Hume Scolds E&P Mag for Ignoring Positive Side of Iraq Assessment by NYT's Burns

In his Monday “Grapevine” segment, FNC's Brit Hume relayed how “in an interview with TV host Bill Maher over the weekend,” New York Times Baghdad Bureau Chief John Burns “remained pessimistic, but also said that now, quote, 'U.S. military and diplomatic leadership in Iraq is about as good as you could possibly get,' end quote, and he said the U.S. team there has, quote, 'got the formula more or less right.'” But, Hume lamented, “by the time the trade publication Editor & Publisher had edited and published the Burns interview, you wouldn't have known any of that. The magazine ignored it all, instead leading with the fact that Burns, it claimed, was for the first time predicting U.S. 'failure.'" Indeed, the headline over the story by E&P Editor Greg Mitchell proclaimed, “John Burns, Back from Baghdad: U.S. Effort In Iraq Will Likely Fail.” (Transcripts of Hume and Burns, as well as an excerpt from the E&P article, follow.)

HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher aired live at 11pm EST Friday night, March 10, with the Burns interview either live or taped shortly beforehand, yet E&P misdated its posting, “Published: March 10, 2006 12:15 AM ET.” That would be about 23 hours before the interview occurred.

Hume asserted on the March 13 Special Report with Brit Hume:
"New York Times Baghdad Bureau Chief John Burns has long been highly pessimistic about the war in Iraq. In an interview with TV host Bill Maher over the weekend, Burns remained pessimistic, but also said that now, quote, 'U.S. military and diplomatic leadership in Iraq is about as good as you could possibly get,' end quote, and he said the U.S. team there has, quote, 'got the formula more or less right.' But by the time the trade publication Editor & Publisher

had edited and published the Burns interview, you wouldn't have known any of that. The magazine ignored it all, instead leading with the fact that Burns, it claimed, was for the first time predicting U.S. 'failure.'"

[UPDATE, 11:30am EST Tuesday: The MRC's Tim Graham suggests that Hume's source for his criticism was likely a Monday posting, "E&P Takes Burns Out of Context," on National Review Online's "Media Blog."]

An excerpt from the E&P piece likely posted early Saturday morning:
John Burns, Back from Baghdad: U.S. Effort In Iraq Will Likely Fail

A day after returning to the U.S., after another long term as bureau chief in Baghdad, John F. Burns of the New York Times said on Bill Maher's live Friday night HBO program that he now feels that the failure of the American effort in Iraq "now seems likely." The chances that it will reach "a satisfactory conclusion" appears "improbable."

Asked if a civil war was developing there, Burns said, "It has been for some time," adding that it's just a matter of "scale." He said the current U.S. leaders there -- military and diplomatic -- were doing their best but sectarian differences may doom the enterprise.

Burns said that he and others underestimated this problem, feeling for a long time that toppling Saddam Hussein would almost inevitably lead to something much better. He called the Abu Ghraib abuse the worst of many mistakes the U.S. made but said that even without so many mistakes the sectarian conflict would have gotten out of hand....

Speaking from Cambridge, Mass., where he was speaking at a conference on the Vietnam war, Burns observed that he had been on the ground for 24 hours and, of all the people he had interacted with so far, "no one supports this war."...

END of Excerpt
The MRC's Brad Wilmouth tracked down the portion of the interview on the March 10 Real Time with Bill Maher taped from Los Angeles, with Burns in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who warned of failure, but also made the positive evaluation of the U.S. team, and how they have the “formula” for success, which Hume quoted:
"There were many mistakes made, but my feeling is that if this fails, as I have to say on the balance of the odds it seems now likely to do, it's probably not going to be because of American mistakes, but because the mission was impossible in the first, and there's something else I'd like to say, which is that there were mistakes, of course they were serious mistakes, probably the most serious of them is what was allowed to happen at Abu Ghraib, but the American military and political and diplomatic leadership in Iraq now, it seems to me, is about as good as you could possibly get, that if this war, if the American enterprise in Iraq can be brought to some kind of satisfactory conclusion, improbable as that seems to be, it will be in some measure because they do now have a team in Iraq, Ambassador Khalilzad, General Casey, General Abizaid, as the Middle East commander, and I think they've got the formula more or less right. But whether it can prevail, that's very uncertain."

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