Several journalists and media figures have taken to describing Democratic criticism of the Bush administration's approval of a deal allowing state-owned Dubai Ports World to assume control of six major U.S. ports as an attempt by Democrats to move "to the right" of President Bush and Republicans in Congress on issues of national security. In fact, some of the Democrats who have most strongly denounced the deal have been among the most active proponents of enhancing port security since the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
In recent weeks, several journalists and media figures have taken to describing Democratic criticism of the Bush administration's approval of a deal allowing state-owned Dubai Ports World to assume control of six major U.S. ports as an attempt by Democrats to move "to the right" of President Bush and Republicans in Congress on issues of national security. Implicit in this characterization of the Democrats' actions is the assumption that national security is a conservative value, and Republicans care more than Democrats about protecting the country against terrorism. In fact, as Media Matters for America has previously noted (here and here), some of the Democrats who have most strongly denounced the deal have been among the most active proponents of enhancing port security since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The claim that Democrats who speak out on national security are trying to position themselves to the right of Bush is hardly the sole province of conservative commentators. Media figures from Time and Newsweek magazines, NBC News, Fox Broadcasting Co., Fox News, and The Washington Times have all echoed this characterization in recent weeks.
A Media Matters review has identified the following examples of this characterization since the controversy erupted:
- Time national political correspondent Karen Tumulty
During a discussion of the port deal on the February 24 edition of PBS' Washington Week with Gwen Ifill, Tumulty stated:
TUMULTY: All of these things suggest that at least the symbolism of this and the politics of this are terrible, and the Democrats, who have -- are already on warning that the Republicans plan to use national security as an issue against them in this election, immediately rushed in to have the chance to get to the right of the Republicans, and the Republicans, the last thing they wanted to do was be sitting in a situation where [Sens.] Hillary [Rodham] Clinton [D-NY] and Teddy Kennedy [D-MA] look stronger on national defense than they do.
- Newsweek assistant managing editor Evan Thomas
On the February 26 edition of Inside Washington with Gordon Peterson on WJLA, a Washington, D.C.-based ABC affiliate, during a panel discussion that featured National Public Radio legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg and Washington Post nationally syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, Thomas stated:
THOMAS: One thing that strikes me is -- it is hilarious to watch the Democrats, who are all against racial profiling except in this case, where they're racially profiling an entire country --
TOTENBERG: But I don't think it's --
THOMAS: -- and the Hillary Clintons -- there's a lot about Hillary Clinton in the other subtext here. Hillary and the Democrats need to get somehow to the right of President Reagan on something.
PETERSON: President Bush.
TOTENBERG: They have.
THOMAS: President Bush, excuse me -- need to get to the right of President Bush on something, and so, they have picked this moment.
- NBC News Washington bureau chief Tim Russert
During an interview with co-host Katie Couric on the February 22 edition of NBC's Today, Russert said:
RUSSERT: That's the lesson that Democrats say they have learned from the Bush administration. That is, there is a post-September 11th mentality. That's what [White House senior adviser] Karl Rove warned about, and they are playing it. And House Republicans and Senate Republicans, Katie, are saying, "Oh, my God, mid-term elections coming. We can't let the Democrats get to our right on national security. We're going to join this fray as well."
- Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace
On the February 19 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, Wallace claimed:
WALLACE: I mean, one of the things about this, Mara [Liasson, NPR national political correspondent], that I have to say I enjoy -- isn't this a perfect free shot politically for Democrats to play hawk, to attack George W. Bush from the right, "We're more concerned about security than you are?"
- Fox News Washington managing editor Brit Hume
During a discussion on the port deal on the February 22 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, Hume stated:
HUME: Now, this issue has clearly enabled Democrats to appear at least to be to the right of the president on a domestic -- on a -- on a "war on terror," homeland security issue. If this decision -- if this goes on as it appears it's going to, will that stand and make a difference say in the fall election? Or by the fall election?
- Fox News host John Gibson
Interviewing Sen. John Warner Jr. (R-VA) about the port deal on the February 22 edition of Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson, Gibson asked:
GIBSON: Senator, I'm out of time but I've got to ask you one more question. I've got to ask you one more. There's an election in November. Things are dicey for Republicans anyway. Are you comfortable with the idea that Democrats can run to the right of Republicans on national security on this issue?
On the February 23 edition of The Big Story, Gibson asked Chicago Sun-Times nationally syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak:
GIBSON: Well, the Republicans hadn't been informed about the deal, and it turns out neither had the president. This whole process sort of -- is carried out in official secret status for awhile. But isn't it true that this gives the Democrats a chance to run to the right of Republicans on homeland security?
- Washington Times staff writers Stephen Dinan and Charles Hurt
And finally, in their February 23 Washington Times article, Dinan and Hurt wrote:
President Bush is on the defensive on national security for the first time in his presidency over his administration's decision to approve a Middle Eastern company's bid to manage U.S. ports, leaving Democrats and Republicans all running to his right on the issue.