CBS Most Negative on Iraq Plan, Clinton Got Bigger Bounce in Midst of Lewinsky Scandal

Coverage all day Thursday on the cable news networks, as well as on the ABC and NBC evening newscasts, emphasized negative reaction to President Bush's plan for a “surge” of troops into Iraq. But the CBS Evening News delivered a markedly more negative presentation, even managing to raise Watergate and Monica Lewinsky. Katie Couric led: “If the early reaction to President Bush's new Iraq strategy is any indication, selling the American public on it could be a mission impossible.” She soon added: “The reviews of the speech last night were largely negative from the American public and Congress.”

Gloria Borger checked in with how Bush “sparked a bipartisan rebellion on Capitol Hill" as “some of the harshest criticism came from his own party." Couric then went to Bob Schieffer who, citing a CBS News poll showing no move in the public attitude toward Bush on Iraq, suggested “you really have to go back to Vietnam and Watergate to find presidential speeches on television that didn't give the President at least a little bump in the polls.” Schieffer recalled how “in the middle of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Bill Clinton went on television to give his State of the Union address. Even in the midst of that scandal, Mr. Clinton went up 16 points in the polls. Going on prime time TV and nothing changes, that is fairly extraordinary, Katie." Next, Couric characterized as “out of the ordinary” the “response the President got today from a usually receptive audience,” soldiers at Fort Benning. Jim Axelrod offered a dour assessment of the mood of the troops: “Even rallying the troops is now a challenge. The mood here was polite but muted, more somber than usual for a President talking to soldiers.”

Neither the ABC or NBC evening newscast stories on Thursday offered any such downbeat evaluation of the attitude of the troops toward Bush.

Highlights from the January 11 CBS Evening News:

Couric's tease:

“Tonight, the Commander in Chief fights his toughest battle yet. Can President Bush sell his new Iraq war strategy to the American people? Tonight, the results of a new CBS News poll. Meanwhile, in Congress, his plan is attacked, even by members of his own party.”

Senator Chuck Hagel: “The most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam.”
Couric led:
“Hi, everyone. If the early reaction to President Bush's new Iraq strategy is any indication, selling the American public on it could be a mission impossible. But he set out to do that today. His first stop, a friendly audience, soldiers and their families at Fort Benning, Georgia. He told them America must succeed.”
President Bush, at Fort Benning: “It's a different kind of war in which failure in one part of the world could lead to disaster here at home.”

Couric: “The reaction was not at all what the President has come to expect from a military audience. We'll have more about that in a moment. And the reviews of the speech last night were largely negative from the American public and Congress. Tonight, a team of correspondents on the fallout, beginning with our national political correspondent, Gloria Borger. Gloria, Congress isn't exactly giving this plan a warm reception.”

Gloria Borger: “Katie, the President may have been trying to reignite support for his Iraq strategy, but instead, he sparked a bipartisan rebellion on Capitol Hill.”

Senator Chuck Hagel: “I think this speech, given last night by this President, represents the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam if it's carried out.”

Borger: “The President no doubt expected a fight with Democrats over Iraq, but after his speech, some of the harshest criticism came from his own party....”
After Borger's piece, Couric moved on to Bob Schieffer:
“It was a critically important speech the President gave last night but a CBS News poll found only one in three Americans actually watched it. Our Bob Schieffer was, of course, watching as he's watched so many presidential addresses. Bob, are you surprised the President isn't getting more support today?”

Bob Schieffer: “Well, Katie, it is a rare evening when an American President goes on prime time television and doesn't change some minds, so you have to say last night was a rare evening. Mr. Bush did no better winning support for his new Iraq policy from the public than he did trying to change the minds of people in Congress. A CBS News poll conducted after the speech showed 68 percent of the people polled are still uneasy about the President's ability to make the right decisions about Iraq. That is the same percentage as when we asked the same question during the first week in January. The poll did show some increase in public support for increasing troop levels since last week, but even so, only 30 percent, a third of those polled, believe a troop increase is a good idea. The fact that this speech seemed to change so few minds, Katie, is really unusual. I think it underlines just how unpopular this war is with the American people.”

Couric: “And, Bob, are there historical precedents for this kind of public reaction or non-reaction?”

Schieffer: “Well, you really have to go back to Vietnam and Watergate to find presidential speeches on television that didn't give the President at least a little bump in the polls. Let me just give you an example here. In the middle of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Bill Clinton went on television to give his State of the Union address. Even in the midst of that scandal, Mr. Clinton went up 16 points in the polls. Going on prime time TV and nothing changes, that is fairly extraordinary, Katie.”
Couric then went to Jim Axelrod:
“All right, Bob Schieffer in Washington, Bob, as always, thanks so much. Also out of the ordinary is the response the President got today from a usually receptive audience, those soldiers we mentioned earlier. Here's our Chief White House correspondent Jim Axelrod.”

Jim Axelrod: “To start selling his plan, President Bush picked about the friendliest audience he could find -- soldiers at Fort Benning, Georgia.”

President Bush: “And it's going on to require sacrifice and I appreciate the sacrifices our troops are willing to make.”

Axelrod: “But even rallying the troops is now a challenge. The mood here was polite but muted, more somber than usual for a President talking to soldiers. Perhaps because a surge means some of these troops will deploy to Iraq for their fourth or fifth tours and some will go in March, months earlier than expected. In a poll published this week in the Military Times, more service members disapproved of the President's handling of the war than approved, the first time that's happened.”

Bush at Fort Benning: “They're going to have a well-defined mission. I hear people say there must be a clear military mission. That's what the military people have said to me.”

Axelrod: “Former Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers say it may take longer than usual but the troops will support the surge.”

Myers: “People will get used to this and it will be -- it will be discussed among them, and then I think you'll find the enthusiasm for all this will increase.”

Axelrod: “While the President thanked those most directly affected by the surge, his Secretary of Defense addressed questions about it in Washington -- addressed, not answered. How long might the surge be?”

Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense: “It's viewed as a temporary surge. But I think no one has a really clear idea of how long that might be.”
Axelrod: “The President's aides know that selling this new way forward requires more than just the right photo-op or applause line. One senior official told me today, opinions will change only when people see results.”
Iraq CBS Evening News
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