Red, White, and Partisan
Table of Contents:
The Glory, and Then Invisibility, of Dissent
While a strong majority of the American people favored war in Iraq in early 2003, the networks were promoting war opponents. A major protest on January 18, 2003 drew 26 segments on ABC, CBS, and NBC, 14 of them before the rally began. (By contrast, a major rally against abortion four days later was ignored.) Anti-war protesters were portrayed as diverse and patriotic and religious.
âBraving frigid temperatures,â ABCâs Lisa Sylvester proclaimed on World News Tonight, âthey traveled across the country â black and white, Democrat and Republican, young and old.â In a second January 18 story, ABC reporter Geoff Morrell followed the trip to DC by a doctor and his âhonor studentâ daughter: âSo they rode a bus all night from Asheville, North Carolina. On board were businessmen, soccer moms and military veterans â- all members of the same church.â
Terry Moran intoned from the anchor desk:âThe scene was similar on the West Coast where anti-war protesters marched in San Francisco. Tens of thousands of people packed the cityâs streets and, as in Washington, they called for the U.S. to resolve the crisis in Iraq peacefully. And there were anti-war demonstrations in dozens of cities around the world as well. Thousands of demonstrators blocked traffic as they marched in Syriaâs capital, Damascus. In Tokyo, the scene was similar.â However, an AP story at the time pointed out it wasnât all similar: âNot all protesters were pushing for peace: In the Syrian capital, Damascus, some people shouted, âOur beloved Saddam, strike Tel Aviv,â a refrain from the 1991 Persian Gulf War.â But the âanti-warâ crowds were presented as peaceful and newsworthy even when they favored Saddam Hussein.
The 9/11 Family Tilt. In 2004, the commission investigating the 9/11 terrorist attacks wrapped up a high-profile series of public hearings in Washington. Throughout these hearings, the TV networks gave a forum to relatives of those who died that day, asking them to judge the hearings and the conduct of the participants.
An MRC review of interview segments on ABCâs Good Morning America, CBSâs The Early Show and NBCâs Today from March 23 through April 15, 2004 found a slant against Bush. Nine guests, with a total of 20 appearances, were critics of the President, compared with only three interviews with two Bush supporters. (None of the relatives were neutral or ambiguous in their comments about the Bush administrationâs supposed negligence.)
Neither ABC nor CBS featured any morning interviews with pro-Bush relatives, while NBC squeezed in two Bush backers: Jim Boyle, the father of a New York firefighter killed on 9/11, appeared twice on the Today show, while Deborah Burlingame, the sister of one of the pilots on American Airlines Flight 77, appeared once. But they were hardly alone in their views; Boyle was one of 40 9/11 relatives who signed a public letter praising Condoleezza Rice and rejecting the charge the President ignored obvious signs that the horrible terrorist attacks were coming.
But such views were minimized on the networks in favor of relatives who blamed the Bush administration for not thwarting the attacks. NBCâs Today hosted Kristen Breitweiser, whose husband died in the World Trade Center, four times in those three weeks. In the fall, she appeared with Democratic nominee John Kerry on the campaign trail.
Six other anti-Bush relatives appeared a total of seven times on Today during the same time period. ABCâs Good Morning America featured six interviews with relatives, all of whom were Bush critics, while CBSâs Early Show showcased three anti-Bush relatives who each appeared once.
Cindy Sheehanâs Evil-Bush Access. On their Saturday evening newscasts on August 6, 2005, ABC and CBS touted a tiny Cindy Sheehan protest outside Bushâs Crawford, Texas ranch with just âa few dozen people,â allowing her to say Bush is enjoying his vacation while âIâm never going to be able to enjoy another vacation because he killed my son.â The networks saw no need for civility in dissent. On her website, Sheehan wildly proclaimed âoverwhelmingâ evidence that Bush was a traitor: âGeorge [Bush] and his indecent bandits traitorously had intelligence fabricated to fit their goal of invading Iraq.â She was not a radical with a very cynical view of government policy. The networks described her as a âPeace Momâ on a âpeace vigil.â
Meanwhile, Sheehan was telling fellow leftists âThank God for the Internet, or we wouldnât know anything, and we would already be a fascist state.â She stated President Bush is an âevil maniacâ who should âsign up his two little party-animal girlsâ for the war. Bush was the âbiggest terrorist,â and was promoting the âcancer of Pax Americanaâ and âimperialism in the Middle Eastâ with the help of other âwar criminals.â
The networks piled on this story for weeks, while Bush stayed in Crawford on his vacation, skipping over the more wild-eyed, uncivil insults. Those might drained what they called her âmoral authority.â After the weekend, ABC morning host Charles Gibson promoted this segment: âStanding her ground. She lost her son in Iraq, she opposes the war, now sheâs camped out at President Bushâs ranch and says she wonât leave until he meets with her. An exclusive interview on Good Morning America.â CBS anchor Bob Schieffer wondered, âWe had this mother of a soldier who was killed in Iraq sort of camping out there down in Crawford....I wonder why the President doesnât meet with her?â
The networks even touted their own hype. ABCâs Geoff Morrell marked a week of stories by adding another story: âOver the last seven days, this one-woman protest has gone from being a roadside distraction to a potential political problem for the President. In the 11 days Mr. Bush has been on vacation, at least 37 troops have been killed in Iraq. And as the bloodshed continues, his approval ratings are falling.â On August 17, CBS reporter Bill Plante oozed: âOut of nowhere, Cindy Sheehan has suddenly become the red-hot symbol of opposition to the war....By camping out on the road to President Bushâs ranch, Sheehan, in just ten days, has become a magnet for the anti-war movement.â By August 22, ABC was asking on screen: âCan Anti-War Moms Stop Bush?â
But in 1998, a few weeks after Clinton admitted sex with Monica Lewinsky, he went to his first partisan pep rally in Worcester, Massachusetts. ABC and CBS did full stories, and the streets outside the hall were filled with protesters demanding Clinton resign, but ABC and CBS failed to interview them.
Even Cindy Sheehan, when she showed up at Marthaâs Vineyard to protest President Obama in 2009, could not find any publicity from ABC, CBS, or NBC. Only Bret Baier of Fox News noted on September 10, 2010 that Sheehan was in Manhattan proclaiming âI am a 9/11 truther. We just donât know â I donât know has far inside it went. But, you know, Iâm sure Dick Cheney had something to do with it.â Baier added Sheehan claimed Obama was doing everything he can to âprotect the criminals of the Bush regime.â The other networks seemed to forget her âmoral authority.â
ABC anchor Charles Gibson clearly had a change of heart, telling Don Wade of WLS Radio in Chicago that Sheehan should pack it in: âAnybody who has given a son to this country has made an enormous sacrifice, and you have to be sympathetic. But enough already.â
Apparently, a âpeaceâ protest isnât patriotic when the Presidentâs not a Republican.