2. MSNBC's Unger Suggests Bush Finds U.S. Troops 'Expendable'
3. ABC Tilts Report on House Iraq Debate: Hillary Only War Backer
All three broadcast network evening newscasts on Thursday night put the 2,500 deaths of U.S. servicemen in Iraq mark ahead of the Iraqi government's release of an al-Qaeda memo which admitted they are losing as it characterized their situation in Iraq as "bleak" and conceded that "time is now beginning to be of service to the American forces and harmful to the resistance." The CBS Evening News, however, at least incorporated both developments in their lead story run before the news that Bill Gates plans to step down from Microsoft in two years, though CBS anchor Bob Schieffer managed to slip in a plug for the upcoming Gates story as he opened: "We have two big stories tonight; Bill Gates, whose inventions changed the way we lived, is giving up day-to-day operations at Microsoft." Schieffer then jumped to his lead: "There was also a grim milestone today. U.S. military deaths in Iraq now total 2,500." Both ABC and NBC led with Gates.
CBS's Lee Cowan painted the document, released early Thursday morning EDT by Iraq's National Security Advisor, as genuine. He relayed how it "offered a pointed admission, that al-Qaeda in Iraq is, quote, 'in a crisis.' It went on to lament that America was having success in training Iraq's new security forces..." ABC and NBC, however, treated the memo as suspect. ABC's Brian Ross: "The documents, if they are authentic, suggest that the U.S. strategy in Iraq is working extremely well, in almost every respect. But there are questions being raised about authenticity." NBC's Richard Engel squeezed in a brief mention of the memo: "It would be a major coup, a terror blueprint uncovered. But tonight some U.S. officials are skeptical of its authenticity and origin."
The network coverage, however, was generous compared to what Friday's Washington Post provided on the disclosure which occurred too late for Thursday's editions: The newspaper gave the document two paragraphs -- the 21st and 22nd -- in a June 16 story on page A22 about another subject, "Maliki Aide Who Discussed Amnesty Leaves Job: Premier Disavows Remarks; Egyptian Seen Replacing Zarqawi." See: www.washingtonpost.com
(Thursday morning, the MRC's Michael Rule noticed, Cowan, reporting from Baghdad for The Early Show on CBS, was the only reporter on the three major network morning shows to quote from the al Qaeda document. While Good Morning America on ABC and Today on NBC gave only cursory mention of the documents, the June 15 Early Show led the program with the story. Co-host Julie Chen noted the significance of the documents and what they could mean when she introduced Cowan's piece: "We want to get right to our top story. Extraordinary details on al Qaeda's operation in Iraq. The Iraqi government says it can destroy the terror group thanks to revealing documents found following the death of Abu Musab al Zarqawi."
World News Tonight led with Bill Gates followed by excerpts from an old interview of Gates by George Stephanopoulos, a brief note about the stock market rally and then the "sad milestone" of 2,500 killed in Iraq and how the House and Senate observed a moment of silence and the House then debated a resolution on the war on terror, with a series of soundbites from both sides, and then after Gibson noted the identification of al-Qaeda'a new leader in Iraq, Brian Ross got to outline the memo.
Gibson on the 2,500 deaths: "There is a sad milestone to be noted in the Iraq war. The Pentagon announced today that 2,500 American servicemen and women have now died in Iraq. On Capitol Hill, both the House and the Senate stood and observed a moment of silence. The House observed its moment of silence and then began a passionate debate -- a debate that takes place every day, at dinner tables, barbershops, wherever Americans gather: Whether the war in Iraq was worth starting. And whether it is worth continuing. It's a debate that will shape this year's congressional elections."
Gibson's intro to Ross: "The new Iraqi government released some documents that were seized recently, we're not sure when, which purport to set out insurgent strategy in Iraq. The documents indicate insurgents feel the government may be gaining the upper hand. ABC's chief investigative correspondent, Brian Ross, joins us."
Ross: "That's right, Charlie. The documents, if they are authentic, suggest that the U.S. strategy in Iraq is working extremely well, in almost every respect. But there are questions being raised about authenticity. Iraq's national security adviser, Mouwafak al Rubaie, produced the document this morning in Baghdad, saying it was found on a computer disc in Zarqawi's pants."
