CNN's Blitzer Contends Iraq Civil War Concession from Generals 'Under-Reported'

In the very last seconds of the 7pm EDT hour of Friday's The Situation Room on CNN, anchor Wolf Blitzer remarked to Jack Cafferty: "You know, one of the big stories this week, perhaps under-reported, top U.S. Generals now acknowledging, Guess what? The Iraq situation may be on the verge of a civil war." Is Blitzer in a parallel universe? Those comments Thursday, from Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace and General John Abizaid, about the "possibility" that Iraq "could" fall into civil war, were all over the cable networks Thursday and Friday, including Blitzer's three hours.

The ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts on Thursday all made the civil war talk their lead stories. NBC's Brian Williams, for instance, began: "Tonight, is civil war becoming a reality in Iraq? Two of the Pentagon's most senior Generals now say it looks that way." The broadcast network morning shows on Friday all devoted first half hour time to the warnings. “Is Iraq on the brink of civil war? It was a stunning admission from two top Generals testifying on the escalating violence in Iraq,” CBS Early Show co-host Julie Chen announced. "U.S. General Says Iraq Could Slide Into a Civil War," heralded a Friday New York Times front page story and the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and USA Today all plastered it on their front pages. (Full rundown follows)

Blitzer's 7:59pm EDT remark came right after Cafferty finished reading e-mailed responses to his question of the hour: “Why do half of Americans still believe Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction back in 2003?” Cafferty had cited a month-old Harris poll and the last comment he read ended with a reference to how “Americans are more interested in who won American Idol or who got thrown out of the Big Brother house last night.”

As for how the news media “under-reported” the acknowledgment by the Generals that civil war is a possibility in Iraq, here's how, gathered with the assistance of the MRC's Brad Wilmouth, the most-watched and most-read news outlets played it on Thursday night, August 3 and then Friday morning, August 4:

ABC's World News with Charles Gibson, tease of the lead story by substitute anchor Diane Sawyer:
“Tonight, a stunning change of tone about Iraq. The American Generals in charge warn of the brink of civil war.”

CBS Evening News, Bob Schieffer's tease of his top item:
"I am Bob Schieffer. 'As bad as I have seen it, and moving towards civil war.' That's how America's top commander in Iraq described the situation there today, and that's why we start there tonight."

NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams teasing his lead topic:
"Tonight, is civil war becoming a reality in Iraq? Two of the Pentagon's most senior Generals now say it looks that way."

ABC's Good Morning America. News reader Heather Nauert in the 7am news update:
“The latest violence follows a stunning assessment from U.S. Generals on Capitol Hill who say that Iraq may descend into civil war.”

And Diane Sawyer set up a subsequent 7am half hour story by highlighting “the American Generals in charge of the war, admitting that Iraq could be sliding toward a civil war.”

CBS's Early Show, first words:
“Good morning, I'm Julie Chen. Is Iraq on the brink of civil war? It was a stunning admission from two top Generals testifying on the escalating violence in Iraq and no end in site.”

NBC's Today didn't put it in the tease, but the show aired a report on the hearing by Jim Miklaszewski who ran a soundbite from Abizaid and Matt Lauer raised the subject with guest Howard Fineman of Newsweek.

Washington Post, bottom left of front page:

“Iraq at Risk of Civil War, Top Generals Tell Senators”


New York Times, top left of front page:

“U.S. General Says Iraq Could Slide Into a Civil War.” Subhead: Sectarian Violence Cited”


USA Today, lead headline on top right of front page:

“Civil war risk up, so no cut in troops; General: Violence in Iraq gets worse”


Los Angeles Times, lead headline on top left of front page:

“Generals Give Grim Report on Iraqi Strife: Top U.S. commanders tell senators that a troop reduction this year is unlikely and that civil war is now possible if violence is not stemmed.”

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