Media failed to report Pelosi's clarification of her message to Syria

››› ››› RYAN CHIACHIERE

The April 5 editions of several cable news programs reported criticisms of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) trip to Syria and touted an April 5 Washington Post editorial criticizing Pelosi's remarks in Syria, without noting that Pelosi had clarified her remarks after the editorial was published. Pelosi, the Post editorial asserted, had "misrepresented Israel's position" when she announced, at an April 4 press conference with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, that she had told him that "Israel was ready to engage in peace talks" with Syria. "Only one problem," the editorial asserted: "The Israeli prime minister had entrusted Ms. Pelosi with no such message," and instead had "quickly issued" a statement that "[w]hat was communicated to [Pelosi] does not contain any change in the policies of Israel" regarding the terms under which it would negotiate with Syria. As Media Matters for America noted, Pelosi's office issued a statement on April 5 saying she had made clear to Assad that Israel continued to demand that Syria cut ties with extremist groups, telling Assad that "in order for Israel to engage in talks with Syria, the Syrian government must eliminate its links with extremist elements, including Hamas and Hezbollah." That statement was released at 1:57 p.m. ET, yet it was ignored by several programs that aired well after it was released:

  • On the April 5 edition of Fox News' Special Report, Fox News chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle reported Vice President Dick Cheney's criticism of Pelosi and asserted, "There was a long list of serious issues with Syria. Ms. Pelosi did not raise them in public comments, but it remains to be seen whether she pressed any of them in private."

    Later in the program, host Brit Hume touted the Post editorial, but criticized the paper's news section from that day because it "contains nothing about Israel's disavowing of the Pelosi statement, or about what the editorial called Pelosi's misrepresentation of Israel's position." Hume asserted that "the Post editorial writers must have found out about that part of the story somewhere other than their own paper." But nowhere did Hume note that Pelosi had since clarified her remarks. Special Report aired at 6 p.m. ET, more than four hours after Pelosi had issued her clarification.

  • Similarly, on the April 5 edition of Fox News' The Big Story, host John Gibson asserted that "Israel says it didn't give her that message and its position on Syria has not changed." Gibson also hosted former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who claimed that Pelosi "said she was conveying a message from Israel, and she misconveyed that message, which is difficult to put Israel in that spot, and she did." Later in the broadcast, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius asserted that Pelosi "decided to go and promote her visit as if she were carrying a new message from Israeli leaders proposing peace talks with Syria" and added: "[T]hat just isn't the case." Ignatius claimed that Pelosi "overstated what she had." During the segment, Gibson noted the Post editorial, which he described as "a pretty serious rebuke" of Pelosi. No one on the panel, which included Democratic attorney Julian Epstein and Republican strategist Kellyanne Conway, noted Pelosi's clarification. The program aired at 5 p.m. ET, over three hours after Pelosi's statement was released.
  • Additionally, on the April 5 edition of MSNBC's Tucker, host Tucker Carlson asserted that "Pelosi appears to have misstated Israel's position on Syria so badly that the Israeli government had to correct officially and in public." Carlson also quoted the editorial in the Post, which he described as a "pretty liberal paper," before asking: "[D]oesn't this make [Pelosi] kind of look like a lightweight?" No one on the panel, which included Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen and washingtonpost.com blogger Mary Ann Akers, noted Pelosi's clarification. Tucker aired at 4 p.m. ET, more than two hours after Pelosi's statement was released.

From the April 5 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

ANGLE: But it was on that very topic that Pelosi's trip ran into controversy in Syria, where she suggested Israel was ready to make a new overture to the Syrians, which was quickly disputed by Israeli officials, who said Syria would have to first cease its support of terrorism and terrorists, some of whom make their headquarters in Damascus.

And all that drew another sharp rebuke from the vice president today.

CHENEY: It was a nonstatement, a nonsensical statement. It didn't make any sense at all that she would suggest that those talks could go forward as long as the Syrians conducted themselves as a prime state sponsor of terror.

ANGLE: U.S. officials have met with Syrians on narrow issues, such as refugees or in a regional Iraq support group. And other members of Congress, including a number of Republicans, have also visited the country. But some officials thought Pelosi's friendly appearance with Syrian officials undermined the stern approach the U.S. has taken.

CHENEY: I think it is, in fact, bad behavior on her part. I wish she hadn't done it. But she is the speaker of the House.

SCOTT McCORMACK (State Department spokesman): It sends the wrong message to Syria. They exploit these high-level visits for all the PR value that they're worth, and then they don't change their behavior.

