On the October 22 broadcast of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, Fox News Washington managing editor Brit Hume and National Public Radio national political correspondent Mara Liasson, misrepresented the results of a recent Fox News poll by falsely suggesting it does not indicate that Americans support a major change in Iraq policy, when, in fact, 73 percent favor starting a withdrawal of U.S. troops. During a discussion with Hume and Liasson, Juan Williams, NPR senior national correspondent and Fox News contributor, stated that the Fox News poll indicates that "73 percent of Americans want a course change in Iraq." Hume responded that a "change in course doesn't necessarily mean ... a major change in strategy. It may mean a major adjustment in tactics in pursuit of the same policy."
Similarly, Liasson stated that "when 73 percent say they want a change in course, what they're saying is, 'We want this to work,' " adding that a "true change in strategy" would be "giving up" on the goal of "a stable, not anti-American, non-terrorist-harboring country ... and saying we don't care what happens to Iraq, let's get out because it's a hopeless mess." In fact, the poll question to which Williams appeared to have been referring does not ask if respondents want to see merely a "major adjustment in tactics" or that they "want this to work" in Iraq; it found that 73 percent of respondents believe that "[t]he United States has sacrificed enough for the people of Iraq, and now it is time that they take on most of the burden of security in their country and let U.S. troops start to come home."
From the October 22 broadcast of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:
WALLACE: We're back now with Brit, Mara, [Weekly Standard editor] Bill [Kristol], and Juan. Well, despite [White House press secretary] Tony Snow's hooey defense, there was growing chatter in Washington this week that, after the election, we're headed for a big change in policy in Iraq, whether it comes from the Democrats gaining control of one house of Congress, whether it comes from [former Secretary of State under President George H.W. Bush] James Baker's Iraq Study Group or just a growing realization within the Bush White House that things aren't going to work. Juan, do you think we're headed for a big change?
WILLIAMS: I think we have to. I mean, first of all, it's unfortunate that it has to come in the midst of this election that it drives it, but there was a Fox News poll this week -- 73 percent of Americans want a course change in Iraq. So, stay the course as a message isn't working, but worst of all, it's not working on the ground. I mean, look at the results. Look at what's going on just in this past week. The bloodshed is just increasing. This is chaos over there.
So, to say stay the course is like saying: "Yeah, we're going to go deeper into these dark woods where we're being threatened and we're being decimated." It just doesn't make sense. So, there has to be a course change. The question is: Where does it come? At what point does the president feel comfortable in saying to the American people, you know, "Here is a reasonable change"? "That doesn't mean that I'm going back on what I said before." I think it becomes difficult for the president, but I think he's got to, you know, stand up and be a man.
WALLACE: Brit, I mean, we're not talking about the sort of tactical flexibility, which the White House says it always espouses. Are we headed for a big course change in Iraq?
HUME: No. The people who are talking about that fall very clearly into the category of non-deciders. We've just heard in the last couple of days from the decider himself who gets to make policy, and that's one thing a president can do, and he doesn't have to clear with it Senator [Carl] Levin [D-MI], and that is to set the policy in Iraq. And in this instance, he said he isn't going to change. I don't -- I think he's unlikely to change.
Now, there are people who say, you look at a poll like that one, with a 73-percent number who want a change in course in Iraq -- that doesn't necessarily mean what you suggested, which is a major change in strategy. It may mean a major adjustment in tactics in pursuit of the same policy. So, the better way to look at it is, do we expect a change in policy on Iraq? And I would say no.
LIASSON: Yeah, look, with 73 percent --
WALLACE: Let me add one more thing to that. Let's say that the Democrats gain control of one house of Congress, let alone two houses of Congress. How much can they do to force the president's hand?
LIASSON: Well, I don't think they can - well, they can cut off funding. That is what Congress can do. That would be pretty hard with just one house of Congress. But, look, when 73 percent say they want a change in course, what they're saying is, "We want this to work." In other words, we want Iraq -- we don't want this -- to see bad news coming out of Iraq over and over again.
And the White House's premise all along was that if people saw success in Iraq and they felt that we had a plan for victory, they'd stick with the plan. Well, they don't see that, because it's a mess, and it's not working. And if the goal is a stable, not anti-American, non-terrorist-harboring country, you have to ask the question: What is going to get us there?
Giving up on that goal and saying we don't care what happens to Iraq -- let's get out because it's a hopeless mess -- that would be a true change in strategy. But the question for people who support a timetable -- and I think, after this election, we're going to get this debate -- the timetable assumes that if you just tell the Iraqi leadership, "If you don't get your act together, guys, we're going to leave," that that will force them to somehow come together, stop slaughtering each other, Shiites and Sunnis form a stable government, and get rid of the Shiite militias that are so embedded into the security forces. I really wonder if that's even possible.