At the top of Friday's CBS Early Show, co-host Erica Hill proclaimed: "Tough talk. As the violence continues to escalate between rebel forces, and Moammar Qadhafi's military, President Obama sends a clear message." A sound bite was played of Obama calling on Qadhafi to step down on Thursday. In a later report, correspondent Mandy Clark claimed Obama had "drawn his line in the sand."
On the February 24 Early Show, co-host Chris Wragge touted the "very strong words" in the President's first public statement on the crisis. On that same broadcast, Clark claimed that Libyans "...felt encouraged that the President had come out with such strong words. They now feel that the eyes of the international community is upon Qadhafi, and that will force him to hold back on any bombing campaigns or any war crimes that he might commit."
Apparently those "strong words" had no effect, because one week later, on Thursday's Early Show, Clark reported: "The assault by government troops began before dawn yesterday, and included bombing runs by Qadhafi's warplanes....This bomb narrowly missed an Al Jazeera crew....Around a dozen people were killed in the battle yesterday, and today, some of them will be buried."
Despite Obama's words not being enough to curb the growing bloodshed, the coverage on Thursday's program defended the administration's unwillingness to establish a no-fly zone over Libya. Wragge declared: "The White House is keeping pressure on Qadhafi, while walking a fine diplomatic line, and holding down expectations on a possible military option."
Senior White House correspondent Bill Plante explained: "There's been a lot of talk about a possible no-fly zone. Some members of Congress are urging it....senior administration officials are saying that that should be an option of last resort....the Obama administration doesn't want the U.S. to be the principle player in another regional conflict." None of those members of Congress calling for action were featured in the report.
Hill then spoke to retired general and former Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark on the possibility of a no-fly zone: "As we look at this, Secretary Gates was very clear yesterday, in saying that any sort of a no-fly zone is, in fact, an attack on Libya. This is a military option....It's much more complicated...than just saying, simply, 'Look, planes aren't going to fly for us in this area'."
Clark agreed: "And the real risks are not to our fliers, they're what's down the road. Where does it lead? If the no-fly zone is effective and no aircraft are flying but Qadhafi's forces succeed on the ground, then what's the next step? Because once you go to the no-fly zone you're more or less committed to the outcome."
Here is a full transcript of the Early Show's March 3 coverage of Libya:
7:00AM ET TEASE:
CHRIS WRAGGE: Striking back. Moammar Qadhafi's air force bombs a key rebel position, as U.S. officials warn of the potential danger of a no-fly zone over Libya. We'll go live to Libya for the latest on the conflict.
7:01AM ET SEGMENT:
ERICA HILL: We begin, this morning, with the very latest from Libya. This morning, leader Moammar Qadhafi's air force is bombing rebel forces there in the east once again. CBS News correspondent Mandy Clark joins us from Ajdabiya, Libya this morning. Mandy, hello.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Revolution in Libya; Qadhafi Forces Use Air Strikes on Oil Port]
MANDY CLARK: Hello. Well, we're on the road towards the front line, and we're hearing that this town of Adabiya and El Brega were bombed this morning. This morning, the rebels were digging in. And getting ready to defend the territory they won back. The assault by government troops began before dawn yesterday, and included bombing runs by Qadhafi's warplanes.
LIBYAN REBEL: They are bombing us by very big bombs.
CLARK: This bomb narrowly missed an Al Jazeera crew. By late afternoon, the rebels were on the offensive. Down the road, survivors arrived at a chaotic emergency room. 'They are mercenaries from Africa, attacking us with rockets and missiles,' this man said. We tucked in behind a truck loaded with ammunition and headed for the front line. Smoke was rising from an area hit by bombs.
But when we arrived in El Brega itself, the town was back in rebel hands. We're at the center of El Brega and people are out in force, celebrating the fact that they've managed to push out pro-Qadhafi troops. But those troops are just down the road, and the rebels are chasing them further out of town.
