Media report McCain's attack on Reid but omit McCain's own criticism of military leaders

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

Several media outlets, including The New York Times, CNN, and Fox News, uncritically aired or repeated Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) attack on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) for criticizing the performance of two senior military officers, Gen. Peter Pace and Gen. David H. Petraeus, without reporting that McCain himself criticized military officers several times this year, including referring to Gen. George W. Casey Jr.'s "failed leadership" at a time when Casey was commander of the coalition forces in Iraq.

In a June 14 article, Politico congressional bureau chief John Bresnahan wrote that Reid called Pace, who is the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "incompetent" and that Reid "made similar disparaging remarks about" Petraeus, commanding general of the coalition forces in Iraq, during a conference call with liberal bloggers. According to a Congressional Quarterly transcript in the Nexis database of a subsequent June 14 press conference, Reid said he had told Pace that Pace "had not done a very good job in speaking out for some obvious things that weren't going right in Iraq." Reid said that he had "high regard for General Petraeus," but added that he hoped Petraeus "could be a little more candid" about whether U.S. troops are making progress in Iraq.

On June 14, McCain issued a press release attacking Reid: "It's incredibly disappointing that Harry Reid would make such disparaging remarks about both the highest ranking officer in the U.S military and the commander of our troops in Iraq." But McCain himself made "disparaging remarks" about the "commander of our troops in Iraq" in January. Casey served as commander of the coalition forces until February 10, and on the January 21 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, McCain told host Tim Russert that he was concerned about Casey's "failed leadership":

RUSSERT: Failed policy. General Casey now is returning back to the United States. He's been nominated to be the chief of staff of the Army. Will you support and vote for his confirmation?

McCAIN: I have very serious concerns about General Casey's nomination. I'm concerned about failed leadership, the message that sends to the rest of the military. I have hard questions to ask him, and I'm very skeptical about it.

RUSSERT: As of today, you're leaning no.

McCAIN: Yes. Yes.

At Petraeus' Senate confirmation hearing on January 23, McCain said: "We needed a new military leadership in Iraq for some time." Salon.com blogger Tim Grieve noted that on February 1, McCain told Casey at Casey's confirmation hearing to become chief of the Army: "I question seriously the judgment that was employed in your execution of your responsibilities in Iraq." On February 8, McCain said that "military leaders" had been too optimistic in describing the conditions in Iraq:

McCAIN: Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to have put in the record the number of times President Bush said that he relied on the judgment of the military commanders. Those military commanders did not exercise good judgment and, inaccurate depiction of facts on the ground in Iraq as they came before our committee, the Armed Services Committee, and spoke to the President of the United States and the American people.

Mr. President, in 2004, General Casey said, "My view of winning is that [we] are broadly on track to accomplishing our objectives. With Iraq security forces capable of maintaining domestic order and denying Iraqis a safe haven for terror, I believe we're on track to get there by September of 2005. We have a strategy and plan for success in Iraq. We're broadly on track in achieving our goals."

Time after time, the American people were told that things were going fine, and they were not.

McCain was shown on the June 14 editions of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight and Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume saying, "I don't think we ought to say anything disparaging about people who spend their lives in the service of their country, risking their lives." Additionally, a June 14 Associated Press article, a June 15 New York Times article and a blog post by The Politico's Bresnahan uncritically quoted a portion of McCain's press release in which McCain said Reid "needs to clarify his criticisms, which can only be described as highly inappropriate and regrettable."

From Bresnahan's June 14 blog post:

The White House and GOP senators immediately jumped on Reid's remarks on the two generals. Tony Snow, the White House spokesman, said it "seems outrageous [for Reid] to be issuing slanders toward the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and also the man who is responsible for the bulk of military operations in Iraq."

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a GOP presidential candidate and strong backer of Bush's conduct of the war, said Reid "needs to clarify his criticisms, which can only be described as highly inappropriate and regrettable."

From the June 15 New York Times article:

Mr. Reid's comments came after he drew unusually harsh criticism from the White House after a report by The Politico, a Washington newspaper, that he had suggested that General Pace was "incompetent." Aides to Mr. Reid would neither confirm nor deny whether he had used that characterization of General Pace during a telephone conference call earlier this week with liberal bloggers.

Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican who is seeking his party's presidential nomination, called on Mr. Reid to "clarify his criticisms, which can only be described as highly inappropriate and regrettable."

As the back-and-forth intensified, Mr. Reid and other Democrats made plans to open a new Congressional debate on Iraq as early as next week. Among the plans being considered, aides said, is to debate legislation to revoke the president's original war authorization.

From the June 14 Associated Press article:

Reid's criticism of the two generals led to an immediate and angry backlash from Republicans.

"The debate about this war has gone into the gutter when the Democrat leader of the United States Senate uses disparaging remarks to describe our military leadership," said Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky.

Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Reid "needs to clarify his criticisms, which can only be described as highly inappropriate and regrettable."

Sen. John Warner, the No. 2 Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said congressional leaders should be allowed to speak freely on their assessment of military officers. But he indicated he was concerned that any suggestion Pace was incompetent could undercut the morale of the troops.

From the January 21 edition of NBC's Meet the Press:

RUSSERT: Failed policy. General Casey now is returning back to the United States. He's been nominated to be the chief of staff of the Army. Will you support and vote for his confirmation?

McCAIN: I have very serious concerns about General Casey's nomination. I'm concerned about failed leadership, the message that sends to the rest of the military. I have hard questions to ask him, and I'm very skeptical about it.

RUSSERT: As of today, you're leaning no.

McCAIN: Yes. Yes.

From the June 14 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight:

KOPPEL: The White House said Reid should apologize.

SNOW [video clip]: It seems outrageous to be issuing slanders toward the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and also the man who's responsible for the bulk of military operations in Iraq.

KOPPEL: A point echoed by other Republicans like Arizona's John McCain, who's running for president.

McCAIN [video clip]: I don't think we ought to say anything disparaging about people who spend their lives in the service of their country, risking their lives.

KOPPEL: But in a statement issued late this afternoon, Reid made no apologies and said, "It is incumbent upon the president, the Pentagon, and our commanders in the field to give us the information that we need to hear, not what we want to hear." Lou.

From the June 14 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

GARRETT: Reid's comments drew a sharp White House response.

SNOW [video clip]: It seems outrageous to be issuing slanders toward the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and also the man who is responsible for the bulk of military operations in Iraq.

GARRETT: Campaigning in San Antonio, Texas, GOP presidential candidate John McCain called Reid's comments out of line.

McCAIN [video clip]: I don't think we ought to say anything disparaging about people who spend their lives in the service of their country, risking their lives.

GARRETT: Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi [D-CA] wrote President Bush Wednesday, declaring his Iraq troop surge a failure, a conclusion reached only days after the fifth of five surge battalions deployed in Iraq.

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