Dead Poets Society Takes Bush on Over Iraq - November 12, 2003 -

Times Watch for November 12, 2003

Dead Poets Society Takes Bush on Over Iraq

A signed editorial for Sundays Week in Review by Adam Cohen salutes World War I poet Wilfred Owen in order to scorn Bush: "Owen was right that an honorable approach to war requires both ably leading troops on the battlefield, and reporting honestly what occurs there. The Bush administration, however, is resisting this honorable approach. In its eagerness to convince the public that things are going well in Iraq, it is leading troops into battle, while trying its best to obscure what happens to them. President Bush is not attending soldier funerals, as previous presidents have, avoiding a television image that could sow doubts in viewers' minds."

But did previous presidents make a habit of attending funerals or memorials during ongoing wars like the one in Iraq-as opposed to marking isolated military tragedies that occurred during times of official peace?

Elisabeth Bumiller's November 5 story in the Times outlines the services attended by presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton: "In October 2000, [President Clinton] attended a memorial service in Norfolk, Va., for the 17 sailors killed in the bombing of the guided-missile destroyer Cole. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan attended a memorial service at Camp Lejeune, N.C., for 241 marines killed in Beirut. President Jimmy Carter attended ceremonies for troops killed in the failed hostage-rescue mission in Iran."

Bumiller does note: "Marlin Fitzwater, who was White House press secretary to President Bush's father, recalled that the elder Mr. Bush 'went to a number of memorial ceremonies' where he met with families of troops killed in action in the Persian Gulf war of 1991." But there's no indication in the story whether or not Bush Sr. regularly attended funerals or memorial services for soldiers during the Desert Storm conflict itself.

Cohen's piece makes a couple of other familiar-sounding points: "[Bush Jr.] avoids mentioning the American dead-and the injured, who are seven times as numerous. The Pentagon has sent out emphatic reminders that television and photographic coverage is not allowed of coffins returning to Dover Air Force Base.

The Pentagon rule barring photographs of flag-draped coffins has been in force since 1991. Also, heres Bush on Veterans Day, two days after Cohens column, honoring U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq: Young Americans have died in liberating Iraq and Afghanistan. They've died in securing freedom in those countries. The loss is terrible. It is borne especially by the families left behind. But in their hurt and in their loneliness, I want these families to know your loved ones served in a good and just cause. They died in distant lands to fight terror, to advance freedom and to protect America. They did not live to be called veterans, but this nation will never forget their lives of service and all they did for us."

For more of Cohen on the war poet Wilfred Owen, click here.

Arts | George W. Bush | Casualties | Adam Cohen | Iraq War | Wilfred Owen | Poetry | Veterans Day

Another Robert Pear Rerun

Wednesdays story by Robert Pear on the latest congressional negotiations over Medicare have the same old labeling split, pitting conservative Republicans in the House against Ted Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts.

As both parties prepare to add a costly prescription-drug subsidy to sweeten their chances with the senior-citizen vote, conservatives are attempting to bring some private competition into the system, while liberals would prefer a more and more centralized government program. But to Pear, there apparently arent any liberals in Congress: Conservative House Republicans insist on such competition, in the belief that it would save money in the long run. But the idea is anathema to many Democrats, who say they fear that price competition would undermine traditional Medicare and increase costs for older beneficiaries who remain in the original program.

Some congressional leaders want to split the difference and merely dangle private-sector options as a goad to liberals. But again, Pear only labels the legislators on the right: Such an arrangement would displease House conservatives. But Republicans said it might make the bill more palatable to some Democrats in both houses of Congress. Senator John B. Breaux, Democrat of Louisiana, said on Tuesday night that the negotiators had narrowed their differences over competition. Republicans are eager to win the support of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts. But it is unclear whether they have made enough concessions to do so.

For the rest of Pears report, click here.

The Times Feels Heat from Wall Street

It may not come as a surprise to Robert Pears readers, but The Wall Street Journal published an editorial Wednesday from two researchers at Stanford University reporting the results of a 12-year study of news coverage of U.S. Senators in the New York Times and the Washington Post. Identifying the ten most liberal and ten most conservative senators, the researchers found the Times routinely labeled the conservatives more often than the liberals.

David W. Brady, a Stanford professor of political science, and Jonathan Ma, a senior in economics at the school, used something called the Poole-Rosenthal ratings to determine the ten most liberal and the ten most conservative senators. They then reviewed a reliable news database to study how often they were ideologically described from 1990 to 2002 (editorials were excluded). They noted that labeling is uncommon on both sides, but the disparity is still very noticeable. The researchers found the greatest disparity in the 106th Congress (perhaps since that was the session when the Senate held an abridged impeachment trial for President Clinton): in that biennium, the top ten liberals were labeled in 3.71 percent of stories, while the top ten conservatives were labeled in 12.73 percent. The least disparity was found in coverage of the 107th Congress (much of it after the September 11th attacks), when the top ten liberals were labeled 4.43 percent of the time to 6.67 percent for the top ten conservatives.

Brady and Ma also noted Times reporters often inject comments that present liberals in a more favorable light than conservatives. Reporters employed terms like "respected Midwestern liberal," "good old-fashioned liberal," "liberal icon," and "liberal abortion-rights stalwart." The conservatives, by contrast had the word conservative accompanied by highly partisan, "hard core," "hard line," "granite-hard," and "hard-charging." Sen. Jesse Helms was perhaps the most tenacious and quarrelsome conservative in the Senate.

The article is available in the print edition and to online subscribers at