Special Report falsely suggested Reid "sang a different tune" in criticizing Bush

››› ››› JEREMY SCHULMAN

Fox News' Brit Hume selectively quoted from two statements by Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid apparently to suggest that, in criticizing President Bush, Reid had recently changed his position on the United States' proper role in resolving international crises. An onscreen graphic during the report read: "Democrat Sang a Different Tune?"

During the "political grapevine" segment on the April 20 edition of Fox News' Special Report, host and Washington managing editor Brit Hume selectively quoted from two statements by Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (NV) apparently to suggest that, in criticizing President Bush, Reid had recently changed his position on the United States' proper role in resolving international crises. An onscreen graphic during the report read: "Democrat Sang a Different Tune?"

As Hume noted, on April 18, Reid criticized Bush for not "taking the lead" in the international effort to persuade Iran to halt its nuclear program. Hume purported to identify an inconsistency between that statement and Reid's comment -- made on the January 5, 2003, broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press -- that Reid would support a pre-emptive strike against North Korea only if President Bush first sought international support.

From the April 20 edition Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

HUME: Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid has blasted the administration for not allegedly -- for allegedly not taking the lead in the international effort to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, saying the reliance on European allies to convince Iran to give up its program, quote, "shows the Bush failure in foreign policy and -- there and elsewhere."

But when asked in 2003 whether he would support a strike against North Korea to eliminate their nuclear arsenal, Reid said, quote, "[W]e cannot be the lone ranger in all these problems of international terrorism. We need this community of world support."

But as the full context of Reid's two statements makes clear, they were entirely consistent. In his April 18 speech criticizing the Bush administration's failure to "tak[e] the lead" in responding to Iran's nuclear program, Reid was referring specifically to a "diplomatic solution" -- a fact not noted by Hume. As the Associated Press reported on April 19, Reid "said the U.S. has no military option in Iran":

The Bush administration is relying too heavily on other countries in the international effort to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, according to Sen. Harry Reid.

Reid, D-Nev., said the administration should be taking the lead, but instead is relying on Germany, France and Great Britain to convince Iran to end its uranium enrichment program.

"It is hard to comprehend," Reid said Tuesday in Reno. "We should be involved at trying to arrive at a diplomatic solution. ... Not just these three countries."

Reid said the Middle East is a "powder keg" because of U.S. failures in Iraq, the rise of fundamentalism and the recent election of Hamas in Palestine.

"Our not being involved diplomatically in trying to solve the situation in Iran shows the Bush failure in foreign policy there and elsewhere."

And he said the U.S. has no military option in Iran.

"We don't have the resources to do it" because of the ongoing war in Iraq," he said.

Despite Special Report's suggestion that Reid "sang a different tune" in 2003, Reid leveled similar criticisms at the Bush administration during his Meet the Press appearance.

In comments immediately preceding the statement Hume quoted -- that Reid would support military action against North Korea only if Bush sought international backing -- Reid criticized the Bush administration's "hands-off" diplomatic policy toward North Korea and the Middle East. Reid said that this "hands-off" approach was "[o]ne of the reasons the problems have become so exacerbated in the Middle East." Reid said that "we also have the same situation in Korea, that we need to have a more hands-on foreign policy." Reid added that he hoped the Bush administration would let then-Secretary of State "Colin Powell be Colin Powell."

From the January 5, 2003, broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press:

RUSSERT: Before we go, let me turn to foreign policy, as we are confronted with two serious issues: Iraq and North Korea. Senator Reid, which country do you believe presents a more imminent threat to the United States: North Korea or Iraq?

REID: I think that we have to focus on both of them. We have been told by Secretary [of Defense Donald H.] Rumsfeld that we can handle both in way of an emergency if we need to. Right now, we're building forces in Iraq, and I support that. In Korea, we were told yesterday by the South Koreans that they feel they've had a diplomatic breakthrough, working with the Russians and the Chinese. I hope that's the case. I hope that's the case. But on foreign policy, generally, I would say, Tim, that this administration has had a hands-off attitude on most every place in the world. One of the reasons the problems have become so exacerbated in the Middle East is what progress had been made in the Clinton administration, this administration took hands off. And by the time they decided to put hands on, we had the problems in the Middle East. I think that we also have the same situation in Korea, that we need to have a more hands-on foreign policy, and I hope they will let Colin Powell be Colin Powell, and he has been the last six months, and that's helped world tensions.

RUSSERT: So, if the president decided we needed a pre-emptive strike against Iraq and a pre-emptive strike against North Korea in order to eliminate their potential nuclear arsenals, you'd support him?

REID: I would support it if we had gone to the United Nations, and he, as he has done with Iraq, looked for international support. We are not -- we cannot be the lone ranger in all these problems of international terrorism. We need this community of world support.

As Media Matters for America has documented (here, here, here, and here), Special Report's "political grapevine" segment frequently serves as a venue for Hume's distortions.

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