Rush Limbaugh falsely suggested that The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times changed their positions on the Dubai Ports World deal in order to criticize Bush. In fact, both papers had previously editorialized in favor of the deal.
On March 10, nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh misrepresented the editorial positions of the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post, falsely suggesting that these newspapers had changed their opinions of the proposed takeover of operations at six U.S. ports by Dubai Ports World (DPW) -- a company owned by the government of Dubai. The deal, which was initially approved by the Bush administration, was apparently halted on March 9 when DPW announced it would divest its leases to terminals at those six U.S. ports to a U.S. company. The leases to operate the ports were previously held by Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co., a private-sector British company that is traded on the London Stock Exchange.
Citing reports that the Bush administration ultimately asked DPW to back out of the deal, Limbaugh suggested that media outlets were reversing their positions in order to "implicate Bush" in the deal's collapse. As Limbaugh noted, the Times and the Post both ran March 10 editorials lamenting the deal's failure and criticizing its opponents. Limbaugh responded by asking, "Where you been the past three weeks?" and asserted that the media "did everything they could to kill the deal." In fact, prior to March 10, the Times ran three editorials about the issue, while the Post ran two. All five editorials supported the deal.
On his March 10 show, Limbaugh played audio clips from that morning's broadcast of ABC's Good Morning America in which several ABC personalities, including White House correspondent Jessica Yellin, reported: "This morning, ABC News has learned from a source close to the negotiations that the White House made it clear to Dubai Ports that they should withdraw from this deal and save the president from political embarrassment."
Suggesting that the media were attempting to blame Bush for blocking the deal, Limbaugh commented: "All right, now is this not amazing? Here the media, the Democrats, got exactly what they wanted, and now, they're going to try to turn this around and say, 'Bush pulled a fast one on us.' " Limbaugh continued: "This whole story just boggles the mind. And now, they're looking around to try to implicate Bush in something that's not a scandal. Would it be a scandal if Bush did ask the port people to pull out of it?" He added: "Tell you what, if you don't feel manipulated by this whole story by now, you are never going to end up feeling manipulated, and thus, you will not understand what's actually happened here."
Limbaugh then offered the March 10 Times and Post editorials as examples of stories about the deal "throughout the media" with "all the details that make it OK."
Though Limbaugh's listeners would not know it, neither editorial actually suggested that Bush was responsible for blocking the deal. Instead, both editorials sharply criticized congressional opposition.
From the March 10 Los Angeles Times editorial, "Goodbye, Dubai":
Although President Bush rightly stood by the acquisition and vowed to veto any bill that stood in its way, he was fighting a losing battle that only deepened a growing rift in the Republican Party.
It's true that keeping the United States secure in an increasingly globalized economy is a delicate balancing act. But members of Congress should realize that boosting trade with Middle Eastern countries is crucial to defusing tensions in the region and improving the U.S. image there. By that standard, this deal was a no-brainer -- to go forward.
From the March 10 Washington Post editorial, "Happy Now?":
They spend drunkenly, they fail at oversight and they can't stop the administration from abusing detainees or tapping phones. But never call the members of Congress powerless: Yesterday, in the exalted name of anti-terrorism, the Senate rebelled against its Republican leadership and joined the House in a vote to prevent a company based in a moderate, friendly Arab country from making a minor investment in the United States. When it became clear that some such blocking measure would pass, Dubai Ports World threw in the towel, announcing that it would sell all of its U.S. operations, including the management operations of six U.S. ports it recently acquired, and do business elsewhere.
Some will blame the president, because he politicized the discussion of terrorism or was highhanded in threatening to veto a bill banning the sale. But if Congress can't do the right thing in the face of such provocations, it is lamer than the excuses themselves.
(As Media Matters for America noted, the Post editorial even repeated the Bush administration's false characterization of the issues involved by asserting that "the message" sent by the deal's opponents was "that foreign ownership was unobjectionable when it was British but intolerable when it was Arab.")
Moreover, Limbaugh's use of these editorials as examples of media outlets switching positions on the port deal to attack Bush is misleading. After summarizing the editorials accurately -- "it was a good deal ... [t]here was nothing to be afraid of" -- Limbaugh added: "This is a classic of the drive-by media -- did everything they could to kill the deal. Now, the deal is dead. And now, they're running stories, 'You know, this wouldn't have been a bad thing to do.' " Later in the show, Limbaugh added: "And I'm saying, 'Where was this stuff during the tsunami of hysteria?' You have The Washington Post editorializing for the deal. You've got the LA Times editorializing for the deal."
In fact, both papers consistently editorialized in favor of the deal, attacking the deal's critics throughout the controversy. (In doing so, both papers advanced conservative misinformation, as Media Matters noted here and here.)
From the Los Angeles Times' February 22 editorial, "Port hysteria":
When members of congress take homeland security seriously, it's a welcome development. Unfortunately, Tuesday's bipartisan hissy fit over the Bush administration's approval of a Dubai company's $6.8-billion deal to manage six important U.S. ports is neither serious nor welcome.
