Network news reported Bush indicated he was "open" to changing Iraq policy -- failed to note Bush's inflexibility on troop withdrawal

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

ABC, NBC, and CBS reported that, during a recent press conference, President Bush stated that he is "open" to changing the administration's Iraq war policy, but did not note that, during that same press conference, Bush reiterated his claim that the United States will not "leave before the job is done."

The October 11 broadcasts of ABC's World News with Charles Gibson, NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams, and the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric reported that, during an October 11 press conference, President Bush indicated that he was "open" to changing the administration's Iraq war policy. The networks failed to note, however, that, during that same press conference, Bush reiterated his claim that the United States will not "leave before the job is done."

At the press conference, Bush answered several questions regarding recent statements on the Iraq war by Sen. John Warner (R-VA), Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and James Baker, former Secretary of State under President George H.W. Bush, all of whom have sharply challenged the administration's stated "stay the course" strategy. During an October 5 press conference, Warner said that Iraq is "drifting sideways" and later stated:

WARNER: I assure you, in two or three months, if this thing hasn't come to fruition and if this level of violence is not under control and this government able to function, I think it's the responsibility of our government, internally, to determine: Is there a change of course that we should take?

And I wouldn't take off the table any option at this time.

In an October 11 statement, Snowe agreed with Warner, saying: "As conditions in Iraq continue to worsen, there must be no question among the Administration, the Congress and the Iraqi unity government that staying the course is neither an option nor a plan." Baker, who, according to The Washington Post, co-chairs "a bipartisan commission tasked by Congress with assessing U.S. options in Iraq," said on the October 8 edition of ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos: "I think it's fair to say our commission believes that there are alternatives between the stated alternatives, the ones that are out there in the political debate, of 'stay the course' and 'cut and run.' "

On the October 11 broadcast of ABC's World News, anchor Charles Gibson reported that Bush "left open the door to overhauling his Iraq policy," and ABC News senior national security correspondent Jonathan Karl reported that Bush said these Republicans "may be right":

GIBSON: That is not to say it will be necessary, but it is an indication of just how uncertain is the future of what will be needed in Iraq. And indeed, the president today left open the door to overhauling his Iraq policy. Here's ABC's national security correspondent, Jonathan Karl, tonight at the Pentagon. Jon?

KARL: Charlie, discussions about overhauling Iraq policy have been going on behind closed doors at the White House and here at the Pentagon for weeks. Now those discussions are out in the open.

The escalating violence has led high-profile Republicans to say it may be time to change course in Iraq. Today, the president said they may be right.

BUSH [video clip]: If the plan is now not working -- the plan that's in place isn't working -- America needs to adjust. I completely agree.

On the October 11 broadcast of NBC's Nightly News, NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory reported that Bush is "not budging on his policy," then noted that Bush "didn't dispute the harsh assessment of Republican critics just back from the war zone":

GREGORY: A lot of issues: the president today acknowledging tough times in Iraq, acknowledging an emerging threat in North Korea, but he's not budging on his policy toward either.

[...]

GREGORY: Is the Bush policy working in Iraq? The staggering violence undermining Iraq's fledgling government, the president insisted military commanders are constantly adjusting but didn't dispute the harsh assessment of Republican critics just back from the war zone.

BUSH [video clip]: If the plan is now not working -- the plan that's in place isn't working -- America needs to adjust. I completely agree.

On the CBS Evening News, CBS News chief White House correspondent Jim Axelrod also reported that Bush "sounded surprisingly open to the idea" that "Iraq's strategy may have to change":

AXELROD: Less than four weeks before Election Day, Mr. Bush came to the Rose Garden ready to push back on issues where he and Republicans have been hit hard, from North Korea, to the congressional page scandal, to Iraq. On that front, the president faces criticism from prominent Republicans like John Warner and James Baker, who now say Iraq's strategy may have to change. Today, the president sounded surprisingly open to the idea.

BUSH [video clip]: Senator Warner said, "If the plan isn't working, adjust." I agree, completely. Stay the course means keep doing what you're doing. My attitude is: Don't do what you're doing if it's not working -- change.

However, neither ABC nor NBC noted that, immediately after saying "[i]f the plan isn't working, adjust," Bush said that the United States will not "leave before the job is done":

BUSH: Stay the course means keep doing what you're doing. My attitude is: Don't do what you're doing if it's not working -- change. Stay the course also means: Don't leave before the job is done. And that's -- we're going to get the job done in Iraq. And it's important that we do get the job done in Iraq.

On CBS, Axelrod failed to note this during his report, though CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer mentioned Bush's remarks later in the broadcast during the "Free Speech" segment:

SCHIEFFER: At his news conference today, the president put it in the starkest terms. He said the stakes in Iraq could not be higher. He said if we leave before the job is done, the enemy is coming after us. That's about the hardest sell he could make, but whether he is right or wrong, it is going to take a hard sell, because most Americans simply do not agree.

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.