'Today' Blacks Out Bilbray Bellwether in Favor of Rehash of Mideast Woes

For weeks, the MSM has been billing as a bellwether the congressional by-election in California to replace convicted felon Randy 'Duke' Cunningham. As per the conventional wisdom, if the Democrats managed to take the seat in what is normally a GOP-stronghold, it would be seen as a harbinger of horrible things to come for the Republican congressional majority.

Well, the election was held yesterday, and - whoops! - the Republican, Brian Bilbray, won. So how did Today spin it? Why, silence was suddenly golden. At least as of the crucial first half-hour, there was time for coverage of dust in the Arizonan desert, but not a word of the Bilbray victory. Insert your imagine-if-the-Dem-had-won comment here.

But while ignoring good GOP news at home, why not recycle Haditha, Abu Ghraib, Gitmo and any other black eyes for America and the Bush administration abroad? The excuse was an Andrea Mitchell-narrated segment on 'Selling America in the Mideast.' Here's a synopsis of Andrea's gloom-'n-doomer [WARNING to conservative depressives - consult your doctor before reading]:

Mitchell: "How does the Bush administration win friends in the Muslim and Arab world while fighting an unpopular war with Iraq? It only got tougher recently with news of a possible civilian massacre at Haditha. While the facts are yet clear, to Muslim and Arab audiences, Haditha is the latest black eye for U.S. policy. Powerful images transmitted around the world, including on this week's covers of both 'Time' and 'Newsweek' [surprise!]. Before Haditha there was Abu Ghraib and criticisms of treatment of prisoners at at Guantanamo Bay."

Next, a clip of Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland: "Iraq has become a prison of pain for most people in the Arab and Muslim world when they look at America. It is impossible for public diplomacy to overcome that."

NBC then went out of its way to embarrass the Bush administration and Mideast goodwill ambassador Karen Hughes, playing a clip of Hughes on an Arab street, caught asking an aide "how do you say 'friends?'"

Next, another clip of a US academic, Daniel Byman of Georgetown University, opining "The United States has deep problems in the Muslim world and a slightly better marketing effort can improve our image but won't solve the problem."

It got worse. Turns out we're not being nice enough to Hamas. Mitchell:

"The problem isn't only unpopular American wars and prisoner abuse. Mideast critics say while the president preaches democracy, when the Palestinians voted for Hamas, the U.S. cut off funds from the democratically-elected new Hamas government."

The president only 'preaches' democracy? And here I thought he had sent hundreds of thousands of troops and spent hundreds of billions of dollars in an effort giving Afghanistan and Iraq a real shot at democracy.

A woman in a head scarf was shown stating: "Democracy is democracy on US terms rather than the voice of the people really being heard."

Mitchell piled on: "Also undercutting the American argument for democracy, the US has often supported governments in the Middle East that have been brutal in repressing their own people."

Matt Lauer then took his shots:

"Andrea, let me talk to you about Haditha and the alleged massacre there. Adam Putnam who's a Republican congress from Florida who came back from Iraq recently said: 'What we know is pretty ugly stuff. I fear that Haditha can have even greater negative consequences in perception than Abu Ghraib.' Isn't this a situation for the U.S. where the fact the story is being reported, the damage is done?"

Andrea was happy to agree: "That's largely true. Even though there will be an investigation, what we know already is pretty negative. What my colleague Jim Miklaszewski has reporting from the Pentagon is that it's pretty clear that something dreadful happened. John Murtha, a very involved military-supporting member of the Congress [he supports the troops!], said that this is really, really bad example and the investigation will only make it worse. The images have been projected worldwide and that's been absorbed in the Middle East."

In a seemingly endless litany of gloom, Lauer segued: "Let's talk about Guantanamo and the treatment of prisoners there. In recent weeks some officials of key allies have spoken out harshly about Guantanamo. The British attorney general Peter Goldsmith said 'the historic tradition of the U.S. as a beacon of freedom, liberty and justice deserves the removal of this symbol. A prominent Spanish judge said 'a model like Guantanamo is an insult to countries that respect laws.' So, at what point does the Bush administration look at the risk/reward quotient and say is the information from the prisoners worth the damage to our reputation?"

Mitchell identified only one bright spot: the US's recent offer of direct negotiations with Iran coupled with a package of incentives if Iran gives up its nuclear ambitions, that has to be seen around the world as a positive development. Diplomacy over threats of military action?

But Mitchell did see a potential cloud on the horizon: "There will be counter-reaction and criticism from conservatives who opposed any talks with Iran." Yes, it's only those nasty conservatives who stand between America and an outreach to Iran that Jimmy Carter could love.

Finkelstein lives in the liberal haven of Ithaca, NY, where he hosts the award-winning public-access TV show 'Right Angle.' Contact him at mark@gunhill.net

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