Reporting on Bush speech, Colorado TV stations repeated myths about Iraq, omitted Democratic response

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

In September 13 and 14 broadcasts reporting on President Bush's latest speech on Iraq, numerous Colorado media outlets reported the president's claims about the success of the "surge" and a purported decrease in violence that would allow troop reductions. But none of the reports mentioned that Gen. David Petraeus previously had stated that strains on U.S. forces would require troop withdrawals; additionally, KDVR Fox 31 did not provide any Democratic response to Bush's address.

On September 13 and September 14, reporting on President Bush's prime-time address to the nation on Iraq, several Colorado network television news affiliates -- including KUSA 9News, KCNC CBS4, and KWGN CW2 -- uncritically reported Bush's claims about the success of the so-called "surge," including his suggestion that a decrease in violence in Iraq had made troop reductions possible. None of those broadcasts, however, reported Gen. David Petraeus' acknowledgement that a drawdown of troops in Iraq is necessary to avoid further strain on U.S. forces. As Media Matters for America has noted, during his September 11 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Petraeus stated that the "active brigade combat teams were going to come out of" Iraq anyway. Additionally, during his later testimony the same day before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Petraeus also said that "the strain on the force ... was very much one that informed the recommendations" to draw down U.S. troops from Iraq.

Media Matters has further noted that numerous media reports, as well as the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq report, and a recent New York Times op-ed by seven U.S. soldiers who were serving in Iraq all suggested that the troop surge has not significantly improved security in Iraq and that violence in the nation has not decreased.

Additionally, although KDVR Fox 31 anchor Steve Kelley reported that "opponents" of the war "say that withdrawal will only reduce the number of soldiers back to the level it was before the troop surge started earlier this year," the September 14 broadcast of Fox 31's Good Day Colorado at 6 a.m. failed to include any Democratic response to Bush's remarks.

Examples of Colorado network news affiliates' uncritical reporting of Bush's September 13 speech include:

  • On the September 13 broadcast of KWGN's News2 at Nine, reporter Grant Rampy stated that "President Bush says the surge is paying dividends -- Iraq is more secure." The same report aired a clip of Bush saying that the "success" of the surge "now allows us to begin bringing some of our troops home."
  • Anchor Kyle Dyer similarly reported on the September 14 broadcast of KUSA's 9News Daybreak that "[t]he president said the troop surge has been successful and he will start withdrawing about 30,000 troops."
  • After reporting that "President Bush says U.S. troops are meeting military objectives" in Iraq during the September 14 broadcast of KCNC's CBS4 News at 5 a.m., anchor Brooke Wagner reported that "the president is accepting the recommendations of the top commander in Iraq and is ordering gradual reductions in U.S. forces. He recommends nearly 6,000 troops be home by Christmas."

As Media Matters noted, during his September 11 testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Petraeus stated that the "active brigade combat teams were going to come out of" Iraq anyway and that, during his testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee the same day, he said that "the strain on the force ... was very much one that informed the recommendations" to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.

Media Matters also noted that Petraeus' testimony echoed statements he and members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have made in the past about the need to draw down U.S. troops from Iraq regardless of the situation on the ground. For instance, the Associated Press reported in an August 15 article that, during an interview, Petraeus stated: "We know that the surge has to come to an end. There's no question about that." He continued: "I think everyone understands that by about a year or so from now we've got to be a good bit smaller than we are right now. The question is how do you do that ... so that you can retain the gains we have fought so hard to achieve and so you can keep going."

Moreover, USA Today reported on September 4 that "Pentagon officials have said they cannot sustain this year's buildup of about 28,000 additional troops past next spring because of the stretched personnel demands on the U.S. military."