ANGLE: Ms. Pelosi is the highest-ranking American official to visit in four years. And the Syrians gave that great significance. One Syrian analyst today hailed her visit by saying, "This will help give the impression that Syria in no longer isolated in the world. So now you can't ask the Europeans or others not to visit the Syrians like you used to before."

And one leader of the anti-Israeli terrorist group al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades was quoted as saying, "I think she is brave and hope all the people will support her. All the American people must make peace with Syrian and Iran and with Hamas."

Pelosi's cordial meetings were important to the Syrians, who have been struggling against Western efforts to investigate the Syrian role in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, as well as criticism over Syria's support for terrorist groups.

PETER BROOKES (Heritage Foundation): But the thing is here is Syria is being isolated, not just by the United States, but by the European Union, by its Arab neighbors, and for lots of good reasons.

ANGLE: There was a long list of serious issues with Syria. Ms. Pelosi did not raise them in public comments, but it remains to be seen whether she pressed any of them in private.

[...]

HUME: The Post editorial was headlined "Pratfall in Damascus: Nancy Pelosi's foolish shuttle diplomacy." It recaps the speaker's contention that Israel's prime minister told her Israel was ready for peace talks and contains Israel's immediate response that she was given no such message.

But the Post editorial writers must have found out about that part of the story somewhere other than their own paper. The Post's main news story contains nothing about Israel's disavowing of the Pelosi statement or about what the editorial called Pelosi's misrepresentation of Israel's position.

From the April 5 edition of Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson:

GIBSON: Well, the speaker said she brought a message from Israel to Syria that it was ready to engage in peace talks, as you just heard, and Syria was game too, but Israel says it didn't give her that message and its position on Syria has not changed.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said, quote, "Although Israel is interested in peace with Syria, that country continues to be part of the axis of evil and a force that encourages terror in the entire Middle East. What was communicated to the U.S. House speaker does not contain any change in the policies of Israel as was communicated to other foreign leaders."

Let's get reaction now from former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer.

So, Ari, when Nancy Pelosi trots off on amateur diplomatic mission, it may be an embarrassment for her. How much does it actually hurt the United States?

FLEISCHER: Well, it complicates things, John, and that's the problem in a very complicated region. When I was in my old job at the White House, particularly the Middle East, I always had to pick my words with great care because of the sensitivities in the region. And I think this is where she made a double blunder.

No. 1, she said she was conveying a message from Israel, and she misconveyed that message, which is difficult to put Israel in that spot, and she did.

[...]

IGNATIUS: She decided to go and promote her visit as if she were carrying a new message from Israeli leaders proposing peace talks with Syria. And that just isn't the case. And I think she -- if she's guilty of anything, it's of hyping the visit.

The idea that there's -- you know, we do need diplomatic contact with Syria. We have an embassy there. We maintain regular contact through that embassy. It's not as if this is a cordon sanitaire that's blocked out.

But I think the problem was that she overstated what she had.

[...]

GIBSON: David Ignatius, I've got to ask you. Your own paper was pretty harsh with the speaker today --

IGNATIUS: Yes.

GIBSON: -- on the editorial page. I mean, a pretty serious rebuke.

IGNATIUS: Well, it was a rebuke. I have nothing to do with the editorials, but it was a tough editorial. And it was basically saying, this kind of freelancing -- especially when it was hyped in terms of the message she was carrying -- doesn't do anybody any good.

From the April 5 edition of MSNBC's Tucker:

CARLSON: President Bush scolded House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this week for her freelance diplomatic trip to Syria. But it didn't take Bush to make Pelosi look bad. She did that herself.

Mrs. Pelosi appears to have misstated Israel's position on Syria so badly that the Israeli government had to correct officially and in public. Ooh, embarrassing.

Here to talk about Pelosi's adventure in Middle East diplomacy, we welcome MSNBC political analyst and Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen, and writer of The Sleuth at washingtonpost.com, Mary Ann Akers. Welcome to you both.

Amazing. Here -- you know, here -- I can't resist. Here's The Washington Post editorial on Nancy Pelosi. Now, The Washington Post, for those who don't live here, don't read it, it's a pretty liberal paper. I think it's sensible. It's not -- you know, it's not a Daily Kos. But it's liberal, yeah.

Here's what they say. Jump right all over her.

They say: "Any diplomat with any knowledge of the region could have told her Mrs. Pelosi that Mr. Assad," the president of Syria, "is a corrupt thug whose overriding priority at the moment is not peace with Israel, but heading off U.N. charges that he orchestrated the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The really striking development here is the attempt by a Democratic congressional leader to substitute her own foreign policy for that of a sitting president."

Now, one point at a time. Hilary, doesn't this make her kind of look like a lightweight?

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