Despite heavily covering Kerry's "botched joke," media largely ignored Boehner's comments that "the generals on the ground," not Rumsfeld, are to "blame for what's happening in Iraq"

››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN

While expressing his support for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld during a November 1 interview on CNN's The Situation Room, House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) told host Wolf Blitzer: "[L]et's not blame what's happening in Iraq on Rumsfeld" because "the fact is, the generals on the ground are in charge." Shortly thereafter, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (NV) issued a statement demanding an apology from Boehner for "blaming our troops for failures in Iraq," rather than casting blame on "the Bush Administration's failed policy" and the Republican leadership that "have rubberstamped" it. On the November 2 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Boehner refused to apologize, stating, "[N]ice try, Harry." Yet despite devoting significant attention to Republicans' demands that Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) apologize for his "botched joke," the print media, network news, and cable news outlets have largely ignored Boehner's remarks and Reid's demand for an apology. Exceptions include The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 (11/1), the 7 p.m. E.T. hour of The Situation Room (11/1), and American Morning (11/2), which have noted Boehner's remarks made on the 4 p.m. ET hour of The Situation Room,and Reid's subsequent demand for an apology. Fox News' Fox & Friends also briefly referred to the remarks and Reid's statement during an interview with Boehner, but did not quote Boehner's comments.

ABC's The Note characterized the lack of media attention to Boehner's remarks as proof that "Republicans play the Freak Show game better than the Democrats." While The Note said that "there are myriad reasons" for that lack of attention, the writers did not specify what they were or suggest that the media themselves might be responsible.

In an interview during the 4 p.m. ET hour of the November 1 edition of The Situation Room, Blitzer asked Boehner to comment on criticism of Rumsfeld by some congressional Republicans:

BLITZER: Let me read to you a few of your fellow Republicans have said in recent days. "I don't like the guy. I simply don't think he has measured up on running the war in Iraq. Would I vote for a no-confidence resolution on Secretary Rumsfeld? Yes." [Rep.] Chris Shays, Republican of Connecticut.

"If I had my way, he wouldn't be secretary of defense now. I would have accepted his resignation after Abu Ghraib. I have lost confidence in him." That's the Republican candidate for the Senate from Washington state, Mike McGavick.

And Congresswoman Jo Ann Davis, Republican of Virginia: "It's probably the only thing in my life I've ever agreed with [Sen.] Hillary Clinton [D-NY] about. He's probably a nice guy, but I don't think he's a great secretary of defense."

BOEHNER: Wolf, I understand that, but let's not blame what's happening in Iraq on Rumsfeld.

BLITZER: But he's in charge of the military.

BOEHNER: But the fact is, the generals on the ground are in charge, and he works closely with them and the president. We've seen this run-up in violence as we get closer to the election, as we get closer to Ramadan, same thing we've seen over the last couple of years.

Responding to Boehner's remarks, Reid issued the following statement, demanding Boehner apologize:

John Boehner ought to be ashamed. He's blaming our troops for failures in Iraq. If he wants to cast blame, he can start by looking in the mirror because he and his Congressional Republican colleagues have rubberstamped the Bush Administration's failed policy for nearly four years. Our troops in Iraq have performed bravely. It's political leaders like Congressman Boehner and Donald Rumsfeld, who have failed. I expect President Bush and Congressional Republicans, who demanded John Kerry apologize, hold their own party's majority leader to a much higher standard. There's no spinning his disparaging comments. He made them. He needs to apologize.

But Boehner's comments and Reid's response went largely unnoticed by the media.* For example, the November 1 and 2 morning and evening news programs on ABC, NBC, and CBS all led with stories about Kerry and his apology for his remarks; none noted Boehner's comments and Reid's demand for an apology. Similarly, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and USA Today all featured stories on Kerry's remarks but did not mention Boehner's comments in any article in the November 2 print editions of their paper. Other than Anderson Cooper 360 and the 7 p.m. ET hour of The Situation Room, no prime-time cable news program noted Boehner's comments.

