From the White House's mouth to CNN's ... mouth?

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

CNN's adoption of the phrase "listening mode" to describe President Bush's reaction to the Iraq Study Group report is just the latest example of CNN journalists' repeating White House phrases without challenge and reporting Bush administration talking points as fact.

As Media Matters for America noted, on the December 8 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, CNN White House correspondent Ed Henry reported that "the White House explanation [for "speaking in generalities"] is the president doesn't want to be pinned down on details. He's in listening mode right now." CNN reporters and hosts followed Henry in uncritically repeating as fact that Bush is in "listening mode," despite reportedly not having asked any questions of the Iraq Study Group (ISG) when he met with the ISG members after their report was released on December 6 and despite Bush's immediate rejection of some of the group's key recommendations.

In addition to CNN's very recent adoption of "listening mode," Media Matters has found numerous other examples of CNN journalists' repeating White House phrases without challenge and reporting Bush administration talking points as fact.

Iraq not "civil war"

As Media Matters noted, CNN refused to call Iraq a "civil war" despite live reports by international correspondent Michael Ware in which Ware stated unequivocally that Iraq is embroiled in a civil war. During one broadcast, Ware asserted that "anyone who still remains in doubt about whether this is civil war or not is suffering from the luxury of distance." Despite Ware's reporting, CNN reporters and analysts hedged, going only so far as to question whether or not there is indeed a civil war going on, or describing the conflict as "sectarian violence," or "some type of civil war," but not simply a "civil war."

The White House has refused to characterize the situation in Iraq as a civil war. During an October 20 press briefing, White House press secretary Tony Snow tried to dispel the idea that Iraq is in a "civil war." As a November 26 New York Times news analysis by reporter Edward Wong noted, the use of the phrase "civil war" "rages because many politicians, especially those who support the war, believe there would be domestic political implications to declaring it a civil war. They fear that an acknowledgment by the White House and its allies would be seen as an admission of a failure of President Bush's Iraq policy."

"Democrat" Party

Media Matters noted examples of senior political correspondent Candy Crowley, on the August 8 edition of Anderson Cooper 360, and national correspondent Bob Franken, on the May 26 edition of American Morning, using "Democrat" as an adjective. Additionally, during an interview with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) on the November 30, 2005, edition of Your World Today, an onscreen graphic read: "Democrat Reaction."

In an article for the August 7 issue of The New Yorker, magazine senior editor Hendrik Hertzberg wrote that "among those of the Republican persuasion," the use of " 'Democrat Party' is now nearly universal" thanks to "Newt Gingrich, the nominal author of the notorious 1990 memo 'Language: A Key Mechanism of Control,' and his Contract with America pollster, Frank Luntz." Hertzberg's article began with an email from Bush as an example of the use of "Democrat" as a pejorative adjective, and, as Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus noted, "[t]he derisive use of 'Democrat' ... was a Bush staple during the recent campaign."

"Leaving Iraq before the job is done," "cut and run"

As Media Matters noted, in a segment that aired on the August 8 edition of American Morning and on the August 7 edition of Anderson Cooper about the contentious Democratic Senate primary election in Connecticut, Crowley reported that Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (CT) was "opposed to leaving [Iraq] before the job is done." Crowley's description of Lieberman's stance on the Iraq war echoed Bush's argument against setting timetables or redeploying troops from Iraq. On June 28, 2005, Bush said: "Setting an artificial timetable would send the wrong message to the Iraqis, who need to know that America will not leave before the job is done." On July 4, Bush said, "I'm going to make you this promise: I'm not going to allow the sacrifice of 2,527 troops who have died in Iraq to be in vain by pulling out before the job is done." Bush later linked the talking point "leav[ing] before the job is done" to the talking point "cut and run." When questioned about his use of "cut and run" to describe the Democratic position on Iraq at an October 11 press conference, Bush responded: "They may not use cut and run, but they say date certain is when to get out, before the job is done. That is cut and run."

CNN has also used "cut and run" without noting its origins as a Republican smear. As Media Matters noted, on the June 20 edition of Paula Zahn Now, host Paula Zahn said to Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-DE): "Your party is getting creamed as the party of cut-and- runners, the wobbly, the weak. Some Democrats want the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Some think they should be out a year from now. And some think setting a timetable, period, is irresponsible. So, do you understand why that divisiveness compromises the credibility of your party?"

Shortly after Bush's November 30, 2005, speech rejecting calls for the United States to withdraw from Iraq, on the November 30, 2005, edition of American Morning, anchor Miles O'Brien claimed that some Democrats "are advocating, essentially, [a] 'cut and run' " policy from Iraq, as Media Matters noted. When Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) objected to that characterization, saying, "I haven't heard anybody 'cut and run,' " O'Brien said: "We've heard that on the street; that's out there." In a similar comment on the November 30, 2005, edition of Your World Today, host Jim Clancy asked Kennedy, "[Y]ou and the Democratic Party are not saying 'cut and run'?" Bush has often used the phrase "cut and run," including on the campaign trail.

