CNN's Henry uncritically aired Bush's claim that "violence has sharply decreased in Baghdad"

››› ››› BEN ARMBRUSTER

In airing President Bush's assertion that "[s]ectarian violence has sharply decreased in Baghdad. The momentum is now on our side," CNN's Ed Henry gave no indication that he attempted to verify Bush's assertion. By contrast, recent articles by the Associated Press and McClatchy Newspapers have challenged claims about decreases in violence in Iraq.

On the August 28 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, CNN White House correspondent Ed Henry uncritically aired President Bush's assertion from his August 28 speech to the American Legion that "[s]ectarian violence has sharply decreased in Baghdad. The momentum is now on our side." Henry gave no indication that he attempted to verify Bush's assertion. By contrast, the Associated Press reported on August 25 that while violence is down in Baghdad "from peak levels ... the death toll from sectarian attacks around the country is running nearly double the pace from a year ago." Moreover, McClatchy Newspapers reported on August 15 that while U.S. officials have said civilian casualties have decreased in Baghdad, they have "declined to provide specific numbers, and statistics gathered by McClatchy Newspapers don't support the claim."

Reporting on Bush's speech, Henry said that Bush "seemed to claim that the U.S. is turning a corner" in Iraq, which is "the closest he has come to actually saying the U.S. is winning in a long time." CNN then aired a video clip of Bush claiming that "[s]ectarian violence has sharply decreased in Baghdad. The momentum is now on our side. The surge is seizing the initiative from the enemy and handing it to the Iraqi people."

However, in an August 25 article headlined "Violence appears to be shifting from Baghdad," the AP reported:

This year's U.S. troop buildup has succeeded in bringing violence in Baghdad down from peak levels, but the death toll from sectarian attacks around the country is running nearly double the pace from a year ago.

Some of the recent bloodshed appears the result of militant fighters drifting into parts of northern Iraq, where they have fled after U.S.-led offensives. Baghdad, however, still accounts for slightly more than half of all war-related killings -- the same percentage as a year ago, according to figures compiled by The Associated Press.

[...]

The AP tracking includes Iraqi civilians, government officials, police and security forces killed in attacks such as gunfights and bombings, which are frequently blamed on Sunni suicide strikes. It also includes execution-style killings -- largely the work of Shiite death squads.

In addition, the August 15 McClatchy article reported that U.S. officials have not provided any statistics to back up assertions that civilian casualties are down in Baghdad by half since February. The article added that those numbers conflict with statistics compiled by McClatchy and that "[n]o pattern of improvement is discernible for violence during the five months of the surge":

And while top U.S. officials insist that 50 percent of the capital is now under effective U.S. or government control, compared with 8 percent in February, statistics indicate that the improvement in violence is at best mixed.

U.S. officials say the number of civilian casualties in the Iraqi capital is down 50 percent. But U.S. officials declined to provide specific numbers, and statistics gathered by McClatchy Newspapers don't support the claim.

[...]

The number of Iraqis killed in attacks changed only marginally in July when compared with December -- down seven, from 361 to 354, according to McClatchy statistics.

No pattern of improvement is discernible for violence during the five months of the surge. In January, the last full month before the surge began, 438 people were killed in the capital in bombings. In February, that number jumped to 520. It declined in March to 323, but jumped again in April, to 414.

Violence remained virtually unchanged in May, when 404 were killed. The lowest total came in June, the first month U.S. officials said all the new American troops were in place, with just 190 dead, but then swung back up in July, with 354 dead.

From the 4 p.m. ET hour of the August 28 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

BLITZER: Other important news, though, that we're following here in The Situation Room. Just a short time ago, President Bush told a veterans' convention in Nevada there's been a shift in momentum in the war in Iraq. The timing of this claim comes at a key time politically for the president.

Our White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is traveling with the president -- Ed.

HENRY: Wolf, here in Reno at the American Legion Convention, Part Two in the president's series of speeches meant to shape public opinion heading into that critical mid-September progress report on Iraq. Last week's speeches, you know, may have backfired a bit. That speech to the VFW, it focused on comparing Iraq to Vietnam.

This time the president focused on how winning in Iraq is pivotal to stopping both Al Qaeda and Iran and really bringing more stability to the Mideast. The biggest development was that the president seemed to go further than just saying the surge is working. He seemed to claim that the U.S. is turning a corner, the closest he has come to actually saying the U.S. is winning in a long time.

BUSH [video clip]: Sectarian violence has sharply decreased in Baghdad. The momentum is now on our side. The surge is seizing the initiative from the enemy and handing it to the Iraqi people.

HENRY: This is all about the president laying the groundwork for seeking more time for the surge in September. Interestingly, Mr. Bush has repeatedly urged lawmakers not to prejudge this mid-September progress report, even though he seems to be doing that himself with his own words about forging ahead with essentially the same strategy and line of attack.

Mr. Bush, of course, gets to shape that September report. But he has two major challenges that lie ahead. He, himself, acknowledged in this speech, political reconciliation not happening quick enough in Iraq. And he also has the added political pressure of senior Republicans like [Sen.] John Warner [VA] saying they want to start seeing troops come home -- Wolf.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
CNN
Person
Ed Henry
Show/Publication
The Situation Room
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