NY Times, Wash. Post omitted Democratic response to Bush, Cheney attacks on Iraq War critics

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

In covering President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney's November 16 attacks on Democratic critics of the Bush administration's handling of pre-Iraq war intelligence, The New York Times and The Washington Post failed to provide responses from Democrats. Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller instead lent credence to Cheney's attacks by citing a two-year-old quote of Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) taken from a Republican National Committee document, even though Reid responded on the Senate floor to Cheney's remarks.

Additionally, the Times failed again to note that in a November 15 speech, potential GOP presidential candidate Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) said 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." This omission was particularly glaring because Bumiller quoted Bush responding to a question directly related to Hagel's remarks.

Bush, at a press conference with South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun, said of his critics: "What bothers me is when people are irresponsibly using their positions and playing politics." Speaking at the conservative Frontiers of Freedom Institute in Washington, Cheney said that those accusing the Bush administration of manipulating intelligence in the buildup to the Iraq war were making "one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city."

In response to Cheney's speech, Reid said the following on the Senate floor: "Tonight the Vice President has come out of his bunker and is speaking at a gathering of Washington, DC insiders, which is closed to the press. Unfortunately, he brought his bunker mentality with him. He is repeating the same tired attacks we've heard from administration officials over the last two weeks." Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) responded by saying: "It's hard to name a government official with less credibility on Iraq than Vice President Cheney."

Bumiller, in her November 17 Times article, quoted Cheney's speech, but did not quote -- or even mention -- the Democratic responses. Instead, Bumiller used a two-year old quote from Reid posted on the RNC website which lent credence to Cheney's attacks. From Bumiller's November 17 article:

The Republican National Committee simultaneously posted on its Web site comments from important Democrats who in the past had warned of the threat of Mr. Hussein.

Among them was the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, who was quoted on the Web site as saying on CNN in 2002 that "Saddam Hussein, in effect, has thumbed his nose at the world community, and I think that the president is approaching this in the right fashion."

Bumiller went on to quote Bush:

At a news conference in Kyongju, South Korea, where he will attend the Asian economic summit, President Bush said Thursday that he backed the vice president's comments.

Mr. Bush said it was "patriotic as heck to disagree with the President."

"It doesn't bother me. What bothers me is when people are irresponsibly using their positions and playing politics. That's exactly what is taking place in America."

Bumiller left out the context for Bush's remarks. In fact, Bush said he agreed with the vice president only after a reporter asked him: "Vice President Cheney called it reprehensible for critics to question how you took the country to war, but Senator Hagel says it's patriotic to ask those kinds of questions. Who do you think is right?"

The November 17 Post article also failed to report the Democratic response to Cheney's remarks, and instead quoted Bartlett, as the Times did. Unlike Bumiller's article, however, the Post did note that Hagel's comments were put before President Bush at the press conference in South Korea, but left out the import of those comments -- that Hagel had taken direct aim at the administration for its attack on critics. Here's what the Post wrote:

Bush added his voice hours later during a news conference Thursday afternoon in South Korea, where he is meeting with Asian leaders. Asked if he agreed with the vice president or with Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) who said this week that it was patriotic to question the government during a war, Bush's face tightened and he answered sharply, "The vice president."

But as Media Matters for America previously noted, there was far more to Hagel's comments than simply defending the patriotism of critics. In a November 15 speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C., said 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."

The Times and the Post's coverage of Bush's and Cheney's remarks stands in contrast to that of the Los Angeles Times, which quoted both Bush and Cheney but also provided Reid's and Kerry's responses. Like the Post, the Los Angeles Times noted Hagel's defense of critics' patriotism but, for the second day in a row, failed to report that Hagel had strongly criticized the administration.

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