Nets Appear to Ban Conservative Guests From Their Panels This Morning

It’s probably not the first time it has happened, but with the exception of ABC’s George Will – who, of course, has been a regular on that network’s “This Week” for many years – the networks’ Sunday political talk shows had no established conservative guests to participate in their weekly panel discussions. Joining George Stephanopoulos and George Will this morning were Democratic political strategist Donna Brazile, TIME magazine’s Jay Carney, and ABC’s Claire Shipman. NBC’s “The Chris Matthews Show” featured Katy Kay of the BBC, Michael Duffy of TIME magazine, Norah O’Donnell of MSNBC, and Terry Neal of the Washington Post. CBS’s “Face the Nation” did its annual Thanksgiving “historians” program.

The most left-leaning of the panels was on NBC’s “Meet the Press” where Tim Russert invited Judy Woodruff, formerly of CNN’s “Inside Politics,” David Broder of the Washington Post, Eugene Robinson also of the Washington Post, and David Gregory of NBC News. While the “This Week” and “Matthews” panels actually engaged in a comparatively well-rounded discussion, the “Meet the Press” group spent the bulk of its half-hour talking about the “disaster” in Iraq. For instance, Robinson said, “I think that there's general agreement now that there will be a mess in Iraq when U.S. troops finally withdraw and it certainly won't be an Athenian democracy, as the administration said it was out to create.” Gregory agreed, “And unfortunately, perhaps the only outcome is a kind of low-level civil war that's akin to the Arab- Israeli situation with U.S. soldiers in the way.”

Woodruff then joined in by paraphrasing a recent article in the Atlantic Monthly:

“And he goes on--basically, what's scary about it, to pick up on what David said--the scary thing is, he said, even the people who say we must stay the course are saying there are no good options.  If you get out, the country falls into civil war.  If you stay, it's a mess.”

Woodruff added:

“So--and then Larry Diamond, who is not as familiar a name--Stanford University, a Hoover Institute fellow; I interviewed him this week for the Council on Foreign Relations--he spent four months in Iraq; came back completely disillusioned.  He was there for the administration; came back completely disillusioned with their commitment.  Now, he says, "Yes, we've got to stay there, because the U.S. stake in Iraq is greater than in Vietnam." And he said the U.S. must not only adopt a bilateral position, it's got to bring in the U.N., it's got to bring in other countries in the region.  It is a devastating portrayal.”

Robinson interjected:

“But, you know, I'm not sure that the idea of maintaining a unitary Iraq is necessarily the best idea.  I mean, is that ever going to work?  Is Iraq ever going to be a stable polity, a stable country?”

Russert then asked a question that implied that democracy in Iraq is impossible, and that this is now a futile goal: “Is the president aware, is he capable at this point, of backing off of his stated goal of a democracy for Iraq, and realizing the reality that, in fact, he may have to withdraw troops in 2006 and withdraw completely in 2007?” Woodruff answered it this way: “Richard Holbrook again--I talked to yesterday--had a memorable line.  He said the Democrats have a dilemma, the Republicans have a crisis, because this policy that they have embraced for so long is coming unraveled.”

Broder agreed:

“We don't have to speculate, because you've begun to see it already on Capitol Hill.  It's every person for himself or herself.  They are scattering, and voting their districts.  We saw it in the House, we saw it in the Senate, and we will see it increasingly now because the president is weakened.  The one thing the president could do that would help himself and help his party would be to start leveling with the American people.  I mean, I think an honorable man like John Warner, to have to sit here and not be able to say to you what those young officers clearly said to him about the troop situation in Iraq, just puts his party in a terrible position and people can see through that.”

Yet, in the midst of this entire discussion, not one panel member, nor the host, brought up the hugely successful referendum that took place in Iraq last month, or the upcoming elections on December 15 and what they might mean for the future of this country as well as politics in the region.

What follows is a full transcript of this segment.

