Couric Portrays Murtha as Victim, Wonders: 'Did You Feel Vindicated Last Tuesday?'

A year after the networks let their evening newscasts by championing Democratic Congressman John Murtha's anti-war views, the CBS Evening News on Monday night touted an “exclusive” interview with Murtha, whom anchor Katie Couric favorably described as “a highly-decorated Vietnam veteran” who was “long considered a hawk on defense issues” when he “stunned House colleagues by calling for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.” Though the news media trumpeted Murtha last November, Couric painted him as a victim as she reminded him of how “there was hell to pay, though, Congressman, for what you said. You were called a 'defeatocrat,' a 'liberal turncoat.' Senator John McCain said you had become too emotional, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said your comments were damaging to troop morale.” She then cued him up: “Did you feel vindicated last Tuesday?" Murtha, naturally, agreed with Couric's characterization: "Oh, I certainly did feel vindicated.” (Transcript follows)

Video clip (38 seconds): Real (1.1 MB) or Windows Media (1.3 MB), plus MP3 audio (230 KB)

Couric also painted Democrats as powerless: "Now that the Democrats have taken over both houses of Congress, what are they really empowered to do in terms of foreign policy, Congressman?" And she did, at least, once challenge Murtha: “What about those who say if U.S. forces leave en masse, then the country will descend into even further chaos?" But Couric had no follow-up when Murtha ludicrously contended that Iraq would not descend into chaos: "Yeah, that's not what the Iraqis say. The Iraqis say they have more confidence in their own forces, they have confidence in their own police, their own military. So I don't agree with that."

However, as noted in a November 7 NewsBusters item, “Washington Post Acknowledges Troops in Iraq Support Bush Policy, Oppose Pullout,” soldiers in Iraq fear what would occur if they leave:
....From “Forward Operating Base Sykes,” Post correspondent Josh White disclosed that he talked to “dozens of soldiers across the country” and they feared “leaving Iraq now would have devastating consequences.” White reported in the article published November 6: “With a potentially historic U.S. midterm election on Tuesday and the war in Iraq a major issue at the polls, many soldiers said the United States should not abandon its effort here. Such a move, enlisted soldiers and officers said, would set Iraq on a path to civil war, give new life to the insurgency and create the possibility of a failed state after nearly four years of fighting to implant democracy.” In addition, “the soldiers...expressed support for the Bush administration's approach to the war, which they described as sticking with a tumultuous situation to give Iraq a chance to stand on its own.”
A year ago, ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN all advanced Murtha's anti-war cause, as documented in NewsBusters items I wrote at the time:

A November 17 NewsBusters item, “Nets Lead With Murtha, Highlight His Ridicule of Cheney's Lack of Military Service,” reported:
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.
A November 18 NewsBusters posting, “CBS Portrays Murtha as Victim of Unfair Attacks, Insists His 'Patriotism Questioned,'” recounted:
A night after leading with Democratic Congressman John Murtha's call for the U.S. to withdraw from Iraq, Friday's CBS Evening News painted him as a victim of unjust attacks on his “patriotism,” though CBS provided no supporting soundbite of any such accusation, ludicrously insisted he was a “leading supporter” of the war and featured clips of Democrats, including “another decorated veteran whose own patriotism has also been questioned” (that would be John Kerry), who “fired back" at the “personal attacks” on Murtha.

Anchor Bob Schieffer framed the story: “When Pennsylvania's hawkish Democratic Congressman John Murtha said yesterday the time had come to withdraw our forces, Republicans accused him of wanting to cut and run, and all but challenged the patriotism of war critics.” Reporter Bob Orr began with the ridiculous assumption that Murtha “had been one of the leading supporters of the war in Iraq."
A November 19 NewsBusters article, “Murtha CNN’s 'Play of the Week,' Blitzer Suggests Murtha the Cronkite of Iraq War,” relayed:
On Friday’s Situation Room, CNN’s Bill Schneider awarded Congressman John Murtha his “Play of the Week,” and after Schneider’s piece host Wolf Blitzer suggested the call by Murtha, “a very moderate conservative” (whatever that is), to withdraw troops is reminiscent of CBS anchor Walter Cronkite’s 1968 assertion the U.S. was losing in Vietnam, and so Republicans “probably realize they’ve got some serious problems." Schneider explained his pick: “In 1968, Walter Cronkite returned from Vietnam and told Americans that, in his opinion, the Vietnam War had become a stalemate. That was a turning point. Now, it's too early to tell whether what happened this week was a turning point in Iraq, but it certainly was the political 'Play of the Week.'” Schneider played up Murtha’s influence: "He rarely speaks to the press. When he does, Washington listens. This week, Murtha spoke.”
The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video for the taped interview on the November 13 CBS Evening News:
Katie Couric: "Well, just as it is at the White House, what to do about the war in Iraq is the number one item on the agenda for the new 110th Congress. It was just a year ago this week that Democrat John Murtha of Pennsylvania, a highly-decorated Vietnam veteran long considered a hawk on defense issues, stunned House colleagues by calling for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Murtha is now the top choice of Speaker-in-waiting Nancy Pelosi to be the new majority leader, though Steny Hoyer of Maryland is also in the running. Earlier today in an exclusive interview, Congressman Murtha told me that he intends to press harder than ever for an American troop pullout from Iraq."

Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), with the Capitol in the background: "We're caught in a civil war, and I'm absolutely convinced that there's no alternative, anything else, we've lost the hearts and minds of the people, 70 to 80 percent of the Iraqis want us out of there. Most of the American public wants us out of there. We're expending $8 billion a month, Katie, and we need to start to redeploy our troops, and I think that'll actually increase stability regardless of what the White House says."

Couric: "And when you say 'redeploy,' Congressman, you're talking about complete withdrawal?"

Murtha: "I'm talking about complete redeployment of our troops out of Iraq over a period of time. The Iraqis have no incentive to take over their own destiny, and I think that's the first step in solving this problem."

Couric: "But, Congressman, what about those who say if U.S. forces leave en masse, then the country will descend into even further chaos?"

Murtha: "Yeah, that's not what the Iraqis say. The Iraqis say they have more confidence in their own forces, they have confidence in their own police, their own military. So I don't agree with that."

Couric: "Now that the Democrats have taken over both houses of Congress, what are they really empowered to do in terms of foreign policy, Congressman?"

Murtha: "Let me tell you, every solution, everything we look for has to become with the war, with the Iraqi war, $8 billion a month, $11 million an hour, the people say they want Medicare to be changed, they want the drug programs they passed to be changed, they want educational benefits to be improved. None of that's going to happen until we stop spending $8 billion a month. And that's what the public's saying."

Couric: "There was hell to pay, though, Congressman, for what you said. You were called a 'defeatocrat,' a 'liberal turncoat.' Senator John McCain said you had become too emotional, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said your comments were damaging to troop morale. Did you feel vindicated last Tuesday?"

Murtha: "Oh, I certainly did feel vindicated. I felt vindicated because I saw the difference between when I first spoke out and most of the American public disagreed with my position, to the vote itself which showed that most public agrees we have to do something, we have to change the direction of this country, we have to reduce the spending, we have to change our priorities in this country. And I think the President is going to recognize that, and we're ready to work with him."
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center