Also in contrast to reports that repeated the president's assertion that "Iraq is more secure" and the surge is "success[ful]," an August 25 Associated Press article reported 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." On September 1, the Los Angeles Times (registration required) reported that "[b]ombings, sectarian slayings and other violence related to the war killed at least 1,773 Iraqi civilians in August, the second month in a row that civilian deaths have risen." The article added, "The statistics appear to indicate that the increase in troops ordered by President Bush this year has done little to curb civilian bloodshed, despite U.S. military statements to the contrary."

In addition to news accounts, a GAO report released September 4 concluded that the goal of "[r]educing the level of sectarian violence in Iraq and eliminating militia control of local security" was "[n]ot met." The GAO further noted: "While it is not clear if sectarian violence has been reduced, militia control over security forces has not been eliminated and remains a serious problem in Baghdad and other areas of Iraq." Further, during testimony on September 4 in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Comptroller General David Walker, the top official at the GAO, discussed data surrounding sectarian violence and asserted that "there are several different sources within the administration on violence, and those sources do not agree" and that "part of the problem that we had in reaching a conclusion about sectarian violence is there are multiple sources showing different levels of violence with different trends."

The Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, chaired by retired Gen. James L. Jones and created by the Congress to provide an independent assessment of the Iraqi Security Forces -- both military and police -- also reported significant shortcomings with the Iraqi security forces, including their ability to reduce violence and provide security for the Iraq people. The commission reported: "The Iraqi Police Service is incapable today of providing security at a level sufficient to protect Iraqi neighborhoods from insurgents and sectarian violence. The police are central to the long-term establishment of security in Iraq. To be effective in combating the threats that officers face, including sectarian violence, the Iraqi Police Service must be better trained and equipped." While the commission noted that it "believes that the Iraqi Police Service can improve rapidly should the Ministry of Interior become a more functional institution," its conclusion about the Ministry of Interior stated: "The Ministry of Interior is a ministry in name only. It is widely regarded as being dysfunctional and sectarian, and suffers from ineffective leadership. Such fundamental flaws present a serious obstacle to achieving the levels of readiness, capability, and effectiveness in police and border security forces that are essential for internal security and stability in Iraq."

From the September 13 broadcast of KWGN's News2 at Nine:

VIDA URBONAS (anchor): The president's prime-time address. President Bush says because the surge in Iraq is working, some U.S. troops can start coming home immediately; thousands more over the next 10 months.

ERNIE BJORKMAN (anchor): So he's putting pressure on Congress tonight and on the Iraqi government to make sure progress in Iraq continues to be made. Grant Rampy at the White House tonight live with more on the address as well as reaction. Grant?

[begin video clip]

RAMPY: Evening, Ernie, Vida. General [David] Petraeus delivered his update on the "surge" to Congress this week. Tonight we heard President Bush covering some of the same ground, saying he agrees with many of the conclusions saying that the war is so much on track that we can start bringing some troops home -- 2200 Marines soon, 3,500 more troops by Christmas.

[begin video clip]

BUSH: Good evening.

RAMPY: President Bush says the surge is paying dividends -- Iraq is more secure. Beyond that, Iraqi forces are in a better position to maintain that security.

BUSH: Our success in meeting these objectives now allows us to begin bringing some of our troops home.

RAMPY: The White House proposes trimming force levels by 23,000 between now and next July. That would leave slightly more soldiers and Marines in Iraq than were there before the surge began.

BUSH: The more successful we are, the more American troops can return home. And in all we do, I will ensure that our commanders on the ground have the troops and flexibility they need to defeat the enemy.

RAMPY: The president appears to be talking to three audiences. Beyond all Americans who, polls show, still largely oppose the war, he's also telling Iraqi leaders they had better come together; they're not getting enough done. And then there's Congress. President Bush is urging Republicans and Democrats to rise above partisanship.

BUSH: The way forward I have described tonight makes it possible, for the first time in years, for people who have been on opposite sides of this difficult debate to come together. Our military commanders believe we can succeed. Our diplomats believe we can succeed. And for the safety of future generations of Americans, we must succeed.

