All the broadcast network evening newscasts on Thursday led with fears of “civil war” in Iraq, a topic of much cable focus too during the day, but unlike ABC and NBC, the CBS Evening News decided to highlight a slam at the Bush administration from a liberal hero, crusading anti-war Democratic Congressman John Murtha. After presenting the administration's view that Iraq is not falling into civil war, CBS White House correspondent Jim Axelrod showcased how, over still shots of Murtha, in uniform, getting a medal and in Iraq: “Democratic Congressman John Murtha, a former Marine colonel who's among the most outspoken critics of the war, says the administration is misjudging." Viewers then saw a soundbite from Murtha: “It's not going to get better. They've been overly optimistic. This is a civil war where two participants are fighting with each other trying to win supremacy, and our troops are caught in between." (Partial transcript follows.)
The February 23 CBS Evening News led with Kimberly Dozier in Iraq on the tense situation there, followed by Jim Axelrod on the domestic take on the situation. Picking up Axelrod mid-way through his story:
“The President says the bombing of the Shiite shrine, and its aftermath, needs to be seen in context, pointing to both record turnout in December's elections, and restraint shown by Shiite leaders calling for calm, as signs that faith in a democratic government has taken root.”
President Bush, in speech: “I praise the leaders in Iraq who have urged for calm and who continue to make sure that Iraq stays on the road to democracy.”
Axelrod: "And while administration officials say the violence appears to them to be dying down, Democratic Congressman John Murtha, a former Marine colonel who's among the most outspoken critics of the war, says the administration is misjudging."
Rep. John Murtha (D-PA): "It's not going to get better. They've been overly optimistic. This is a civil war where two participants are fighting with each other trying to win supremacy, and our troops are caught in between."
Axelrod concluded from the White House lawn: “Tomorrow is the weekly day of prayer in Iraq and a lot is riding on what the clerics say to the worshipers. If the clerics preach allowing the government to continue handling the situation, well that will go a long way to promoting stability. But if the government loses the clerics, all bets are off, Bob.”
The CBS Evening News with Bob Schieffer has previously stood up for Murtha. A November 18 NewsBusters item, “CBS Portrays Murtha as Victim of Unfair Attacks, Insists His 'Patriotism Questioned,'” began:
A night after leading with Democratic Congressman John Murtha's call for the U.S. to withdraw from Iraq, Friday's CBS Evening News painted him as a victim of unjust attacks on his “patriotism,” though CBS provided no supporting soundbite of any such accusation, ludicrously insisted he was a “leading supporter” of the war and featured clips of Democrats, including “another decorated veteran whose own patriotism has also been questioned” (that would be John Kerry), who “fired back" at the “personal attacks” on Murtha....
A November 29 NewsBusters posting, “Broadcast Nets, Which Led With Murtha, Ignore Lieberman,” outlined:
Twelve days ago when Democratic Congressman John Murtha, who had long been critical of the Bush administration’s running of the war, advocated withdrawing troops from Iraq, the ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts all emphasized his importance and influence as they led with his press conference. CBS showcased Murtha’s attack on Vice President Dick Cheney’s lack of military service and ABC ran a 90-second excerpt of Murtha. But on Tuesday night, after the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed (“Our Troops Must Stay”) from the 2000 Democratic vice presidential candidate, Senator Joe Lieberman, in which he cited “real progress” in Iraq and argued against withdrawing troops, ABC and CBS didn’t utter a syllable about his assessment....