2. Journalists Condemn Look at Murtha's Medals, See "Viciousness"
President Bush not much better than Saddam Hussein? In the 4pm EST hour of Wednesday's Situation Room, CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer contrasted how Bush has "been talking today about brutality during Saddam Hussein's regime," with how Bush is "also facing some questions about alleged human rights abuses by the United States itself" in a report from Human Rights Watch. White House reporter Dana Bash described the visit to the White House by Hussein victims as "the latest Bush effort to justify the Iraq war." Bash then pointed out how "the event came on the same day the group Human Rights Watch released an annual report saying Mr. Bush may be no Saddam, but no saint either, concluding that in 2005, 'the abuse of detainees had become a deliberate, central part of the Bush administration's strategy of interrogating terrorist suspects.'"
The MRC's Megan McCormack caught the 4:05pm EST story, on the January 18 The Situation Room, publicizing Human Rights Watch's agenda. Blitzer set it up:
Dana Bash began, from the White House lawn: "Well, Wolf, that report came out just as the President was talking about human rights, as you mentioned, Saddam Hussein's human rights abuses and it was part of the White House strategy to have the President, in order to try to shore up public opinion about Iraq, constantly talk about it. Tales of torture at the hand of Saddam Hussein, that's what the President heard privately from nearly a dozen Iraqis at the White House."
FNC's Brit Hume pointed out, on his show Wednesday night, how a story on a "conservative news Web site casting doubt on Pennsylvania Democrat John Murtha's war decorations attracted scant attention from the media when it was published last week." But, "it has attracted plenty of attention from Murtha's defenders, and plenty of coverage as a result." Indeed, the January 13 article, "Murtha's War Hero Status Called Into Question," by the Cybercast News Service (CNSNews.com), a division of the MRC, has generated angry condemnation from a range of media figures -- from Keith Olbermann (who made MRC President Brent Bozell his "Worst Person in the World!") to E.J. Dionne Jr. ("I underestimated the viciousness of the right wing") to Bill O'Reilly ("It is ridiculous and loathsome") -- who contend Murtha's military record is an inappropriate topic. Yet, in the nearly nine weeks since Murtha outlined his proposal for withdrawing U.S. troops before the insurgency is defeated, network reporters have repeatedly touted Murtha's Vietnam-era medals as either bolstering his policy view or making him somehow immune from criticism -- so their authenticity should be a legitimate topic to investigate.
For the most part, those upset with the CNSNews.com story weren't so concerned about the CBS News attack on President Bush's military service. Dotty Lynch, the recently-retired Political Editor for CBS News, had the chutzpah, given CBS's use of forged memos to smear President Bush's military service and denial of any liberal bias in pursuing the topic, as well as her own left-wing political campaign background, to post an item Wednesday, on CBSNews.com, about the political skew of CNSNews.com.
First, Hume's item in full; second, a look at the CNSNews.com article; third, the angry reaction from media figures; and fourth a rundown of examples of journalists touting Murtha's military awards as bolstering his credibility on Iraq.
# One of Hume's "Grapevine" items on the January 18 Special Report with Brit Hume on FNC:
Having ascended to the national stage as one of the most vocal critics of President Bush's handling of the war in Iraq, Pennsylvania Democratic Congressman John Murtha has long downplayed the controversy and the bitterness surrounding the two Purple Hearts he was awarded for military service in Vietnam.
Murtha is a retired marine and was the first Vietnam combat veteran elected to Congress. Since 1967, there have been at least three different accounts of the injuries that purportedly earned Murtha his Purple Hearts. Those accounts also appear to conflict with the limited military records that are available, and Murtha has thus far refused to release his own military records.
A Cybercast News Service investigation also reveals that one of Murtha's former Democratic congressional colleagues and a fellow decorated Vietnam veteran, Don Bailey of Pennsylvania, alleges that Murtha admitted during an emotional conversation on the floor of the U.S. House in the early 1980s that he did not deserve his Purple Hearts.
