What KDKA and CNN Kept Out of Their Murtha 'Surge Has Worked' Coverage

Murtha0608This post builds on Noel Sheppard's NewsBusters entry earlier this morning.

Noel covered portions of Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha's Thursday interview with Pittsburgh TV Station KDKA used by CNN's "Situation Room" on Friday (transcript here [Murtha segment is about halfway through]; video here).

CNN carried KDKA footage showing that Murtha has grudgingly acknowledged the obvious: That the troop surge in Iraq has, in his words, "in the short-term ..... certainly reduced incidents," but that "I'm not sure whether it's because of the Iraqis are just worn out, but certainly the way they're doing it today makes a big difference."

What KDKA decided to keep from TV viewers is arguably at least as important as what the station showed.

In interview footage left on the cutting room floor, Murtha falsely claimed that less than 1/3 of the Iraqi benchmarks have been met, and that the majority of Americans "want us out" of Iraq as fast as possible. But most explosively, the Pennsylvania congressman claimed that a major reason why the troop surge has been successful is that before that time "we broke down doors, we went in and we killed people inadvertently."

In partial defense of KDKA, the station posted the entire 20-minute interview at its web site (go to this KDKA link; type "Murtha" in the seach, and select the "Web Extra: Congressman John Murtha Interview"; also, in case KDKA gets uncomfortable, an edited 8-minute version of the interview is at Gateway Pundit).

The opening of the full interview shows that the Pennsylvania congressman clearly feels he is in friendly territory with reporter Jon Delano:

Delano: We're with Congressman John Murtha. Congressman, thank you so very much for talking to us.

Murtha: Jon, it's nice to be with a politician, a person who used to be a politician, now is a newscaster who knows as much about politics as I do.

Murtha's comfort is not surprising. Although Delano's bio at KDKA does not mention his political party, only noting that he spent "fourteen years working in the US Congress," a search of the ProQuest library database reveals that KDKA's Money & Politics Editor is a longtime Democrat whose familiarity with the 34-year Congressman goes back to the early 1980s, if not before that. This excerpt is from a November 8, 1994 pre-election article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (used for fair use and discussion purposes; bold is mine):

KDKA, which has used a variety of political party people as analysts over the years, tonight will use attorney Jon Delano, a Democrat who served 14 years as chief of staff for former U.S. Rep. Doug Walgren of Mt. Lebanon, who lost his seat to Rick Santorum in 1990.

Delano lost in the Democratic primary this spring to Mike Doyle in the 18th congressional district. And even though he's a true-blue Democrat, KDKA News Director Sue McInerney says she's not worried about any conflict of interest.

How nice. One suspects that Mr. Delano is Murtha's designated go-to-guy for friendly interviews, and that given the improvements in Iraq, Murtha was in need of one. During the interview, answering a question on another topic, Murtha began by saying "Well, you can remember when you worked for Doug Walgren ...."

The softball nature of Delano's questioning didn't prevent Murtha from stepping in it at a few points. But, fortunately for the Pennsylvania congressman, Delano's editorial decisions "somehow" kept the following potentially controversial bolded items from the full 20-minute interview out of KDKA's 3-minute broadcast report and, ultimately, out of CNN's:

(At 3:50) Delano: ..... Many people seem to think that things are going much better now in Iraq. Do you?

Murtha: Well, it's, certainly militarily there's less incidents. The problem I've seen is the political decisions that have to be made by the Iraqis themselves. They want us out of there. I want us out of there. I think we've done everything we can do militarily. Incidents have decreased, but still, the problem politically still faces, the fact that we can't solve the problem, the political guidelines that have been set up. I think we have 17 guidelines and they've solved four or five of them. (1) So there's a long way to go.

They want us out, that's the key, and we want out. We have depleted the resources of our military in the United States since we've been in Iraq. We need to rehabilitate them. We're spending $343 million a day, and 68% of the (American) people say "We want out of Iraq." (2) So we need to do it responsibly and carefully, but we need to get out of there.

Delano: Has President Bush's surge policy worked?

Murtha: Well, I think for the short-term, it has certainly reduced incidents. I'm not sure whether it's because of the Iraqis just being worn out, but certainly the way they're doing it today makes a big difference. It used to be we broke down doors, we went in and we killed people inadvertently. Now they're much more careful about that. (3) They're doing it the way you should fight a guerrilla war. That makes a big difference, and I think that the change in tactics is as important as the number of troops that is over there.

But what this has done is constrain us from putting troops into Afghanistan, which is starting to go bad. So we've got some real problems facing us. The next president's going to have some real decisions he's going to have to make.

(at 10:55) Murtha: ..... We need to restore the credibility of this great country. We're at 9% in Turkey. Our credibility is at the lowest level it's been in years. So that's the first thing he (Obama, if elected) needs to do. (4) We need to work with multi-nationals, other countries. We can't do this ourselves. I kept saying this over and over again. We need to internationalize this effort in Iraq. President Bush didn't think that was needed; he did this without these other countries.

And I think that Barack Obama understands, that he's willing to work with other people. Certainly the way he reached out during his campaign impressed me.

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Notes:
(1) - Not exactly. From the Associated Press via MSNBC (HT Gateway Pundit) -- "Iraq report: 15 of 18 benchmarks 'satisfactory.'"
(2) - According to Opinion Research Corporation (news release page; underlying PDF), the polling company for CNN, that poll was done in late April, and its results were released on May 5. 68% said they opposed the war, which is not the same as saying that "we should get out." Evidence of that obvious point comes from this March 2008 Gallup poll, in which 65% of those questioned said that "the United States has an obligation to establish a reasonable level of stability and security in Iraq before withdrawing all troops." Additionally, at the time of CNN poll, 59% of Americans thought the war was going badly. Since the polling date, Iraqi Security Forces and civilian deaths have dropped significantly. I wonder if CNN will have Opinion Research do another poll any time soon?
(3) - This is a serious shot at our troops and commanders in previous years. Especially given how Murtha's claims about the conduct of Haditha Marines have not been supported by the legal outcomes thus far, Delano should have pressed Murtha about the evidence he had for this statement. Instead, the statement was kept out of the broadcast entirely.
(4) - One of these days, a real journalist is going to ask someone like Murtha how more US-sympathetic governments have been elected in places like France, Germany, and Canada during the "lowest credibility in years" Bush Administration.

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You'll also note at KDKA's broadcast link that Delano rearranged the interview snippets he presented without disclosing to viewers that he did so (this is a particular pet peeve of mine, as it was one of CBS News's favorite techniques for twisting the words of our generals during Vietnam). Delano saved Murtha's "they don't want us there" riff for later in the broadcast report, so he could set it up separately from Murtha's surge comments. Sorry, Jon, that should be out of bounds, unless it's disclosed, in a professional operation.

Of course, past political involvement is not a journalistic disqualifier. For example, the late Tim Russert spent time as a Democratic staffer. But does anyone think Russert would have let Murtha's claim about past military conduct go unchallenged, or that he would have removed that claim from an edited report to protect an old political pal?

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.