After the President announced his intentions to seek approval from Congress for action against the Syrian government, cable news reacted with extreme disappointment. Evidently they had hoped for some juicy war images to keep viewers riveted to the television on this Labor Day weekend.
On MSNBC Saturday, Col. Jack Jacobs was absolutely shameful. It was painful to listen to him rant about what a mistake it was for the President to follow the Constitution and take this to Congress. A sign of weakness, he said. A gift to the Assad regime, propaganda fodder. He even went so far as to suggest that John Kerry and Chuck Hagel would resign because the President had somehow undermined them. His unspoken message to viewers was that a debate on action in Syria was a sign of weakness rather than strength.
The Sunday shows, with the one exception of Reliable Sources, were beating the war drums hard this morning in a punitive effort to undermine what should be viewed as a principled decision. ThinkProgress:
Though Kerry, who appeared on all five political programs, insisted that Obama’s decision would allow for the proper constitutional process and permit the administration “time to reach out to allies, friends around the world, build support on an international basis,” the hosts appeared to dismiss any need for Congressional deliberations or public debate about the administration’s evidence or the potential consequences of a military attack. NBC’s David Gregory, Fox’s Chris Wallace, CBS’s Major Garrett, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, and CNN’s Gloria Borger went beyond inquiring about the political timing of Obama’s decision to consult with Congress on Saturday. They repeatedly claimed that Obama’s decision to hold off on immediate military action emboldened America’s adversaries and undermined the nation’s “credibility”:
Over and over again. The transcript of This Week reads like a rant against a President for not unleashing death and destruction on Syria. Terry Moran laid the guilt on heavily and thick:
MORAN: Devastating, George. On Twitter and in public statements, leaders of that fractured opposition in Syria are expressing disappointment and disillusion with American leadership.
One of the leaders of one of those factions said the people of Syria are all alone now. They believe that the chemical weapons attack that they argue was carried out by Assad's regime has been carried out with impunity, and that the world is not ready to do anything.
Obama's leadership image in the Syrian opposition is probably at an all-time low right now, George.
Unsaid: The Syrian opposition is a loose coalition of various interests who are not necessarily allies of the United States. Also unspoken was any mention of the various players in the region using Syria's civil war as a proxy war for their own interests, including Iran, Turkey, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are in it purely to consolidate power in the region, but that goes unmentioned.
Anyone who paid even a little bit of attention to the media frenzy ahead of Iraq saw it again this past week. Granted, some of it was sparked by the White House and Department of State, but the media did not really approach it critically at all.
Less than six months ago, there was a collective reckoning of sorts by media over how they had mishandled the Iraq War. They confessed to a lack of skepticism and being caught up in the emotion of the moment, which is of course what the Bush administration hoped for. David Corn wrote an entire book about it, and cautioned that it could easily happen again. On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of that spectacular media failure, Corn said this:
“Nowadays when we look at small interventions, either through the drone war or Libya or possible attack on Iran or something in Syria, it doesn’t have as widespread a national debate attached to it and thus it might be easier for some sort of repeat to happen,” Corn said
“A re-run, in a different way, remains possible,” Corn added. “When you look at drones, we can’t have a strong public debate about it because a lot of it is classified. The government and people supporting the policy will say, ‘we know.’ In essence, you have to trust us.”
Yet. Now we have a situation where the President has clearly said we absolutely should have a robust public debate about Syria rather than rushing in like fools, and our media response is to parade the generals across the screen telling us how Assad is rejoicing and how our credibility is in the toilet.
This is not responsible press coverage, and Reliable Sources addressed it well. The transcript (courtesy of CNN) is below the fold, and represents possibly the only instance of anyone actually having a look at the nonsense spewed by those 'trusted names in news' with the benefit of history in the picture. I give CNN props. Since Howie Kurtz made his exit, Reliable Sources is actually looking like a legitimate media criticism show. I hope they keep up the good work.