MR. RUSSERT:  And we are back.  Welcome, all.

David Gregory, you traveled with the president throughout Asia.  Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, issued a statement in Korea the day that John Murtha spoke out about a position of redeploying troops and McClellan said this.  "So it is baffling that [Congressman John Murtha (D-PA)] is endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic party.  The eve of an historic democratic election in Iraq is not the time to surrender to the terrorists."

Less than 48 hours later, the president, Mr. McClellan's boss, said this.

(Videotape, November 20, 2005):

PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH:  Congressman Murtha is a fine man.  He's a good man who served our country with honor and distinction as a Marine in Vietnam and as a United States congressman.  He is a strong supporter of the United States military.  And I know the decision to call for an immediate withdrawal of our troops by Congressman Murtha was done in a careful and thoughtful way.  I disagree with his position.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Now, Congressman Murtha would take exception to immediate withdrawal.  He says...

MR. DAVID GREGORY:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...his is a gradual redeployment, but all that being said, how did we get from "surrendering to the terrorists" and "a colleague of Michael Moore"...

MR. GREGORY:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...to "a fine man," "a patriot," within 48 hours?

MR. GREGORY:  This weakened White House made a decision a couple of weeks ago and that is to start to fight.  They wanted to fight about Judge Alito, but that hasn't been much of a fight right now, so now they want to fight about Iraq.  And they wanted to take on the Democrats, knowing that if the public believes that the president took the country to the war on a lie, there's no way he could keep Americans focused on sticking it out in Iraq now.  And so they used a line from their 2004 campaign play book-- Michael Moore in the left wing faction of the Democratic Party--and they used it against Murtha. Quickly they realized that that was a mistake.  And it wasn't just McClellan who wrote that.  Top officials in the White House were involved in that.  The president felt, after seeing for a couple of days that this was an important moment, that a very serious member of Congress and an ally of the military was calling for a re-examination, that he had to tone it down, because the American people were taking it seriously.

MR. RUSSERT:  David Broder, is it possible for official Washington--the president, Democratic leaders, Republican leaders--to arrive at common ground, a consensus position on Iraq?

MR. DAVID BRODER:  It's possible, Tim, but they won't get there by arguing about who did what three years ago.  And this whole debate about whether there was just a mistake or misrepresentation or so on is, I think, from the public point of view largely irrelevant.  The public's moved past that.  The public wants to know what we're going to do next in Iraq.  It's an untenable situation for it to go on as it has been going for the last six months or a year.  And we are beginning to see the outlines of a possible strategy for whittling down the American commitment and turning it over to see whether the Iraqis can or cannot manage their country themselves.

MR. RUSSERT:  How much of an impact did Congressman Murtha's speech have?

MR. BRODER:  Well, I think it had two impacts.  One, it certainly crystalized the debate about the possibility of an immediate withdrawal, but that was very quickly rejected.  It also distracted from what is probably a more significant thing, which is what your two guests were doing--your Biden and Warner-- when they put together those resolutions in the Senate that put 79 senators on record as saying next year the Iraqis have to take over the war.

MR. RUSSERT:  Judy Woodruff, we have a situation where the Democrats are trying to figure out how to deal with this politically.  Hillary Clinton, who was a front-runner in all the polls for the 2008 nomination, said it would be a big mistake to withdraw from Iraq, that it could create another haven in Iraq like we had in Afghanistan.  At the same time, the same week her husband, Bill Clinton, the former president, said the war was a big mistake.  Can the Democrats embrace both positions?  The war was a big mistake but now that we're there, it's a big mistake to get out too quickly?

MS. JUDY WOODRUFF:  Well, first of all, Jack Murtha changed the debate.  You talk to Democrats and Republicans, and, yes, he was repudiated on the floor, but everybody you talk to says these members, these senators have gone back home, they are going to pay attention to what their constituents are saying. Even--no less an influential thinker in American foreign policy than Richard Holbrooke, I talked to him yesterday.  He is all for staying the course.  He is now reassessing his own position, asking what if things don't change on the ground, as is hoped.

