Months After CNN Featured Him, CBS Showcases Same Anti-Bush Retired Marine

A small world of self-proclaimed “conservative” retired Marine Colonels disillusioned with President Bush, Republicans and the war in Iraq. Ten months after CNN's John King featured criticism of the Iraq war from retired Marine Colonel Jim Van Riper, in an Anderson Cooper 360 story from North Carolina on supposed declining support for the war in a conservative area, CBS's Byron Pitts traveled to the same state and located the very same Marine to demonstrate that on the war “even some life-long conservatives are no longer hearing the President's message." On Thursday's CBS Evening News, Pitts touted the ex-Marine's credentials: "Retired Marine Corps Colonel Jim Van Riper is a Christian, card-carrying member of the NRA who voted for President Bush twice. But as more Marines have died in Iraq, his confidence in the Bush administration died as well." Van Riper asserted: “I don't mind arrogance except when there's dead bodies as a result." Pitts explained how “Van Riper will vote for Democrats across the board," and then cued him up: “If you could sit across from President Bush, what would you say to him?" Van Riper: "Sir, I'm disappointed."

King signed off from Greenville, while Pitts reported from Jacksonville, the home of the Camp Lejuene Marine Corps base, presumably an area with thousands of retired Marine corps officers -- yet CNN and CBS, ten months apart, stumbled upon the very same retired Marine Colonel -- an amazing coincidence. (Transcript and more follows)

A November 21, 2004 Daily News (of Jacksonville, NC) news story, on Secretary of State Colin Powell's resignation from the Bush cabinet, strongly suggests that Van Riper had turned against the war more than a year before CNN's King touted his opposition as a fresh trend and more than 18 months before CBS's Pitts trumpeted him. An excerpt:
"'He was a product of Vietnam,' said retired Marine Col. Jim Van Riper, who lives in Jacksonville. 'He saw what a disaster that was.'

“Van Riper, who served in Vietnam and the first Gulf War, believes the Bush administration erred by not heeding the Powell Doctrine before marching to Baghdad. And while he 'reluctantly' voted earlier this month to re-elect the president, a cabinet minus Powell is now even less appealing, he said.

"'Politics determines policy, and policy drives war,' said Van Riper, 66. 'Powell clearly understands that. He understood that winning the war wasn't the entire thing -- that knocking off Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi army wasn't going to be the end of it.'

“'I don't think he's perfect, maybe too cautious. But he's a hell of a lot better than Rumsfeld.'"

During a November 29, 2005 Anderson Cooper 360 story on the opposition to the war from Republican Congressman Walter Jones of North Carolina, reporter John King highlighted, as recounted in December 1, 2005 NewsBusters posting:
“Vietnam and Desert Storm combat veteran Jim Van Riper supports the war and agrees any talk of specific withdrawal timetables is a mistake. But recently Van Riper wrote his congressional delegation saying he could no longer support the Republican Party, calling Iraq a textbook case of how not to wage a war. Van Riper says the President is in a mess of his own making for standing by his Defense Secretary."

Colonel Jim Van Riper, U.S.M.C., retired: "I'm more convinced than ever that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld will be the Republicans' Robert S. McNamara, when history's written that's the way he'll be viewed."

King: "Such talk in a patriotic place like this is telling. Tough questions for the Commander-in-Chief even as bases are bustling with training for the next deployment.”

A transcript of the story aired on the September 7 CBS Evening News with Katie Couric:
Anchor Katie Couric: “President Bush says Iraq is a big part of the war on terror and two more American soldiers and a Marine have been killed in action there. With casualties rising, the President's approval ratings here at home are falling. The latest CBS News/New York Times poll shows just 36 percent of Americans approve of the job he's doing. Support for the war is slipping even in places where not long ago nearly everyone backed it. Here's our national correspondent, Byron Pitts.”

Byron Pitts: “At the Kettle Diner in Jacksonville, North Carolina, it's faith, family, and the Corps.”

Waitress Lilly Cantrell: “We give a military discount to show our appreciation for what they're doing for us.”

Pitts: “Jacksonville is home to Camp Lejeune, the largest Marine Corps base on the East coast. But even here, support for the war may be waning. Marine Corporal John Miller.”

Miller, at restaurant table: “There's a lot of people that think we've been there too long, but personally I think we should stay there until it's, until they have an established government.”

Pitts: “Breakfast shift manager Lilly Cantrell. Do you still support the war?”

Cantrell, after a pause: “Yes.”

Pitts: “Three or four years ago would you have hesitated that long?”

Cantrell: “No, no.”

Pitts: “What's changed in three or four years?”

Cantrell: “It's just that things keep getting worse and worse.”

Pitts: “A CBS News/New York Times poll found 65 percent of Americans disapprove of the way George Bush is handling the war in Iraq. Even some life-long conservatives are no longer hearing the President's message.”

Retired Marine Colonel Jim Van Riper: “I've turned him off, I've tuned him out.”

Pitts: “Retired Marine Corps Colonel Jim Van Riper is a Christian, card-carrying member of the NRA who voted for President Bush twice. But as more Marines have died in Iraq, his confidence in the Bush administration died as well.”

Van Riper, outside a house with a big lawn in the background: “If they had done it their way and succeeded I couldn't be talking to you like this. They did it their way, they failed and they won't admit it.”

Pitts: “And that's what burns you?”

Van Riper: “That's arrogance and I don't mind arrogance except when there's dead bodies as a result.”

Pitts: “So this November, for the first time, Colonel Van Riper will vote for Democrats across the board.”

Van Riper: “I voted Republican nearly all my life. I'm a very conservative, I'm still conservative. My hope is that the Democrats win the House.”

Pitts: “Van Riper's twin brother is a retired Marine General and his love for the Corps remains strong.”

Pitts to Van Riper: “This is very personal for you?”

Van Riper: “Yes, sir. I have a son there, I've got a nephew there now. It's personal.”

Pitts: “If you could sit across from President Bush, what would you say to him?”

Van Riper: “Sir, I'm disappointed.”

Pitts: “Here in a place where war is so very personal-”

Cantrell at the restaurant: “You have a blessed day, sir, and come back and see us.”

Pitts: “-and faith so very deep, the President is preaching to a choir that no longer seems quite so willing to believe. Byron Pitts, CBS News, Jacksonville, North Carolina.”

CBS's online version of this story, with “an extended interview with Col. Van Riper.”
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