Thumbs on the scale

by Michael O. Allen on May 16, 2008

During a speech to the Israeli parliament yesterday morning, President Bush attacked Barack Obama, comparing him to Nazi appeasers for the Illinois senator’s willingness to hold discussions with Iran.
One problem: Bush’s speech came just hours after The Washington Post reported that Bush’s defense secretary, Robert Gates, said that the United States needs to “sit down and talk with” Iran. Not only that, Gates added, “We can’t go to a discussion and be completely the demander.”

McCain Was For Talking To Hamas: Before He Was Against It…

Naturally, then, a media firestorm erupted, with the Bush administration and its political allies questioned all day about whether Bush has any idea what he is talking about, whether he has lost control over the Pentagon, whether Gates will be fired, what Gates thinks about Bush’s comparison of those (like Gates) who advocate dialogue between the United States and Iran to appeasers of Adolf Hitler, and whether the fiasco will remind voters that the Bush administration’s foreign policy has been marked by incompetence and dishonesty, thus doing irreparable electoral damage to John McCain and other Republican candidates.
Sorry — what was I thinking? That didn’t happen.
Instead, much of the news media got busy pretending the Post article didn’t exist and that Gates had not undermined Bush’s political attack on Obama. Instead, many news outlets simply rushed to repeat Bush’s assault over and over again, as though it had merit.
A quick look at ABC’s The Note — which claims for itself the responsibility for providing “editorial guidance on the leading political stories of the day” — demonstrates how thoroughly Gates’ comments were ignored in coverage of Bush’s attack. Yesterday’s editionof The Note didn’t mention either Bush’s comments (which came after The Note was finished) or Gates’. But a later posting did devote 341 words to Bush’s criticism of Obama without bothering to mention Gates’ comments about meeting with Iran. Today, The Note included 560 words about Bush’s remarks — but still no mention of Gates.
Though The Note boasts (unfortunately with some accuracy) of setting the agenda for the rest of the media, it reflects other news organizations’ priorities as much as it sets them, and this is no exception. The Note’s “Must-Reads” today included links to five articles about the “appeasement controversy” — one each from The New York Times, The Washington Post,The Boston Globe, and the Los Angeles Times, and Time. None of those articles — not one — even mentioned Gates’ name. The Washington Post’s failure to mention Gates’ comments in its article is most striking, since the paper reported his comments yesterday. (The Note also attempted to link to a Joe Klein article or column or blog post — it isn’t clear which — but did not provide a direct link to the piece in question. Klein has not mentioned Gates’ comments on Time’s website, as far as I can tell.)
Politico’s Mike Allen writes another of the most widely read political tipsheets. Allen has mentioned Bush’s attack on Obama in his daily “Playbook” each of the past two mornings — but didn’t mention Gates in either. Allen has, however, devoted a full paragraph to Hannah Montana and 272 words to American Idol.
Nor were Gates’ comments mentioned on the ABC or CBS evening news broadcasts last night — both of which did segments about Bush’s attack.
But the most striking disappearance of Gates’ comments came on CNN. On yesterday’sAmerican Morning, host John Roberts interviewed Obama communications director Robert Gibbs. Gibbs twice brought up Gates’ comments — though when CNN aired clips of the interview later in the day, the cable network edited Gibbs’ comments to include the sentence before he mentioned Gates, and the sentence after he mentioned Gates — but to omit any reference to the defense secretary.
Here’s what Gibbs actually said, which CNN did air in its entirety the first time:
GIBBS: Obviously this is an unprecedented political attack on foreign soil. It’s quite frankly sad and astonishing that the president of the United States would politicize the 60th anniversary of Israel with a false political attack. I assume he also is going to come home and fire his secretary of defense who was quoted in The Washington Post just yesterday saying we need to figure — quote, “We need to figure out a way to develop some leverage and then sit down and talk with them.” Them being Iran. Look, we have come to expect, and we’ve seen from this administration over the last eight years this type of cowboy diplomacy. Again, we’ve come to expect it. But over the past eight years it’s made this country far less safe than we were.
But twice during the day, CNN again aired that clip of Gibbs — except that it edited out the portion in bold, in which Gibbs pointed out the Bush administration’s hypocrisy. Several other times, CNN aired a portion of Gibbs’ comments, without the references to Gates.
CNN covered the controversy over Bush’s attack on Obama with numerous segments throughout the day, but the only times viewers were told of Gates’ comments were when they were mentioned by Gibbs and Sens. Joe Biden and John Kerry — and one report in which CNN reporter Zain Verjee quoted Gates. On Anderson Cooper 360, Cooper mentioned written comments Gates made in 2004 about the importance of contact with Iran. Cooper then noted, “That was back in 2004. He says the situation has changed.” But Cooper didn’t mention that just that morning, The Washington Post reported new comments by Gates about the need to talk to Iran.
This morning brought further evidence of right-wing hypocrisy: video of John McCain saying two years ago that the United States should talk to Hamas. Yesterday, McCain embraced Bush’s attack on Obama, adding, “I think that Barack Obama needs to explain why he wants to sit down and talk with a man who is the head of a government that is a state sponsor of terrorism, that is responsible for the killing of brave young Americans, that wants to wipe Israel off the map, who denies the Holocaust. That’s what I think Senator Obama ought to explain to the American people.”
So, McCain was for talking with people who want to “wipe Israel off the map” before he was against it.
Here’s how CNN’s Dan Lothian dealt with this fresh evidence of McCain’s hypocrisy this afternoon:
LOTHIAN: Now, you know, already, we have seen Senator John McCain bring up this issue. He was going after Obama yesterday, attacking him. And then more controversy today when an op-ed piece in The Washington Post by Jamie Rubin, who worked in the — former President Bill Clinton’s administration, is a Clinton supporter, is a leading Democrat, as well. And he suggested that Senator McCain was flip-flopping because two years ago, he talked about negotiating with Hamas. Of course, the McCain camp had to respond immediately, saying that it wasn’t true.
Lothian indicated that the evidence of McCain flip-flopping consisted of an op-ed by a Clinton supporter and presented the matter as a he-said/she-said situation in which Rubin suggested McCain flip-flopped and the McCain campaign denied it. But there is video of the McCain comments in question — video that had been widely available online for more than 12 hours at the time of Lothian’s report. There was no reason to present the situation as a dispute between Rubin and McCain’s campaign; Lothian could have read McCain’s actual comments. Or even, through the magic of cable television, played the video for viewers!
And it turns out, McCain also supported talking to Syria — another state sponsor of terrorism.
We know what the media would do if the candidate who blasted his opponent for being willing to engage in diplomatic talks with state sponsors of terrorism despite having previously argued in favor of talks with Syria and Hamas was named John Kerry or Al Gore. They would flay him mercilessly as a flip-flopper, as someone willing to say and do anything to win.
So far, they’ve treated John McCain a little more gently: They’ve frantically covered up evidence of hypocrisy.

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