About Hillary Clinton, Tim, she represents the real dilemma that Democrats face.  And that is you--those who supported the war, if they want to run for president, they are dealing with a constituency out there who--a majority of whom desperately want to bring these troops home.  And you've got Democrats like Hillary Clinton and others like Joe Biden who are--you know, who are living with the overhang of the Vietnam War, George McGovern.  That's a very difficult circle to square, or square to circle.  And so I think, you know, for Hillary Clinton, that's why we're not hearing a lot from Hillary Clinton.

MR. RUSSERT:  Gene Robinson, you wrote a column in The Washington Post on Tuesday about this issue and were very strong with your own views.  ..."`stay the course' doesn't play as a strategy when the course seems to lead nowhere. What is victory in Iraq?  When will we know we've won?  When"-- will--"the simmering, low-level civil war we've ignited spark into full flames and somebody takes over the country? ... The mess that George Bush and Co. have created in Iraq doesn't have an unmessy solution.  Murtha's plan--just get out--isn't really attractive, but at least it's a plan.  The saying goes that when you're in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.  But the president, like the optimistic kid in the old joke, just keeps burrowing deeper into the pile of manure..."

MR. EUGENE ROBINSON:  Well, you know, it's interesting, Tim.  I think what's happening in Washington now is arrival at a kind of common consensus expectation.  And I think the expectation is that some sort of gradual or even more precipitous withdrawal of U.S. troops will begin to happen in 2006.  And along with that expectation is a general lowering of expectations about the outcome, about what will be left behind in Iraq.  I think that there's general agreement now that there will be a mess in Iraq when U.S. troops finally withdraw and it certainly won't be an Athenian democracy, as the administration said it was out to create.

MR. GREGORY:  Can I just add--what I think is important--I don't know what the conversation was like around your Thanksgiving dinner table, but I think right now it's not just about what the administration focuses on, which is the disaster they think will occur if we leave precipitously.  I think where the public is, as you said, David, is they're asking themselves the question, "What's the best outcome if we stay?"  And unfortunately, perhaps the only outcome is a kind of low-level civil war that's akin to the Arab- Israeli situation with U.S. soldiers in the way.  I think that's a scary prospect. And so what the administration faces is the difficulty of saying to the American people, "We've got a shot here for real democracy."  The question is, do Americans feel invested in building that democracy over the long term.  It could be very difficult.

MS. WOODRUFF:  Tim...

MR. BRODER:  Well, do Iraqis feel invested in it?  That's the crucial question.  This is largely out of our hands now.  And it is going to be up to the Iraqis what happens in Iraq.

MR. RUSSERT:  An insurgency of this magnitude has to be enabled by the populace.

MR. BRODER:  Of course.

MR. RUSSERT:  And unless the Iraqis "stand up," there is no possible way the United States can stay there forever to protect them from an insurgency that they are tacitly allowing to exist.

MS. WOODRUFF:  Tim, there is a must-read piece in the Atlantic magazine this month.  Jim Fallows writes; he's taken a very hard look at the Iraqi military, what you're talking about here, and he says the U.S. has not lived up to the commitment that it spoke two years ago.  The Iraqi military has not been trained; there hasn't been the leadership.  And he goes on--basically, what's scary about it, to pick up on what David said--the scary thing is, he said, even the people who say we must stay the course are saying there are no good options.  If you get out, the country falls into civil war.  If you stay, it's a mess.

So--and then Larry Diamond, who is not as familiar a name--Stanford University, a Hoover Institute fellow; I interviewed him this week for the Council on Foreign Relations--he spent four months in Iraq; came back completely disillusioned.  He was there for the administration; came back completely disillusioned with their commitment.  Now, he says, "Yes, we've got to stay there, because the U.S. stake in Iraq is greater than in Vietnam." And he said the U.S. must not only adopt a bilateral position, it's got to bring in the U.N., it's got to bring in other countries in the region.  It is a devastating portrayal.

