Multiple reports by the Associated Press have failed to accurately lay out the context of Rush Limbaugh's "phony soldiers" remark or his inconsistent explanations for the comment. Indeed, the AP has not only consistently omitted his contradictions on whether he was referring to one or more soldiers, the fact that he edited the audio clip and transcript of his original comments, and that Limbaugh did not mention Jesse MacBeth on his September 26 radio show until one minute and 50 seconds after his remark, but also failed to note in its most recent report the caller's comment to which Limbaugh was responding.
Since Media Matters for America first documented syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh's comments during his September 26 radio show -- during which he characterized service members who advocate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq as "phony soldiers" -- multiple reports by the Associated Press have failed to accurately lay out either the context of Limbaugh's remark or his inconsistent explanations for it. Indeed, AP articles on the controversy published on September 28, October 19, and October 20 omitted the following information: the fact that Limbaugh did not mention Jesse MacBeth on September 26 until a full one minute and 50 seconds after his remark; the fact that Limbaugh subsequently edited the audio clip and transcript in a way that falsely suggested that his discussion of MacBeth came almost immediately after his "phony soldiers" comment; and that Limbaugh contradicted himself on whether his comment was in reference to one soldier or multiple soldiers. The October 19 and 20 articles also failed to note the caller's comments that preceded Limbaugh's September 26 remark.
Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards criticized Rush Limbaugh on Friday for referring to some members of the military as "phony soldiers."
For his part, Limbaugh said he was referring only to one soldier recently convicted of lying about his service.
Edwards and the campaign of fellow Democrat Chris Dodd took issue with the radio talk show host's characterization of Iraq war veterans who have spoken out against the war. Limbaugh was responding to a caller who argued that anti-war groups "never talk to real soldiers."
"They like to pull these soldiers that come up out of the blue and talk to the media," the caller said.
"The phony soldiers," Limbaugh responded.
In a transcript of Thursday's show posted on his Web site, Limbaugh said the comment followed a discussion of Jesse Macbeth, who was sentenced to five months in prison earlier this month for collecting more than $10,00 in benefits to which he was not entitled.
Macbeth, 23, of Tacoma, Wash., tried to position himself as a leader of the anti-war movement by claiming to have participated in war crimes when in fact he was kicked out of the Army in 2003 after six weeks at Fort Benning, Ga.
"He became a hero to the anti-war left. They love phony soldiers, and they prop 'em up," Limbaugh said Thursday. "I was not talking ... about the anti-war movement generally. I was talking about one soldier with that phony soldier comment, Jesse MacBeth."
In fact, the "phony soldiers" comment did not "follow a discussion of Jesse Macbeth"; Limbaugh did not mention MacBeth on the September 26 radio show until 1 minute and 50 seconds after his "phony soldiers" comment, as Media Matters noted. After that one minute and 50 seconds, Limbaugh told listeners, "[H]ere is a 'Morning Update' that we did recently talking about fake soldiers. This is a story of who the left props up as heroes. And they have their celebrities. One of them was Jesse MacBeth." Limbaugh then read from a September 25 "Morning Update" commentary (subscription required) posted on his website about MacBeth. Limbaugh's "Morning Updates" also air on the radio separately from his nationally syndicated show.
Moreover, the September 28 AP article did not note that Limbaugh subsequently claimed, on his September 28 broadcast: "Media Matters had the transcript, but they selectively choose what they want to make their point." To support this claim, Limbaugh purported to air the "entire" segment in question from the September 26 broadcast. In fact, the clip he then aired had been cropped. Excised from the clip was a full 1 minute and 35 seconds of the 1:50 discussion that occurred between Limbaugh's "phony soldiers" comment and his reference to MacBeth on the September 26 broadcast, the full audio of which can be heard here. Further, the transcript (subscription required) of the first segment of the first hour of his September 28 broadcast posted on Limbaugh's website, which Limbaugh described as being the "anatomy of a smear," does not make clear how much time elapsed between the "phony soldiers" comment and the discussion of MacBeth -- or even that any time did elapse. As Media Matters noted, Limbaugh's transcript does not provide any notation or ellipsis to indicate that there is, in fact, a break in the transcript of the September 26 clip he used.
In an October 19 article on Limbaugh's auction of a letter from Democratic senators condemning his remarks, the AP reported:
Limbaugh's comment during his radio show last month drew broad criticism from Democrats, who said he was smearing soldiers opposed to the Iraq war. Limbaugh and other conservatives responded with outrage of their own, saying Democrats were mischaracterizing comments aimed at one particular former soldier who lied about his service.
In the segment where Limbaugh made the "phony soldiers" comment, he discussed Jesse Macbeth, who was sentence to five months in prison last month for faking his military service. The Tacoma, Wash., man was kicked out of the Army after six weeks at Fort Benning, Ga., in 2003, but he later claimed to have participated in war crimes in Iraq and tried to position himself as a leader of the anti-war movement.
