Though more than a year ago Democratic Congressman John Murtha denounced the Iraq war, asserting that “we cannot prevail in this war at the policy that's going today,'' on Thursday night ABC, CBS and NBC all led by championing Murtha's call for the immediate withdrawal of troops and showcased his ridicule of Vice President Cheney's lack of military service. “On military matters, no Democrat in Congress is more influential,” CBS Evening News anchor Bob Schieffer asserted in bucking up Murtha's credentials at the top of his newscast, insisting therefore “all of Washington listened” to him. The media certainly did. With the text on screen, Schieffer soon highlighted how Murtha “noted the Vice President had never served in the military and said, and I quote, 'I like guys who got five deferments and had never been there, then send people to war and don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done.'” Schieffer asked John Roberts: “So, in this kind of situation, the White House has got to be worried about, because this is clearly a sign that support for the war is beginning to fade on Capitol Hill."
NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams teased: “The war of words over Iraq. Tonight a key Democratic supporter in Congress says it's time to get out, while the White House steps up its attacks on critics.” Williams led by touting: “When one Congressman out of 435 members of Congress speaks out against the war in Iraq, it normally wouldn't be news, but it was today, because of who he is. Congressman John Murtha, a Vietnam veteran....Today, John Murtha said the U.S. must get out of Iraq. It's a debate that has followed President Bush halfway around the world.”
“An influential Democrat who supported the war says American troops should come home now," anchor Bob Woodruff trumpeted at the top of ABC's World News Tonight. Woodruff distorted President Bush's comments in Asia as he insisted Bush “took every chance he could to say that people who question his rationale for going to war in Iraq are not only wrong, but irresponsible and unpatriotic.” ABC's new White House reporter, Martha Raddatz, then claimed that “a visibly perturbed President called Democrats 'irresponsible' for continuing to criticize his administration's use of pre-war intelligence." And Raddatz highlighted how “Murtha ripped into the Vice President, taking aim at his lack of military service." In fact, Bush and Cheney are upset about being charged with “lying” to get the nation into a war, not at general criticism. ABC gave Cheney barely 30 seconds, but devoted more than 90 seconds to a “1st Person” excerpt from Murtha. (Full transcripts follow.)
[UPDATE, 8:50pm EST Friday: On Friday night Woodruff offered “a clarification about” his claim Bush called his critics “unpatriotic.” Woodruff reported: “He did say they are 'irresponsible.' He did not call them 'unpatriotic.'” See this Friday NewsBusters item for the entirety of Woodruff's correction.]
As for the eager pick up by the networks of Murtha's criticism of Cheney for daring to form military policy when the former Secretary Defense never served in the military, I trust the journalists will soon point out the hypocrisy of Murtha who presumably backed non-veteran Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996 over war veterans George H. W. Bush and Bob Dole.
Criticizing the war is not new for Murtha. As the May 7, 2004 MRC CyberAlert noted, Ted Koppel featured Murtha's anti-war take as he “opened the May 6 Nightline, over video of bomb-damaged trucks and Humvees and a wounded U.S. soldier: 'No one ever said it would be easy, but few predicted it would be like this. Today, the most hawkish Democrat on the Hill said this: [Murtha]: 'We can not prevail in this war at the policy that’s going today.'"
Back in June, the networks also embraced a Congressman who turned against the war when GOP U.S. Representative Walter Jones called for a pull-out in 2006. The Sunday, June 12 CBS Evening News led with opposition to the war, including Jones, and the newscast on Monday night, June 13, returned with another story in which Bill Plante, as recounted in the June 14 CyberAlert, touted how Plante showcased the media's new favorite Republican: "But U.S. deaths in Iraq, now over 1,700, and the continuing insurgency are prompting a volley of second thoughts from Republicans. Congressman Walter Jones, the man who coined the term 'Freedom Fries' to protest the lack of French support in the war, now wants a timetable for U.S. withdrawal."
