News outlets continue to label Murtha "pro-military," suggesting most Democrats are not

››› ››› ROB MORLINO

Since the November 17 call by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-PA) to end the U.S. military deployment in Iraq, several news outlets -- including The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and New York Daily News -- have continued to identify him as "pro-military." By labeling him in this way, the media are suggesting a contrast with other Democrats, many of whom voted against the Iraq war resolution but have cast votes in favor of such legislation as that to close funding gaps in veterans' benefits and to increase death benefits for military families. The label also suggests that it's Republicans who are typically "pro-military." But as Media Matters for America noted, those measures were opposed by many Republicans who also voted for the Iraq war. Under the Post, the Times, and the Daily News' formulation, are those Democrats or are those Republicans in fact "anti" military?

Additionally, as Media Matters previously noted, Associated Press writer Liz Sidoti, in a story published November 18, described Murtha as "usually pro-military."

The Post, which first used the label in an online photo caption on November 17, published two separate news stories -- one on November 19 by staff writer Peter Baker and another on November 21 by Baker and staff writer David Brown -- that referred to Murtha as a "pro-military" Democrat. On November 21, the Los Angeles Times did the same in a news story by staff writers Josh Meyer and Peter Wallsten.

Another outlet did not use the label directly but, rather, wrote of Murtha's "pro-military" credibility. In a November 19 news story by Richard Sisk and Kenneth R. Bazine, the New York Daily News reported that "a top outside Bush adviser exploded over spokesman Scott McClellan comparing a person with as much pro-military credibility as Murtha to left-wing agitator Michael Moore" -- a contrast that rests on the assumption that the left is necessarily "anti-military."

As Media Matters also previously noted, Republican members of Congress removed Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) from his position as chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee two years shy of the end of his term in January 2005, reportedly because they were "upset" at his calls for increased funding for veterans. No news organization described them as "anti-military" or "anti-veteran."

From the November 19 edition of The Washington Post:

White House officials recognized that none of the issues discussed on the trip was likely to produce major news that would knock Iraq off the front page, especially after fresh reports of violence in Baghdad and word that a prominent pro-military Democrat, Rep. John P. Murtha (Pa.), had turned against the war. And so the president chose to confront the war debate rather than avoid it and commissioned advisers to map out a strategy to punch back.

From the November 21 edition of The Washington Post:

After more than a week of increasingly harsh rhetoric, President Bush sought Sunday to tone down the raging debate on Iraq and offered an olive branch to the pro-military Democratic lawmaker condemned by the White House last week for turning against the war.

From the November 19 edition of the New York Daily News:

But the White House also tried to dial back a bit on its attack on Murtha. "We have nothing but respect for Congressman Murtha's service to his country," said communications director Nicolle Wallace. Still, a top outside Bush adviser exploded over spokesman Scott McClellan comparing a person with as much pro-military credibility as Murtha to left-wing agitator Michael Moore.

From the November 21 edition of the Los Angeles Times:

On Thursday, a respected pro-military Democratic lawmaker said he no longer supported the war policy and called for the U.S. to begin a phased withdrawal of troops, which would leave only a rapid "reaction force" in the region.

The comments by Rep. John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania were seen as a particularly damaging blow for the administration, given the decorated Marine Corps veteran's ties to the military over his 31-year congressional career. The White House and congressional Republicans sparked a furor late last week by leveling attacks on him.

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