In May of 2004, Abu Musab Al Zarqawi participated in the beheading of Nicholas Berg, a businessman working in Iraq. His father, Michael, emerged in the aftermath of that crime as an outspoken liberal activist and is now running for Congress in Delaware on the Green Party ticket. So who better to bring on for a discussion about Zarqawi’s death? Michael Berg appeared on all three cable channels this morning to spew hatred towards the United States Government and George W. Bush. Interestingly, only one network, MSNBC, found the time to mention that Mr. Berg is now a political candidate. Rather then cover the successful elimination of a significant terrorist threat, CNN, FNC, and MSNBC all gave time to someone who would make statements such as this one on CNN’s American Morning at 7:50AM EDT:
Michael Berg: "Well, you know, I'm not saying Saddam Hussein was a good man, but he's no worse than George Bush. Saddam Hussein didn't commit the rapes, neither did George Bush, but both men are responsible under their reigns of, of terror....I don't get it. Why is it better to have George Bush be the king of Iraq rather than Saddam Hussein?"
All three networks expressed surprise that Mr. Berg would say such things. FNC’s Brian Kilmeade, on Fox and Friends, reacted angrily:
Kilmeade: "Did you read the New York Times Sunday? Did you see the killing fields exposed, sir? I’m amazed that you don't want to feel any, uh- If you don’t want to feel any relief that the person who beheaded your son is now dead and you want to blame George Bush-"
That segment aired at 6:20AM EDT. CNN’s Soledad O’Brien seemed perplexed:
O’Brien: "I have to say sir, I’m surprised. I know how devastated you were, your family was, frankly, when Nick was, was killed..."
As Tim Graham has already noted, the early media coverage tended to throw cold water on the significance of Zarqawi’s death. Michael Berg’s appearance allowed another opportunity for that sentiment to be expressed. FNC ended their interview, shortly after Berg stated, "Yeah, like George Bush didn't okay the torture and death and rape of people in the Abu Ghraib prison for which my son was killed in retaliation." MSNBC and CNN had longer segments in which Mr. Berg stated his thoughts on the death of Zarqawi.
Interviewed on MSNBC’s News Live program, which aired at 9:25AM EDT, anchor Randy Maier asked if Zarqawi’s death was significant in the fight against terrorism. Over on CNN, Soledad O’Brien wondered, "Are you concerned that he becomes a martyr and a hero and, in fact, in- invigorates the insurgency in Iraq?" O’Brien even allowed Mr. Berg to frame the discussion. She started a question by asserting, "There's a theory that a struggle for democracy- "
Berg interrupted, incredulous:
Berg: "Democracy? Come on. You can't really believe that's a democracy there when the people who are running the elections are holding guns. That's not democracy."
Properly chastised, O’Brien rephrased her query:
O’Brien: "There is a theory that as they try to form some kind of government..."
MSNBC’s Randy Maier offered the toughest questioning. After Berg stated that Zarqawi’s family grieved for their dead son, just as he had, Maier firmly shot that argument down:
"With all due respect, I doubt that Zarqawi’s family is going through what you went through. Since Zarqawi is now deemed a martyr by his family members and they are rejoicing in his death. I don’t think that they are feeling anywhere near the type of grief that you and your family felt."
This is almost beside the point however. It’s easy for the cable anchors to criticize the extreme statements of Michael Berg. But the important question is, why, on this day, did they feature him at all? (Special thanks to MRC intern Eugene Gibilaro for transcribing the MSNBC segment.)