"[Murtha] is putting himself forward as some combat veteran with serious wounds and he's using that and it's dishonest and it's wrong," Bailey told Cybercast News Service on Jan. 9. Murtha served in the Marines on active duty and in the reserves from 1952 until his retirement as a colonel in 1990. He volunteered for service in Vietnam and was a First Marine Regiment intelligence officer in 1966 and 1967.
Murtha and Bailey, once allies, were forced to run against each other in a Democratic congressional primary in 1982 following redistricting. Murtha won the election.
Murtha has, in the past, publicly dismissed any questions about whether he deserved his two Purple Hearts, noting during his 1994 congressional campaign that "I am proud of my service in Vietnam."
In his Friday, Jan. 13, response to the Cybercast News Service investigation, Murtha again defended his military record.
"Questions about my record are clearly an attempt to distract attention from the real issue, which is that our brave men and women in uniform are dying and being injured every day in the middle of a civil war that can be resolved only by the Iraqis themselves," Murtha wrote in an email response.
"I volunteered for a year's duty in Vietnam. I was out in the field almost every single day. We took heavy casualties in my regiment the year that I was there. In my fitness reports, I was rated No. 1. My record is clear," Murtha added.
However, another source, World War II Navy veteran Harry M. Fox, previously indicated that Murtha in 1968 personally asked Fox's boss, then-U.S. Rep. John Saylor (R-Pa.), for assistance in obtaining the Purple Hearts, but was turned down because Saylor's office determined that Murtha lacked sufficient evidence of wounds. Murtha later challenged Saylor for his House seat in 1968 and lost. Fox said he personally viewed Murtha's military records in 1968 as Saylor's aide.
When Saylor died in 1973, Fox attempted to succeed his boss in Congress, but was narrowly defeated by Murtha in a 1974 special election.
"Pretending to be a big war hero and boasting about having medals is a slap in the face to our veterans who were seriously wounded or killed in action," Fox was quoted as telling the Uniontown Herald-Standard in the newspaper's Nov. 1, 1996 edition. "He campaigned as a war hero and I've never seen any documentation that he earned any of these honors," Fox reportedly stated....
END of Excerpt
For the CNSNews.com article in full: www.cnsnews.com
In his January 14 article, "Web Site Attacks Critic of War: Opponents Question Murtha's Medals," Kurtz asserted: "In a tactic reminiscent of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth assault on Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) during the 2004 presidential campaign, a conservative Web site yesterday quoted Murtha opponents as questioning the circumstances surrounding the awarding of his two Purple Hearts."
Kurtz proceeded to rundown the basic points of the CNSNews.com story and Kurtz confirmed some of the information provided to CNSNews.com. For the Kurtz story: www.washingtonpost.com
Is Jack Murtha being unfairly Swift-boated?
The left side of the commentariat is up in arms about my piece on a conservative Web site raising questions about the congressman's two Purple Hearts.
Here's the report by the Cybercast News Service: Check it out and reach your own conclusions.
Look, anyone can dig into a congressman's record, and Cybercast (which is part of Brent Bozell's conservative media criticism group) quoted people on the record, dug up a bunch of clips and gave the Pennsylvania Democrat a chance to respond. Editor in Chief David Thibault told me that Murtha had placed himself in the crossfire by becoming a leading voice for a U.S. pullout in Iraq.
What, exactly, does whatever Murtha did near Danang in 1967 have to do with the soundness of his stance on Iraq? In the case of John Kerry, you could argue that the Swift Boat Vets -- even though the media poked significant holes in their account -- was challenging the biography of a presidential candidate who had put his Vietnam heroism at the center of his campaign. But what is Jack Murtha running for, other than reelection in his district?
Of course, politics ain't beanbag, and Murtha, as a 37-year Marine vet, must be accustomed to hostile fire. The Purple issue, in fact, has come up in some of his past campaigns. But now it's getting national play -- and sparking a liberal backlash....
