2. Journalists Repeatedly See Fresh 'Cronkite Moment' Opportunities
3. NBC Claims 'Civil War' But Can't Always Tag Hezbollah 'Terrorist'
4. WPost: Using 'Civil War' to Define Iraq Undercuts Public Opinion
5. Lehrer: 'Bias Is What People Hear,' Not What Journalists Report
6. Read It Here First: FNC Picks Up On How Nets Describe Iraq War
Asked by a reporter about how "President Bush today blamed the surge of violence in Iraq on al Qaeda," incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded with a disjointed answer about how "the 9/11 Commission dismissed that notion a long time ago and I feel sad that the President is resorting to it again." Though al-Qaeda is clearly in Iraq and responsible for deadly bombings, and the 9/11 Commission conclusion was about links before September 11th, on Tuesday's NBC Nightly News reporter David Gregory treated Pelosi's off-base retort as credible and relevant. Without suggesting any miscue by her, Gregory segued to Pelosi's soundbite with a bewildering set up of his own about how "incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi disagreed, warning that such rhetoric about al Qaeda will make it harder for Democrats to work with the White House."
On FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume, after panelist Mara Liasson characterized Pelosi as "confused" and Morton Kondracke suggested she was just "mixed up," Fred Barnes maintained that "she clearly screwed up here. The question was absolutely clear. 'President Bush today blamed the surge in violence in Iraq.'" Barnes argued the media wouldn't let a Republican get away with such a flub, telling Kondracke: "If some Republican had done this, if Bush had done this at a press conference, if Newt Gingrich had said it, if John Boehner had said it, if Roy Blunt had said it, you'd have been all over it. It would be inexcusable."
Neither ABC's World News or the CBS Evening News played the Pelosi soundbite.
[This item was posted Tuesday night on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]
The relevant portion of the story from David Gregory, who filed from Riga, Latvia, on the November 28 NBC Nightly News:
David Gregory: "Iraq's worsening civil war will dominate the President's meeting with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Concluding his visit to Estonia earlier today, Mr. Bush blamed the violence not on civil war but on Sunni terrorists."
FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume, but anchored by Jim Angle, led its panel segment with Pelosi's exchange with the reporter, identified on-screen as Thomas Ferraro: "President Bush today blamed the surge of violence in Iraq on al-Qaeda and denied the country is in the midst of a civil war."
After Kondracke and Liasson tried to explain Pelosi as "confused" and "mixed up," Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of the Weekly Standard, retorted:
Amid all of the media excitement over NBC's choice to grandly pronounce the ongoing violence in Iraq a "civil war," some are gleefully touting NBC's editorializing as a "Walter Cronkite moment," referring to the then-CBS Evening News anchor's 1968 editorial declaring that the U.S. had become "mired in stalemate" in Vietnam. For instance, referring on Monday night to NBC's decision, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann postulated: "Is this the 'Walter Cronkite moment' of the Iraq War?" See the November 28 CyberAlert: www.mediaresearch.org
In their desire for a U.S. retreat in Iraq, journalists had previously pronounced Cindy Sheehan's protesting in Crawford, Texas and Democratic Congressman John Murtha's calling for a withdrawal of troops to be "Cronkite moments" of the Iraq war, each time apparently hoping that the weight of the media's pessimism finally forces a change in U.S. policy.
The August 26, 2005 CyberAlert reported how NBC's Carl Quintanilla centered a story around touting Cindy Sheehan's impact: "Sheehan, say some historians, may be evolving as an icon in the war's turning point, if this is one. For three weeks, she's dominated headlines, mobilized protesters" and made "it safe, her supporters say, to voice doubts about the war, just as Walter Cronkite did on the Evening News in 1968." Viewers were then treated to 1968 video of Cronkite taking on the Vietnam war: "To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion." See: www.mrc.org
The November 21, 2005 CyberAlert related how CNN's Bill Schneider explained his "Play of the Week" pick: "In 1968, Walter Cronkite returned from Vietnam and told Americans that, in his opinion, the Vietnam War had become a stalemate. That was a turning point. Now, it's too early to tell whether what happened this week was a turning point in Iraq, but it certainly was the political 'Play of the Week.'" See: www.mrc.org
[This item, by Rich Noyes, was posted Tuesday on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]
This morning I stumbled across a piece written about a year ago by Editor & Publisher's Greg Mitchell for CBS's Public Eye, theorizing about whether Murtha's anti-war declarations would be the "Cronkite moment" of Iraq. Mitchell gently suggested that the idea that Cronkite's editorial was a key turning point in public opinion on Vietnam might actually be a myth:
Those who claim that it created a seismic shift on the war overlook the fact that there was much opposition to the conflict already. In fact, the late Sen. Eugene McCarthy was about to drive President Lyndon Johnson into retirement.
