Following speeches by Senator Zell Miller (D-GA) and Vice President Dick Cheney September 1 at the Republican National Convention, commentators and reporters on both CNN and MSNBC challenged Miller during live interviews on his numerous distortions of Senator John Kerry's voting record and contradictions between his speech and past statements praising Kerry. In contrast, FOX News Channel's post-convention panel largely praised Miller's speech; anchor Brit Hume said he "liked" Miller's suggestion that Kerry "was going to arm the country with spitballs."
Kerry's voting record
During CNN's post-convention coverage, as anchors Judy Woodruff and Wolf Blitzer and senior analyst Jeff Greenfield challenged Miller on his distortions of Kerry's record and noted that Cheney, as secretary of defense under former President George H.W. Bush, opposed several of the same weapons systems Miller had accused Kerry of voting against:
WOODRUFF: Senator Miller, the Democrats are pointing out that John Kerry voted for 16 of 19 defense budgets that came through Congress while he was in the Senate, and many of these votes that you cited, Dick Cheney also voted against, that they were specific weapons systems.
BLITZER: You know that when the secretary -- when the vice president was the secretary of defense, he proposed cutting back on the B-2 bomber, the F-14 Tomcat as well. I covered him at the Pentagon during those years when he was raising serious concerns about those two weapons systems.
BLITZER: [H]e [Cheney] opposed some of them when he was the defense secretary, and sometimes he was overruled by the Congress because he was concerned, he was worried that the defense of the United States could be better served by some other weapons systems, not specifically those. I'm specifically referring to the B-2 and the F-14 Tomcat.
On MSNBC, host Chris Matthews -- who also interviewed Miller -- pointed out that it's often misleading to take a vote against an enormous appropriations bill and deem it a vote against a few individual items in the bill, as Miller did (Media Matters for America has repeatedly noted this distortion from conservative commentators):
MATTHEWS: All right, let me ask you, senator, you are the expert. Many times, as a conservative Republican [sic], you have had to come out on the floor and obey party whips and vote against big appropriations passed by the Democrats when they were in power.
You weren't against feeding poor people. You weren't against Social Security. You weren't against a lot of programs that, because of the nature of parliamentary procedure and combat, you had to vote against the whole package. Didn't you many times vote against whole packages of spending, when you would have gladly gone for a smaller package?
Also on MSNBC, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell asserted that Miller had distorted Kerry's record: "If Zell Miller's speech was a red-meat speech, in fact, a raw meat speech, which, in fact, misstates a lot of Kerry's record, but draws very tough conclusions. He just really stuck that knife in."
But FOX panelists ignored Miller's distortions and inconsistencies on the issue. Weekly Standard executive editor and FOX News contributor Fred Barnes agreed with Miller that Kerry's voting record proves he was weak on defense: "I think the hard part for Kerry is when all the -- and we heard it from Zell Miller, we heard it from Cheney -- when Republicans give this litany of votes, culminating not in the Gulf War vote but in the $87 billion vote just this past year against money for the troops in Iraq."
The context of Kerry's votes didn't matter to William Kristol, Weekly Standard editor and FOX News contributor; rather, he insisted, "[I]t's a consistent pattern. It's not a made-up, one gotcha vote on an obscure appropriations bill.
Roll Call executive editor and FOX News contributor Morton M. Kondracke agreed that "everything was legitimate that they said and that Kerry was vulnerable on every point" and that they had "exposed his 20-year record," though he opined that "Miller went over the line into demagoguery" at one point:
KONDRACKE: Now, I thought -- and I thought everything was legitimate that they said and that Kerry was vulnerable on every point, except I thought Zell Miller went over the line into demagoguery, frankly, when he implied that the Democrats are defaming American troops and have been doing so during the Cold War and the Korean War by declaring them to be occupiers and not liberators. I mean, that is something that the Democrats have not done, Kerry has not done.
They scorched John Kerry. I think they dramatized the differences between the candidates. They exposed his 20-year record on foreign -- basically on foreign policy.
Brit Hume, FOX News Channel managing editor, Washington correspondent and host of Special Report with Brit Hume, added: "I liked that he [Miller] suggested he [Kerry] was going to arm the country with spitballs."
Miller's past praise of Kerry
On CNN, Blitzer and Greenfield highlighted the inconsistency between Miller's past praise of Kerry and his current attacks:
BLITZER: But as you well know, they're been many times over the years, you've worked very closely with him [Kerry] and praised him. The Democrats are circulating information that as recently as three years ago, you were praising him.
MILLER: Look, John Kerry came back from Vietnam as a young man unsure of whether America was a force for good or evil in the world. He still has that uncertainty about him.
WOODRUFF: You praised him ...
GREENFIELD: Then why did you say in 2001 that he [Kerry] strengthened the military? You said that three years ago.
No one at FOX or MSNBC brought up the same inconsistency, however.
Bush's use of term "occupier"
On CNN, Greenfield suggested that Miller had drawn false contrasts between Kerry's words and Bush's words:
GREENFIELD: You also were, I would say, almost indignant that anyone would possibly call America military occupiers, not liberators, on at least four occasions. President Bush has referred to the presence of American forces in Iraq as an occupation, and the question is: Are you not selectively choosing words to describe the same situation the president of the United States is describing?
On FOX, Kondracke and NPR national political correspondent and FOX News contributor Mara Liasson made the same point. "Well, look, look, we in a sense are occupiers," Kondracke said. "President Bush has said that," Liasson said. "The president has referred -- has said that the Iraqis don't want us to be 'occupiers' -- don't want their country 'occupied'," Kondracke continued.