END of Excerpt
For the Kurtz posting in full: www.washingtonpost.com
-- "Murtha and the Mudslingers" read the Tuesday, January 17 headline over a column by E.J. Dionne Jr., a former reporter for the New York Times and Washington Post. An excerpt:
I underestimated the viciousness of the right wing.
Last November, Rep. John Murtha, a Democrat and a decorated Marine combat veteran, came out for a rapid American withdrawal from Iraq. At the time, I wrote: "It will be difficult for Bush's acolytes to cast Murtha, who has regularly stood up for the military policies of Republican presidents during his 31 years in Congress, as some kind of extreme partisan or hippie protester."
No, the conservative hit squad didn't accuse Murtha of being a hippie. But a crowd that regularly defends President Bush for serving in the Texas Air National Guard instead of going to Vietnam has continued its war on actual Vietnam veterans. An outfit called the Cybercast News Service last week questioned the circumstances surrounding the awarding of two Purple Hearts to Murtha because of wounds he suffered in the Vietnam War....
What's maddening here is the unblushing hypocrisy of the right wing and the way it circulates -- usually through Web sites or talk radio -- personal vilification to abort honest political debate. Murtha's views on withdrawing troops from Iraq are certainly the object of legitimate contention. Many in Murtha's party disagree with him. But Murtha's right-wing critics can't content themselves with going after his ideas. They have to try to discredit his service.
Moreover, the right has demonstrated that its attitude toward military service is entirely opportunistic. In the 1992 presidential campaign, when the first President Bush confronted Bill Clinton -- who, like Cheney, avoided military service entirely -- conservatives could hardly speak or write a paragraph about Clinton that didn't accuse him of being a draft dodger. In October 1992, Bush himself assailed Clinton. "A lot of being president is about respect for that office and about telling the truth and serving your country," Bush told a crowd in New Jersey. "And you are all familiar with Governor Clinton's various stories on what he did to evade the draft."
But from 2000 forward, the Republicans had a problem: They confronted Democrats, first Al Gore and then John Kerry, who actually did go to Vietnam, while it was their own standard-bearers who had skipped the war. Suddenly, service in Vietnam wasn't the thing at all. When a Democrat went to war, there must have been something wrong with the way he did it. Gore's service was dismissed because he worked "only" as a military journalist. You can even find Bush's defenders back in 2000 daring to argue that flying planes over Texas was actually more dangerous than joining the Army and serving in Vietnam the way Gore did.
The Republicans had an even bigger problem with Kerry, who did unquestionably dangerous duty patrolling rivers. Not to worry. The Swift Boat Veterans simply smeared him.
"War's a nasty business," Murtha said on CBS's "60 Minutes" on Sunday. "It sears the soul. The shadow of friends killed, the shadow of killing people lives with you the rest of your life. So there's no experience like being in combat."
Unfortunately, politics is a nasty business, too. And there is no honor given to those who serve if they choose later to take on the powers that be.
END of Excerpt
For the entirety of Dionne's column: www.washingtonpost.com
Bozell noted in his newest column: "We should all acknowledge our partisanship -- I oppose the Clintons and the Kerrys, and Dionne favors them. But can Dionne honestly state that the left wing (and 'objective' smearers like CBS) have not resorted to 'personal vilification' on the military record of George W. Bush? Can he honestly ignore that the left has vilified the World War II military service of Bob Dole in 1996 (Robert Ellis in The Nation) and George H. W. Bush in 1992 (Sidney Blumenthal in the New Republic)?" For Bozell's January 17 column in full: www.mrc.org
It should come as no surprise that an arch-conservative Web site is questioning whether Representative John Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat who has been critical of the war in Iraq, deserved the combat awards he received in Vietnam.
After all, in recent years extremist Republican operatives have inverted a longstanding principle: that our combat veterans be accorded a place of honor in political circles. This trend began with the ugly insinuations leveled at Senator John McCain during the 2000 Republican primaries and continued with the slurs against Senators Max Cleland and John Kerry, and now Mr. Murtha.