The Friday, June 17 CyberAlert recounted:
ABC and CBS led Thursday night with how four backbench Members of Congress held a press conference to publicize their resolution calling for a draw down of troops in Iraq by October of 2006, but neither network uttered a word about Democratic Senator Dick Durbin's outlandish comparison of the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo to "Nazis, Soviets in their gulags" or Pol Pot. Only NBC reported Durbin's comparison, but that brief item aired only after Kelly O'Donnell touted the vision of "North Carolina Republican Walter Jones, who today alongside two Democrats and a fellow Republican, proposed what many Americans, weary of the violence in Iraq, appear increasingly eager to see, a withdrawal date for U.S. troops." On ABC, anchor Elizabeth Vargas announced: "We start tonight with the Bush administration and the growing discontent over the war in Iraq. On Capitol Hill today, a resolution was introduced that would require U.S. troops to begin pulling out of Iraq a year from this fall. The resolution was sponsored by a small, bipartisan group of Congressmen, but it is a first."
On the CBS Evening News, after anchor Bob Schieffer led with "Bad numbers: The President's job approval rating is dropping as support for the war and his handling of Social Security continues to fade," John Roberts trumpeted: "In the most serious split over the President's Iraq policy, two Republican House members today joined with Democrats urging President Bush to start bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq in October of 2006."
Now, full transcripts of the Thursday, November 17 broadcast network evening newscast stories on Murtha, with CBS and NBC provided by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth. I corrected the closed-captioning against the video for ABC.
# ABC's World News Tonight.
Bob Woodruff's tease: “On World News Tonight: The war over the war. President Bush lashes out at his critics on Iraq. Today, an influential Democrat who supported the war says American troops should come home now.”
Congressman John Murtha: “Our military is suffering. The future of our country is at risk.”
Woodruff led his newscast:
“Good evening. We start tonight with the debate over the war in Iraq, more nasty and more vitriolic than ever. Today, an influential member of Congress, a decorated war veteran, who had supported the war called it 'a flawed policy, wrapped in illusion.' And said U.S. troops should withdraw now. President Bush is on a week-long trip to Asia. But he took every chance he could to say that people who question his rationale for going to war in Iraq are not only wrong, but irresponsible and unpatriotic. Our new chief White House correspondent, Martha Raddatz, begins our coverage, Martha.”
Raddatz, from DC: “Bob, the White House was trying to silence critics of the war this week with an aggressive defense. But the fighting is getting worse every day. Five times today, during remarks in Asia, a visibly perturbed President called Democrats 'irresponsible' for continuing to criticize his administration's use of pre-war intelligence.”
Bush at press conference in South Korea: “That's irresponsible. [edit jump] It's irresponsible. [edit jump] It's irresponsible to use politics. This is serious business making, winning this war, but it's irresponsible to do what they've done.”
Raddatz: “The Vice President has now joined the attack as well, using even stronger language.”
Cheney, in Wednesday night speech: “The suggestions that's been made by some U.S. Senators that the President of the United States or any member of this administration purposely misled the American people on pre-war intelligence is one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city.”
Raddatz: “The White House argument is essentially this: The politicians who authorized the use of force before the war are undermining the troops by questioning the administration now. Many on the Hill are outraged by that charge, including powerful Representative John Murtha, a decorated Marine who served in Vietnam. Today, Murtha ripped into the Vice President, taking aim at his lack of military service.”
Congressman John Murtha (D-PA): “I like guys who've never been there to criticize us who've been there. I like that. I like guys who got five deferments and never been there and sent people to war and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done. I resent the fact that on Veterans Day he criticized Democrats for criticizing them. This is a flawed policy, wrapped in illusion. And the American public knows it.”
Raddatz: “Murtha then called for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. A number of leading House Republicans likened that to surrender, with one extraordinary accusation from one Representative.”
Congressman Geoff Davis: “And what they have done is cooperated with our enemies and are emboldening our enemies.”
