Howard Kurtz, the Washington Post's media writer and a CNN contributor, contended on Wednesday's "The Situation Room" that in the lead-up to the Iraq war, "anti-war voices had limited access, it seems, to the airwaves, while administration officials, of course, were on every day pounding on that message [in support of going to war in Iraq]." He also claimed that "[i]t was only when violence surged in Iraq and public opinion began turning against the war that ABC, CBS, NBC, and the rest of the media turned more skeptical."
The media, in reality, especially the "Big 3" networks, gave plenty of coverage to the anti-war movement. Take, for instance, the first two months of 2003. On January 12, 2003, ABC's "World News Tonight" hyped anti-war protests that were "lightly attended," as anchor Carole Simpson heralded how "that may change soon." The "Big 3" networks, along with their counterparts at CNN and MSNBC, highlighted the January 18, 2003 anti-war march in Washington, DC, and depicted the protesters as ordinary Americans, despite the far-left background of the organizers. The following month, ABC’s Peter Jennings spouted the anti-war stance on five different "World News Tonight" broadcasts in the course of a week. Later, on the February 14, 2003 edition of "World News Tonight," the ABC anchor featured anti-war protests from around the world.
The claim that "ABC, CBS, NBC, and the rest of the media turned more skeptical" only after "violence surged in Iraq and public opinion began turning against the war" also fails to hold water. As MRC’s Rich Noyes noted in his May 2007 Media Reality Check "The Media Before the War: Facts vs. Liberal Mythology," the media expressed its doubts concerning the Bush administration’s arguments in the months prior to the start of the Iraq war, and highlighted anti-war arguments during that time period. The Media Reality Check was prompted in part by Kurtz’s claim just over a year ago on his "Reliable Sources" program that "everybody at every news organization I’ve talked to said that the media were not aggressive enough during the run-up to war."
Kurtz made the allegations during a segment about the "Big 3" networks' evening news anchors' response to "one of the most provocative allegations in Scot McClellan's new book about his days in the Bush White House," as "The Situation Room" host Wolf Blitzer put it. The charge, according to Kurtz: "the liberal media didn't exactly live up to its reputation during the run-up to the Iraq war" and that "the press was probably too deferential to the White House." He then played clips of Charles Gibson, Brian Williams, and Katie Couric reacting to McClellan’s charge, including Couric’s take that the media’s coverage in the Iraq war’s run-up was "one of the most embarrassing chapters in American journalism."
The full transcript of Kurtz’s segment, which began 18 minutes into the 4 pm hour of Wednesday’s "The Situation Room:"
WOLF BLITZER: Now to one of the most provocative allegations in Scott McClellan's new book about his days in the Bush White House. The target -- those of us in the news media who cover the President. The anchors of the three broadcast networks are speaking out about that very subject, reacting to McClellan's charges today. Let's go right to CNN's Howard Kurtz, the host of CNN's 'Reliable Sources;' also from the 'Washington Post.' Howard, these three anchors -- they have some very different views, at least what they're expressing publicly to Scott McClellan's very, very strong accusations against us.
HOWARD KURTZ: That's exactly right. McClellan says in his new book, Wolf, that the liberal media didn't exactly live up to its reputation during the run-up to the Iraq war. But not all members of the media agree with that assessment.
KURTZ (voice-over): The former White House spokesman writes that while President Bush was making the case to invade Iraq, the press was probably too deferential to the White House. The three network anchors, promoting a cancer fundraiser on 'The Early Show,' has decidely different reactions to McClellan's charge. ABC's Charlie Gibson flatly disagrees.
CHARLES GIBSON, ABC NEWS: No, I think that the media did a pretty good job of focusing and asking the questions. We were not given access to get into the country, and I think it's convenient now to blame the media, but I don't.
KURTZ: NBC's Brian Williams believes the media was swept along by a wave of patriotism after 2001 terror attacks.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: People have to remember the post-9/11 era, and how that felt, and what the President felt he was empowered to do and that Colin Powell speech at the U.N.
KURTZ: CBS's Katie Couric was the most critical of her profession, saying sometimes journalists have to go against the mood of the country.
KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: I think it's one of the most embarrassing chapters in American journalism, and I think there was a sense of pressure from corporations who own where we work and from the government itself, to really squash any kind of dissent.
KURTZ: Couric has told me that while she was at NBC, where she co-hosted the 'Today' show, she got what she described as complaints from network executives when she challenged the Bush administration.
Print coverage, meanwhile, was also flawed. The New York Times, which published Judith Miller's erroneous stories about Saddam's alleged weapons of mass destruction, and the Washington Post, including Bob Woodward, have expressed regret for not being more aggressive in questioning the march to war.
KURTZ (on-screen): It was only when violence surged in Iraq and public opinion began turning against the war that ABC, CBS, NBC, and the rest of the media turned more skeptical. These days, war coverage seems to have dramatically dwindled as network anchors and most of their colleagues focus more on politics here at home. And Wolf, a question for you. With the benefit of hindsight, how do you assess CNN's coverage during the run-up to the Iraq conflict?
WOLF BLITZER: I think we were pretty strong, but certainly with hindsight, we could have done an even better job. There were a lot of things missing in our coverage that, obviously, you know, ex post facto, after the fact. But certainly -- certainly, we raised the important questions. I can't tell you how many times we had Scott Ridder and Hans Blix and Mohammed el Baradei from the International Atomic Energy Agency on my shows and on the other shows on CNN where they suggested -- you know what -- they don't see the evidence about the weapons of mass destruction. They're not convinced.
But could we have done a better job? Sure. Remember, Howie, we are a first draft of history -- journalism -- and we can always look back and say, you know, we could have done this, we could have done that. On the whole, though, I think we asked the tough questions, but we could have done better.
KURTZ: One of my problems is that anti-war voices had limited access, it seems, to the airwaves, while administration officials, of course, were on every day pounding on that message.
BLITZER: But you know what, we had a reporter whose sole job -- Maria Hinojosa -- was to cover the anti-war activists, and we did a lot of the protests. We did a lot of that almost on a daily basis going into this war. So we didn't ignore those anti-war protests.
KURTZ: It's always easier in hindsight.
BLITZER: Yup, you're absolutely right. Howie Kurtz, thanks very much for joining us.