Media highlighted Democratic split on Iraq but ignored Republican dissent

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN

Numerous news outlets -- including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CNN, ABC, and Fox News -- joined President Bush in highlighting a split among Democrats on the issue of the Iraq war. But in mentioning only the Democrats' disagreements, these outlets are promoting the false impression that there are not significant divisions among Republicans regarding the Bush administration's wartime policies.

In anticipation of the June 15 debate on Capitol Hill intended to put GOP lawmakers on the record in support of the war in Iraq, numerous news outlets joined President Bush in highlighting a split among Democrats on the issue. But in mentioning only the Democrats' disagreements, these outlets -- including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CNN, ABC, and Fox News -- are promoting the false impression that there are not significant divisions among Republicans regarding the Bush administration's wartime policies.

On June 13, House Republicans scheduled a floor debate to take place two days later on a resolution that establishes the war in Iraq as "part of the Global War on Terror" and asserts that "it is not in the interest of the United States to set an arbitrary date for withdrawal or redeployment of United States Armed Forces from Iraq." The announcement of the GOP resolution coincided with speeches by several high-profile Democratic lawmakers -- including Sens. John Kerry (MA), Hillary Rodham Clinton (NY), and Russ Feingold (WI), and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA) -- laying out their proposals regarding the war. A number of news outlets subsequently highlighted the differences among Democrats regarding the war:

  • In a June 13 article headlined "Democrats are still divided over the war in Iraq," Knight Ridder staff writer James Kuhnhenn noted the "intra-party division has haunted Democrats from the start of the war" and reported that this "split ... cracked into view" earlier that day at the "Take Back America Conference," which was hosted by the Campaign for America's Future and featured the before-mentioned speeches by Kerry, Clinton, Feingold, and Pelosi.
  • New York Times reporters Adam Nagourney and Robin Toner devoted a June 14 article to the "Democratic infighting over Iraq." He described the party as "sharply divided" on the issue and reported that the "division was on dramatic display before thousands of liberals at a 'Take Back America' convention."

On June 14, Bush said during a Rose Garden press conference: "There's an interesting debate in the Democrat Party about how quick to pull out of Iraq. Pulling out of Iraq before we accomplish the mission will make the world a more dangerous place. It's bad policy. I know it may sound good politically; it will endanger our country to pull out of Iraq before we accomplish the mission." Chicago Tribune staff writer Mark Silva reported on June 15 that "Bush is trying to frame congressional elections this November as a contest between a Republican Party resolute on the war in Iraq and a Democratic Party riven by divisions." But rather than highlight the White House strategy, as Silva did, numerous outlets instead reinforced Bush's framing of the issue by echoing his statement about Democratic divisions:

  • An early edition of a June 15 article by Associated Press staff writer Liz Sidoti on the debate over the GOP resolution -- published at approximately 9:10 a.m. ET -- reported that "Democrats appear to be divided into three camps," but noted that "differences also exist within the GOP and those are sure to be discussed as well." However, the sentence referring to the GOP divisions was removed from a later edition of the article, though the paragraph on the Democratic differences remained.
  • In a June 15 article, Los Angeles Times staff writers Peter Wallsten and Maura Reynolds reported that "Democrats' divisions over Iraq came into clearer focus" on June 13 and cited the "Democrats' disarray" on the issue. The Times quoted former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie saying that "given a choice between Democrats' uncertainty and Bush's firmness, 'that choice favors us.' "
  • The June 15 edition of CNN's American Morning featured a chorus of media figures highlighting the split among Democrats. Congressional correspondent Dana Bash noted the GOP efforts to force "tough votes" on "issues that divide Democrats, like the question of when U.S. troops should come home from Iraq and on what timetable." In a report that aired four separate times on the program, congressional correspondent Andrea Koppel asserted that "Democrats are split on Iraq." And senior political analyst Bill Schneider noted that the Republicans had forced debate on an issue that "could divide Democrats."
  • On the June 15 edition of ABC's Good Morning America, anchor Kate Snow reported that "Democrats are divided over a resolution by House Republicans which opposes setting a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops."
  • As a guest on the June 15 edition of Fox News Live, Washington Times White House correspondent Joseph Curl said that "the Democrats are heavily split on this issue," citing the recent speeches by Kerry and Clinton. Curl went on to contrast this with his observation that "[o]n the other side ... you seem to have moderate Republicans coming back to President Bush."

In all of the examples cited above, the news outlets in question highlighted the Democratic infighting without noting that the Republicans are also divided over Bush's handling of the Iraq war. They made no mention of lawmakers such as Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) -- who has repeatedly criticized White House decisions regarding the war, most recently noting that the conflict is "helping bankrupt this country" -- or GOP Reps. Walter B. Jones Jr. (N.C.) and Ron Paul (TX), who both co-sponsored a bipartisan resolution last June that would have required Bush to submit a withdrawal plan by the end of 2005. Further, these news outlets could have mentioned Republican House members Wayne T. Gilchrest (MD) and Jim Leach (IA), who in April joined Jones and Paul in support of a Democratic resolution -- opposed by the GOP leadership -- calling for a full debate of the Iraq war.

In contrast with these outlets, a June 15 article by Washington Post staff writer Jonathan Weisman noted the GOP divisions on the issue and reported that the House resolution "has attracted strong criticism from lawmakers in both parties":

But the day-long debate will also give voice to some GOP lawmakers' misgivings about Bush administration policy -- and years of congressional support for it -- in an election year in which Iraq will be a central issue. The news of recent days has buoyed Republican spirits, but the party is still saddled with a war that remains deeply unpopular and is imperiling its continued control of Congress. Some House Republicans have complained that their party has taken flight from its responsibility to debate and oversee administration policy.

[...]