Raddatz: “But the debate of Iraq has not run strictly down party lines. This is Republican, Chuck Hagel.”
Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), November 15: “To question your government is not unpatriotic. To not question your government is unpatriotic.”
Raddatz: “President Bush was asked today whether he agreed with Senator Hagel or his Vice President?”
Bush: “Vice President.”
Raddatz: “A recent ABC News poll shows that 60 percent of Americans now believe the war was not worth fighting. And, Bob, that is a record high.”
Woodruff: “Thank you, Martha. Martha Raddatz at the White House tonight. In Martha's piece, you heard a stinging criticism of the administration from John Murtha. He is the ranking Democrat on the House subcommittee in charge of defense. And he's known for his very strong relationship with senior military officers inside the Pentagon. Congressman Murtha was the first Vietnam veteran to serve in Congress. He was awarded the bronze star and two purple hearts. As we said, he voted to authorize the war in Iraq. But today, the Congressman said his call to end it, is motivated by his close bond with the troops. Here he is in the '1st Person.'"
Murtha, for 90 seconds, from his press conference: “Now let me personalize this thing for you. I go out to the hospitals every week. Saw a Seabee lying there with three children. His mother and his wife were there. He was paralyzed from the neck-down. And they were all crying because they knew what it would be like in the future. I saw a young soldier who lost two legs and an arm. And one other kid, lost both of his hands. Blinded. I was praising him, saying how proud we were of him and how much we appreciate his service in the country. Anything I can do for you? His mother said get him a purple heart. What do you mean get him a purple heart? His mother said because it was a friendly bomb, they wouldn't give him a purple heart. I met with the commandant. I said, if you don't give him a purple heart, I'll give him one of mine. And they gave him a purple heart. I saw a Marine rubbing his boy's hair. He was a Marine in Vietnam. And his son had just come back from Iraq. And he said he wanted his brother to come home, that's what the father said, because the kid couldn't speak. He was in a coma. Kept rubbing his hand. He didn't want to come home. I told the Marine Corps to get him home.”
# CBS Evening News.
Bob Schieffer led:
"John Murtha is not a household name, but on military matters, no Democrat in Congress is more influential. He holds a key position on the House committee that determines how much money the Pentagon gets. And because he is an ex-Marine and a Vietnam veteran, when Murtha said he supported going into Iraq, Republicans and Democrats listened. So today, when Murtha said it had not worked and called for withdrawing our forces, all of Washington listened. Here's how he put it."
Rep. John Murtha (D-PA): "It's time to bring them home. They've done everything they can do. The military's done everything it can do. This war as been so mishandled from the very start -- not only was the intelligence bad, the way they disbanded the troops, there's all kinds of mistakes that have been made. They don't deserve to continue to suffer. They're the targets. They have become the enemy. Eighty percent of the Iraqis want us out of there. The public wants us out-"
Schieffer: The President is in South Korea tonight on his way to China, but the war and his critics' charges continued to dog him even as he travels. That part of the story now from White House correspondent John Roberts, who is with the President."
John Roberts, from Busan, South Korea: "It wasn't just his view of Iraq as an unwinnable war that had Congressman Murtha so worked up today, it was also the President's harsh attacks against his Democratic critics."
Murtha: "This is a flawed policy wrapped in an illusion. The American public knows it, and lashing out at critics doesn't help a bit."
Roberts: "A half a world away, President Bush was in no mood to back down over charges he misled the nation into war."
George W. Bush: "Ours is a country where people ought to be able to disagree, and I expect there to be criticism. But when Democrats say that I deliberately misled the Congress and the people, that's irresponsible."
Roberts: "President Bush argues that Democrats saw the same intelligence he did; many agreed Saddam was an urgent threat and voted for the war. Democrats claim Congress did not see the same intelligence as the President; they didn't get the raw reports, cables, and underlying sources. They also claim some dissenting views were ignored, and that the intelligence was politicized."
Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE): "They took bits and pieces of evidence, and told the American public flat-out Saddam Hussein had reconstituted his nuclear weapons. That's cherry-picking. That was not true."
Roberts: "With the Senate pledging to look into how the White House used intelligence in the run-up to the war, Democrats want to make sure this is an issue that stays hot. The White House is countering with an effective tactic from the campaign: Hammer your opponent until their credibility is shot."
Dick Cheney, in a Wednesday night speech: "The President and I cannot prevent certain politicians from losing their memory or their backbone, but we're not going to sit by and let them rewrite history. We're going to continue throwing their own words back at them."
Roberts: "And it didn't take long for Republicans to turn on Congressman Murtha. The respected Democratic hawk was immediately branded a defeatist whose about-face on the Iraq War was, quote, 'reprehensible' and 'irresponsible.' Bob?"
Schieffer: "John, to show you just how ugly this whole thing is getting, when Murtha heard about Mr. Cheney's words, he noted the Vice President had never served in the military and said, and I quote, 'I like guys who got five deferments and had never been there, then send people to war and don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done.' So, in this kind of situation, the White House has got to be worried about, because this is clearly a sign that support for the war is beginning to fade on Capitol Hill."
Roberts: "Well, Murtha is not your typical partisan flame thrower from the Democratic side. I mean, you hear people like Harry Reid and others speaking out constantly about this. But when Murtha turns against the White House, Bob, that's a horse of a different color."
# NBC Nightly News.
The tease from Brian Williams: "The war of words over Iraq: Tonight a key Democratic supporter in Congress says it's time to get out while the White House steps up its attacks on critics."
"Good evening. When one Congressman out of 435 members of Congress speaks out against the war in Iraq, it normally wouldn't be news, but it was today because of who he is. Congressman John Murtha, a Vietnam veteran, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, is a 37-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, who voted for both gulf wars. Vice President Cheney once called him one of his strongest allies in Congress back when Cheney ran the Pentagon. Today, John Murtha said the U.S. must get out of Iraq. It's a debate that has followed President Bush halfway around the world. We begin tonight with NBC's David Gregory, who's traveling with the President in South Korea."
David Gregory, in Busan: "Far from home, touring one of Korea's oldest temples, Mr. Bush has found the growing debate over Iraq impossible to escape."
Rep. John Murtha (D-PA): "This is a flawed policy wrapped in an illusion!"
Gregory: "Today, one of Congress' most hawkish Democrats, Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania, a Vietnam veteran who voted for the war, called for troop withdrawal within six months."
Murtha: "Our military is suffering. The future of our country is at risk. We cannot continue on the present course."
Gregory understood the difference, which eluded ABC, between criticism of policy and impugning people as liars: "In recent days, the White House has adopted a new strategy of lashing out at Democrats, saying they've become defeatist. But in South Korea, before Murtha's remarks, the President was asked if he thought it was unpatriotic to criticize the war."
George W. Bush: "Patriotic doesn't have to do with disagreeing with the President. It doesn't bother me. What bothers me is when people are irresponsibly using their positions and playing politics. And that's exactly what is taking place in America."
Gregory: "Last night, the Vice President was even more pointed, attacking Democrats who voted for the war, but now accuse the President of misleading the country."
Dick Cheney: "The President and I cannot prevent certain politicians from losing their memory or their backbone, but we're not going to sit by and let them rewrite history."
Murtha: "I like guys who got five deferments and never have been there and sent people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done."
Gregory: "It's not just Democrats who are calling for a withdrawal from Iraq. Nebraska Republican Senator Hagel also advocates a drawdown by next year. The President has steadfastly opposed any timetable for troop withdrawal, arguing such a move would only embolden the insurgents, a position more difficult to maintain as the public grows increasingly anxious about the war. David Gregory, NBC News, Busan, South Korea."