Nine Months After Portending “Civil War” in Iraq, CBS's Schieffer Renews Warning

Nine months ago, CBS anchor Bob Schieffer painted Iraq as spiraling into civil war. It didn't happen then, yet on Wednesday night Schieffer renewed his ominous forecast. But unlike in May, this time his ABC and NBC anchor colleagues expressed the same prospect. Back on May 19 of last year, Schieffer teased the CBS Evening News with this unique warning: "Good evening. I'm Bob Schieffer. It just keeps getting worse in Iraq. The death toll is rising. Tension is growing between Shiites and Sunnis. Is the country sliding toward civil war?" He soon added: “Now there's been a surge of attacks on Shiite and Sunni Muslim clerics, and some fear that Iraq is sliding toward civil war.” From Baghdad, Mark Strassmann backed up Schieffer's thesis: "Tit-for-tat terror seems to be pushing Iraq towards civil war. This man says, 'We are heading toward a catastrophe.'"

On Wednesday night, Schieffer teased: “One of the worst days ever in Iraq, and it's Iraqis against Iraqis. A Middle East expert tells us the country has been plunged into civil war.” Schieffer also relayed how “some are saying Iraq has been plunged into civil war.” On World News Tonight, ABC anchor Elizabeth Vargas asserted: “One of the great fears of the American mission in Iraq has always been the prospect of civil war. Tonight, those fears are particularly real.” Over on the NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams, just back to Manhattan from two weeks in Torino, warned of how "tonight there are new fears that Iraq is on the brink of civil war." (Transcripts follow)

Schieffer teased the May 19, 2005 CBS Evening News:
"Good evening. I am Bob Schieffer. It just keeps getting worse in Iraq. The death toll is rising. Tension is growing between Shiites and Sunnis. Is the country sliding toward civil war? We start there tonight."
Schieffer then opened his newscast:
"Since Iraq's first freely elected government took over late last month, not a day has passed without deadly bombings and other attacks. Hundreds have died, including at least a dozen Iraqis and two American soldiers today. Now there's been a surge of attacks on Shiite and Sunni Muslim clerics, and some fear that Iraq is sliding toward civil war with American forces caught in the middle.”
For a full rundown of coverage that night, when neither ABC or NBC offered any fears of a civil war, see the May 20, 2005 MRC CyberAlert.

Schieffer's tease was the first runner-up in the "'Baghdad Bob' Was Correct Award" category in the MRC's Best Notable Quotables of 2005: The Eighteenth Annual Awards for the Year's Worst Reporting." To play a Real or Windows Media clip of Schieffer's tease, go to the MRC's posting of that award in the 2005 awards issue.

Fast-forwarding to this week, the MRC's Brad Wilmouth took down the leads of the February 22 ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts, all of which began with fears of civil war breaking out in Iraq. We'll start with CBS:

# CBS Evening News:
Bob Schieffer, in opening teaser: "Good evening. I am Bob Schieffer. One of the worst days ever in Iraq, and it's Iraqis against Iraqis. A Middle East expert tells us the country has been plunged into civil war. We start there tonight, and we'll cover these stories..."

Schieffer set up his lead story: "There is no other way to put it. Iraq exploded today. It began when at least three bombs went off inside a Shiite mosque in Samarra that is one of Iraq's holiest shrines. That triggered more than 100 attacks on rival Sunni mosques across Iraq. America's top commander in Iraq, General George Casey, says it is a critical moment in the war, and some are saying Iraq has been plunged into civil war. Our first report comes from Kimberly Dozier in Baghdad."


# ABC's World News Tonight:
Co-anchor Diane Sawyer teased: "Tonight, a savage attack on a holy shrine in Iraq pushes the country closer to civil war. What does this mean for the United States?"

Co-anchor Elizabeth Vargas opened the newscast: "Good evening. One of the great fears of the American mission in Iraq has always been the prospect of civil war. Tonight, those fears are particularly real. President Bush and Iraqi leaders are appealing for calm after a brazen and provocative attack. This was the Golden Mosque in Samarra, one of Shiite Islam's holiest sites. And this is how it looked after insurgents bombed it today. The attack has sparked rage and revenge across the country. The majority Shiites are venting their fury on the minority Sunni Muslims, whom they hold responsible. More than 80 Sunni mosques have been targeted. ABC's David Kerley reports tonight from Baghdad."


# NBC Nightly News:
Brian Williams, back in New York City, teased: "Fury in Iraq: After an attack on the golden dome at one of Islam's most sacred shrines, tonight there are new fears that Iraq is on the brink of civil war."

Williams led: "Good evening. As we come on the air back here in New York tonight, we begin with a tense and violent situation half a world away. It is one of the holy sites in all of Islam. But more than that, it's a holy site to Shiite Islam. They're the majority in Iraq, and today, when their mosque was bombed on a site dating back over a thousand years, thousands of them took to the streets. Their anger is directed at the Sunnis, and now the U.S. and others are worried that this could be a kind of turning point in Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence. The worst fear is that Iraq is sliding towards civil war. We begin here tonight with NBC's Ned Colt on the urgent situation in Baghdad."
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