Bush had repeatedly used "cut and run" prior to the November 30, 2005, CNN coverage. At a campaign stop on October 25, 2004, Bush asserted that Sen. John F. Kerry's (D-MA) plan "sends the wrong message to Iraqis who need to know that America will never cut and run."

"Terrorist surveillance program"

As Media Matters noted, CNN -- following Fox News, The Washington Times editorial page, and the Associated Press -- called the White House's warrantless domestic surveillance program a "terrorist surveillance program," adopting the White House's terminology. On the February 6 edition of The Situation Room and on the February 11 edition of CNN Live Saturday, correspondent Brian Todd referred to it as the "terrorist surveillance program" without noting that the term is one promoted by the Bush administration to cast the program in a way most likely to secure the public's support. Host Jonathan Mann did the same on the February 6 edition of Insight.

On January 22, the White House Press press office released a backgrounder -- called "Setting the Record Straight" -- on the National Security Agency (NSA) spy program, in which the term "terrorist surveillance program" appeared 10 times in reference to the program. Bush first used the term publicly during a January 23 speech at Kansas State University. However, the term "terrorist surveillance program" is misleading, as it suggests that only known terrorists' communications have been targeted, when, in fact, thousands of innocent Americans were reportedly spied on. As The New York Times noted, the NSA forwarded the Federal Bureau of Investigations "thousands of tips a month," nearly all of which "led to dead ends or innocent Americans."

"Strict constructionist"

As Media Matters noted, on the July 20, 2005, edition of American Morning, Miles O'Brien told Clifford May, former Republican National Committee communications director, that then-Bush Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. (now Supreme Court chief justice) "is considered a strict constructionist -- that means he interprets the Constitution literally. ... I suppose the American people would say, great, we want somebody who has a strict interpretation of the Constitution." As Media Matters noted, Bush claimed that he wanted to nominate a "strict constructionist" to the Supreme Court -- which he defined as someone "who will strictly interpret the Constitution and not use the bench to legislate from." Similarly, at the press conference announcing Roberts' nomination on July 19, 2005, Bush said that Roberts "will strictly apply the Constitution and laws, not legislate from the bench."

But, as Media Matters has previously noted conservatives routinely use the term to promote a false dichotomy between "strict constructionists" and "judicial activists." Those justices on the Supreme Court typically characterized as "strict constructionists" are in fact, by one standard, among the court's most activist jurists.

"Personal accounts"

A Media Matters media survey, which included CNN from 5 p.m. February 2, 2005, until 12 a.m. February 3, 2005, found that former host Judy Woodruff used the phrase "personal accounts" when referring to Bush's plan to privatize Social Security. Then-senior White House correspondent John King (now chief national correspondent) used both "private accounts" and "personal accounts." As a January 23, 2005, Washington Post article reported, "Bush and his supporters have started using 'personal accounts' instead of 'private accounts' to refer to his plan to let younger workers invest part of their payroll taxes in stocks and bonds." The article also noted that Bush "turned prickly" and "scolded" a reporter who asked about "privatization," suggesting that the reporter use the phrase "personal savings accounts."

"Mandate"

As Media Matters documented, reporters and hosts on CNN shows claimed that Bush had won a mandate in the 2004 election, echoing Vice President Dick Cheney's November 3, 2004, claim that "President Bush ran forthrightly on a clear agenda for this nation's future and the nation responded by giving him a mandate."

On the November 5, 2004, edition of CNN Live at Daybreak, anchor Carol Costello reported: "To American politics now and the mandate. President Bush is promising to use his election mandate to push his agenda forward." On the November 6, 2004, edition of In the Money, then-anchor (now correspondent on Lou Dobbs Tonight) Christine Romans said: "When I talk to Democrats and people who watch the Democratic machine, they're furious that this was so close again and that now the president has a mandate." On the November 7, 2004, edition of Reliable Sources, then-CBS News chief White House correspondent (now CNN senior national correspondent) John Roberts claimed that Bush had "a mandate that perhaps many people didn't allow him to have in the first term." On the November 7, 2004, edition of In the Money, then-host (and now Fortune magazine managing editor) Andy Serwer claimed that Bush "seems to have a mandate from the people to go ahead and do what he wants to, his bidding." On the November 8, 2004, edition of Paula Zahn Now, Zahn called Bush "[a] president with a mandate."

As Media Matters also noted, then-CNN host Tucker Carlson claimed on the November 3, 2004, edition of Crossfire: "The president wins re-election with a majority of the vote. It is a mandate."

Costello, Romans, Roberts, Serwer, Zahn, and Carlson echoed Cheney's "mandate" claim notwithstanding the following: As Media Matters documented, more Americans cast their vote against Bush than against any other presidential candidate in U.S. history, a Gallup poll conducted just after the election found that 63 percent of voters would prefer to see Bush pursue policies that "both parties support" compared with only 30 percent who want Bush to "advance the Republican Party's agenda," and, as then-Wall Street Journal Washington editor Albert R. Hunt pointed out (subscription required) on November 4, 2004: "It was a GOP sweep, but it also was the narrowest win for a sitting president since Woodrow Wilson in 1916."

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