Media uncritically repeated false GOP attacks on Lamont, Democrats

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

ABC News' George Stephanopoulos and MSNBC's Chris Matthews, among others, repeated, without challenge, the false attacks from Tony Snow, Ken Mehlman, and Dick Cheney that Democrats "purged" Sen. Joe Lieberman from the Democratic Party and that Ned Lamont's primary victory over Lieberman represents a takeover of the Democratic Party by the far left.

In reporting on Democratic Senate nominee Ned Lamont's victory over Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman in the August 8 Connecticut primary, a variety of media outlets repeated, without challenge, the false attacks from White House press secretary Tony Snow, Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman, and Vice President Dick Cheney that Democrats "purged" Lieberman from the party. ABC News' George Stephanopoulos went further, simply repeating as fact the Republicans' assertion that Lamont's supporters "represent the far left of the Democratic Party," while MSNBC's Chris Matthews announced that he "agree[d]" with Mehlman's false assertions.

During an August 9 press briefing, Snow said: "I know a lot of people have tried to make this a referendum on the president; I would flip it. I think instead it's a defining moment for the Democratic Party, whose national leaders now have made it clear that if you disagree with the extreme left in their party, they're going to come after you." In an August 9 speech to the City Club of Cleveland, Mehlman said: "But like the proud history of so many Democrats before him, Joe Lieberman believed in a strong national defense. And for that, he was purged from his party. ... It reflects an unfortunate embrace of isolationism, defeatism, and a 'blame America first' attitude by national Democratic leaders at a time when retreating from the world is particularly dangerous." Cheney leveled a similar attack during a conference call with reporters on August 9. Though he did not single out Democratic leaders, he claimed that it is "a perhaps unfortunate and significant development" when "the Democratic Party ... in effect, purge[s] a man like Joe Lieberman."

But as blogger Greg Sargent of The Horse's Mouth noted on August 10, Snow's statement "is not only a lie; it's an easily demonstrable lie. Most of the Democratic Party's key leadership figures backed Joe Lieberman, not Lamont. This is a matter of public record. It's a point which can be made in half a sentence." Also, exit polling of Connecticut primary voters conducted by CBS News and The New York Times found that, in addition to "intense objections" to the Iraq war, "a view of Senator Lieberman as 'too close' to President Bush account[ed] for Mr. Lamont's victory." As Media Matters for America has noted, Lamont's opposition to the war and his calls to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq appear to be in line with the majority opinion of Democrats and of the American public, which, as polling indicates, disapprove of the Iraq war and favor setting deadlines for U.S. troop withdrawal. Polls also show that the majority of Democrats and of Americans disapprove of Bush's job performance (58 percent of Americans, according to an August 3-6 ABC News/Washington Post poll, with 46 percent strongly disapproving), indicating that Connecticut voters, who were motivated by their disapproval of Bush, might very well represent the mainstream.

Nevertheless, as Sargent noted, Snow's comments were presented without challenge in an August 10 Los Angeles Times article, an August 10 Associated Press article, and Time magazine White House correspondent Mike Allen's August 9 column (which, as Media Matters had noted, was little more than a patchwork of Republican talking points presented as news analysis).

A separate August 10 Los Angeles Times article reported Cheney's comments, adding: "Whether such remarks would help or hurt the senator as he fights for his political life was unclear." August 10 articles in The Washington Post and USA Today also reported Cheney's comments without question. The Post also noted Mehlman's remarks, but rather than noting that they were inaccurate, reduced them to a matter of partisan bickering:

Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman charged in a speech in Ohio that Lamont's victory showed the Democrats had abandoned the internationalist traditions of Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. Democratic leaders said the charge was without merit and argued that the Connecticut primary showed broad opposition to President Bush's Iraq war policies that put Lamont closer to the mainstream than his critics.

Additionally, on the August 9 broadcast of ABC's World News with Charles Gibson, ABC News senior national correspondent Jake Tapper reported that "[s]ome Republicans are relishing" the so-called "Democratic divisions" over Lamont's victory and aired a video clip of Snow making his comments. Later in the same broadcast, ABC News chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos affirmed Tapper's reporting and presented Republican talking points as truth, asserting that Lamont's victory "is bad news for Democrats":

CHARLES GIBSON (anchor): George, we talked about the fact that this is something of an earthquake in the Democratic Party. How does it alter the political landscape?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Potentially enormous changes, Charlie. This is bad news for Democrats, as Jake points out, because it highlights Democratic divisions, and the more Joe Lieberman is out there, the more he's making the Republican point that Ned Lamont and leaders who support him represent the far left of the Democratic Party.

However, Stephanopoulos also said "that most voters who voted for Ned Lamont were motivated by the war in Iraq," and "[y]ou're seeing majorities -- slight majorities of the American public wanting some troops ... to come home this year." So, Stephanopoulos appeared to contradict himself: The Democrats are hurt by the fact that "Lamont and leaders who support him represent the far left of the Democratic Party," but they're also buoyed by the fact that majorities of Americans agree with Lamont that the United States should start withdrawing from Iraq.

On the August 9 broadcast of the CBS Evening News, CBS News chief White House correspondent Jim Axelrod reported that "Republicans appear willing to sharpen the contrasts" between the two parties on Iraq "and take their chances" and also aired a clip of Snow's attacks on Democrats. Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume aired the Snow clip as well, which Fox News chief political correspondent Carl Cameron prefaced by saying simply: "The White House pounced."

On the August 9 broadcast of NBC's Nightly News, NBC News correspondent Chip Reid reported: "Many Democrats praised Lamont for taking Lieberman to task over his strong support of the Iraq war. But in that praise, top Republicans today saw an opportunity. Ken Mehlman ... argued that by rejecting Lieberman, Democrats have proven, once again, that they are the party of, quote, 'retreat and defeat.' " Nightly News then aired a clip Mehlman's comments from his speech.

Mehlman appeared on the August 9 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, in which Matthews went a step further by actually stating that he "agree[d]" with Mehlman's falsehoods:

MEHLMAN: What's so remarkable about what happened was somebody who basically had the profile of a Harry Truman and a JFK was rejected by the party of Harry Truman and JFK. And so, you understand, as someone who's written about that era in politics, how historic and significant it is and what it says about a party that, unfortunately, at a national level now, is dominated by isolationists and dominated by people who embrace defeatism.

MATTHEWS: Well, I agree with you. I agree. But it's very hard, you know, as much as I like Jack Kennedy and trying to figure out what he would be doing in the general election this November.

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