NBC's Mitchell: Bush's reversals are "pragmatic" -- but Kerry's changes were "flip-flops"

››› ››› ROB MORLINO

NBC's Andrea Mitchell asserted that President Bush "has proved he can be pragmatic," citing instances in which Bush has reversed course on major policy and staff decisions. But during the 2004 presidential campaign, Mitchell uncritically repeated GOP characterizations of purported shifts by Sen. John Kerry as "flip-flops."

In a report for the December 4 broadcast of NBC's Nightly News, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell asserted that President Bush "has proved he can be pragmatic," citing as support for that assertion instances in which Bush has reversed course on major policy and staff decisions: "He embraced the 9-11 Commission after opposing it, let Harriet Miers withdraw her nomination to the Supreme Court, accepted former chief of staff Andy Card's resignation, and let [former Defense Secretary] Donald Rumsfeld go, only days after saying his defense chief would stay." But Mitchell uncritically repeated GOP characterizations of purported shifts by 2004 Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) as "flip-flops."

For example, on the October 25, 2004, and November 3, 2004, editions of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, Mitchell uncritically referred to Republican efforts to attack Kerry as a "flip-flopper," without stating specifically the purported basis for that characterization of Kerry.

Similarly, on the July 10, 2003, edition of Nightly News, Mitchell also uncritically referred to a Republican attack on Kerry for purportedly committing "a series of flip-flops on the Iraq issue." Kerry, running for the Democratic presidential nomination, stated that day, "It is time for the president to tell the truth, that we lack sufficient forces to do the job of reconstruction in Iraq and withdraw in a reasonable period." Mitchell noted that Kerry "voted for the war resolution last fall, but says the administration is failing to win the peace," and then reported that the Republican National Committee "quickly accused Kerry of a series of flip-flops on the Iraq issue." Again, Mitchell did not identify any examples of the purported "series of flip-flops" the RNC claimed Kerry made on the war.

Mitchell's description of Bush as "pragmatic" echoed her report on the November 9 edition of Nightly News, during which she stated that "[w]hen George Bush showed [former Defense Secretary] Donald Rumsfeld the door, he was signaling a new direction in Iraq, more pragmatic, less ideological."

In contrast with Mitchell's assessment, however, a December 3 Associated Press report by staff writer Jennifer Loven stated that Bush "often strenuously resists outside recommendations for action, then pivots to embrace them as his own when pressure becomes irresistible":

Bush's traditional pattern is also at work as he considers how to handle the 100 pages of advice -- all nonbinding -- he is about to receive.

He often strenuously resists outside recommendations for action, then pivots to embrace them as his own when pressure becomes irresistible.

The president opposed creation of the Sept. 11 commission in the first place, as well as the establishment of a catchall Homeland Security Department. Bush later changed his mind on both points, and ran campaigns on putting in place that commission's recommendations, and against Democrats who balked at the way he wanted to structure the Homeland Security behemoth.

From the December 4 broadcast of NBC's Nightly News:

MITCHELL: In the past, the president has been described as unwilling to shift gears.

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS (presidential historian): Psychologically, it's hard to imagine George W. Bush saying, "Gee, you know, I didn't plan to do any of these things that you recommend in this report, but I now see the light. I'm going to change everything."

MITCHELL: But his national security adviser sounded a lot more flexible yesterday with Tim Russert.

STEPHEN HADLEY (national security adviser): The president said we need to make changes. Some of those changes are going to be significant changes.

MITCHELL: And the president has proved he can be pragmatic. He embraced the 9-11 Commission after opposing it, let Harriet Miers withdraw her nomination to the Supreme Court, accepted former chief of staff Andy Card's resignation, and let Donald Rumsfeld go, only days after saying his defense chief would stay. Howard Baker helped Ronald Reagan find a graceful exit from the Iran-Contra mess, rescuing Reagan's last two years in office.

From the November 9 broadcast of NBC's Nightly News:

MITCHELL: When George Bush showed Donald Rumsfeld the door, he was signaling a new direction in Iraq, more pragmatic, less ideological, and turning to his father's advisers to find the exit strategy. Former Bush CIA director Bob Gates at the Pentagon, former secretary of state James Baker, to draw the road map. What are their options to prevent an all-out civil war? Defense experts say none are good.

From the November 3, 2004, edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

MITCHELL: You know, I think [political analyst] Charlie [Cook] is really on to something, especially when you talk about the cultural issues. And the bottom line is that -- at least, if you believe the exit polling -- moral values as defined by the Republican campaign, is the equivalent of economic issues in terms of what people cared about. Any time you have got a campaign where people care as much about moral values than about the economy, especially at a time when, you know, the economy has not been perceived by many people as doing that well, this is pretty extraordinary.

JOE SCARBOROUGH (MSNBC host): It's one of the most remarkable numbers at 21 percent in the exit polling of NBC, select moral values as the No. 1 issue --

MITCHELL: And let me just complete the thought, Joe.

SCARBOROUGH: -- and economics, 20 percent; and terrorism, below that.

MITCHELL: And let me just complete the thought because the way the Swift Boat Veterans [for Truth] and the other groups define John Kerry early in the campaign, is to make him seem as though he were as not in sync with moral values, because he was, you know, a flip-flopper or whatever. By having defined him that way they really put him in a box. And it was very hard for him to get out of that box.

From the October 25, 2004, edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

FINEMAN: The Republicans have been trying to attack Kerry, make Kerry the issue, Kerry's weakness, et cetera.

MATTHEWS: I see.

MITCHELL: With the flip-flop --

FINEMAN: With the flip-flops, everything else.

From the July 10, 2003, edition of NBC's Nightly News:

MITCHELL: As questions about Iraq trail the president to Africa, Democratic presidential candidates see a possible opening. Today John Kerry jumped in, saying the war is continuing and are the casualties.

KERRY: It is time for the president to tell the truth, that we lack sufficient forces to do the job of reconstruction in Iraq and withdraw in a reasonable period.

MITCHELL: Senator Kerry voted for the war resolution last fall, but says the administration is failing to win the peace. The Republican National Committee quickly accused Kerry of a series of flip-flops on the Iraq issue. Still, 10 weeks after the president declared an end to major combat operations, the public is getting restless. A new Pew poll says only 23 percent of those questioned now believe the military effort is going very well, a big drop from the 61 percent who thought so in mid-April, when U.S. troops took Baghdad. Today, the president called for patience.

Network/Outlet
MSNBC, NBC
Person
Andrea Mitchell
Show/Publication
Hardball, NBC Nightly News
Stories/Interests
Propaganda/Noise Machine
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