After trumpeting Bush's "good news" last week, will the media now highlight a momentum reversal?

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN

Last week, the media seized on a "spate of good news" supposedly providing the White House a surge of momentum. In recent days, there have been negative turns of events in many of the areas that had been the focus of the media's enthusiasm, including the violence in Iraq and Afghanistan and the trial of a former White House official. Will the media give the same attention to this apparent string of bad news as they devoted to last week's "good news"?

Last week, the media seized on the supposed "spate of good news" purportedly infusing the White House with momentum, including the June 7 death of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq, the June 12 announcement that White House senior adviser Karl Rove would not be indicted in the CIA leak case, and President Bush's brief June 13 trip to Baghdad to meet with the new Iraqi prime minister. Sometimes citing small upticks in Bush's poll numbers, various media outlets highlighted Bush's "surge of momentum" and described him as "on a roll." A June 14 Wall Street Journal article (subscription required) pondered, "Is he setting the stage for a political recovery?" And a June 16 report by ABC News senior national correspondent Claire Shipman featured on-screen text reading, "Best week ever? Is Bush on a comeback?"

But as Media Matters for America noted, in celebrating the White House's purported "momentum," these outlets overlooked the Bush administration's numerous ongoing problems. In recent days, there have been negative turns of events in many of the areas Media Matters previously identified, including the violence in Iraq and Afghanistan and the trial of a former White House official. At the same time, several other problems relating to the White House surfaced. In light of these events, will the media devote the same attention to this apparent string of bad news and how it might affect his purported "comeback" as they did to Bush's "surge of momentum"?

Notable recent developments:

  • Safavian is convicted. On June 20, former White House official David Safavian was found guilty in federal court on four charges of making false statements and obstruction of justice relating to his dealings with disgraced former GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Safavian is the former chief federal procurement officer for the Bush White House.
  • North Korea moves closer to missile test. Recent reports have indicated that North Korea is planning to test a long-range ballistic missile for the first time in eight years. This development has provoked extensive diplomatic efforts from the United States and other nations. On June 20, the United States even took the step of activating its missile defense system.
  • Violence and instability continue in Iraq. On June 16 -- the same day that Shipman touted Bush's purported comeback -- a suicide bomber killed 11 in an attack on a Baghdad mosque and two American soldiers were captured by insurgents in an ambush near Yusefiya. Four days later, the two soldiers were found dead after apparently having been tortured. The news of the murders came a day after Vice President Dick Cheney stood by his assertion in May 2005 that the Iraqi insurgency was in its "last throes." On June 18, The Washington Post published a cable sent recently from the U.S. Embassy in Iraq to the State Department detailing the "the daily-worsening conditions" in Baghdad and the increasing dangers faced by the embassy's Iraqi employees and their families. The memo, which has received scant attention from the rest of the media despite the very different picture it paints from Bush's optimistic remarks, cited reports that ethnic cleansing "is taking place in almost every Iraqi province." Also, Japan announced on June 20 its intention to pull its 600 ground troops out of Iraq.
  • Three soldiers charged with murder of Iraqi civilians. The Army disclosed on June 19 that three U.S. soldiers had been charged with the premeditated murder of three Iraqi detainees, as well as obstruction of justice. Meanwhile, the Naval Criminal Investigation Service is continuing to investigate the possibility that "war crimes" were committed by a company of Marines during an incident on November 19, 2005, in the Iraqi town of Haditha in which one Marine and 24 Iraqi civilians died, including several children.
  • Taliban insurgency gains strength in Afghanistan. USA Today reported on June 20 that the Taliban insurgency in southern Afghanistan is intensifying, as insurgents are "ambushing military patrols, assassinating opponents and even enforcing the law in remote villages where they operate with near impunity." According to Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, "We are faced with a full-blown insurgency." The increased violence and instability has led the U.S. military to mount a substantial counteroffensive involving more than 300 airstrikes in the past three months. Nearly four and a half years ago, Bush announced that the United States had "routed the Taliban in Afghanistan."
  • New book details failures of war on terror. Released on June 20, Ron Suskind's new book, The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11 (Simon & Schuster), includes numerous startling revelations regarding the Bush administration's handling of the war on terror. As Washington Post staff writer Barton Gellman wrote in his June 20 review: "The book's opening anecdote tells of an unnamed CIA briefer who flew to Bush's Texas ranch during the scary summer of 2001, amid a flurry of reports of a pending al-Qaeda attack, to call the president's attention personally to the now-famous Aug. 6, 2001, memo titled 'Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US.' Bush reportedly heard the briefer out and replied: 'All right. You've covered your ass, now.'" According to Gellman, Suskind also reports that Bush was specifically warned by the CIA in late 2001 that the Pakistani army and local Afghan militias that had cornered Osama bin Laden in the mountains in Afghanistan were "definitely not" equipped to handle the mission and that "we're going to lose our prey if we're not careful." As Gellman writes, "White House accounts have long insisted that Bush had every reason to believe that Pakistan's army and pro-U.S. Afghan militias had bin Laden cornered and that there was no reason to commit large numbers of U.S. troops to get him."
  • Rumsfeld does not recall facts of "largest defense procurement scandal in decades." A June 20 Washington Post article highlighted "how little of [Defense Secretary Donald H.] Rumsfeld's attention has been focused on weapons-buying -- a function that consumes nearly a fifth of the $410 billion defense budget." The Pentagon's weapons procurement system became a source of controversy after it came to light in 2004 that the department had spent $30 billion leasing tanker aircraft for which that it had no need, which the Post called the "largest defense procurement scandal in decades." A subsequent investigation by David M. Walker, the comptroller general of the United States, determined that the Defense Department "is simply not positioned to deliver high-quality products in a timely and cost-effective fashion" -- a problem for which he partly blamed Rumsfeld's office.
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