Media continued reports of Pelosi "trip trouble," ignored Republican-led delegation

››› ››› ROB DIETZ

On the April 3 edition of Fox News' Special Report, host Brit Hume reported that "[t]he White House tried to discourage" a trip by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to Syria to meet with President Bashar Al-Assad because the administration says "such a visit sends mixed signals to countries in the region and to the Syrian government." But like numerous other recent media reports on the White House criticism of the Pelosi-led trip, Hume did not mention a Republican-led delegation that met with Assad in Damascus on April 1. An April 3 report on CNN and an April 4 report on ABC made similar omissions. At the end of his report, Hume added: "Democratic Senators John Kerry [MA] and Chris Dodd [CT] both today issued statements defending Pelosi's trip. The senators had their own meeting with the Syrian president this past December." But Hume failed to mention that in addition to Kerry's and Dodd's meetings with Assad in December 2006, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) also visited the Syrian president later that month.

After reporting the White House's claim that Pelosi's trip "sends mixed signals" to Syria, Hume aired a clip of Bush saying at his April 3 press conference: "Photo opportunities and/or meetings with President Assad lead the Assad government to believe they're part of the mainstream of the international community, when, in fact, they're a state sponsor of terror." But absent from the clip was Bush's apparent acknowledgement -- seconds earlier -- that both Republicans and Democrats have recently visited Syria. From the press conference:

BUSH: We have made it clear to high-ranking officials, whether they be Republicans or Democrats, that going to Syria sends mixed signals -- signals in the region and, of course, mixed signals to President Assad. And by that, I mean, photo opportunities and/or meetings with President Assad lead the Assad government to believe they're part of the mainstream of the international community, when, in fact, they're a state sponsor of terror; when, in fact, they're helping expedite -- or at least not stopping the movement of foreign fighters from Syria into Iraq; when, in fact, they have done little to nothing to rein in militant Hamas and Hezbollah; and when, in fact, they destabilize the Lebanese democracy.

Bush made the statement above in response to a question posed by Associated Press staff writer Jennifer Loven -- and noted by Media Matters for America -- in which she asked if Bush was "worried" that Pelosi's trip "might be pre-empting [his] own efforts" to establish a dialogue with Syria. In an April 4 article, Loven reported White House criticism of Pelosi's trip and quoted Bush's remark regarding "photo opportunities" with Assad. But like Hume, Loven failed to note the preceding sentence in which Bush identified both Republicans and Democrats as sending "mixed signals." In the original version of the article, released April 3, Loven did not report on the Republican-led delegation's meeting with Assad, as Media Matters noted. A subsequent version of Loven's article did report that "Pelosi noted that Republican lawmakers had met Assad on Sunday without comment from the Bush administration" and that "[t]he bipartisan Iraq Study Group recommended that the U.S. begin direct and extensive talks with Syria and Iran over Iraq."

ABC News chief White House correspondent Martha Raddatz also left out any mention of the Republican-led delegation in a segment on the April 4 edition of ABC's Good Morning America, in which she reported that "Speaker Pelosi had been asked not to go to Syria, not to meet with President Assad, but that's exactly what she did." Raddatz's report was accompanied by on-screen text that read: "The Syria Standoff: Speaker Pelosi's Trip Trouble."

Finally, on the April 3 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, guest host and CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux noted Bush's criticism of Pelosi's visit to Syria but did not mention the Republican-led delegation. More than 40 minutes later in the program, during a discussion with Republican strategist Ed Rogers, Malveaux said: "In all fairness, Republicans have been over there. The Iraq Study Group has called for discussions with Syria." As Media Matters documented, on the April 2 edition of The Situation Room, Malveaux similarly ignored the GOP-led trip while discussing the White House's attacks on Pelosi.

From the April 3 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

HUME: And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her delegation were greeted by the Syrian foreign minister as she arrived in Damascus today, ahead of her scheduled meeting tomorrow with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. The White House tried to discourage her trip, and this morning President Bush expressed his displeasure, saying such a visit sends mixed signals to countries in the region and to the Syrian government.

