Moyers and Maher Avoid Facts as They Attack President Bush on ‘Real Time’

If you’re a leftwing journalist with a new television special about to air on PBS accusing the Bush administration of using the media to sell the Iraq war in 2003, is there any place better to promote the event than HBO’s “Real Time?”

Bill Moyers must have felt this was the perfect venue to market his upcoming “Buying the War” program, as he discussed its contents and his views of the incursion and the media with Bill Maher on Friday (video available here).

As so often happens when Maher has such an outspoken critic of the Administration as his guest, the host set up the discussion in a manner seemingly designed to create an environment condusive to bashing the president:

After Hurricane Katrina, there was a lot of talk about how the media found its footing again. The media’s back. Well, after this week, would you agree with me: No, they’re not? They’re worse than ever?

Amazing, wouldn’t you agree? After all, the media’s coverage of Katrina was a national disgrace. Let me elaborate how for you, Bill:

  • They actually blamed a natural disaster on a president
  • They totally ignored the role of local and state authorities – both coincidentally happening to be Democrat Administrations – in such emergencies
  • They totally ignored the corruption and malfeasance of Louisiana elected officials for decades as it pertained to financial resources supposedly allocated for levee repair
  • They totally ignored the role that Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu and her father may have played in such malfeasance.

Yet, that wasn’t the only disgraceful moment in this interview, for Maher later posed:

Do you agree that it was correct for example to, for the “Nightly News” on at least a couple of the nights that I watched, that was the, the Virginia Tech story was the only story that they aired. Nothing else apparently happened in the whole world that night.

First off, I’m not sure what Maher was watching, for according to closed caption transcripts of last week’s “Nightly News” on NBC, the program did indeed cover seven U.S. military deaths in Iraq, and the storm in the Northeast Monday.

Furthermore, in a special hour-long program Tuesday, the “News” covered how income tax filing day impacts illegal immigrants. And, on Wednesday, even with the release of the controversial videotape of the assassin, the “News” did a rather detailed report on the Supreme Court’s decision on partial-birth abortion, as well as a segment on the bloody day in Iraq, followed by a report on the record close on Wall Street of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and the death of actress Kitty Carlisle.

As such, Maher’s facts – as typical – were quite inaccurate. However, as this was the biggest massacre at an educational facility in American history, why was Maher so offended by the amount of airtime this story got? This was especially curious given his opening remark to Moyers concerning the great job the media did with Hurricane Katrina as it seems safe to assume that Maher wasn’t offended at all by the media’s wall-to-wall coverage of a natural disaster as long as they were beating up the president in so doing.

Next up on Maher’s idiocy plate was referencing an article published Thursday by the McClatchy Group about a supposedly new strategy in Iraq:

Headline: Training Iraqi troops no longer driving force in U.S. policy. Okay, we’ve been hearing for years now, from the Bush administration, this is the cornerstone of their Iraq policy: “We’ll stand down when they stand up.” Today, “Sorry, we’re giving up on that.” Seems like a big story. We didn’t hear anything about it because Alec Baldwin had a phone conversation with his daughter.

Amazing. Of course, like many people, it seems that Maher only reads headlines and ledes, for the piece in question didn’t actually state that there had been any official change in policy at all. As Bruce McQuain of the Q and O blog pointed out Friday:

First military planners have not "abandoned" the idea that standing up Iraqi troops will enable American soldiers to start coming home earlier. That idea is still a part of the plan and a valid mission. Instead, a different tactic has been added to that "idea". As COL Keck [who is quoted in the article] points out, that remains a mission in addition to the new mission of clear, hold and build. Thus the "surge" and the announcement of it's [sic] purpose.

Why is it these people think that bringing a new mission on line and expanding the number of troops somehow translates into the abandonment of the mission of training? And, why, given the reason for the surge (give the Iraqis time to stand up the government and the security forces and take charge of their country), would we stop training them?

Of course, as is typical these days, the sources of information for this supposed change in policy were all anonymous:

The officials spoke only on the condition of anonymity because they aren't authorized to discuss the policy shift publicly. Defense Secretary Robert Gates made no public mention of training Iraqi troops on Thursday during a visit to Iraq.

As such, Bill, maybe that’s why nobody bothered reporting this story, for it was a figment of this reporter’s imagination, and was rather invalidated in the subsequent paragraphs if you would have bothered reading the entire piece.

Of course, it seems that Moyers also ignored the body of this article, for he responded:

When I saw that, Bill, I read that story, I thought that, how many Americans is this president willing to sacrifice on the altar of his ego because what he’s saying is, “Step aside Iraqis and let, let our guys die.” And if you can’t, if you can’t teach, if you can’t train Iraqis to be good soldiers, you can’t teach them to be good citizens. So, he’s giving up on democracy at the same time he’s giving up on having Iraqis do what American boys are doing.

Actually, Bill, maybe you ought to read the whole article before you jump to such a specious and unqualified conclusion.

Sadly, that wasn’t the last despicable comment from Moyers:

One reason I did this documentary is we’re entering the fifth year of this war. Tens of thousands of people have died and are still dying. And the press has never come to grips with its complicity in helping this administration market a war that is being fought under false pretenses.

Nice huh? But it got worse after Maher asked his guest what we can do about it. Better brace yourselves:

And the fact of the matter is until there are more Cindy Sheehans getting out and saying, “My son should not go and die in Iraq for the reasons that are being offered,” then we’re not going to do anything about it.”

Yes, Bill, that’s what America needs: more Cindy Sheehans.

Maher then made a very peculiar comment about pictures of the war and the Virginia Tech massacre that seemed to disparage the innocent students that were senselessly slaughtered last Monday:

I saw on the news, all the newscasts showed pictures of the students who were killed at Virginia Tech. Uh, I don’t remember ever seeing a picture on television of an Iraqi soldier. And it seems perverse, because the Iraqi, the soldiers, the Americans who volunteered and went to Iraq, to me they’re heroes because they put themselves in harm’s way, and that’s a lot different than just finding yourselves in harm’s way.

Frankly, though I think he worded this poorly, doesn’t it seem that Maher was saying that we shouldn’t have seen pictures of these students and teachers because they didn’t volunteer to be slaughtered? Furthermore, we see Iraqi soldiers on the news all the time, Bill. What stations are you watching?

Regardless of the answer, I did also want to point out that despite this really atrocious segment with Moyers, Friday’s “Real Time” was actually a fabulous installment, as Maher’s panel for a change included two conservatives – National Review’s John O’Sullivan, and Republican strategist Amy Holmes, along with Montana’s Democrat Governor Brian Schweitzer.

Maher ought to try this format of having two liberals (including himself) and two conservatives more often, for a much more balanced discussion ensued than normal, making for one of the most interesting “Real Times” of the season so far.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.