From the Los Angeles Times' February 26 editorial, "Boxer's rebellion":
Dubai Ports World, which is based in the United Arab Emirates, agreed last week to delay the acquisition of the U.S. terminals included in its purchase of a British cargo operations company while the administration gives Congress time to study the deal. Too much delay, or outright rejection, would tarnish this country's international reputation, but that's nothing compared to the damage that could be wrought by the ongoing hysteria in Congress.
From the Los Angeles Times' March 4 editorial, "The price of fear":
The recent hysteria in Washington and across the nation over the possibility that a Dubai-based company might assume management of several U.S. port facilities is a distressing indicator of how far the pendulum has swung toward paranoia. Narrow-minded protectionism and xenophobia are on the rise, running the risk of derailing the U.S. economy and further alienating the rest of the world.
From The Washington Post's February 22 editorial, "Port Security Humbug":
Finally, we're wondering if perhaps American politicians are having trouble understanding some of the most basic goals of contemporary U.S. foreign policy. A goal of "democracy promotion" in the Middle East, after all, is to encourage Arab countries to become economically and politically integrated with the rest of the world. What better way to do so than by encouraging Arab companies to invest in the United States? Clearly, Congress doesn't understand that basic principle, since its members prefer instead to spread prejudice and misinformation.
From The Washington Post's February 24 editorial, "How to Lose Friends":
If members of Congress really want to burnish their "tough on terrorism" credentials, they should start by focusing on real presidential lapses, which are sufficient, and forget about the phony ones. As Mr. [deputy defense secretary Gordon R.] England said yesterday, the war on terrorism demands that the United States "strengthen the bonds of friendship and security ... especially with our friends and allies in the Arab world." That means allies should be treated "equally and fairly around the world and without discrimination," he said. And he suggested that it is the terrorists who want the United States to "become distrustful, they want us to become paranoid and isolationist."
If so, they must be feeling pretty content right now.
From the March 10 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show:
LIMBAUGH: All Right. You have to hear this. It happened on Good Morning America this morning. We have a montage of the host, the estimable Charlie Gibson, ABC News correspondent Claire Shipman, and correspondent Jessica Yellin. Listen to this.
[begin audio clip]
GIBSON: Did the White House secretly kill the deal?
SHIPMAN: ABC News has learned the White House asked the Dubai company to back out in order to save the president political embarrassment.
GIBSON: There's a new question this morning and that is whether the company pulled the plug on the deal at the request of the White House.
YELLIN: This morning, ABC News has learned from a source close to the negotiations that the White House made it clear to Dubai Ports that they should withdraw from this deal and save the president from political embarrassment.
[end audio clip]
LIMBAUGH: All right, now is this not amazing? Here the media, the Democrats, got exactly what they wanted, and now, they're going to try to turn this around and say, "Bush pulled a fast one on us. Bush snuck this by us."
The deal is done. Dubai Ports is out. The royal family, the United Arab Emirates, is angry. They're threatening withdrawing all kinds of support. They're threatening today to make us pull all of our military bases and so forth out of the United Arab Emirates. I doubt that'll happen, but -- and now, all of a sudden, all of a sudden, they want to sniff around and find some secret deal that Bush made with the ports people to pull the deal. In the meantime, what Congress did yesterday -- it just boggles the mind, folks. This whole story just boggles the mind. And now, they're looking around to try to implicate Bush in something that's not a scandal. Would it be a scandal if Bush did ask the port people to pull out of it? Tell you what, if you don't feel manipulated by this whole story by now, you are never going to end up feeling manipulated, and thus, you will not understand what's actually happened here.
We have a bunch of paranoid protectionists. This is almost a repeat of what [Texas billionaire and former presidential candidate H. Ross] Perot was talking about back in 1992 -- that giant, sucking sound? You know, all we're doing -- we're just in the midst of numerous economic cycles, and in these cycles, there's certain American businesses that have hard times. And here come these fear-mongers, the drive-by media, and everybody just throwing bullets and mortar fire into the crowd, and shaking everybody -- ooh, protectionism. "We're losing jobs. We're losing manufacturing. Now, we're going to be attacked by terrorists if this company bought the ports." And it's not even ports, it's terminals.
This story, still -- and you know what's throughout the media? I've got a bunch of stacks of stuff today. And in the stacks are all the details that make it OK. We're getting -- the LA Times has an editorial. The San Francisco Chronicle has a story. All -- what's that? Who? Washington Post has an editorial. It was all -- it was a good deal. There was nothing to be afraid of. Where you been the past three weeks? This is a classic of the drive-by media -- did everything they could to kill the deal. Now, the deal is dead. And now they're running stories, "You know, this wouldn't have been a bad thing to do."
As I mentioned at the top of the program to you, go through the news today, and you find all these stories on how harmless the port deal would have been, and how necessary foreign investment is, and how many foreign countries own facilities in our ports, and banks, and hotels. And I'm saying, "Where was this stuff during the tsunami of hysteria?" You have The Washington Post editorializing for the deal. You've got the LA Times editorializing for the deal.