MR. ROBINSON:  But, you know, I'm not sure that the idea of maintaining a unitary Iraq is necessarily the best idea.  I mean, is that ever going to work?  Is Iraq ever going to be a stable polity, a stable country?  And I'm not sure that it is, absent the sort of tyrannical rule that Saddam Hussein had imposed.  I mean, you have the Kurds in the north, who see themselves as part of a larger kind of transnational, persecuted minority.  You have the Shiites in the south, who see themselves ditto, as part of a larger, transnational persecuted minority.  You've got the Sunnis in the middle, who used to run the country, who don't anymore.  Is that a country?  Can we leave that as a unified country?  I'm not certain.

MR. RUSSERT:  David Gregory, you cover George Bush day in and day out.  Do you believe that he is at a point now where he realizes that support for the war in the country and in Congress and in the Pentagon--I asked Congressman Murtha last week, "Have you gotten any response from members of the Pentagon that you deal with?"  He said, "Absolutely," suggesting they were encouraging him to go forward with his words.  Is the president aware, is he capable at this point, of backing off of his stated goal of a democracy for Iraq, and realizing the reality that, in fact, he may have to withdraw troops in 2006 and withdraw completely in 2007?

MR. GREGORY:  Well, I'm not clear that that understanding has really taken hold, because you've seen tactically an administration that has gone on the offensive in a way they did last year with an old playbook that doesn't work the same way that it used to.  I think there is a growing realization that, number one, you have to reverse this feeling in the country that the administration lied to take the country into war, which they staunchly reject, but that they also have to redefine when and how we get to a democratic and some sort of stable Iraq.  So I think that is beginning to take hold now because, really, there's no other choice.  And that's why there's so much talk about a drawdown of troops by next year, as you get toward the midterm elections, and putting Iraqi forces out front, lowering the profile of American forces, because the president's got a party.  He may not have to run again, but Republicans who were very important supporting the war do have to run on this policy now, and it's very difficult.

MS. WOODRUFF:  Richard Holbrook again--I talked to yesterday--had a memorable line.  He said the Democrats have a dilemma, the Republicans have a crisis, because this policy that they have embraced for so long is coming unraveled. You've got, on the one hand, John McCain saying more troops, let's stay there for years.  On the other hand, you've got everybody from John Warner to Chuck Hagel--I mean, the party is, to some extent, all over the map.

MR. RUSSERT:  David Broder, the Democratic campaign committee for Congress, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Rahm Emanuel is the chairman, are taking out radio ads in three swing Ohio congressional districts saying you can't have Republican Congress being a rubber stamp for George W.  Bush.  You have Republicans saying openly now we have to resolve the situation in Iraq. You have the Jack Abramoff scandal which now, according to investigators, may include six members of Congress and some congressional wives.  What do Republicans do between now and November of 2006 in terms of dealing with their president on Iraq, on the deficit and other issues to be in a position that they can hold their seats?

MR. BRODER:  We don't have to speculate, because you've begun to see it already on Capitol Hill.  It's every person for himself or herself.  They are scattering, and voting their districts.  We saw it in the House, we saw it in the Senate, and we will see it increasingly now because the president is weakened.  The one thing the president could do that would help himself and help his party would be to start leveling with the American people.  I mean, I think an honorable man like John Warner, to have to sit here and not be able to say to you what those young officers clearly said to him about the troop situation in Iraq, just puts his party in a terrible position and people can see through that.

MR. GREGORY:  Right.  And, Tim, you raised the point about why the president doesn't go on television with maps, with graphs, with numbers about what's happening in Iraq when so few Americans really understand the reality on the ground.  He certainly was willing to do that with the Social Security debate but hasn't been willing to when it comes to Iraq.

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