ABC's Charles Gibson: GOP Owned Issue of, Quote, 'Patriotism'

On Thursday's "Good Morning America," guest host Charles Gibson featured far-left author and creator of the Huffington Post Web site Arianna Huffington to promote her angry new book about "lunatic fringe" conservatives. Gibson, who was a moderator in the April ABC debate that liberals have decried as unfair to Barack Obama, brought up some of the issues mentioned in the debate, such as the senator's refusal to wear an American flag lapel pin.

Speaking of Republicans, he asserted, "They owned, have owned, the, quote, 'issue of patriotism' for some time now." Taking Gibson's cue, and, at the same time, launching an attack on media outlets that supposedly are unfair to liberals, Huffington used the same qualifier: "But the media have helped them own the, quote, issue of patriotism." And although Gibson did occasionally challenge the conservative-turned liberal, he also let her get away with contradictions. As already noted, Huffington chided the media for focusing on alleged distractions, such as flag pins and Reverend Jeremiah Wright's controversial statements. However, in the same segment she frothed over the "lunatic fringe" who "basically, don't believe in evolution but believe in torture."

It should also be pointed out that, although Gibson mentioned that Huffington had switched parties, he never actually labeled her a liberal. And a reasonable retort to her contention that the media is doing the bidding of conservatives would be to simply point that she's on "Good Morning America" discussing the issue.

Gibson also offered his theory as to how the country operates politically:

GIBSON: Let me propose a theory to you and get your reaction to it...This country, basically, in its history has been centrist. And yet, we've gerrymandered ourselves into a situation where 90 percent of the seats in Congress really are safe for the Republicans or safe for the Democrats. So, in order to get nominated, you have to be more liberal if you're going for a Democratic seat or more conservative if you're going for a Republican seat. And what we've wound up with in Washington is gridlock. Because the extreme sides of both sides of both parties control their party.

First off, congressional seats may be reapportioned to benefit the incumbents, but isn't that done more to benefit the party, rather than ideology? Secondly, if the "extremes" control the Republican Party, how did Senator John McCain end up with the GOP nomination?

To be fair, Gibson did challenge some of Huffington's points. He called her out by saying, "Words matter and lunatic is a very pejorative term." When Huffington trotted out the liberal canard that McCain is devoted to endless war in Iraq, Gibson dismissed that entirely: "But, you know that's not correct. I mean, it's not endless war in Iraq. He's talking about troops in Iraq in the same way we have troops in Korea or the way we have troops in many other places."

A transcript of the segment, which aired at 8:43am on May 1, follows:

CHARLES GIBSON: Arianna Huffington is with us. She is a political pundit. You know her well. You may not agree with her, but she is always outspoken. You always know where she stands. And this Republican turned Democrat actually is now taking on in a new book what she calls the lunatic fringe. Her new book is "Right is Wrong." And I can, sort of, sum up, I think, the thesis of the book if I rename it "The Right is Wrong." But joining us now is Arianna Huffington. So, I'm right, right? That is essentially your thesis. That the right has captured American government. And, to some extent, I know you have a thing. You think they've taken on the media as well or taken over the media as well. But, basically, you feel that this country has been captured by the more extreme wing of the Republican Party?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Right. And writing the book, really, to ask why, and to explain why did that happen? How did we allow the lunatic fringe, who are basically the people who promised us that the war in Iraq was going to be cheap and easy, who told us after the Virginia Tech massacre that, you know, the solution to gun violence is-- are more guns, who didn't believe in global warping. Who, basically, don't believe in evolution but believe in torture. And, that's, really, the lunatic fringe that has taken over the Republican Party and there are many disaffected Republicans, as you know.

GIBSON: Words matter in this world. Words matter and lunatic is a very pejorative term.

