CNN slams Pelosi for "living the dolce vita" in Italy while giving Afghan leg of trip only brief mention

››› ››› TOM ALLISON

Summary: In recent days, CNN has repeatedly aired a report by Drew Griffin on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's trip to Italy, with Griffin questioning "[w]hy, in a time of economic crisis, would the speaker, who happens to be of Italian heritage, travel to Italy." But at no point during the report does Griffin note that Pelosi and her delegation reportedly met with U.S. soldiers and military commanders in Italy, or that she reportedly gave a major speech there. Moreover, the Afghanistan leg of the trip garnered only brief CNN mentions.

Since February 19, CNN has repeatedly aired a report by Special Investigations Unit correspondent Drew Griffin, in which Griffin states that "Speaker Nancy Pelosi [D-CA] and seven fellow Democrats in the House boarded a military charter like this government-owned Boeing 737 executive jet and flew off to Italy," and asks, "Why, in a time of economic crisis, would the speaker, who happens to be of Italian heritage, travel to Italy?" Griffin stated in his report that Pelosi "has been going to museums in Florence, receptions at night, and was even presented with the birth certificates of her grandparents by the head of the Italian chamber of deputies." In discussing Griffin's report, CNN anchors called the trip a "junket[] overseas at taxpayer expense," said critics view it as Pelosi "living the dolce vita," and claimed the purpose of the trip is "to meet with Italian leaders and visit museums." But at no point in his report did Griffin note, as Politico's Glenn Thrush reported in a February 21 blog post, that "[i]n Italy, Pelosi met with troops four times, according to her staff, and delivered a major speech on security and global warming." Moreover, the congressional delegation's trip -- to Kabul, Afghanistan, in which Pelosi and the other lawmakers met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, as well as U.S. military and diplomatic personnel stationed there. Instead, CNN only briefly mentioned the Afghanistan stop on four occasions.

In his post, Thrush wrote:

The speaker has faced sharp criticism for the right, including a screaming banner on Drudge, for the weeklong trip, which included a jaunt through Italy, where she met the Pope and took a turn through the Italian parliament, where she was presented a copy of her grandparents' birth records.

But the trip has been crammed with official duties: In Italy, Pelosi met with troops four times, according to her staff, and delivered a major speech on security and global warming.

Moreover, there was considerable snickering about right-wing blog posts claiming the swing was a pleasure trip: Most of the the [sic] Hill press corps knew about the Kabul leg of the trip for about a week, but were prevented from writing about it for security reasons.

Indeed, in a February 17 article, the ANSA English Media Service reported (accessed from the Nexis database): "Since arriving in Italy on Saturday, Pelosi has visited the American air base at Aviano in northeast Italy and the American military cemetery in Florence and is due at the NATO Joint Forces Command in Naples Wednesday." Further, a February 19 press release issued by Pelosi's office stated: "Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Congressional delegation today were briefed by U.S. Admiral Mark Fitzgerald, Commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa, and Commander of Allied Joint Force Command Naples. Admiral Fitzgerald and his NATO staff provided information on NATO activities in the Balkans, the ongoing training of Iraqi Security Forces, and operations against pirates off the coast of Somalia." The release further stated: "On Saturday, Speaker Pelosi and the Congressional delegation visited Aviano Air Base where the Speaker pinned the Bronze Star Medal on Technical Sergeant Phoebus Lazaridis for extraordinary service in Afghanistan. The delegation paid their respects to the more than 4,400 American World War II soldiers buried at the Florence American Cemetery on the outskirts of Florence on Sunday."

Nonetheless, in his report -- all or part of which aired on six occasions on CNN's The Situation Room, Lou Dobbs Tonight, American Morning, and CNN Newsroom -- Griffin did not mention that the delegation reportedly met with U.S. soldiers and military commanders in Italy, or that Pelosi reportedly gave a major speech on security and global warming there. Indeed, in discussing his report, Griffin and CNN anchors repeatedly suggested that the trip was a frivolous waste of taxpayer dollars:

  • Introducing his report on the February 19 edition of The Situation Room, Griffin stated: "After criticizing excessive travels of business executives, some critics are asking if Congress does not have two sets of rules here, especially when it comes to travel."
  • Introducing Griffin's report on the February 19 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight, guest host Kitty Pilgrim stated: "Members of Congress tonight are using government aircraft for what appears to be junkets overseas at taxpayer expense. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a leading congressional delegation to Italy to meet with Italian leaders and visit museums." Following the report, Pilgrim said that the trip constituted "bad timing, and some may argue, bad judgment."
  • Teasing Griffin's report on the February 20 edition of American Morning, co-anchor Kiran Chetry said that Pelosi "joined a big delegation of Democrats and flew off to Italy, on an executive jet with her husband. And wait 'til you hear what a trip like this costs." She then asked, "At a time like this, is it appropriate?"
  • In a later segment that same day on American Morning, Chetry teased Griffin's report by referring to Pelosi's trip as a "pricey overseas excursion." Griffin added, "[A]fter so much congressional criticism of executive travel and what members of Congress, remember, were calling junkets by Wall Street bankers, some are asking if Congress isn't engaging in a 'do as I say, not as I do' attitude when it comes to taxpayer-funded travel."
  • And finally, before airing Griffin's report a second time later that day on American Morning, co-anchor John Roberts stated: "Meanwhile, just days after helping President Obama pass the $787 billion economic stimulus package, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and several other Democrats headed to Italy on your dime. Special Investigations Unit correspondent Drew Griffin is looking into this pricey overseas trip and it's got a lot of critics saying, Drew, that she is over there in Italy living the dolce vita, and why is she doing it?"
  • After airing the report on the 1 p.m. ET hour of the February 20 edition of CNN Newsroom, anchor Kyra Phillips asked Griffin, "Any members of Congress who blasted auto execs or any of the bankers, were they on this trip?" Griffin replied: "[I]f there was one guy that should have known better, it's [Rep.] Mike Capuano [D-MA]. Mike Capuano, he runs a debt clock on his website. He was in -- he's in the House Financial Services Committee, and he blasted bankers. He blasted the auto executives about their bailout money. And here he goes right -- you know, right away he heads off on this trip." After airing a clip of Capuano criticizing bank executives who accepted funds from the Troubled Assets Relief Program, Phillips stated: "I guess I would now like to ask him what his constituents think of him taking a trip to Italy with taxpayer money." Griffin replied: "Yeah. ... If I was in his district in Massachusetts, I'd be asking the same thing. And if I was one of those bankers getting chastised, I'd be saying, "Hey, man, you know, are there two sets of rules here?"

On February 21, Pelosi released a statement about her trip to Afghanistan, in which she said, "For the past two days, I have led an eight Member House delegation to Afghanistan to visit U.S. troops," during which the delegation "met with U.S. military leaders, and the U.S. Diplomatic team in Kabul to better assess the best course of action to further our national security interests in preparation for the completion of President Obama's strategic review of the Afghanistan policy" and "met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is sending his own advisors to Washington as part of the review process."

But CNN has yet to air an extensive report on the delegation's trip to Afghanistan; a Media Matters for America search of the Nexis database and the CNN transcript website returned only four brief mentions of the Afghan trip:

  • During the February 21 edition of CNN Saturday Morning News, co-host T.J. Holmes merely reported: "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, she is in Afghanistan. She's visiting that country -- visiting with several officials there, including the president there, Hamid Karzai."
  • Likewise, on the February 21 edition of CNN Newsroom, co-host Fredricka Whitfield reported: "[T]he war on terror was just one of the topics touched on by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai today in Kabul. Her office says they discussed a number of issues, including corruption and the resurgence of the Taliban. Speaker Pelosi reiterated to the Afghan president that the U.S. is fully committed to rebuilding his war-torn country."
  • Later on CNN Newsroom, Whitfield said that Pelosi "met earlier today with Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai. During their talks in Kabul, Pelosi pressed Karzai on several issues of concern, including security and corruption among government officials. Just last week, President Obama announced he's sending 17,000 more American troops to Afghanistan. U.S. Commanders say the troops are needed to fight a resurging Taliban."
  • In a third segment on CNN Newsroom, co-anchor Don Lemon reported: "[S]he is a long way from Capitol Hill -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, that is. And she met with Afghan president Hamid Karzai today in Kabul. Her office says Pelosi pressed Karzai to fight growing police corruption and the resurgence of the Taliban. Pelosi also emphasized the U.S. is fully committed to rebuilding the war-torn country."

Additionally, following Phillips and Griffin's criticism of Capuano for, in Phillips' words, "taking a trip to Italy with taxpayer money," CNN has yet to report that as a member of the congressional delegation, Capuano joined Pelosi in meeting with Karzai and U.S. soldiers, commanders, and diplomatic personnel in Afghanistan.

From the February 19 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight:

PILGRIM: Members of Congress tonight are using government aircraft for what appears to be junkets overseas at taxpayer expense. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a leading congressional delegation to Italy to meet with Italian leaders and visit museums. Drew Griffin, of our special investigation unit, has our report.