Military people past and present have good reason to wonder if the current administration truly values their service beyond its immediate effect on its battlefield of choice. The casting of suspicion and doubt about the actions of veterans who have run against President Bush or opposed his policies has been a constant theme of his career. This pattern of denigrating the service of those with whom they disagree risks cheapening the public's appreciation of what it means to serve, and in the long term may hurt the Republicans themselves....
Now the Cybercast News Service, a supposedly independent organization with deep ties to the Republican Party, has dusted off the Swift Boat Veterans playbook, questioning whether Mr. Murtha deserved his two Purple Hearts. The article also implied that Mr. Murtha did not deserve the Bronze Star he received, and that the combat-distinguishing "V" on it was questionable. It then called on Mr. Murtha to open up his military records.
Cybercast News Service is run by David Thibault, who formerly worked as the senior producer for "Rising Tide," the televised weekly news magazine produced by the Republican National Committee. One of the authors of the Murtha article was Marc Morano, a long-time writer and producer for Rush Limbaugh.
The accusations against Mr. Murtha were very old news, principally coming from defeated political rivals....
END of Excerpt
To read Webb's op-ed in full: www.nytimes.com
-- Dotty Lynch, the recently-retired Political Editor for CBS News, who before joining the network's Washington bureau had directed polling for the George McGovern, Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale presidential bids, had the chutzpah, given CBS's use of forged memos to smear President Bush's military service and denial of any liberal bias in pursuing the topic, to post an item, on CBSNews.com, about the political skew of CNSNews.com. She's now the "Political Points" columnist for the Web site. An excerpt from her January 18 posting, "Murtha: Worth His Medals?," which did not address the question posed in the headline:
Jack Murtha has been driving Republicans nuts since November but they have been very reluctant to attack him frontally. But this weekend, just before Murtha went on CBS' 60 Minutes to push his exit strategy from Iraq, the CybercastNews Service.com (formerly Conservative News Service) blasted not his plan, but his bona fides as a war hero.
The attack, reminiscent of the 2004 Swift Boat Veterans for Truth charges against John Kerry, came in the form of an "investigative" story by CNSNews.com reporters Marc Morano and Randy Hall questioning the legitimacy of Murtha's Purple Hearts. Cybercast News Service is a subsidiary of conservative media critic Brent Bozell's Media Research Center. It bears some similarity to Talon News, the old stomping ground of Jeff Gannon, which had to close down last year after Gannon's legitimacy as a real reporter was questioned. But CNSNews.com has been around for a while.
The news service was founded in 1998 as an alternative to allegedly liberally biased news services. It has a staff of 12 reporters in the U.S. and abroad who file stories for the Cybercast News Web site and for subscribers, like GOPUSA, who pay to put the content on their sites. Most staffers have conservative credentials, as well as some type of reporting background, and they claim to be reputable journalists catering to a conservative audience. Marc Moreno, who wrote the article on Murtha, is a former producer for the Rush Limbaugh Show, and his bio touts a real coup: he was the first journalist to have his camera confiscated by the Clinton White House. Their reporters are credentialed to cover the U.S. Congress, the State Department, the Pentagon, the European Parliament and the Israeli Knesset. They say they haven't tried to get a "hard pass" for the White House lately, but can get access via day passes.
On Friday night, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann named CNSNews.com president Brent Bozell that day's "worst person in the world," and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi called the article "scurrilous." Some liberal blogs, including the Huffington Post charged that CNSNews.com was doing dirty work for the White House and Karl Rove, a suggestion vigorously denied by David Thibault, editor-in-chief of CNSNews.com.
