CNN, WSJ reported on McCain's Al Qaeda question without noting error

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

CNN's The Situation Room and a Wall Street Journal article both noted that, during a Senate hearing, Sen. John McCain asked Gen. David H. Petraeus about whether Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQ-I) is a "major threat," without also noting that McCain went on to ask of Al Qaeda in Iraq: "Certainly not an obscure sect of -- of the Shiites all -- overall?" In fact, AQ-I is a Sunni Muslim, not Shiite, group.

The April 8 edition of CNN's The Situation Room and an April 9 Wall Street Journal article both noted that in an April 8 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Sen. John McCain asked Multinational Force-Iraq Commanding Gen. David H. Petraeus about how much of a threat Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQ-I) poses, without also noting that McCain went on to ask of AQ-I: "Certainly not an obscure sect of -- of the Shiites all -- overall?" In fact, AQ-I is a Sunni Muslim, not Shiite, group. By contrast, an April 9 New York Times article noted that "Mr. McCain did seem to get momentarily tangled over Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. ... Senator McCain was embarrassed last month when, on a trip to Jordan, he stated several times that the Iranians were training Iraqi Qaeda operatives in Iran and then sending them back into Iraq. After one of his traveling companions, Mr. [Sen. Joseph I.] Lieberman [I-CT], corrected him, Mr. McCain explained that he had meant to say that the Iranians, who are Shiites, were training other extremists."

During the hearing, McCain asked Petraeus: "Do you still view al Qaeda in Iraq as a major threat?" Petraeus replied: "It is still a major threat, though it is certainly not as major a threat as it was, say, 15 months ago." McCain then asked "Certainly not an obscure sect of -- of the Shiites all -- overall --" prompting Petraeus to reply "No," as McCain went on to finish his question: "or Sunnis or anybody else?"

On the April 8 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, congressional correspondent Dana Bash said that McCain "led the witness, too, especially to make the crux of his argument for staying in Iraq." Bash then aired a video clip of the hearing in which McCain's comments were cropped, stopping after the "not" in McCain's follow-up question, "Certainly not an obscure sect of -- of the Shiites all -- overall --." Rather than noting McCain's error, Bash said, "Now, McCain also got some help from his two Senate wingmen on this issue, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham [R-SC]."

This is not the first time CNN has cropped video in a manner that obscures a McCain error about Al Qaeda. As Media Matters for America noted, on the March 18 Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer reported on McCain's false claim that Iranian operatives are "taking Al Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back," and falsely asserted that McCain "quickly corrected [it] after some prodding from his Senate colleague, Joe Lieberman." During the report Blitzer aired a spliced video of McCain's misstatement immediately followed by McCain correcting himself. The misleading video gave no indication that during the press conference, McCain twice falsely claimed that Iranian operatives are training members of Al Qaeda or that time elapsed between both misstatements and McCain's correction, prompted by Lieberman.

The April 9 Wall Street Journal article headlined "Candidates Stay on Message At Iraq-War Hearings" referenced the McCain-Petraeus exchange about AQ-I without noting McCain's error: "Tuesday, Sen. McCain sought to bolster his view of the threat posed by the group, and he asked Gen. Petreaus [sic] about it. Gen. Petraeus said the group is 'still a major threat' but one less significant than it was a year ago."

From the 9 a.m. ET hour of the April 8 edition of CNN Newsroom:

McCAIN: There are numerous threats to security in Iraq and the future of Iraq. Do you still view Al Qaeda in Iraq as a major threat?

PETRAEUS: It is still a major threat, though it is certainly not as major a threat as it was, say, 15 months ago.

McCAIN: Certainly not an obscure sect of -- of the Shiites all -- overall --

PETRAEUS: No. No, sir.

McCAIN: -- or Sunnis or anybody else then? Al Qaeda continues to try to assert themselves in Mosul, is that correct?

PETRAEUS: It is, senator. As you saw on the chart, the area of operation of Al Qaeda has been greatly reduced in terms of controlling areas that it controlled as little as a year and a half ago. But clearly, Mosul and Ninawa province are areas that Al Qaeda is very much trying to hold on to. All roads lead through the traditional capital of the north.

McCAIN: They continue to be a significant threat?

PETRAEUS: They do. Yes, sir.

From the April 8 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

[video clip]

BASH: On the trail, McCain regularly applauds General Petraeus.

McCAIN: Thank God for General Petraeus, one of the great generals in American history.

BASH: But as rosy an Iraq picture McCain hopes to paint, he's trying to gain credibility with war-weary voters by acknowledging problems.

McCAIN: The thousand Iraqi army and police deserted or underperformed.

BASH: He gently questioned Petraeus about Iraqi military defections during battle in Basra.

McCAIN: Suffice to say it was a disappointment.

PETRAEUS: It was, although it's -- it is not over yet, senator.

BASH: He led the witness, too, especially to make the crux of his argument for staying in Iraq.

McCAIN: Do you still view Al Qaeda in Iraq as a major threat?

PETRAEUS: It is still a major threat, though it is certainly not as major a threat as it was, say, 15 months ago.

McCAIN: Certainly not.

[end video clip]

BASH: Now, McCain also got some help from his two Senate wingmen on this issue, Joe Lieberman [I-CT] and Lindsey Graham [R-SC]. They both used their question time, Wolf, with General Petraeus to really scold Democrats for not acknowledging progress in Iraq. But, you know, Wolf, that's also an argument that Senator McCain admits is harder to make as violence is on the upswing in Iraq.

WOLF BLITZER (anchor): What a day. And it's going to continue tomorrow as well.

From the April 9 Wall Street Journal article:

Both Democrats jumped on Sen. McCain's remarks praising the current strategy and condemning an early exit. The Arizona senator used some of his harshest criticism to date about proponents of early withdrawal, saying withdrawal now would "constitute a failure of political and moral leadership."

"I fundamentally disagree," Sen. Clinton said several hours later, calling it "irresponsible to continue the policy that has not produced results."

Among the common themes were questions about al Qaeda in Iraq. The issue of the terrorist group's role arose on the campaign trial in February. Tuesday, Sen. McCain sought to bolster his view of the threat posed by the group, and he asked Gen. Petreaus about it. Gen. Petraeus said the group is "still a major threat" but one less significant than it was a year ago.

Sen. Obama, speaking later in a different hearing, revisited the topic with a question about the U.S. definition of success in Iraq. He asked what the likelihood would be that al Qaeda in Iraq could "reconstitute itself" at a future date, perhaps after the U.S. had withdrawn. Gen. Petraeus responded that it was possible.

Sen Obama said, "It's fair to say that we're not going to completely eliminate al traces of al Qaeda in Iraq. That can't be our definition of success."

Posted In
Elections, National Security & Foreign Policy, Terrorism
Network/Outlet
Wall Street Journal, CNN
Person
Dana Bash, Elizabeth Holmes
Show/Publication
The Situation Room
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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