RAMPY: Tonight, Democrats are holding firm, insisting the country needs to turn from a failed strategy, which could keep us in Iraq for another 10 years.

U.S. SEN. JACK REED (D-RI): An endless and unlimited military presence in Iraq is not an option. We intend to exercise our constitutional duties and profoundly change our military involvement in Iraq.

[end video clip]

RAMPY: Democrats gearing up for a big fight next week. General David Petraeus delivers his next major update on the war to Congress in March. Meantime, the president does seem to be admitting tonight that we're going to be in Iraq for the forseeable future, or in his words, we will have an enduring relationship with that country long after his presidency is over. Live at the White House, Grant Rampy, News2. Ernie, Vida?

BJORKMAN: All right, Grant, live from Washington. Thank you.

URBONAS: Democrats are reacting to the president's address tonight. We spoke with Congressman Mark Udall [D-Eldorado Springs].

UDALL [video clip]: And the president will suggest that we'll have 130,000 troops left in Iraq a year from now; well, that's not changing the course. That's staying the course, and the American public, the military, experts, the Congress all believe we need to change the course in Iraq.

URBONAS: In a statement tonight, Republican representative Marilyn Musgrave says, quote, "I want to see the Iraqi military provide their own security and begin providing relief for our troops. Our mission needs to transition away from being a frontline force to a supporting role."

From the September 14 broadcast of KUSA's 9News Daybreak:

KYLE DYER (anchor): The president said the troop surge has been successful and he will start withdrawing about 30,000 troops. However, the president was criticized heavily by Democrats, specifically over his plan to keep at least 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely.

From the September 14 broadcast of KDVR Fox 31's Good Day Colorado at 6 a.m.:

STEVE KELLEY (anchor): On to news now at 6:01. More than 5,700 American soldiers in Iraq will be coming home in time for Christmas. Last night, President Bush said this is possible because violence is down in Iraq.

BUSH [video clip]: Our success in meeting these objectives now allows us to begin bringing some of our troops home.

KELLEY: The 5,700 troops were originally supposed to return next fur-- spring. But opponents say the war in Iraq, say that withdrawal will only reduce the number of soldiers back to the level it was before the troop surge started earlier this year.

From the September 14 broadcast of KCNC's CBS4 News at 5 a.m.:

BROOKE WAGNER (anchor): It's 5:02. In about two hours the White House is expected to release its latest status report on Iraq. An administration source tells the Associated Press that just one of the 18 political and security goals has moved to the satisfactory column since July. It involves allowing former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party to rejoin the political process. That would mean a total of nine of 18 benchmarks are being met at a satisfactory level. And that comes as President Bush says U.S. troops are meeting military objectives. He addressed the nation last night from the Oval Office and said conditions in Iraq have improved significantly since the troop surge began in January.

BUSH [video clip]: Many schools and markets are re-opening. Citizens are coming forward with vital intelligence. Sectarian killings are down. And ordinary life is beginning to return.

WAGNER: Because of that, the president is accepting the recommendations of the top commander in Iraq and is ordering gradual reductions in U.S. forces. He recommends nearly 6,000 troops be home by Christmas. But the president also called on Congress to put aside partisanship and strengthen the military.

BUSH [video clip]: Let us come together on a policy of strength in the Middle East. I thank you for providing crucial funds and resources for our military. And I ask you to join me in supporting the recommendations General Petraeus has made and the troop levels he has asked for.

WAGNER: President Bush also rejected calls to end the war outright, saying the success of a free Iraq is critical to U.S. security.

TOM MUSTIN (anchor): Democrats say the president's decision is not enough. Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island gave a Democratic response last night. He says his party has a solid plan to end the war. That plan focuses on counterterrorism and training the Iraqi army.

REED [video clip]: An endless and unlimited military presence in Iraq is not an option. Democrats and Republicans in Congress and throughout the nation cannot and must not stand idly by while our interests throughout the world are undermined and our armed forces are stretched toward the breaking point.

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