Three weeks ago, when Republican Senator John Warner suggested a withdrawal of about 5,000 U.S. forces from Iraq by Christmas, the networks trumpeted the idea as evidence of a major “turning point” in the war. Thursday night, President Bush announced he would, in fact, lower U.S. troop levels by 5,700 by Christmas, but those same networks were dissatisfied, with NBC’s Tim Russert grumbling that the President’s idea was really “U.S. military involvement in Iraq this year, next year, and well after I leave the presidency.”
As MRC’s Brent Baker noted back on August 23, Warner’s suggestion of a small withdrawal was met with giddy excitement: “CBS’s Katie Couric touted a ‘major blow tonight to President Bush’s Iraq policy’ and ABC’s Martha Raddatz saw a ‘stunning announcement that could have a powerful effect on the war’ as the NBC Nightly News, for the fifth time in two years, heralded a ‘turning point’ against the war.”
But during their live coverage of the President’s Thursday night speech, the networks were hardly pleased that Bush had basically taken Warner’s suggestion. CBS’s Couric called it a “limited” withdrawal, “not enough of a reduction to satisfy critics,” while NBC’s Williams emphasized how “the plan would remain in place, with a large robust U.S. force.” ABC’s George Stephanopoulos saw the speech as “a mixed message,” with some troops coming home, but also that “America is going to be in Iraq and in the region for a very long time.”
Here’s more on how the three broadcast networks reacted to the President’s decision to begin lowering troop levels in Iraq.
# On CBS, just before the speech began:
Katie Couric: "Good evening, everyone. President Bush is about to give what amounts to a state of the war address. It's his eighth prime time address to the nation about the situation in Iraq. This time, he'll announce a troop withdrawal — a limited one that will begin this month and bring 5,700 troops home by Christmas. By next summer, troops would be back to about pre-surge levels. Not enough of a reduction to satisfy critics, and after the President speaks we'll bring you the Democratic response."
Bob Schieffer: "He'll talk about bringing home some troops, but he's not backing away. In fact, he will talk tonight about a long-term military committment to Iraq that goes far beyond his own presidency."
# On ABC, immediately following the President’s address:
George Stephanopoulos: “Charlie, this was a first for the President — the first time in four and a half years of war that he announced that troops are coming home. He was also less confrontational than he’s been in the past with Congress, but fundamentally, Charlie, the President was delivering a mixed message tonight. He said troops are going to start to come home, but America is going to be in Iraq and in the region for a very long time.”
Charles Gibson: “He has used, did use today, the Korean model, where there have been American troops stationed for so many years. That he foresees as a possibility, indeed a probability, in Iraq.”
# On NBC, immediately after the President finished speaking:
Williams: "His eighth Oval Office speech on the war, the President tonight embracing the plan that would begin the first drawdown of U.S. fighting soldiers from Iraq, in this case Marines, actually. The plan would remain in place, with a large robust U.S. force."
Russert: "The President has drawn the line, and he's saying, 'No matter a majority of Congress, or a majority of the American people want to disengage, I have decided there will be U.S. military involvement in Iraq this year, next year, and well after I leave the presidency. Democrats, your move.'"