Anchor Bob Schieffer opened the June 15 newscast, as transcribed by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth:
Cowan, from Iraq: "For the first time, U.S. military commanders revealed the face of the man they believe is the new leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, a wide-eyed Egyptian named Abu Ayyub al-Masri, with a resume of violence that is decades long."
Following the lead Gates story, Brown moved on to how Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said high energy costs are not likely to go down soon, and then Brown got to the 2,500 deaths followed by three stories on Iraq, starting with Richard Engel in Baghdad who squeezed in a brief mention, at the end of his story about ongoing violence and the revelation of a new al-Qaeda leader, about the memo:
On MSNBC's Countdown on Thursday, substitute host Brian Unger suggested President Bush views American troops as "expendable" as he picked up on an exaggerated report by the Washington Post, that the new Iraqi government would offer amnesty to insurgents who had killed American troops, and presumed Bush approved. Unger contended that the President is "apparently okay with that," and wondered if the White House risked being "perceived as believing that American lives in Iraq are expendable." By contrast, FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume corrected the Washington Post's front page story, which was based on an interview with an outgoing Iraqi government official. And just days after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a high-level member of al-Qaeda's leadership, was killed in Iraq, Unger dismissed Iraq's relevance to the war on terrorism, calling it "a link that has been proven not to exist."
[This item is adopted from a posting late Thursday night, by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth, on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]
"Iraq Amnesty Plan May Cover Attacks On U.S. Military: Leader Also Backs Talks With Resistance," read the headline over a top of the Thursday front page story by Washington Post reporters Ellen Knickmeyer and Jonathan Finer who began: "Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Wednesday proposed a limited amnesty to help end the Sunni Arab insurgency as part of a national reconciliation plan that Maliki said would be released within days. The plan is likely to include pardons for those who had attacked only U.S. troops, a top adviser said." For the June 15 article in full: www.washingtonpost.com
(The Post's Baghdad duo, in a follow-up story in Friday's newspaper, "Maliki Aide Who Discussed Amnesty Leaves Job: Premier Disavows Remarks," reported: "Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office on Thursday accepted the resignation of an aide who had told a reporter that Maliki was considering a limited amnesty that would likely include guerrillas who had attacked U.S. troops, the aide said....The Maliki aide who resigned, Adnan Ali al-Kadhimi, stood by his account of amnesty considerations, reported Thursday by The Washington Post. Kadhimi said Maliki had indicated the same position less directly in public. 'The prime minister himself has said that he is ready to give amnesty to the so-called resistance, provided they have not been involved in killing Iraqis,' Kadhimi said Thursday. Maliki's office issued a statement earlier Thursday saying, 'Mr. Adnan Kadhimi doesn't represent the Iraqi government in this issue, and Mr. Kadhimi is not an advisor or spokesman for the prime minister.'" For the entire June 16 article: www.washingtonpost.com )
Unger opened the show by quoting President Bush's statement that an offer of "reconciliation" was a sign that the Iraqi people are "not so bound up in bitterness that they aren't willing to think positively about the future." Referring to the 2,500th death of American troops in Iraq, Unger added: "The road to that future now paved with the lives of 2,500 Americans in uniform, and counting."
The Countdown host then recounted the assertions made by the Washington Post as he assumed Bush supported amnesty for those who have killed American troops: "The Iraqi Prime Minister floating a proposal that would pardon insurgents who have attacked American troops but were not involved in the shedding of any Iraqi blood. The American President apparently okay with that, raising the question: What exactly have we been fighting for?"
He then chided Congress for not taking up the issue and dismissed Iraq's relevance to the war on terrorism, even though Zarqawi, a high-ranking member of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda organization, had been in Iraq for at least a year before the U.S. invaded the country. Unger: "It's the kind of question one might hope that Congress would address, but instead Republican lawmakers have been debating a measure that essentially ties the war in Iraq to the war on terror, a link that has been proven not to exist."