GRIFFIN [video clip]: Shortly after passing the Reinvestment and Recovery Act and shortly after making this statement about struggling Americans --

[...]

GRIFFIN: Kitty, we should know all the details in about 60 days when congressional members are required to file their expenses. But I must tell you, some of them judging by their staff comments aren't happy we even brought the subject up or made any comparison between their travel and executive travel. I'll tell you, one congressman's press officer even suggested reporting this story was a joke, refusing to answer any of our questions.

PILGRIM: Drew, I don't know how you can treat this story as a joke in this economy with what Americans are going through right now.

GRIFFIN: It certainly seems to be bad timing when you're telling people that we need to pass the stimulus bill because of the economic crisis and then boarding these flights. They will probably argue, and -- as they do, that this is part of their job to go out into the world and to see what they have to pass bills about.

PILGRIM: Well, bad timing, and some may argue, bad judgment. Thanks very much. Drew Griffin.

Well, we would like to know what you think. And here is tonight's poll: Do you find it funny as one of the congressman's offices suggested that lawmakers are using taxpayer dollars for their overseas junkets? Yes or no. Cast your vote at LouDobbs.com. We'll bring you the results a little bit later in the broadcast.

From the February 20 edition of CNN's American Morning:

CHETRY: First, Speaker Nancy Pelosi seemed to feel America's pain --

PELOSI: The American people are feeling a great deal of pain.

CHETRY: -- then she joined a big delegation of Democrats and flew off to Italy, on an executive jet with her husband. And wait 'til you hear what a trip like this costs. At a time like this, is it appropriate? What CNN's Special Investigations Unit uncovered -- ahead on the most news in the morning.

[...]

CHETRY: Welcome back to the most news in the morning.

You know, just days after helping President Obama pass the $787 billion economic stimulus bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and several other Democrats headed to Italy, on your dime. Special Investigations Unit correspondent Drew Griffin is looking into this pricey overseas excursion. He joins us this morning.

Hey, Drew.

GRIFFIN: Hi, Kiran.

You know, after so much congressional criticism of executive travel and what members of Congress, remember, were calling junkets by Wall Street bankers, some are asking if Congress isn't engaging in a "do as I say, not as I do" attitude when it comes to taxpayer-funded travel.

GRIFFIN [video clip]: Shortly after passing the Reinvestment and Recovery Act and shortly after making this statement about struggling Americans --

[...]

CHETRY: First, Speaker Nancy Pelosi seemed to feel America's pain --

PELOSI: The American people are feeling a great deal of pain.

CHETRY: -- then she joined a big delegation of Democrats and flew off to Italy, on an executive jet with her husband. And wait 'til you hear what a trip like this costs. At a time like this, is it appropriate? What CNN's Special Investigations Unit uncovered -- ahead on the most news in the morning.

[...]

ROBERTS: Meanwhile, just days after helping President Obama pass the $787 billion economic stimulus package, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and several other Democrats headed to Italy on your dime. Special Investigations Unit correspondent Drew Griffin is looking into this pricey overseas trip and it's got a lot of critics saying, Drew, that she is over there in Italy living the dolce vita, and why is she doing it?

GRIFFIN: Exactly, John. Remember all the hoopla about those auto execs flying their jets? Well, after so much congressional criticism of executive travel and what members of Congress were calling junkets by Wall Street bankers, some are asking if Congress is engaging in a "do as I say, not as I do" attitude when it comes to taxpayer-funded travel.

GRIFFIN [video clip]: Shortly after passing the Reinvestment and Recovery Act and shortly after making this statement about struggling Americans --

From the February 20 edition of CNN Newsroom:

PHILLIPS: Members of Congress rarely sit still. That's been true since the horse and buggy days. But nowadays, with the worldwide recession, lawmakers may think twice before they fly off on junkets for fact-finding missions at taxpayer expense. Then again, they may not.

Here's Drew Griffin of CNN's Special Investigations Unit.

GRIFFIN [video clip]: Shortly after passing the Reinvestment and Recovery Act and shortly after making this statement about struggling Americans --

[...]

PHILLIPS: Let's backtrack a second to the Italy trip.

GRIFFIN: Right.

PHILLIPS: I'm just curious.

GRIFFIN: Right.

PHILLIPS: Any members of Congress who blasted auto execs or any of the bankers, were they on this trip?