Both American Morning and Fox & Friends noted Reid's demand for an apology over Boehner's remarks. But, in purporting to cover Reid's demand, Fox & Friends did not tell viewers what Boehner actually said. Rather, during an interview with Boehner, co-host Gretchen Carlson noted that "Reid yesterday asked you as House majority leader to also apologize, because he says that you need to apologize for blaming our troops for failures in Iraq." Carlson then asked: "Is he just following on the heels of the John Kerry theme?" Boehner replied:" Well, as I said, good try, Harry," and stated that because he was "out there early, criticizing Kerry" for his remarks, "it's no surprise to me that they're coming after me."

On the November 2 edition of CNN Newsroom, Human Events Online contributor Terry Jeffrey noted that while he's "not sure if that's what John Boehner meant," "on the face" of it, "it sounds like" Boehner was blaming the generals for the situation in Iraq, rather than Rumsfeld. Jeffrey added that "If he did, it's just flat wrong. Don Rumsfeld is squarely in the chain of command between the president of the United States and the commanders in the field."

As Media Matters for America noted, the media similarly underreported news that President Bush will continue to keep Rumsfeld on as defense secretary for the remainder of his term, while devoting significant attention to Kerry's remarks. In addition to reiterating his support for Rumsfeld on The Situation Room and Fox & Friends, Boehner announced on the October 29 edition of ABC's This Week that "Donald Rumsfeld is the best thing that's happened to the Pentagon in 25 years."

From the November 2 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:

CARLSON: Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid yesterday asked you as House majority leader to also apologize, because he says that you need to apologize for blaming our troops for failures in Iraq. Is he just following on the heels of the John Kerry theme? So, everyone should just apologize now?

BOEHNER: Well, as I said, good try, Harry. You know, I was out there early, criticizing Kerry, calling for an apology, and I went after him pretty hard. And so, it's no surprise to me that they're coming after me. I support our troops, applaud their bravery of their commitment.

BRIAN KILMEADE (co-host): And you're defending Donald Rumsfeld.

BOEHNER: I am. I like Rummy. And if you think about the transformation that's occurred over at the Pentagon, it would never have occurred without him. And so, because I'm out supporting Rumsfeld and believe he's the right guy for this job at this time, they want to criticize me. Good try.

STEVE DOOCY (co-host): I'll tell you what, it's great to have you.

BOEHNER: I can take it. I've learned to take it and dish it right back out.

From the October 29 edition of ABC's This Week:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (host): Some Democrats are saying a fixed timetable for withdrawal. Not all. Let me just ask one more question on this. Your own senators, I said Mike DeWine [R-OH], thinks Rumsfeld has to go. Do you agree?

BOEHNER: I think Donald Rumsfeld is the best thing that's happened to the Pentagon in 25 years. This -- this Pentagon and our military needs a transformation. And I think Donald Rumsfeld is the only man in America who knows where the bodies are buried at the Pentagon, has enough experience to help transform that institution. Let's not take the problems in Iraq, the tough fight that we're in there and blame it on anyone. We're in a tough fight. Al Qaeda is doing everything they can to disrupt our efforts in Iraq, to disrupt the new government, creating more violence than anyone can imagine. And defeating Al Qaeda there is important, because if we were to pull out before we win, we will embolden every terrorist in every corner of the world. And then instead of fighting them in Iraq, we'll be fighting them on every street in America.

From the November 2 edition of CNN Newsroom:

DON LEMON: All right, Mr. Jeffrey, this is a good time to bring this in. Yesterday, John Boehner, U.S. representative, was on The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, and he talked about Don Rumsfeld. Let's hear what he had to say.

[...]

LEMON: It's Boehner, but when you look at his name it looks like "Bonner." I always say that when I'm looking at his name. But let me ask you, Mr. Jeffrey, is this -- does it sound like he's blaming the generals instead of Don Rumsfeld?

JEFFREY: Well, on the face of it, it sounds like that. I'm not sure that's what John Boehner meant. But if he did, it's just flat wrong. Don Rumsfeld is squarely in the chain of command between the president of the United States and the commanders in the field.

* A review of any news program that aired on Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, or CBS from 5 p.m. ET November 1 through 9 a.m. ET November 2 and a Nexis search of "Major Newspapers" and terms "Boehner and generals and Iraq" with the date restriction (11/2/06-11/2/06) yielded these results.

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