Matthews, Gingrich, Hannity, others seize on new bin Laden tape to discredit war critics

››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

Several media figures have used the release of Osama bin Laden's new audiotape to denounce critics of the Bush administration's conduct of the war in Iraq.

Several media figures have seized on Osama bin Laden's newly released audiotape to denounce critics of the Bush administration's conduct of the war in Iraq. Explicitly asserting comparisons between bin Laden and prominent war critics, including filmmaker Michael Moore and Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman Howard Dean, MSNBC's Hardball host Chris Matthews and others are condemning legitimate dissent over the merits of the Iraq war and President Bush's actions in its prosecution. That dissent is now shared not just by such favorite conservative targets as Moore and Dean, but, now, by a plurality -- or even a majority -- of the American people. As Daou Report founder and editor Peter Daou wrote, in a January 19 entry at The Huffington Post weblog, in response to Matthews's comments linking bin Laden's statements to Moore:"[T]his is not just about Chris Matthews or Michael Moore or Osama Bin Laden, it's about the willingness of a prominent media figure to slander an opponent of the war."

An exchange between former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and Fox News host Sean Hannity on the January 19 edition of Hannity & Colmes illustrates how conservatives have attempted to use the bin Laden tape to condemn debate about the war. While Gingrich prefaced his comments by referencing the importance of "open debate," he asserted that the bin Laden tape proves that terrorists "take a great deal of comfort when they see" politicians and other critics like Moore "attacking United States policies." Hannity added that the purported resemblance between bin Laden's comments and those of Democratic members of Congress illustrates how the Democrats have "undermined this war."

From the January 19 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:

GINGRICH: I think it's quite clear as you point out, Sean, that from this tape, that bin Laden and his lieutenants are monitoring the American news media, they're monitoring public opinion polling, and I suspect they take a great deal of comfort when they see people attacking United States policies. That doesn't mean we shouldn't be a free society and have open debate, but we should recognize, when some of our politicians use very extreme language or some of our celebrities -- like Michael Moore -- use very extreme language, that the enemy does, in fact, take great comfort from that.

HANNITY: It's more than that. I think it's also the leaders in the Democratic Party that, from the very beginning, have undermined this war. If I were to give you a quiz, Mr. Speaker, and if I would say to you, "You know, was it [Sen.] Ted Kennedy [D-MA], [House Democratic Leader] Nancy Pelosi [D-CA], [Rep.] John Murtha [D-PA] who said, 'George Bush gives continuous, deliberate misinformation. Polls reveal that we want to withdraw from Iraq.' " You would have guessed either of -- any of those. Well, it was bin Laden who said that.

As Hannity's remark indicates, many of the comparisons focused on the usual progressive targets from the 2004 election campaign such as Moore and Dean, while others linked bin Laden to war critics who have more recently gained attention, like Murtha, who issued a plan to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq in November.

For example, on the January 19 edition of Hardball, Matthews said that bin Laden "sounds like an over-the-top Michael Moore, if not a Michael Moore." On that evening's edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country, host Joe Scarborough said that bin Laden's comments "were awfully close to some of the president's detractors," including Moore, Murtha, Dean, Kennedy, and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA). Scarborough Country guest and fellow MSNBC host, Tucker Carlson, added that the bin Laden tape is "not an Islamic tape, it's a propaganda tape parroting the DNC." He continued: "I hate to think of Osama bin Laden reclining in his cave in Waziristan [Pakistan] reading the op-ed page of The New York Times, but clearly he is. He's got every talking point." Additionally, a January 20 editorial by the New York Post asked: "Who writes his [bin Laden] stuff -- Howard Dean? John Murtha? Sure sounds like it."

Similarly, on the January 19 edition of Fox News' Big Story with John Gibson, former New York City Police commissioner Bernard Kerik said of bin Laden: "Basically, he's following the Democratic frontline." Big Story host, John Gibson, declared: "bin Laden told us today that our far left has been working for him." Noting that bin Laden said that polling shows, in Gibson's words, that "American support for the war [is] waning and that some Americans want a pullout from Iraq," he added: "It's their [the "far left"] poll results he quotes." In fact, while polling results are indeed mixed on whether and when Americans would like the United States to withdraw from Iraq, most polls -- conducted not by the "far left" but by major newspapers and polling organizations -- show that a plurality, or even majority, of Americans disapprove of the Bush administration's conduct of the war and believe it was a mistake to undertake the war in the first place.

For example, a CBS News poll conducted January 5-8 found that 58 percent of Americans "disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling the situation with Iraq" compared with 37 percent who approve. A USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll (subscription required) conducted December 16-18 found that 56 percent of respondents believe Bush does not "have a plan that will achieve victory for the United States in Iraq" compared with 42 percent who believe he does.

Polls also show that a plurality, or majority, of Americans now believe the war was a mistake in the first place. For example, a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll (subscription required) conducted January 6-8 found that 52 percent of Americans believe it was not "worth going to war in Iraq," while 46 percent believe it was. That poll also found that 50 percent believe sending troops to Iraq was "a mistake," while 47 percent do not. Similarly, the CBS News poll conducted January 5-8 also found that 49 percent of respondents believe the United States "should have stayed out" of Iraq compared with 47 percent who believe the war was warranted. Finally, a Pew Research Center for the People and the Press poll conducted January 4-8 found that 47 percent of Americans believe the war in Iraq was the "wrong decision" compared with 45 percent who believe it was the "right decision."

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