"I have never met or exchanged e-mails with Karl Rove and the last time I met George Bush was when I was following him around as a reporter," Thibault told me. Thibault, like most of the CNS News staff, has a reporting background as well as partisan ties. He worked for a couple of local Washington, D.C., TV stations before joining the staff of the RNC and working on the Hill for New Hampshire Sen. (then-Congressman) Judd Gregg.
He said the reason for doing the article, which regurgitated charges that surfaced in Murtha's House campaigns over the years, was that the establishment media has ignored them because Murtha was carrying their water. "There is a tendency in the establishment media to give a pass to people who criticize the administration," Thibault told me. He says the questions about the medals are legitimate because Murtha and the antiwar left are using his decorated status for political advantage....
END of Excerpt
For Lynch's posting in full: www.cbsnews.com
-- Bill O'Reilly at the end of Wednesday's O'Reilly Factor on FNC: "Time now for the 'Most Ridiculous Item of the Day.' As you may know, Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha has emerged as a major critic of the war in Iraq. Murtha's a Democrat and was awarded two Purple Hearts in Vietnam. Now, some right-wing Web sites are questioning Murtha's war record, and that is not good unless there is evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the Congressman did something wrong. His service should be respected, and these kinds of attacks should cease immediately. Enough of this kind of stuff on both sides. It is ridiculous and loathsome."
At least O'Reilly has some consistency since he denounced the CBS hit on Bush.
-- CBS's Mike Wallace, profiling Murtha on the January 15 60 Minutes: "The 73-year-old Democrat from Pennsylvania is a much-decorated war hero from Vietnam and Korea; a heavyweight in military matters in the Congress who stunned the Bush White House last November by calling for the withdrawal of all American troops from Iraq....Murtha, who has two purple hearts, told us that if George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, or Donald Rumsfeld had been in combat themselves, they'd have been more reluctant to send young Americans into battle." See: www.mrc.org
-- Wallace on the January 13 CBS Evening News, previewing his then-upcoming 60 Minutes profile of Murtha. Wallace told anchor Bob Schieffer: "Bob, as you know, John Murtha is a decorated veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. He was a Marine for 37 years, knows a lot about the military, been a Congressman for 32 years, so he knows a bit about politics, too. Based on all of that, he told us that most American troops will be out of Iraq a lot sooner than we think." See: newsbusters.org
-- In a January 2 profile on ABC's Nightline, reporter John Donvan asserted that White House attacks on Murtha had failed because "Murtha's resume on defense is unassailable. He became the first Vietnam veteran elected to the House. He had also served in Korea. Though a Democrat, he was ready to support Republican presidents when they went to war -- Reagan in the '80s, the first President Bush in the 1991 Gulf War. He has the respect of the Pentagon. In short, Murtha is no dove when it comes to the use of American military strength."
-- CBS's Bob Orr, on the November 18 Evening News, painted Murtha as the victim of unjust attacks on his "patriotism." Orr began his piece: "It was a bombshell from a decorated Vietnam veteran who had been one of the leading supporters of the war in Iraq," then showed a sound bite from Murtha's press conference the day before: "This is flawed policy wrapped in an illusion!"
Orr described attacks on Murtha from the White House and Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert, then suggested: "But Democrats, angered by what they saw as personal attacks, fired back." CBS showed Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), at press briefing: "They can try to smear Jack Murtha any way they think they're doing. It's totally inappropriate."
-- CNN's Bill Schneider stressed Murtha's medals in awarding him the "Political Play of the Week" on November 18. Schneider first set Murtha up as a victim: "The White House accused Murtha of wanting to surrender to the terrorists. Republican members of Congress went on the attack, saying U.S. troops'€""
-- ABC's Bob Woodruff on the November 17 World News Tonight, introducing a piece by White House correspondent Martha Raddatz: "Good evening. We start tonight with the debate over the war in Iraq, more nasty and more vitriolic than ever. Today, an influential member of Congress, a decorated war veteran, who had supported the war called it 'a flawed policy, wrapped in illusion,' and said U.S. troops should withdraw now."
-- Brent Baker