Already, the resolution itself -- declaring that the United States will complete the mission to create a sovereign, free, secure and united Iraq and will prevail in the global war on terror -- has attracted strong criticism from lawmakers in both parties.Democrats and antiwar Republicans object to the linkage between the war in Iraq and the fight against terrorism, while some Republicans have said it sets unrealistic goals. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.), who supports the war, called the resolution "strategically nebulous and morally obtuse."

Weisman quoted Gilchrest saying, "To me, the administration does not act like there's a war going on. The Congress certainly doesn't act like there's a war going on." The article also cited Rep. Ray LaHood's (R-IL) description of the resolution as a "dumb idea." Lahood went on to say, "When the country is war-weary, when the violence is still playing out on TV, I don't know why we want to highlight all that." Further, Weisman also noted the views of Jones -- an original supporter of Bush's wartime policies "who made headlines in the run-up to the Iraq invasion by changing french fries to 'freedom fries' in the House dining room but has since turned strongly against the war." He quoted Jones describing the resolution as "nothing more or less than really a charade."

Similarly, on the June 15 edition of MSNBC News Live, NBC News correspondent Chip Reid noted both the "splits in the Democratic Party" and "some splits within the Republican ranks" on the issue of Iraq. He added, "So you're going to see splits on both sides. But because the Republicans control this place, they're going to orchestrate it in a way where they hope to show the Democratic Party is badly split on the war in Iraq."

From the June 15 edition of CNN's American Morning:

BASH: Center stage on the floor of the House of Representatives, Republicans have a resolution that links Iraq to the broader war on terror and also says it is, quote, "not in the national security interest of the United States to set an arbitrary date for a withdrawal of U.S. troops."

Now, this is part of a broader Republican election-year strategy to try to turn the tables on Democrats when it comes to the issue of Iraq. They are going to try to force Democrats to take tough votes like this, especially when it comes to issues that divide Democrats, like the question of when U.S. troops should come home from Iraq and on what timetable.

Now, this is a tactic that Republicans used, they think, successfully in the campaign two years ago, but we're going to hear from Democrats on the House floor that they think this debate is nothing more than a sham. What they say Republicans should be spending their time on is oversight over the Republican administration, especially over what they call Bush blunders when it comes to the Iraq war.

[...]

KOPPEL: [Rep. Neil] Abercrombie [D-HI] and other House Democrats are objecting to this, a Republican resolution tying Iraq to the war on terror and declaring it's not in U.S. interest to "set an arbitrary date for withdrawal or redeployment" of U.S. troops in Iraq.

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R-CA): I think it's an appropriate time to send a message of thanks to our troops and not some vague statement about how we support them as has come from the other side.

KOPPEL: But Democrats are split on Iraq, and many fear a vote against the resolution will be used by Republicans to portray them as not supporting U.S. troops and as soft on terrorists.

REP. MARTY MEEHAN (D-MA): They got together with their political spinmeisters and drafted a resolution designed more for politics than it is for a substantive discussion about our policy in Iraq.

KOPPEL: This memo from Majority Leader John Boehner [R-OH] encourages Republicans to use today's debate to hammer away at the "clear choice between Republicans dedicated to victory, versus Democrats without a coherent national security policy."

[...]

SCHNEIDER: There's going to be a debate today, starting today, in the House of Representatives, which will challenge Democrats on the issue of Iraq. The issue that's going to be debated is whether there should be a date certain for American troop withdrawal. That could divide Democrats. Republicans on every front are trying to throw Democrats on the defensive, because they're tired of being on the defensive.

From the June 15 edition of ABC's Good Morning America:

SNOW: A contentious debate on Iraq is getting underway on Capitol Hill this morning. Democrats are divided over a resolution by House Republicans which opposes setting a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops.

From the June 15 edition of Fox News Live:

BRIGITTE QUINN (host): Back to Washington, D.C., now and a showdown in Congress today. The hot-button issue -- the withdrawal of Americans forces from Iraq. House Republicans pushing a resolution to reject setting, quote-unquote, "an arbitrary date for troop withdrawal." The Democrats say it's just a big election-year stunt, but they don't expect to have much of an alternative to that resolution.

[...]

CURL: Well, I mean, right now, Brigitte, the Democrats are heavily split on this issue. You had the incident the other day with John Kerry winning applause for his withdrawal plan. And then Hillary, who rejected that withdrawal timetable, being booed. So they are really confused about where they want to be on this.

On the other side, you seem to have -- and [Washington Post staff writer and Fox News Live guest] John [Harris] might know more about this than I do -- you seem to have moderate Republicans coming back to President Bush, realizing that their fate in the '06 election is going to be tied to what happens in Iraq and what the president is able to achieve there.

From the June 15 edition of MSNBC News Live:

REID: Now, I think what you're going to see are splits in the Democratic Party on both sides -- both in the House and in the Senate. In the House side, basically the provision they're going to be debating would praise the troops, urge support for the war on terror, and also it would oppose any kind of arbitrary date for bring them home. And I'll tell you, there are a lot of Democrats who are going to be pressed -- feel pressed to vote for that. So you're going to see some splits over there, and you're also going to see them on the Senate side, because a lot of Democrats do not believe a specific date should be set for bringing the troops home.

So you're also going to see some splits within the Republican ranks, because certainly some people on the House side are very fearful that they could be in trouble in the election in November because of the war in Iraq. For example, you mentioned the poll. Well, there's one figure in the poll that says 54 percent of Americans say they're more likely to vote for a member of Congress who says he wants to withdraw troops within a year. So you're going to see splits on both sides. But because the Republicans control this place, they're going to orchestrate it in a way where they hope to show the Democratic Party is badly split on the war in Iraq.

Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel, The New York Times, ABC, CNN, Los Angeles Times
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