In the meantime, I've done a quick and dirty search of Gallup poll results, producing some interesting hints.
They show that the percentage of those who felt the U.S. made a mistake in sending troops to Vietnam jumped from 41 percent to 47 percent in October 1967, four months before Cronkite's moment. That climbed a bit to 49 percent in a poll completed just before his TV talk in February. It then dipped one point in the next poll (early April), then shot up to 53 percent in August. But in April 1970, the number stood at 51 percent -- only two points higher than the last pre-Cronkite epiphany poll.
Another question from Gallup yielded a more dramatic result. Asked in early 1968 if they viewed themselves as hawks or doves, the number of hawks dropped from 58 percent in February (pre-Cronkite Moment) to 41 percent in April. Proof at last! But hold on. In the same period, those who said they "approved" LBJ's handling of the war jumped from 32 percent to 42 percent.
So perhaps Cronkite's effect on Main Street has been wildly overstated -- but that doesn't mean he didn't cause tremors in newsrooms, in the military, in the White House and on Capitol Hill. Perhaps someday, the same will be said of Rep. Jack Murtha's "Cronkite Moment."
END of Excerpt
For Mitchell's piece in full:
Instead, NBC and MSNBC went all out yesterday to tout their change in terminology as a major moment in Iraq, plainly hoping to get the attention of others in the media as well as the public. Sounds more like activism than journalism.
While liberals like Marty Kaplan of the Huffington Post have hailed NBC's boasting usage of "civil war" as the end of "the neo-Stalinist era of American political discourse," (www.huffingtonpost.com ) some might ask if NBC hasn't been gingerly with other politically sensitive terms. (How about "partial-birth abortion"? Can you imagine Matt Lauer announcing: "After a weekend of discussion, we have decided that since the baby is partially born before it is aborted..." No?) NBC also sometimes fails to describe terrorists as terrorists. A CyberAlert earlier this year captured the problem in documenting how NBC's Andrea Mitchell avoided labeling Hezbollah as "terrorist."
[This item, by Tim Graham, was posted Tuesday on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]
The July 18 CyberAlert relayed: NBC's Andrea Mitchell asked on Monday's NBC Nightly News: "What is Hezbollah and what is its end game?" Mitchell first answered that "experts say to prove it can damage Israel in ways Arab countries couldn't." But then she proceeded to refer to "Hezbollah's charismatic leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah," also describing him as "a Shiite populist" who she relayed, over video of kids, "provides social services where Lebanon's weak new government cannot." Mitchell refrained from labeling Hezbollah as "terrorist" -- or mentioning how its real "end game" is the destruction of Israel -- going no further than to say it "operates militias." For more: www.mrc.org
To be fair, ABC has seemed most prominent in failing to describe Hezbollah and Hamas as terrorists. At least one of Mitchell's talking heads (all former Clinton officials) used the T word.
In one of those "analysis" pieces reporters love to write, Washington Post White House reporter Peter Baker underlined on Wednesday one reason why NBC might have started using "civil war" to define Iraq: it severely undercuts the Iraq war in opinion polls.
An excerpt from the November 29 piece:
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), a member of the Armed Services Committee, said Bush would rather frame it in the terrorism context to preserve public support. "If it's a civil war and only a small portion of it involves al-Qaeda operatives, then it's suddenly not the central front in the war on terror, it's a struggle by Iraqis for political power," he said. "That means the rationales for this are severely undercut."
