Fox News host Brit Hume and White House correspondent Carl Cameron both made misleading claims in defense of controversial remarks by deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove, who in a June 22 speech stated: "Conservatives saw the savagery of 9-11 and the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9-11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers." Both Hume and Cameron mouthed the White House talking point that Rove was comparing two different "philosophies" -- liberal and conservative -- and wasn't targeting Democrats. In fact, Rove specifically mentioned two prominent Democrats -- Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean and Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-IL) -- as examples of those who merely want to "understand our enemies."
During a June 23 press briefing, White House press secretary Scott McClellan downplayed Rove's recent comments by characterizing them as a discussion of "different philosophies":
Q: [Rove] said the Democrats wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers. That's not injecting politics into the tragedy of September 11th?
McCLELLAN: I think it's talking about the different philosophies for winning the war on terrorism. The president recognizes that the way to win the war on terrorism is to take the fight to the enemy, to stay on the offensive, and to work to spread freedom and democracy to defend [against] the ideology of hatred that they espouse, and the ideology of tyranny and oppression.
Q: So will the President ask Karl Rove to apologize?
McCLELLAN: Of course not, Jessica. This is simply talking about different philosophies and different approaches. And I think you have to look at it in that context. If people want to try to engage in personal attacks instead of defending their philosophy, that's their business. But it's important to point out the different approaches when it comes to winning the war on terrorism. And that's all he was doing.
Q: So you're suggesting that Rove's approach to discussing the philosophy that Democrats -- is to say that they want to prepare indictments and seek counseling. That's their philosophy, is that what you were saying?
McCLELLAN: I think the comments were saying -- the conservative approach and the liberal approach is what he was talking about.
On the June 23 edition of Fox News' Special Report, Hume and Cameron echoed this White House talking point.
In a report on the controversy surrounding Rove's comments, Cameron stressed that "Rove was not addressing a Republican group," but rather New York's Conservative Party. He went on to express surprise that Democrats had reacted so strongly to the comments: "Though Rove compared liberal and conservative philosophies, on Capitol Hill it was Democrats that called for an apology or Rove's resignation."
During the "Fox News All-Star Panel," Hume initiated a discussion of the issue with this disclaimer: "Now it's probably worth noting at the outset here that Rove directed his criticism and his comparison at ... liberals as opposed to conservatives. He never did say Democrats. Democrats seem to have rushed to make themselves the targets of this attack by Rove." Moments later, however, Hume contradicted himself, as the weblog Daily Howler highlighted. When Roll Call executive editor Morton M. Kondracke suggested that Rove "went over the top," that he should have said "some liberals," and that he was "referring to MoveOn.org." Hume responded, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! MoveOn.org lies at the heart of the Democratic Party nowadays, doesn't it, Mort?"
But the full text of Rove's speech shows that he did specifically target Democrats. Following his statement that "liberals saw the savagery of the 9-11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers," Rove went on to cite Dean and Durbin as examples:
ROVE: MoveOn.org, Michael Moore and Howard Dean may not have agreed with this, but the American people did. Conservatives saw what happened to us on 9-11 and said: we will defeat our enemies. Liberals saw what happened to us and said: we must understand our enemies. Conservatives see the United States as a great nation engaged in a noble cause; liberals see the United States and they see ... Nazi concentration camps, Soviet gulags, and the killing fields of Cambodia.
Has there been a more revealing moment this year than when Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin, speaking on the Senate floor, compared what Americans had done to prisoners in our control at Guantánamo Bay with what was done by Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot -- three of the most brutal and malevolent figures in the 20th century?
Let me put this in fairly simple terms: Al Jazeera now broadcasts to the region the words of Sen. Durbin, certainly putting America's men and women in uniform in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals.
Moreover, before the speech, in an interview with MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, Rove responded to a question about "the different approaches that Republicans and liberals have in the war on terror" by specifically referring to the Democratic Party, as well as Dean and Durbin:
ROVE: They are dominated today by sort of the MoveOn.org wing of the Democratic Party, you know, the Howard Deans, the Dick Durbins, the MoveOn.org, the Michael Moores, and saying outrageous things like this. I don`t know. I don`t understand. Remember, MoveOn.org, in the aftermath of 9-11, ran a huge petition drive, a big ad in The New York Times and other newspapers, asking for us to have understanding and tolerance of the Taliban and discouraging any violent response to 9-11. This just shows how out of touch these people are. And when someone takes to the floor of the United States Senate and says that the men and women serving at Guantánamo are equivalent to the Nazis, the Stalinists and the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot, murderers, it's pretty remarkably tone deaf. [MSNBC's Scarborough Country, 6/23/05]
Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman interpreted Rove's remark as a reference to the two parties. "I think what Karl Rove said is accurate and reflects a big difference between the two parties. ... I think they [Democrats] have a pre-9/11 world view, and I think that's one of the biggest reasons President Bush was re-elected, because the American people understood they wanted a president and a philosophy that took on the terrorists abroad to keep us safer at home and guide our ways," according to a June 24 Associated Press article.