Stark's Humiliating Retraction Framed as Republican Failure

October 24th, 2007 12:01 AM

With pressure mounting, Democratic Congressman Pete Stark finally apologized today for his reprehensible statements on the House floor last week.

In his disjointed anti-war rant last Thursday, Stark shamefully remarked:

You don't have money to fund the war or children. But you're going to spend it to blow up innocent people if we can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the president's amusement.

Republicans immediately objected, with House Minority Leader John Boehner demanding a retraction and noting that "Congressman Stark's statement dishonors not only the commander in chief, but the thousands of courageous men and women of America's armed forces who believe in their mission and are putting their lives on the line for our freedom and security.''

Stark was initially defiant, refusing to apologize, and when asked if he would retract his statements, replied: “Absolutely not. I may have dishonored the commander in chief, but I think he’s done pretty well to dishonor himself without any help from me.” 

Stark, however, soon found himself somewhat alone receiving a mild rebuke from Speaker Nancy Pelosi who commented, "While members of Congress are passionate about their views, what Congressman Stark said during the debate was inappropriate and distracted from the seriousness of the subject at hand - providing health care for America’s children."

Without the support of his party's leadership, along with the pressure of a Republican-sponsored censure resolution, Stark reversed field and issued a public retraction today on the House floor. Stark went so far as to as to personally apologize "to the president and his family" before tearfully exiting the podium.

Stark's apology, however, came after the House Democrats managed to prevent further consideration of the censure resolution with a near-party-line vote of 196-173. Five Democratic Congressmen (Altmire, Carney, Donnelly, Ellsworth, and Schuler) broke the party line and voted for the resolution.

In an earlier post, Noel Sheppard wondered: "Will Pete Stark’s Apology to President Bush Get Reported?" Certainly the media has delighted in public apologies of embattled politicians. Senator Trent Lott remained in the news for weeks after his ill-conceived birthday greeting to Strom Thurmond, just as one example. And in the case of Pete Stark, the public retration and apology was especially spectacular in that it occurred just days after he vowed to never apologize. 

So how exactly would the media report this public apology of a Democratic congressman? In this instance, the media has focused on the "failed censure vote" of Republicans.

The Associated Press led off its story by stating: "Republicans failed in an effort Tuesday to have the House censure Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif."

Similarly, the New York Times titled its article "Effort to Censure Lawmaker for a Comment Falls Short," and began with the lede: "Representative Pete Stark, Democrat of California, escaped a censure Tuesday for incendiary remarks he made last week about President Bush and the war in Iraq."

In the New York Times article, Stark's apology was not even mentioned until the next-to-last paragraph, only after Starks was touted as having "served in the Air Force from 1955 to 1957 and will celebrate his 76th birthday on Veterans Day." So Stark's Veteran's Day birthday is apparently more important than his publicly humiliating retraction and apology?

There is no doubt in this exchange that the House Republicans were the "winners," and Congressman Stark was the "loser." If anything, the censure resolution was one additional tool used by Republicans to compel Stark's retraction. But in this decidedly one-sided Democratic debacle, the media have managed to highlight the one issue that could be framed as a Republican "failure."

One additional point to note is the fact that five Democratic congressman voted in support of the censure resolution. On the topic of the Iraq War, the media have delighted in reporting instances of Republicans breaking rank with the Bush administration. The media have reported extensively on Virgina Senator John Warner's objection to the Bush war strategy, for example. But neither story cited above named the Democratic congressmen who voted in favor of the censure resolution.

The AP story simply stated: "The vote was mostly along party lines, with all 168 Republicans on hand supporting the measure offered by Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. Five Democrats joined them." The five dissenting Democrats were not mentioned at all in the New York Times article. If the tables were turned, you could be certain that a dissenting Republican congressman would be named by name and quoted extensively. But in this case the press is clearly ready to move on to other stories.