After reporting Bush's attack on war critics, media ignored Hagel's dissenting response
November 17, 2005 (Washington, DC) -- Media Matters for America is deeply troubled by the lack of news coverage of a speech critical of the Bush administration given by Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) on November 15 in response to remarks by the President days earlier that those who have accused the White House of manipulating intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war are sending "the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will." Sen. Hagel reacted by saying that the administration's attack on war critics is "not democracy nor what this country has stood for" and that "[t]he Bush administration must understand that each American has a right to question our policies in Iraq and should not be demonized for disagreeing with them."
Numerous media outlets -- among them The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, CBS, ABC, and NBC -- prominently covered President Bush's November 11 speech. However, those same outlets ignored public criticism of Bush's remarks delivered at the Council for Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C by Hagel, who is a potential Republican presidential candidate.
"It is unconceivable that news organizations, entrusted with the responsibility of informing Americans, omitted remarks critical of the Bush administration delivered by a prominent member of the President's party," said David Brock, President and CEO of Media Matters for America. "Not covering Hagel's speech leaves a distorted view of the current dialogue regarding the Iraq war."
Bush's November 11 comments were reported on that evening's network news broadcasts. NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams reported that Bush said such criticism "hurts the troops and helps the enemy"; Bob Scheiffer reported on the CBS Evening News that Bush accused war critics of "undercutting American troops in Iraq"; and Bob Woodruff similarly reported on ABC's World News Tonight Bush's assertion that criticism of the war is "endangering U.S. troops." On November 12, The New York Times reported that Bush "sharply criticized Democrats who have accused him of misleading the nation about the threat from Iraq's weapons programs, calling their criticism 'deeply irresponsible' and suggesting that they are undermining the war effort," while the Los Angeles Times noted that Bush "said his critics were undermining U.S. troops with their claims."
But none of those outlets reported Hagel's response to Bush's comments. The NBC Nightly News did note on November 15 that Hagel said the United States "should begin drawing down forces in Iraq next year," but did not include his comments defending the right to question the war.
By contrast, Knight Ridder and The Washington Post documented Hagel's remarks. Knight Ridder noted on November 15 that Hagel "chided Bush for suggesting several times in recent days that war critics are undermining American troops and comforting the enemy." The Post reported on November 16:
Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) strongly criticized yesterday the White House's new line of attack against critics of its Iraq policy, saying that "the Bush administration must understand that each American has a right to question our policies in Iraq and should not be demonized for disagreeing with them."
With President Bush leading the charge, administration officials have lashed out at Democrats who have accused the administration of manipulating intelligence to justify the war in Iraq. Bush has suggested that critics are hurting the war effort, telling U.S. troops in Alaska on Monday that critics "are sending mixed signals to our troops and the enemy. And that's irresponsible."
Hagel, a Vietnam War veteran and a potential presidential candidate in 2008, countered in a speech to the Council of Foreign Relations that the Vietnam War "was a national tragedy partly because members of Congress failed their country, remained silent and lacked the courage to challenge the administrations in power until it was too late."
"To question your government is not unpatriotic -- to not question your government is unpatriotic," Hagel said, arguing that 58,000 troops died in Vietnam because of silence by political leaders. "America owes its men and women in uniform a policy worthy of their sacrifices."