Double standard? Media provided extensive coverage of MoveOn ad, but largely ignore Limbaugh's "phony soldiers" controversy

››› ››› JEREMY HOLDEN

Many major media outlets that covered the controversy surrounding MoveOn.org's "General Betray Us" ad have yet to cover the bipartisan outcry over Rush Limbaugh's remarks characterizing service members who advocate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq as "phony soldiers."

Numerous major media outlets that covered the controversy surrounding a September 10 ad placed by MoveOn.org in The New York Times -- headlined "General Petraeus or General Betray Us?" -- nonetheless have yet to cover the bipartisan outcry over remarks made by Rush Limbaugh during the September 26 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, in which he characterized service members who advocate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq as "phony soldiers." Notwithstanding numerous denunciations of Limbaugh's remarks by members of Congress from both parties, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, USA Today, ABC's World News, the CBS Evening News, NBC's Nightly News, and CNN programs have all ignored Limbaugh's remarks and the ensuing denunciations, despite having covered -- in some cases extensively -- the MoveOn.org ad controversy. In addition, there was no mention of Limbaugh's "phony soldiers" comments or the bipartisan criticism of them on the September 30 editions of This Week, Meet the Press, Face the Nation, or Fox News Sunday.

From September 10-13, there were eight articles and an op-ed in The Washington Post, four New York Times articles, two articles and one op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, one Wall Street Journal op-ed, and one USA Today article about the MoveOn.org ad and the ensuing controversy. In addition, the MoveOn.org ad was frequently discussed on CNN's Newsroom and The Situation Room, and was reported on the September 10 editions of ABC's World News and Nightline, the September 11 and 12 editions of ABC's Good Morning America, the September 13 edition of NBC's Nightly News, and the September 16 editions of ABC's This Week, NBC's Meet the Press, CBS' Face the Nation, and Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday. However, as of 12 p.m. ET October 1, the same newspapers and television news programs had not reported Limbaugh's comments and the ensuing condemnation of his remarks.

Following Limbaugh's September 26 comments, Reps. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) made speeches on the House floor responding to Limbaugh; Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) commented on the September 27 edition of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann; and Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Patrick J. Murphy (D-PA) issued statements denouncing Limbaugh's comments, as Media Matters documented. In addition, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, criticized Limbaugh's comments. But Democrats were not alone in criticizing Limbaugh:

  • Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) stated, "Limbaugh's suggestion that those who have served their country and express their opinions are 'phony soldiers' is wrong. There needs to be a level of civility and honest debate in this country about issues as important as this. Labeling an active duty General a traitor, or calling a soldier a phony for having a different opinion does not rise to the level of discourse we hold ourselves to in this country."
  • The campaign of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney released a statement to the blog Huffington Post: "Governor Romney would disagree with the negative characterization of those men and women who serve with honor and distinction in the United States Military. There may be disagreements with individual opinions, but no one would ever dispute the fact that those members of the military who disagree with the war have earned the right to express that opinion." The Romney campaign also reportedly said, "Rush's comments were unfortunate. People should be free to express their opinion and no one has earned the right to express that opinion more than these soldiers."
  • Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) reportedly said, "Any American who risks his or her life to defend us has earned the respect and gratitude of every American citizen, irrespective of their views on this war. If Mr. Limbaugh made the remark he is reported to have made, it reflects very poorly on him and not the objects of his offensive comment. I expect most Americans, whatever their political views, will have the same reaction. He would be well advised to retract it and apologize."

As Media Matters for America documented, on the September 28 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio program, Limbaugh defended his original "phony soldiers" statement, asserting that he had been taken out of context and that he was referring to just one "phony soldier," Jesse MacBeth, who pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for falsely claiming to be an injured Iraq war veteran. However, as the blog Crooks and Liars and Media Matters noted, in the same broadcast, Limbaugh expanded the group of "phony soldiers" to include Vietnam veteran Rep. John P. Murtha (D-PA) and Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp, who is currently serving in Iraq.

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