Unger then brought aboard Newsweek's Richard Wolffe. At one point, recounting White House spokesman Tony Snow's dismissal of the significance of the number 2,500 when asked about the number of American troop deaths, Unger wondered whether Snow's comment combined with amnesty in Iraq would make the White House seem to view American troops as "expendable":
By contrast, FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume, which aired two hours before MSNBC's Countdown, relayed the inaccuracy of the Washington Post amnesty story during a report by correspondent Bret Baier, and later during the panel segment, Morton Kondracke recounted that a statement by Prime Minister Maliki "was interpreted by an outgoing aide, somebody who had already resigned who was an aide in the former government of Jaffri, told the Post, 'Oh yeah, it might be that people with American blood on their hands, might be amnesty...'" Kondracke continued: "Apparently Maliki never said that, and now Rubaie, the national security advisor, has absolutely stomped on this."
Below is a transcript of relevant portions of the Thursday, June 15 Countdown:
Brian Unger, in opening teaser: "As the death toll reaches 2500, Iraq's new prime minister says insurgents who kill our troops could walk free."
Unger, opening the show: "Good evening. I'm Brian Unger in for Keith Olbermann. President Bush says the Iraqi government's desire for what it calls reconciliation is an important sign that the people of that young democracy are, quote, 'not so bound up in bitterness that they aren't willing to think positively about the future.' The road to that future now paved with the lives of 2500 Americans in uniform, and counting. Our fifth story on the Countdown, what some call reconciliation others call amnesty for insurgents. The Iraqi prime minister floating a proposal that would pardon insurgents who have attacked American troops but were not involved in the shedding of any Iraqi blood. The American President apparently okay with that, raising the question: What exactly have we been fighting for? It's the kind of question one might hope that Congress would address, but instead Republican lawmakers have been debating a measure that essentially ties the war in Iraq to the war on terror, a link that has been proven not to exist. We begin tonight with correspondent Chip Reid and the view from Capitol Hill. Chip?"
Unger, to Richard Wolffe: "Should I be surprised, Richard, at how little blowback there has been so far about this amnesty for insurgents dovetailing as it does with the terrible marker of 2500 Americans in uniform having been killed in Iraq, and with the Bush administration's policy that immigrants in this country are not worthy of amnesty?"
Unger, to Wolffe: "Richard, in response to a question about the 2500 troops killed in Iraq, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow did say that President Bush feels very deeply the pain of these families, but Mr. Snow prefaced that remark by saying, on the milestone, quote, 'It's just a number.' Richard, add that to amnesty for insurgents, does this White House run the risk of being perceived as believing that American lives in Iraq are expendable in this effort?"
ABC political reporter Liz Marlantes covered the coming House debate on Iraq for Thursday's Good Morning America, but something seemed seriously missing: conservative Republicans who support the war. They organized the resolution being debated, but they were not in ABC's story anywhere.
[This item, by the MRC's Tim Graham, was posted Thursday afternoon on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]
Marlantes began: "Today the House of Representatives will debate a resolution that honors U.S. servicemen and women and declares the U.S. is committed to completing the mission in Iraq. Democrats are already calling it a political trap. Despite a positive turn of events in Iraq, the debate in Washington is all about an exit strategy."
Now that's a mysterious opening. She just said the House resolution declares it's about honoring the troops and completing the mission, not getting out as fast as possible. Apparently, the definitive statesman on this issue is a hippie leftist from Hawaii:
Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D): "This is not about a discussion of cutting and running, this is a question of whether the Congress is going to sit and watch."
It was about here when you wanted to throw the Pop-Tarts at the TV. The only congressional experts ABC could find were Abercrombie, Rodham-Clinton, and Ron Paul? Hillary is the neo-con stand-in here? In airing the nominally Republican Ron Paul -- who ran for President on the "non-interventionist" Libertarian Party ticket in 1988 and never renounced his third-party affiliation -- you are not describing the typical Republican. (Paul opposed the war resolution in 2002.) But Marlantes seemed to be cribbing from Thursday's report in The Washington Post, which focused as much on Republican splits as Democratic ones: www.washingtonpost.com
Rep. Jean Schmidt was slapped around with "Mean Jean" coverage in the national media last fall, after she quoted a Marine on the House floor to Murtha: "He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message -- that cowards cut and run, Marines never do." See: www.mrc.org
-- Brent Baker