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Discussing the pending release of a verdict in the trial of Saddam Hussein, during the November 3 edition of MSNBC's Decision 2006: Battleground America, NBC News Washington bureau chief Tim Russert, host of NBC's Meet the Press, uncritically reported that Bush administration officials "said that they had nothing to do with the timing" of the verdict, which is scheduled to be announced on the morning of November 5, two days before the midterm elections. In response, Washington Post staff writer Dana Milbank joked that it was "clearly an attempt to manipulate Meet the Press, and I can't imagine you're going to stand for that." But no member of the panel, which also included political and social commentator Mike Barnicle, pointed out that, as Media Matters for America has noted, if the administration did in fact insist on the November 5 date for the verdict, this would not be the first time it has apparently timed an Iraq- or national security-related event for political advantage. While the Bush administration has denied any role in setting the date, as the weblog Think Progress has noted, when asked about the verdict on the November 2 edition of CNBC's Kudlow and Company, White House press secretary Tony Snow said, "You are absolutely right, it will be a factor" in the U.S. elections.
By contrast, in an exchange with host Wolf Blitzer on the October 31 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, CNN Baghdad correspondent Michael Ware said that it is "very, very hard to tell" whether the verdict was timed "to help Republicans in the elections back here in the States" and that "the timing certainly is coincidental" as Media Matters also noted.
From the November 3 edition of MSNBC's Decision 2006: Battleground America:
RUSSERT: And we are back with the man from Boston, Mike Barnicle, the man from Washington, Dana Milbank. Welcome back, both.
Dana, let me start with you. It now appears that, on Sunday morning, before all these Sunday morning political talk shows, in Iraq, they are going to announce the verdict and sentence for Saddam Hussein. The U.S. government said that they had nothing to do with the timing, that this is an Iraqi judge who's made this decision. Everyone expects that it will be Saddam guilty, sentenced to death, which will play out Sunday and Monday. Will that have any impact on this midterm election?
MILBANK: It's clearly an attempt to manipulate Meet the Press, and I can't imagine you're going to stand for that. Everything has some impact here but, once again, if you keep the subject on Iraq, that's where the Democrats have always wanted it. The president got a little bounce up when they caught Saddam Hussein, but it really hasn't lasted for them. So, you can -- it's certainly worth a try. Maybe if the "Mission Accomplished" banner is right behind him as the verdict is read, that might be worth a point or two.
RUSSERT: But, Mike Barnicle, you can hear people saying, "You see, Iraq was worth it. We got Saddam. He's been put on trial for all his atrocities, and now he's going to be sentenced to death. Let's go forward."
BARNICLE: Well, I don't know where you'd find those people, Tim. I think a couple of sad things about that event that is going to occur this weekend: One is the fact that we live in a culture that's so fast-paced that a lot of people are going to forget about the fact that Saddam Hussein was ever captured and put on trial. The other sad aspect of it sort of gets to an offshoot of the John Kerry story that's so dominated our business for two or three days this week and it is that, unfortunately, you can go almost anywhere during the course of your ordinary life to get your gas, to stop and get a cup of coffee, to have lunch at the diner or whatever, and it's -- you're not going to bump into a whole lot of people who have a personal investment in Iraq.
We have 140,000 brave people on the ground over there in Iraq. We have an all-volunteer Army, and yet, this is a country and a culture totally unscarred by this war. Life goes on as if we are not at war, and that is an offshoot of what Kerry was attempting to say, I think. And it's a horrible reality that we have to deal with. So, Saddam Hussein, no Saddam Hussein -- I think zero impact in this election, unless you're talking about, you know, jump ball and a very, very close state -- maybe 10 people say, "Yeah, finally we got him, and this proves it's all worth it." But I'd like to know who those people are.