Limbaugh has said he was referring only to Macbeth when he discussed "phony soldiers."
Yet again, the AP failed to note that Limbaugh did not mention MacBeth on his September 26 broadcast until one minute and 50 seconds after making his "phony soldiers" comment, and that his mention of MacBeth came after he thanked the caller for calling -- and no further comment from the caller is heard. Moreover, the article did not report that Limbaugh later selectively edited the audio and transcript of the September 26 remark, even while claiming that he was providing the "entire transcript."
Also, the October 19 AP article failed to note that Limbaugh's controversial statement came after a caller, responding to Limbaugh's assertion that "it's not possible, intellectually, to follow these people," replied: "No, it's not, and what's really funny is, they never talk to real soldiers. They like to pull these soldiers that come up out of the blue and talk to the media." Limbaugh then interjected, "The phony soldiers."
Furthermore, in reporting Limbaugh's claim that "he was referring only to Macbeth when he discussed 'phony soldiers,' " the October 19 article did not note Limbaugh's inconsistent claims about what he meant by his reference to "phony soldiers." As Media Matters noted, immediately after the controversy erupted over his comments, Limbaugh twice claimed that rather than speaking generally of soldiers who support withdrawal from Iraq, he was "talking about one soldier with that 'phony soldier' comment, Jesse Macbeth." Indeed, the transcript (subscription required) of the September 28 broadcast that is posted on Limbaugh's website shows Limbaugh asserting: "I was talking about one soldier with that phony soldier comment, Jesse MacBeth" [emphasis in original]. Limbaugh later asserted, "I was talking about one genuine, convicted, lying, fake soldier."
Later in the September 28 broadcast, in response to a caller's question, "But you did say 'soldiers' in plural, though, didn't you?" Limbaugh asserted: "Yes, because there have been a number of these people, but they were not active duty -- I was not talking about anti-war, active duty troops. I was talking about people who've been exposed as frauds who never served in Iraq but claimed to have seen all these atrocities, [unintelligible]." Similarly, on the October 2 broadcast of his radio show, Limbaugh asserted that he had been referring to multiple military imposters, including MacBeth. During that program, Limbaugh described MacBeth as "the man I was referring to and others like him as 'phony soldiers.' "
During his September 28 broadcast, Limbaugh also expanded the group of "phony soldiers" to include Vietnam veteran Rep. John P. Murtha (D-PA). In asserting that he was originally "talking about a genuine phony soldier," Limbaugh went on to state:
LIMBAUGH: The -- one more sound bite here from the floor of the House. This is Frank Pallone, a Democrat from New Jersey. Here's a portion of what he said.
PALLONE [audio clip]: Yesterday, House Republicans offered a motion to recommit condemning MoveOn.org for its advertisement stating that Gen. [David] Petraeus had betrayed us. I'm wondering if they'll show similar outrage over statements made yesterday by conservative radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh. Yesterday, Limbaugh called service members who support a withdrawal from Iraq "phony soldiers." Is Limbaugh serious? I wonder if Republicans who showed so much outrage towards MoveOn yesterday will hold Rush Limbaugh to the same standard. And I wouldn't hold your breath.
LIMBAUGH: You shouldn't hold your breath because there's no standard to hold me to, in the sense that you're -- I never said what you think I said, Congressman Pallone, Congresswoman [Jan] Schakowsky [D-IL], Sen. [John] Kerry [D-MA], or any of the rest of you in the drive-by media. I was talking about a genuine phony soldier. And by the way, Jesse MacBeth's not the only one. How about this guy Scott Thomas who was writing fraudulent, phony things in The New Republic about atrocities he saw that never happened? How about Jack Murtha blanketly accepting the notion that Marines at Haditha engaged in wanton murder of innocent children and civilians? If anybody owes anybody an apology, the entire Democrat [sic] Party, from Hillary Clinton on down, owes the U.S. military an apology, they owe me an apology, and they owe the American people an apology.
On October 20, the AP updated the October 19 article on the auctioned letter and altered the passage describing Limbaugh's original comments. In this version, the AP reported:
Limbaugh was responding to a caller several weeks ago when he used the phrase "phony soldiers." He has said he was only referring to one specific soldier who has spoken out against the war while claiming to have seen combat. That soldier was kicked out of the Army in 2003 and sentenced to prison last month for collecting benefits he was not entitled to.
The letter from the senators called Limbaugh's comments against "troops who oppose the war ... an outrage."
In the October 20 version, like in their reports on September 28 and October 19, the AP repeated Limbaugh's claim that "he was only referring to one specific soldier" -- without reporting Limbaugh's contradictions. Nor did the article report the callers' comments that preceded Limbaugh's remark; that Limbaugh did not mention MacBeth on his September 26 show until one minute and 50 seconds after his "phony soldiers" comment; or that he edited the transcript and audio in a way that falsely supported his claim that his "phony soldiers" remark was a reference to MacBeth.