Twelve hours after the Today
show repeatedly announced how NBC News had decided to call the situation in Iraq a “civil war,” as if that decision was major news itself, Monday's NBC Nightly News
led with the term and conceded it could “erode” public support for the war. Meanwhile, CBS and ABC didn't go quite as far as CBS's Katie Couric referred to how Iraq “slips ever-closer to civil war” and ABC's Charles Gibson suggested “you can call it anarchy, you can call it chaos, you can call it civil war...”
NBC's Brian Williams teased: “A critical week for the President and the civil war in Iraq. Is the way out through Iran and Syria?” Then, over a graphic of “IRAQ” with “CIVIL WAR” beneath, Williams led: “Tonight there are moving parts on several fronts, all related to the fighting in Iraq. This begins what may be a crucial week in determining future U.S. involvement in what has become a civil war in that country.” Reporter Andrea Mitchell asserted: “While Washington looks for answers, the violence in Iraq is spiraling out of control. Today NBC News joined other major news organizations in calling it a civil war.” After a clip of presidential historian Michael Beschloss who contended,: “If you define a civil war as a country where a lot of groups are struggling for power, and that's primarily the struggle, Iraq is in a civil war,” Mitchell acknowledged the impact of using the term: “Today the administration objected strongly to news organizations calling it a civil war. Many experts say that the White House has a huge incentive to avoid that term because it could further erode public support for keeping U.S. troops in Iraq.” CBS Evening News
anchor Katie Couric teased her Monday newscast, “Tonight, man on a mission: President Bush embarks on a search for solutions to the violence in Iraq as that country slips ever-closer to civil war.” She then opened: “The Bush administration is still not calling it a civil war, but National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley today gave the most ominous assessment yet of the violence in Iraq. He said it has clearly entered a 'new phase.'” David Martin soon highlighted how UN Secretary General Kofi Annan “publicly warned Iraq is on the brink of civil war.”
Over on ABC's World News
, anchor Charles Gibson put “civil war” into the mix: “You can call it anarchy, you can call it chaos, you can call it civil war. Whatever you call it, the events of recent days demonstrate that the situation in Iraq is at a critical juncture.”
As recounted by the MRC's Geoff Dickens in a Monday NewsBusters posting
, “In Clunky Newscasts, NBC News Decrees Iraq In 'Civil War,'” Matt Lauer announced at the top of Monday's Today
“For months now the White House has rejected claims that the situation in Iraq has deteriorated into civil war and for the most part news organizations like NBC have hesitated to characterize it as such but after careful consideration NBC News has decided a change in terminology is warranted. That the situation in Iraq with armed militarized factions fighting for their own political agendas can now be characterized as civil war. We're gonna have more on the situation on the ground in Iraq and on our decision coming up."
Later in the 7am half hour, Lauer elaborated on the policy with General Barry McCaffrey:
"We, we should mention we just didn't wake up on a Monday morning and say, 'Let's call this a civil war.' This took careful deliberation, we consulted with a lot of people.”
And news reader Ann Curry made NBC News part of the news:
"Just days after returning from Asia, President Bush is on his way overseas again today. The President has a crucial meeting on Wednesday in Jordan with the prime minister of Iraq. They will discuss what NBC News has decided to now call a civil war in Iraq. Though the White House maintains while the situation in Iraq is serious it has not disintegrated into civil war. The President goes first to Estonia then to a NATO summit in Latvia."
Seeing civil war in Iraq is nothing new for the networks. A Friday, May 20, 2005 MRC CyberAlert item
, “CBS Cites Dire Litany, Asks: Is Iraq 'Sliding Toward Civil War?'”, recounted
"It just keeps getting worse in Iraq," Bob Schieffer declared at the top of Thursday's CBS Evening News as he recited a litany of dire news which only CBS considered to be the lead story of the day: "The death toll is rising. Tension is growing between Shiites and Sunnis. Is the country sliding toward civil war?" From Baghdad, Mark Strassmann backed up Schieffer's thesis: "Tit-for-tat terror seems to be pushing Iraq towards civil war. This man says, 'We are heading toward a catastrophe.'" A frustrated Schieffer recalled how U.S. military leaders recently predicted that "it might be possible to start drawing down the American force there early next year sometime. Now you just hear one bad report after another. I'm beginning to wonder, 'Does anybody know what's going on there?'"