In an uncommon bout of journalistic self-control, the New York Times had thus far ignored the phony controversy over Rush Limbaugh's "phony soldiers" comment on his radio show last Wednesday, remarks wrenched out of context by the far-left Media Matters.
But on Wednesday, congressional reporter Carl Hulse usedan action by some liberals in Congressyesterday tolift it into the Times news pages in his "Congressional Memo," "Limbaugh Latest Target In War of Condemnation."
"Having abandoned for now their effort to force President Bush to withdraw troops from Iraq, Democrats are not giving ground against a lesser nemesis: Rush Limbaugh.
"With the help of liberal advocacy groups, the Democrats in Congress are turning Mr. Limbaugh's insinuation that members of the military who question the Iraq war are 'phony soldiers' into the latest war of words over the war."
That Limbaugh actually made such an "insinuation" is far from a settled fact - and a fair reading of his comments in full strongly suggests the opposite - that Limbaugh, as he says, was referring to truly "phony soldiers" and former anti-war movement heroes like Jesse MacBeth, who claimed to witness atrocities in Iraq but in fact quit the army before completing basic training.
"A resolution introduced by 20 Democrats urges the House to condemn the 'unwarranted slur' made by Mr. Limbaugh, though it does not condemn the broadcaster himself.
"Their push, not coincidentally, comes after House and Senate Republicans maneuvered some Democrats into voting to condemn an advertisement by MoveOn.org in The New York Times last month that referred to Gen. David H. Petraeus as 'General Betray Us.'
Before taking a small swipe at Democrats, Hulse indulged in the old, comforting liberal cliché that the GOP has a history of drumming up phony controversies:
"Republicans used to be considered superior at drumming up a quick controversy over some actual or perceived Democratic outrage. But Democrats and sympathetic advocacy groups are catching up fast. And the political exchanges are being amplified by the reach and power of the Internet and the repetition of the 24-hour news cycle.
"The broadcaster has accused critics of distorting remarks he made last Wednesday when a caller said the news media liked to focus on antiwar views raised by soldiers. Mr. Limbaugh then said, to the caller's approval: 'The phony soldiers.'
"After the liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters sounded the alarm about his comments, Mr. Limbaugh said on subsequent shows that he was talking about only one discredited man who claimed to be a wounded veteran. 'I was not talking about antiwar, active duty troops,' he insisted.
"Yet analysts for Media Matters noted that Mr. Limbaugh's first reference to the discredited man came nearly two minutes after his plural reference to phony soldiers. That group and like-minded Democrats have refused to back off. More than 40 Democratic senators signed a letter sent Tuesday to the company that syndicates the radio show, asking that Mr. Limbaugh's remarks be repudiated."
Hulse ignored Limbaugh's full explanation, includingthetalk show hostnoting he was referencing a segment on "phony heroes" which had aired two days before on ABC News. Times reporter Hulse didn't even use the name of Jesse MacBeth, the phony soldier who claimed to serve in Iraq but never completed basic training, as if afraid that would lend credence to Limbaugh's explanation.