HUFFINGTON: And I use it with absolute passion and conviction. And that's what they are. They are the lunatic fringe that has made this country less safe. That's why I put that sentence in the title. Because, we are less safe, Charlie, because we invaded Iraq, because we took our eye off Afghanistan. We just had the commanders on the ground in Afghanistan saying that there are credible threats to our safety being prepared there right now. They asked the White House to widen that war. The White House said no, because they're obsessed with Iraq. A war that we cannot win. Today is the fifth anniversary of "mission accomplished" and look where we are. This has been the deadliest month since the fall.

GIBSON: Let me propose a theory to you and get your reaction to it. Because I think we're in a situation-- This country wants to be governed in the center. This country, basically, in its history has been centrist. And yet, we've gerrymandered ourselves into a situation where 90 percent of the seats in Congress really are safe for the Republicans or safe for the Democrats. So, in order to get nominated, you have to be more liberal if you're going for a Democratic seat or more conservative if you're going for a Republican seat. And what we've wound up with in Washington is gridlock. Because the extreme sides of both sides of both parties control their party.

HUFFINGTON: Actually, Charlie, I fundamentally disagree with this analysis. I actually have two chapters where I explain that the center has shifted. The center is not where it was. Right now, many positions that used to be on the left, universal health care, doing something about global warming, bringing our troops home from Iraq, these are now positions held by 60 to 70 percent of the American people. It's the right that has been marginalized and discredited and yet continues to dominate the debate and dominate our policy. I mean, how else do you explain why we are still in Iraq?

GIBSON: We elect them. We elect them. You have-- You have very liberal, a very liberal contingent in Congress. We have a very conservative contingent in Congress. Those are the major groups in Congress. The center is relatively small. We have to elect a president. We've been electing Republican presidents over and over. They owned, have owned, the, quote, issue of patriotism for some time now.

HUFFINGTON: But the media have helped them own the, quote, issue of patriotism. You know, like, as you know, I have written about the question, you asked at the debate about equating, basically, wearing a flag pin was patriotism. I don't really think this is a central issue in America right now, at a time when millions of people are losing their homes, when our American military is being broken. A thousand suicide attempts among our troops every month. I mean, these are serious times. And I think the media have a responsibility to focus on the serious issues, instead of flag pins, Reverend Wright, whether Barack Obama knew a '60s radical. All those things are truly distracting us from what we should be focusing on.

GIBSON: Well, if you're going to get into the debate, I know we are taken to task a lot about that. But all that went to the issue of whether Barack Obama is electable. And that's an issue that's being much debated now.

HUFFINGTON: But that's an issue that an issue, really, that the right has been putting out there. I mean, John McCain, who has abandoned every position, is not getting the scrutiny he deserves He's still--

GIBSON: Well, but Arianna, we got a Democratic-- we got a big Democratic race going on right now.

HUFFINGTON: Right.

GIBSON: The McCain/X race, whoever he runs against, will get very major attention soon.

HUFFINGTON: Yes. That's why I included a whole chapter called "John McCain: Hijacked by the Right." And that was a hard chapter for me to write. Because, I like many of us in the media, fell in love with him in 2000. And now, there he is. He's abandoned his position on immigration. He said he would not be voting for his own bill. He basically abandoned his position on torture when he voted against a bill banning torture for the CIA. He's abandoned his position on tax cuts and he wants an endless war in Iraq. This is a man who would give us the third term of George Bush.

GIBSON: But, you know that's not correct. I mean, it's not endless war in Iraq. He's talking about troops in Iraq in the same way we have troops in Korea or the way we have troops in many other places.

HUFFINGTON: But how can that happen? Look at our troops there now, 49 American soldiers dead last month. After five years there. After "mission accomplished" was declared five years ago. That's the lunatic taking over, Charlie.

GIBSON: As I say, you always know where Arianna Huffington will stand. Good to have you here.

HUFFINGTON: Thank you.

GIBSON: You can read an excerpt of her book on ABCNews.com. The book again, "Right is Wrong."

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org