CNN, MSNBC failed to note that applause at Bush speech was prompted by Bush staffers

››› ››› NICOLE CASTA

After President Bush's June 28 speech at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, reporters on ABC, NBC and Fox News noted that the only round of applause during the speech was initiated by Bush staffers. But CNN and MSNBC made no mention of the staffers' role, instead attributing the outbreak of applause to the troops. CBS' brief post-speech coverage made no mention of the applause.

Appearing on MSNBC, Newsweek managing editor Jon Meacham stated: "It was striking to me that the one moment of applause at that very well-disciplined military crowd was that 'we will stay in the fight until the fight is won.'" CNN host Wolf Blitzer stated that just once "the troops at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, interrupted the president and politely applauded him." CNN White House correspondent Dana Bash added that "it was quite noteworthy that there was only a round of applause at one particular moment" because the White House wanted it to be "sedate" in order avoid criticism for "having sort of a campaign or political rally."

ABC, NBC, and Fox News reported on the Bush staffers' role ...

ABC

TERRY MORAN (ABC News chief White House correspondent): One other thing I should tell you, [anchor] Charlie [Gibson], the president's speech was greeted with respectful and attentive silence here by the soldiers. At one point he was interrupted for applause when he said, "We will stay in the fight until the fight is won." I must tell you that applause was initiated by a member of the White House advance team.

NBC

BRIAN WILLIAMS (anchor): [NBC News White House correspondent] Kelly [O'Donnell], some folks at home no doubt were curious about the lack of applause breaks. By pre-agreement between the White House and Fort Bragg, there was no entry applause as the soldiers were at attention. We were 23 minutes into it before the first break for applause. Were the crowd addressed or given instructions in any way before the president walked out?

O'DONNELL: I checked with some of those in uniform, and they were told to follow military protocol and to be polite. It was my observation that that one applause break was actually triggered by members of the president's advance team. They were just a few feet from me. They started to applaud-- applause is contagious, and it then swept through the room. There was applause when the president left the room after the speech was over but people in uniform here told me that they had planned to be polite and to follow protocol. So, that's the explanation behind that, Brian.

Fox News

BRIT HUME (anchor): It was an interesting phenomenon, this was a room full of U.S. military men and women and they had been urged not to engage in the usual cheering response that a commander in chief can expect. But at one point there was a round of applause. Our chief White House correspondent Carl Cameron is down there and can give us a better sense about this whole issue about the military and the applause and what kind of atmosphere was supposed to prevail in the room and what happened there. Carl?

CAMERON: Well, one of the things we were told today before the president's speech by the military brass here is that the soldiers and airmen were all given very strict instruction to avoid their hoo-hahs. And there's an awful lot of pent-up enthusiasm here. And before the president actually gave his remarks, we had some of the commanding officers come out and sort of exercise and warm up the crowd and let them do their hoo-hahs before the president got here. They were told to keep it subdued that this was not supposed to be a rah-rah reception to the president's remarks. It wasn't a rally. But there was that one moment when the applause, in fact, did break out. And what happened in fact was a couple of Bush staffers in the back of the auditorium here with the press began to applaud. And here you have these members of the Army Airborne, some as described by their own commanders, some of the more aggressive U.S. forces, ready to let loose with their applause.

... while no mention was made of the Bush staffers' role on CNN and MSNBC:

MSNBC

CHRIS MATTHEWS (host): Let's go right now to Newsweek's magazine managing editor, Jon Meacham. Jon, did the president do what he had to do tonight or not?

MEACHAM: I think he certainly spoke nobly and well. He linked this struggle to our noblest moments through our history, from the revolution forward. It was striking to me that the one moment of applause at that very well-disciplined military crowd was that "we will stay in the fight until the fight is won." And he evoked the virtues and values of courage and tenacity and sacrifice.

CNN

BLITZER: And so, the president of the United States wrapping up a speech to the nation, to the troops. The president speaking for just under 30 minutes, a little bit less than we thought. Only interrupted once by applause, when the president simply said, "We will stay in the fight until the fight is won." That's when the troops at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, interrupted the president and politely applauded him. There was no rah-rah, hoo-hahs from this group. Nearly 800 troops assembled at Fort Bragg. That clearly was the instruction from the White House, the commander in chief. A very respectful response for the president as he continues to shake hands with those troops.

[...]

BLITZER: Our Dana Bash, our White House correspondent, is on the scene for us at Fort Bragg. Give us a little flavor, Dana, of what you're seeing, what you're feeling there, with the troops who are assembled.

BASH: Well, Wolf, just as you mentioned, it was quite noteworthy that there was only a round of applause at one particular moment. They were very careful to be sort of sedate, and the White House, as you mentioned, very understanding of the fact that they could be criticized for having sort of a campaign or political rally, if you will, at a time when the president -- when they're asking for time from the networks and trying to speak to the American people.

Before the speech, Blitzer and CNN host Paula Zahn predicted a "responsive and enthusiastic" from the audience of military personnel, who "support what the commander in chief is doing":

BLITZER: One thing for sure, Paula, the president has a very, very responsive and enthusiastic audience in front of him.

ZAHN: Which makes you wonder how long the speech really will take tonight. The White House originally told us to expect the president to speak for about 30 minutes or so. No doubt there will be multiple interruptions by the supportive crowd here this evening.

BLITZER: But the White House officials that I've spoken with, several of them, say this is not the kind of speech which is going to be seen as a political speech. They really don't expect the soldiers in the audience at Fort Bragg and the airmen to go forward and interrupt the president repeatedly with applause. That will happen; there'll be some of the hoo-hahs and some of the cheering for the president. He is the commander in chief, after all, and these men and women who are there at Fort Bragg certainly support what the commander in chief is doing. But I would be surprised if it turns into, really, a campaign-style speech. It will be very respectful.

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