AP and NPR offered Republican spin on national security

››› ››› BEN ARMBRUSTER

In recent reports, the Associated Press claimed that Republicans in Congress will use "their strength" by highlighting national security issues, and National Public Radio asserted that they will hold a vote on the Bush administration's warrantless domestic wiretapping program to "embarrass" Democrats. However, the AP's most recent poll found that respondents trust Democrats more than Republicans to do a better job protecting the United States.

In two separate reports on Democratic and Republican strategies in Congress for the two months preceding the November elections, both the Associated Press and National Public Radio relied on Republican spin on national security issues, with the AP reporting that Republicans in Congress will use "their strength" by highlighting national security and NPR asserting that Republicans in Congress will hold a vote to authorize the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program to "embarrass" Democrats.

In a September 5 article, AP writer Jim Abrams uncritically reported that House Republicans will "play[] to their strength in focusing on security issues" in the two months before the midterm election, ignoring the AP's own poll showing that more Americans trust Democrats to protect the country than Republicans. In addition, without offering any Democratic response, Abrams then quoted House Republican Leader John Boehner (OH), asserting that "[n]ow is not the time for a weak and indecisive approach that has been offered by Capitol Hill Democrats."

Similarly, on the September 5 edition of National Public Radio's Morning Edition, NPR congressional correspondent Brian Naylor reported that in the coming weeks on Capitol Hill, Republicans will most likely try to "embarrass" Democrats by pushing a vote to authorize the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program and suggesting that Democrats would respond -- not by challenging Republicans on the merits of the legislation -- but by "set[ting] up a vote of no confidence in Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over his conduct of the war in Iraq" because it is "something a lot of Democrats can agree on." Naylor did not attempt to explain or challenge the Republicans' view that raising the issue of Bush's warrantless domestic spying program would "embarrass" Democrats. Nor did he mention that Republicans have consistently misrepresented Democrats' position on the program, with many in the media simply repeating those misrepresentations. Naylor also said that Democrats argue against the program "because of civil-liberties issues" and say that the program has "never been fully authorized." In fact, Democrats, as well as some Republicans and prominent conservatives, have gone further than simply saying that the program has not been "fully" authorized; many -- including a U.S. District Court judge who struck down the program as unconstitutional -- take the position that the program directly violates the law.

In his AP article titled "Congress to Focus on National Security," Abrams reported as fact that congressional Republicans will "play[] to their strength in focusing on security issues." But in doing so, Abrams ignored the AP's most recent poll, which found that respondents trust Democrats (47 percent with "leaners," 37 percent without) more than Republicans (40 percent with "leaners," 32 percent without) on the issue of national security, as blogger Greg Sargent noted. Further, as Media Matters for America has noted, not only have Democrats laid out proposals addressing various issues related to national security, but many media figures have often ignored them. For instance, congressional Democrats have repeatedly stressed the need for greater port security and have urged Congress and the administration to act on the issue in recent years, as Media Matters has noted:

  • In March 2005, 37 Senate Republicans voted against an amendment proposed by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-CT) to the 2006 budget bill to restore $565 million in cuts to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) first-responder programs, provide $150 million in port security grants, and provide $140 million for hiring 1,000 more Border Patrol agents.
  • In September 2004, 45 Senate Republicans voted to remove an amendment proposed by Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) to the 2005 Homeland Security appropriations bill adding an additional $150 million for port security research and development grants.
  • As Congressional Quarterly reported on September 14, 2004: "During a week and a day of debate, Democrats were turned away on more than a dozen amendments that would have added $20 billion to" the 2005 Homeland Security appropriations bill. CQ specifically noted: "An amendment by Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., to add $350 million for rail security was struck down on a point of order, 43-51."
  • In July 2003, every Senate Republican but Olympia Snowe (ME) voted to defeat an amendment to the 2004 Homeland Security bill, proposed by Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), that "would have allocated $292 million to local fire departments and to efforts to improve security measures at chemical plants and ports," according to the July 25, 2004, edition of the National Journal.
  • Newsday also reported in a November 14, 2002, article on the creation of the Department of Homeland Security that "[o]n port security, Senate Democrats had tried to add a charge on imports to raise approximately $600 million a year for added security, but they were blocked by House Republicans and the maritime industry."

From the September 5 edition of NPR's Morning Edition:

STEVE INSKEEP [host]: It's the season when the people who are in the majority, Republicans in this case, will set up votes to embarrass the other side. Democrats will try to embarrass Republicans, on and on, right?

NAYLOR: Exactly.

INSKEEP: At the same time, though, there are real issues to discuss. What's on the agenda?

NAYLOR: They're going to be talking about defense and national security. The 9-11 anniversary, the fifth anniversary is coming up next week. And Republicans are going to be structuring a lot of votes to try to enforce what they see as their traditional political edge over Democrats in terms of national security and defense issues.

INSKEEP: What's an example of one vote that Republicans might set up that would, from the Republican point of view, highlight a difference between the two parties?

NAYLOR: I think that you'll see a vote to authorize the president's domestic surveillance program, something that Democrats have argued against because of civil liberties issues. They say that it's never fully been authorized. Republicans say this is a way to capture terrorists, it's one reason there've been no further attacks since 9-11, and so I think Republicans see this as a chance that they can set up a vote to embarrass Democrats.

INSKEEP: Well, if you're a Democrat, how do you respond?

NAYLOR: Democrats are going to try set up a vote of no confidence in Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over his conduct of the war in Iraq. It's not clear whether they have the power to do that, being in the minority, but they're going to try to arrange some parliamentary maneuvering and that sort of thing.

INSKEEP: Well, that's an interesting choice, because I suspect if you got into a lot of different issues, Democrats might be divided themselves over where they fall, but if you just say "we don't like Rumsfeld," that's something that a lot of Democrats can agree on.

NAYLOR: Right. And a lot of Republicans probably, too.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy
Network/Outlet
Associated Press, NPR
Show/Publication
Morning Edition
Stories/Interests
Propaganda/Noise Machine, Polling
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