Polls suggest that most Americans have already settled this debate in their minds -- 61 percent of those surveyed in September by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal described the situation in Iraq as a civil war, while 65 percent agreed in a CNN poll and 72 percent in a Gallup poll. Of those who described the conflict as "out of control" and a "civil war" in a later Gallup-USA Today poll, 84 percent called U.S. involvement a mistake, compared with 25 percent of those who did not view the situation that way.
"There's a good deal of research to suggest that the American public is less willing to use troops to intervene in other countries' civil wars than in humanitarian-type missions," said Christopher F. Gelpi, a Duke University scholar who has studied public opinion in wartime. "So even if the facts on the ground are the same...the label used has a substantial effect on public opinion. That's why they're fighting over it."
Baker also included conservative analyst Michael Ledeen of AEI arguing that "terror war" would be a term that would work. Baker wrapped up the piece with the idea that calling Iraq a "civil war" could make it more likely to develop along those lines:
Kurt M. Campbell, a Pentagon official in the Clinton administration, said many key players in Iraq have not engaged in violence but could decide to weigh in if they think the conflict has evolved into an all-out struggle for power -- which means the Iraqis and Americans have a legitimate reason to fear the disputed phrase. "It may trigger the thing you're trying to forestall," he said. "It's not simply a matter of political correctness and trying to avoid harsh reaction."
END of Excerpt
Campbell added that it does look like it's heading that way. Liberals have argued that the media are somehow cowed into using administration-approved terminology that's at odds with "reality" on the ground. "A fine example of the American people, through the election process, informing those who should be informing us," one liberal commenter wrote on Think Progress.
But as this article shows, these terms are loaded with political impact, and it should be obvious that NBC could also be portrayed as being cowed into new, gloomier terminology in advance of anti-war Democrats like Nancy Pelosi coming to power with ending American involvement in Iraq as their number one priority.
For Baker's "analysis" in full: www.washingtonpost.com
Appearing on the Monday edition of Comedy Central's Colbert Report, PBS NewsHour anchor Jim Lehrer dismissed any hint of a liberal agenda, declaring himself "bias-free" and indicated that the real problem is the distorted viewers, not slanted reporting: "Bias is what people who hear or read the news bring to the story, not what the journalist brings to the reporting."
[This item is adopted from a Tuesday posting, by Scott Whitlock, on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]
The relevant exchanges on the November 27 program:
Stephen Colbert: "Now, um, do you believe that you have a liberal bias?"
Despite his claims of being free of bias, the MRC has noted some "liberally flavored" leanings, including the softball style of his 2000 interview with presidential candidate Al Gore: www.mediaresearch.org
And, during the 2004 Republican convention, Lehrer followed a GOP tribute to the late Ronald Reagan by blaming the deficits on the former President's tax cuts: www.mrc.org
Lehrer, however, would likely label these examples as simply the problem of faulty viewing.
You read it here first. In the "Grapevine" segment on Tuesday's Special Report with Brit Hume, FNC fill-in anchor Jim Angle relayed quotes from Tuesday's broadcast network evening newscasts which were recited in a Monday night NewsBusters item/Tuesday CyberAlert article about NBC's decision to describe the situation in Iraq as a "civil war." Angle passed along how NBC acknowledged "that such a designation could 'erode public support' for the war. Katie Couric on CBS said Iraq was slipping 'ever closer to civil war.' And Charles Gibson on ABC said quote, 'you can call it anarchy, you can call it chaos, you can call it civil war.'"
The Tuesday CyberAlert recounted: Twelve hours after the Today show repeatedly announced how NBC News had decided to call the situation in Iraq a "civil war," as if that decision was major news itself, Monday's NBC Nightly News led with the term and conceded it could "erode" public support for the war. Meanwhile, CBS and ABC, didn't go quite as far as CBS's Katie Couric referred to how Iraq "slips ever-closer to civil war" and ABC's Charles Gibson suggested "you can call it anarchy, you can call it chaos, you can call it civil war..." See: www.mediaresearch.org
-- Brent Baker