GRIFFIN: You know, if there was one guy that should have known better, it's Mike Capuano. Mike Capuano, he runs a debt clock on his website. He was in -- he's in the House Financial Services Committee, and he blasted bankers. He blasted the auto executives about their bailout money.

PHILLIPS: Well, look --

GRIFFIN: And here he goes right -- you know, right away he heads off on this trip.

PHILLIPS: Takes this trip. All right. Let's take a listen. Let's go ahead. Since we have it, let's listen.

CAPUANO [video clip]: Basically, you come to us today on your bicycles after buying Girl Scout cookies and helping out Mother Teresa, telling us, "We're sorry. We didn't mean it. We won't do it again. Trust us."

Well, I have some people in my constituency that actually robbed some of your banks, and they say the same thing. They're sorry. They didn't mean it. They won't do it again. Just let them out. Do you understand that this is a little difficult for most of my constituents to take? Did you learn your lesson?

PHILLIPS: OK. I guess I would now like to ask him what his constituents think of him taking a trip to Italy with taxpayer money.

GRIFFIN: Yeah. I --

PHILLIPS: I think --

GRIFFIN: If I was in his district in Massachusetts, I'd be asking the same thing. And if I was one of those bankers getting chastised, I'd be saying, "Hey, man" --

PHILLIPS: Yeah --

GRIFFIN: -- "you know, are there two sets of rules here?"

PHILLIPS: -- pot calling the kettle black.

[...]

PHILLIPS: Robert Gibbs talking stimulus money, Roland Burris, and also Nancy Pelosi. That was one of our top stories today as our Drew Griffin investigated Nancy Pelosi's trip to Europe. The speaker of the House actually leading a Democratic delegation to Italy and guess what -- paid for by taxpayer dollars. It's raised a lot of questions about these hard economic times, and if indeed the speaker of the House should be taking members of her delegation on trips like that, junkets like that.

We asked Pelosi to join us today to talk about it. Her office said that her travel schedule wouldn't permit it. We also asked the White House to comment, but folks there referred us back to Congress. However, that's why we always count on Ed Henry, because when Robert Gibbs looked directly at him, he asked a direct question. Ed, what did you get?

ED HENRY (CNN White House correspondent): Well, I think it was clear that Robert Gibbs did not want to be criticizing Speaker Pelosi or other members of Congress -- frankly was pointing out he did -- that the president, as a senator, did take some of these congressional delegation trips. Obviously left unsaid was the fact that when Senator Obama, then-Senator Obama, took those trips, that was long before the current fiscal crisis.

So, while the president has been criticizing business leaders and others for not spending money wisely, specifically taxpayer money in the wake of these bailouts, I think the White House clearly, based on Robert Gibbs' response, is reluctant right now to criticize members of Congress about that.

[...]

PHILLIPS: Nancy Pelosi's trip to Europe is also on the radar this week. The speaker of the House has led a Democratic delegation to Italy, and guess what -- you paid the freight. Our Drew Griffin has been watching and trying to keep track.

GRIFFIN [video clip]: So what's the cost of her Italian trip to the taxpayers back home? We won't know yet.

From the February 21 edition of CNN Saturday Morning News:

HOLMES: Well, Speaker -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, she is in Afghanistan. She's visiting that country -- visiting with several officials there, including the president there, Hamid Karzai. As you know, President Barack Obama is promising to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan to fight the growing violence from the Taliban.

From the 2 p.m. ET hour of the February 21 edition of CNN Newsroom:

WHITFIELD: Well, the war on terror was just one of the topics touched on by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai today in Kabul. Her office says they discussed a number of issues, including corruption and the resurgence of the Taliban. Speaker Pelosi reiterated to the Afghan president that the U.S. is fully committed to rebuilding his war-torn country.

[...]

WHITFIELD: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is also in Asia this hour. She met earlier today with Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai. During their talks in Kabul, Pelosi pressed Karzai on several issues of concern, including security and corruption among government officials. Just last week, President Obama announced he's sending 17,000 more American troops to Afghanistan. U.S. Commanders say the troops are needed to fight a resurging Taliban.

[...]

DON LEMON (co-anchor): And part of Secretary Clinton's official itinerary today was a visit to a power plant to highlight the two countries' renewed emphasis on reducing greenhouse emissions.

Well, she is a long way from Capitol Hill -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, that is. And she met with Afghan president Hamid Karzai today in Kabul. Her office says Pelosi pressed Karzai to fight growing police corruption and the resurgence of the Taliban. Pelosi also emphasized the U.S. is fully committed to rebuilding the war-torn country.

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