BUSH [video clip]: Photo opportunities and/or meetings with President Assad lead the Assad government to believe they're part of the mainstream of the international community, when, in fact, they are a state sponsor of terror.

HUME: Democratic Senators John Kerry and Chris Dodd both today issued statements defending Pelosi's trip. The senators had their own meeting with the Syrian president this past December.

From the April 4 edition of ABC's Good Morning America:

RADDATZ: Speaker Pelosi had been asked not to go to Syria, not to meet with President Assad, but that's exactly what she did.

[begin video clip]

RADDATZ: Pelosi is the most senior U.S. official to visit Syria since relations between the U.S. and Syria began to fall apart in 2003. The U.S. has accused Syria of sending insurgents into Iraq and destabilizing Lebanon. Pelosi's visit is meant to open a dialogue and change President Bush's approach in the Middle East, but the president sharply criticized the visit.

BUSH: Photo opportunities and/or meetings with President Assad lead the Assad government to believe they're part of the mainstream of the international community, when, in fact, they're a state sponsor of terror.

RADDATZ: Pelosi was not alone. She was part of a seven-member congressional delegation visiting the region. In Diane Sawyer's recent visit to Syria, President Assad said he would welcome dialogue with the administration.

SAWYER: Are you waiting to hear from the Americans? Why not begin it now?

ASSAD: We are hearing, but we don't expect that much. We don't expect that they're going to -- after four years, nearly four years of occupation, they haven't learned their lesson. They haven't started the dialogue. It's -- I think it's too late for them to move toward that.

[end video clip]

RADDATZ: The White House has said that when Pelosi returns, they would welcome a report on her meeting.

From the 4 p.m. hour of the April 3 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

MALVEAUX: Now, another flashpoint between President Bush and Democrats. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Syria, a nation the U.S. accuses of sponsoring terrorism. Pelosi meets with President Bashar Al-Assad tomorrow. She's expected to discuss Syria's alleged role in supporting militant groups active in Lebanon and Iraq.

President Bush was asked today why he opposes the visit.

BUSH [video clip]: It's one thing to send a message, it's another thing to have the person receiving the message actually do something. So the position of this administration is that the best way to meet with a leader like Assad or people from Syria is in the larger context of trying to get the global community to help change his behavior. But sending delegations hasn't worked. It's just simply been counterproductive.

[...]

MALVEAUX: In all fairness, Republicans have been over there. The Iraq Study Group has called for discussions with Syria. Obviously, if this is some way that she can break through, back channel, perhaps she can do some good.

From the April 4 AP story:

On another topic, the president took issue with a two-day stay in Syria by Pelosi that began Tuesday.

As the speaker donned a head scarf and mingled with Syrians at a mosque and a market in Damascus' Old City, preparing for meetings Wednesday with Syrian President Bashar Assad, Bush said she was sending dangerous signals. State-run newspapers in Syria published news of the visit on their front pages, with one daily publishing a photograph of Pelosi next to the headline: "Welcome Dialogue."

Bush said meetings with many high-level Americans have done nothing to persuade Assad to control violent elements of the militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah, to halt efforts to destabilize Lebanon or to stop allowing "foreign fighters" from flowing over Syria's border into Iraq.

"Photo opportunities and/or meetings with President Assad lead the Assad government to believe they're part of the mainstream of the international community when, in fact, they're a state sponsor of terror," he said.

When she visited Lebanon on Monday, Pelosi noted that Republican lawmakers had met Assad on Sunday without comment from the Bush administration.

"I think that it was an excellent idea for them to go," she said. "And I think it's an excellent idea for us to go as well."

The bipartisan Iraq Study Group recommended that the U.S. begin direct and extensive talks with Syria and Iran over Iraq. The Bush administration has long rejected that idea, but recently agreed to allow U.S. representatives to talk with Syrian officials at an international conference in Baghdad.

Pelosi's office said her trip was appropriate.

"The Iraq Study Group recommended a diplomatic effort that should include 'every country that has an interest in avoiding a chaotic Iraq,'" said deputy press secretary Drew Hamill. "This effort should certainly include Syria."

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