Ronald Reagan in 1980 to cut taxes, and I probably voted for more tax cuts than anybody here.

COSTELLO: And that strategy played out all night long. Mitt Romney never mentions President Bush's name, but his policy on torture and waterboarding sure sounds 'Bush-esque.'

MITT ROMNEY: I oppose torture.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The United States does not torture.

ROMNEY: I don't think it's wise for us to describe specifically which measures we would or would not use.

BUSH: I cannot describe the specific methods used.

COSTELLO: Senator John McCain is walking the tightrope too, criticizing not President Bush for a poor strategy in Iraq, but former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN, ARIZONA: Now my friends, I'm the only one on this stage -- I'm the only one on this stage that said that Rumsfeld strategy was failing and was doomed to failure.

COSTELLO: So, why not take on an unpopular president head-on?

JAMESON: It would just simply be foolish.

COSTELLO: Because most Republicans who vote in the primaries support many of the President's policies.

JAMESON: It also would be perceived to be unloyal, to do that and, most importantly, in tactical terms, to hand the Democrats a talking point that could be used against the Republicans in the general election.

COSTELLO (on-camera): But you can switch that around. Some say there is a danger of not overtly criticizing Bush. According to the publisher of Daily Kos, a progressive website, if Democrats remind voters the Republican platform, and Bush's policies are one in the same, victory will be assured in the general election.

BLITZER: Very interesting, Carol. Thanks very much. Carol Costello reporting for us.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center