Front-page Wash. Times article touted Pelosi's popularity in Syria with purported person-on-the-street interviews

››› ››› ROB DIETZ

A May 2 front-page Washington Times article headlined "Syrians bolstered by visit of 'good American' Pelosi" asserted that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who recently visited Syria to meet with President Bashar Al-Assad, may have become "[t]he second most popular politician in Syria." The article noted that the "White House criticized her visit," but did not mention that a Republican -- Rep. David Hobson (OH) -- was part of Pelosi's delegation, as Media Matters for America noted. Nor did the article report that a Republican-led delegation met with Assad three days before Pelosi's visit and that Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) met with him a day after. As evidence that Pelosi's visit had "warmed Syrian hearts with her trip last month to Damascus," the Times quoted a "Damascus laborer," a Damascus resident "who spoke on the condition of anonymity," and "an Iraqi woman who has emigrated to Syria," all of whom were unnamed in the article.

The Times article was the latest in a series of Times stories making baseless accusations against Pelosi, making Republican claims without challenge, or echoing Republican talking points, as Media Matters has documented.

The Washington Times article was discussed on the May 2 edition of MSNBC's Tucker when host Tucker Carlson, after reading a comment from an anonymous Syrian quoted in the Times story, said: "Wow! Nancy Pelosi. Trips have consequences, don't they? At least according to this person." In response, A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of The Hill, asserted that the delegation "was a mutually beneficial trip for Mr. Assad and Mrs. Pelosi." Neither Carlson nor Stoddard noted the Republicans who recently traveled to Syria.

From the May 2 Washington Times article:

The second most popular politician in Syria these days may be an American: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The California Democrat warmed Syrian hearts with her trip last month to Damascus, an event that people still share with visiting Americans as conversational currency.

"Nancy Pelosi is good, yes?" asked a Damascus laborer who found himself sitting next to an American at a greasy gyro stand this week. "Nancy Pelosi, good American."

Pictures of Mrs. Pelosi and Syrian President Bashar Assad -- officially Syria's most popular citizen -- still turn up on the local news channels, especially during coverage of the dispute between President Bush and Congress over the Iraq war spending bill.

Mrs. Pelosi's two-day visit to Damascus was a major news event here. Camera crews trailed her as she bought sweets in the ancient Hamadieh souk, made the sign of the cross at what is thought to be the tomb of John the Baptist and donned a black abaya to visit the historic Omayyad Mosque.

Mrs. Pelosi, 67, is praised as "a friend of Syria," and that makes her more influential than Oprah Winfrey and more appealing than the old Hollywood movies shown on satellite television.

Many Damascus residents say her private visit with Mr. Assad and senior ministers shattered Washington's attempt to isolate the regime.

"She was enormously popular here, a hero," said one such resident, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "This is the best thing that has happened here, if it proves [Mr. Assad] was right not to give concessions."

Along with recent visits by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and officials from the European Union, the resident added, Mrs. Pelosi's trip "bolsters the regime with the Syrian people, and it shows that isolating Syria won't work."

More than burnishing the regime's image in Syria, Mrs. Pelosi is seen as the well-dressed woman who stood up to President Bush, possibly the most unpopular figure in the Arab world after former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The White House criticized her visit, both on the constitutional grounds that she was usurping executive powers and on policy grounds that she was undermining months of diplomatic efforts.

Mrs. Pelosi said she raised substantive issues with Syrian leaders, urging them to stop insurgents from entering Iraq, help win the release of Israeli soldiers thought to be held captive by Lebanese and Palestinian militias, and end Syria's support for terrorist groups.

But nobody talks about that now.

"I love her," said an Iraqi woman who has emigrated to Syria. "She's a grandmother, so handsome, so cute. I see myself, my old self, in her."

Despite the lingering personal affection, few expect U.S. policy to change as a result of Mrs. Pelosi's visit.

"She is a different face of America, but she does not have ideas, any solutions," the Iraqi woman said. "I watch TV all day, and I know that only the faces change."

From the May 2 edition of MSNBC's Tucker:

CARLSON: Washington Times today, A.B., has a piece how Nancy Pelosi, one of the most popular people in Syria -- the number-two most popular person in Syria. Let's put the quote up here. This is from an average Syrian on the street. Quote: "She was enormously popular here, a hero [...] This is the best thing that has happened here, if it proves [Mr. Assad] was right not to give concessions. [Pelosi's trip] bolsters the regime with the Syrian people, and it shows that isolating Syria won't work."

Wow! Nancy Pelosi. Trips have consequences, don't they? At least according to this person.

STODDARD: I mean, I think this was a mutually beneficial trip for Mr. Assad and Ms. Pelosi. She's big in Demascus, and that's big for her. And she knew exactly what was going to happen on this trip. She wasn't going to change policy, she was going to get criticized by Republicans and by the White House, and she was going to show President Bush that she can start a big -- you know, make waves, get the debate going, and get a lot of attention, and that's what she did. And it doesn't surprise me in the least that they're calling her a hero there.

CARLSON: Right, I'm not surprised at all.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
MSNBC, The Washington Times
Person
Tucker Carlson, A.B. Stoddard
Show/Publication
Tucker
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