Like the CBS and NBC evening newscasts on Thursday, ABC led with how at a Senate hearing Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace and General John Abizaid acceded to the “possibility” that Iraq “could” fall into civil war -- what substitute ABC anchor Diane Sawyer heralded as a “stunning admission” -- but ABC also hyped as important how after the hearing Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton called for President Bush to accept the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Sawyer touted “breaking political news tonight” and brought aboard George Stephanopoulos from Washington, DC who trumpeted how “for the first time, she has called on President Bush to accept Secretary Rumsfeld's resignation.” Stephanopoulos asserted that the New York Senator “has resisted that for the last three years” and propounded that though the “chances of President Bush accepting that advice are about zero,” it is, ABC's Chief Washington correspondent insisted, “a dramatic sign of how much the support for this war effort is slipping on Capitol Hill." (Transcript follows)
Sawyer teased the August 3 World News with Charles Gibson:
“Tonight, a stunning change of tone about Iraq. The American Generals in charge warn of the brink of civil war.”
Sawyer opened the newscast by inserting her assessments of the mood of the military leaders who appeared, along with Rumsfeld, before the Senate Armed Services Committee:
“We do begin with that stunning admission today from the American Generals running the war in Iraq. They told Congress and the nation the fighting among Iraqis is worse than ever. And the next stop could be all-out civil war. You could see the strain in their faces, hear it in their words. And no one was talking about American troop withdrawals anymore.”
Following a full report from Martha Raddatz on the hearing and Senator Clinton's lecture of Rumsfeld, and Sawyer getting an assessment of the situation in Iraq from retired General Jack Keane, Sawyer went to Stephanopoulos:
Diane Sawyer: “I want to turn now to ABC Chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos. We have some breaking political news tonight, George?”
George Stephanopoulos: "That's right Diane. You saw Senator Clinton in a hearing earlier today. Now, for the first time, she has called on President Bush to accept Secretary Rumsfeld's resignation. She has resisted that for the last three years. She's calling for it now. The chances of President Bush accepting that advice are about zero. But it's a dramatic sign of how much the support for this war effort is slipping on Capitol Hill."
Sawyer: "Well, that's what I was going to ask you. How long will it hold if it slides toward civil war?"
Stephanopoulos: "Diane, I talked to Democratic and Republican Senators all day today, and the consensus is clear: If this becomes civil war: They believe the United States has no business being there. The support for this mission would disappear."
On the NBC Nightly News, Jim Miklaszewski gave just this brief mention to Clinton's demand: "After today's hearing, Senator Clinton called on Secretary Rumsfeld to resign and on President Bush to accept the resignation. Asked tonight for a response, a Pentagon spokesman said, 'we don't do politics.'"