This is the prize Qadhafi's men were after. A massive oil shipment terminal. When we saw it on Monday, it was intact but idle. Well, this was a major victory for the rebels, but it came at a cost. Around a dozen people were killed in the battle yesterday, and today, some of them will be buried. Erica.
HILL: Mandy, thanks. Chris.
WRAGGE: Erica, thank you. The White House is keeping pressure on Qadhafi, while walking a fine diplomatic line, and holding down expectations on a possible military option. CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante has the very latest on that angle for us this morning. Bill, good morning.
BILL PLANTE: Good morning to you, Chris. There's been a lot of talk about a possible no-fly zone. Some members of Congress are urging it. But, I have to tell you, over – publicly and privately – senior administration officials are saying that that should be an option of last resort.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Obama's Options; Gates, Clinton Caution Against No-Fly Zone]
HILLARY CLINTON: I think that we are a long way from making that decision. And there is a great deal of caution that is being exercised with respect to any actions that we might take, other than in support of humanitarian missions.
PLANTE: And the White House public line is deliberately ambiguous.
JAY CARNEY: We are actively considering a variety of options. We have not ruled any options out.
PLANTE: But the Secretary of Defense was blunt, telling Congress a no-fly zone would mean attacking Libya.
ROBERT GATES: And let's just call a spade a spade. A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya, to destroy the air defenses.
PLANTE: The bottom line, the Obama administration doesn't want the U.S. to be the principle player in another regional conflict.
CLINTON: One of our biggest concerns is Libya descending into chaos and becoming a giant Somalia.
PLANTE: Now, the President hasn't had much to say about Libya, especially since the battle heated up. But you can expect to hear from him today. He's going to take some questions in a news conference with the Mexican president. Chris.
WRAGGE: CBS's Bill Plante at the White House for us this morning. Bill, thank you. Now here's Erica.
HILL: Joining us now to explain the no-fly zone options is retired General Wesley Clark. He's also a former NATO supreme allied commander. Sir, good to have you with us this morning.
WESLEY CLARK: Thank you, Erica.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: No-Fly Zone; Gen. Clark on Pros and Cons]
HILL: As we look at this, Secretary Gates was very clear yesterday, in saying that any sort of a no-fly zone is, in fact, an attack on Libya. This is a military option. The White House, though, said nothing is off the table. The Arab League has now come out and said, 'Look, if there's going to be a no-fly zone, we want to be in charge of it. Is the best option here, then, just to step back and let the Arab League, perhaps, take the lead on something like this?
CLARK: I think the best option is to go ahead and work through the diplomatic channels, put the diplomatic resolutions in place, the international law procedures in place, to authorize a further set of military or humanitarian actions. We would need a UN Security Council resolution under chapter 7 for humanitarian actions, and possibly for the no-fly zone.
HILL: It's much more complicated – and you start to paint that picture – than just saying, simply, 'Look, planes aren't going to fly for us in this area'. Paint for us, if you could, a little bit more descriptive picture of what the actual risks are here and especially when it would come to U.S. troops, if they're involved.
CLARK: Well, you would deny the Libyans the ability to fly. Now you could do that cooperatively. You didn't want to have to take out their air defense if Qadhafi agrees to the no-fly zone. You could simply overfly it, if the radars come up, you could bomb them. Or you could do the strike, as Secretary Gates said, and try to take everything out. You can get the fast movers. You can't always get the helicopters. It's a big country. You could center the no-fly zone along the line of contact, and so you're working a smaller area.
Anytime a Libyan plane flies, and we don't get it, and it's possible, you would be accused of failure. And the real risks are not to our fliers, they're what's down the road. Where does it lead? If the no-fly zone is effective and no aircraft are flying but Qadhafi's forces succeed on the ground, then what's the next step? Because once you go to the no-fly zone you're more or less committed to the outcome. And so you've got to then put troops in or assistance-
HILL: Want to make sure – General Clark, can you hear me? Do we still have you? We had a trouble with our satellite there, so our apologies on that. But that was, of course, General Wesley Clark joining us.
— Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.