'Early' Finds Only One Side of Rumsfeld Debate


Syler and MurthaThe CBS Early Show this morning continued its tradition of "fair and balanced" reporting, as they addressed the interminable firestorm that has surrounded Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, seemingly since he was first appointed 5 1/2 years ago. They addressed the Rumsfeld issue twice in the first hour, and both times the focus was on the critics and criticism. There were no defenders of Rumsfeld in evidence, save for short clips from the President and the SecDef himself, and their comments were immediately followed by critics explaining how they're lying.

The first segment was the "straight news" report from CBS White House correspondent Bill Plante. This segment did include short clips from Bush and Rumsfeld, but immediately followed by "balancing" their comments with those of critics.
Plante: And Rumsfeld, who made it clear that he's not thinking of leaving either, portrayed the complaints against him by retired commanders as the result of his drive to make fundamental structural changes in the armed forces.

Rumsfeld: When you make a decision, you make a choice, somebody's not going to like it.

Plante: One of Rumsfeld's critics, retired Lieutenant General John Batiste, said that wasn't the secretary's problem.

Batiste: With all due respect this has nothing to do with change. Military's been changing for a very long time. The issue, again, is accountability for very poor strategic decisions that have essentially put us where we are today.

So, after calling Rumsfeld a liar, they went on to other important things (like the birth of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' baby) for a few minutes, before coming back to Rumsfeld. This time, it was a one-on-one interview between Rene Syler and Rumsfeld critic US Rep. John Murtha, D-PA. There was, of course, no Rumsfeld supporter to be found, but we could at least expect a sharp grilling of Congressman Murtha, right?

That is, of course, a question that is both rhetorical and facetious. The "grilling" of Murtha included questions such as "was that a mistake, do you think?" and "is he just making an excuse?" If Murtha was a hired spokesman for an organized "get Rumsfeld" coalition, he couldn't have scripted questions better suited to letting him make his argument. (Video of the segment here...)

EDITOR'S NOTE: Here's our transcript:

Rene Syler: "On Tuesday, President Bush reiterated his support for Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld. He said it's best to leave him in that position. Was that a mistake, do you think?" 

John Murtha: "Well, of course, it's up to the President to decide how long he stays. But I said, when Abu Ghraib, when he gave his resignation before he should have accepted it. Let me tell you something, this President allowed Rumsfeld, Secretary Rumsfeld to send troops in with inadequate combat gear, inadequate forces, and then what that resulted, that resulted in Abu Ghraib where you had personnel untrained working a prison and this caused all this furor and we lost credibility all over the world because it looked like we were lowering our moral standards to al Qaeda... 

Rene Syler: "The secretary says, though, that this is really about people's resistance to change. That he's made decisions in the past that have been unpopular. That he's ruffled some feathers, and that this is really what that's about. Is that a good argument or is he just making an excuse?"

John Murtha: "Rene, just making excuses...It's time for the secretary to make a decision for the good of the country. We can't move forward till the President holds people responsible. I realize he's trying to accept responsibility for this war himself. But at some point he's got to change direction. He can't be afraid to change direction in this war. Abraham Lincoln changed the Secretary of War during the height of the Civil War. And this President has to take the same steps if he's going to restore our credibility worldwide."

Rene Syler: "Congressman, let me ask you this, though, because you've said in the past that this is President Bush's war. But, it sounds like just now you're talking about Secretary of Defense, we're hearing this, all this criticism of the secretary from all sorts of corners. Is this the president's war to fight? Is this criticism really aimed at the president?"

John Murtha: "Well, certainly it's aimed at the president. It's aimed at the war itself. Over 60% of the people in America are against this war. 47% of the Iraqis say it's all right to kill Americans. Our troops are caught in a civil war. The military commanders have said for over a year we cannot win this militarily. I talked to the military commanders in and out, active and inactive, reserve, regular, and they all say the same thing. You can't win this war. Now publicly, the active duty, they've got to say what the civilian leadership says. It's time for us to redeploy."

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