Limbaugh distorted news reports to falsely suggest they didn't identify Hezbollah as a terrorist organization

››› ››› ROB DIETZ & BEN FISHEL

Rush Limbaugh deceptively cropped a series of news reports on the recent violence in the Middle East to falsely suggest the reports didn't identify Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. In fact, each of the news reports Limbaugh cited mentioned that Hezbollah is an organization devoted to destroying the state of Israel and either called it a terrorist organization or noted that the United States and Israel describe the group as such.

On the July 18 edition of his nationally syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh deceptively cropped a series of news reports on the recent violence in the Middle East to falsely suggest the reports didn't identify Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Noting that the members making up Hezbollah "have been terrorists for a long time," Limbaugh alleged that "all of a sudden, now that they're engaged with a U.S. ally" the media suggests that "they're just poor little wife-finders, construction workers, doctors and nurses, water sanitation experts, schoolteachers." Limbaugh made the claim as purported evidence that the media are seeking to "humanize Hezbollah" and portray the group as "the good guys." But each of the news reports Limbaugh cited -- by CNN chief national correspondent John King, NBC chief foreign correspondent Andrea Mitchell, CNN host Miles O'Brien and Wall Street Journal reporter Yaroslav Trofimov -- mentioned that Hezbollah is an organization devoted to destroying the state of Israel and either called it a terrorist organization or noted that the United States and Israel describe the group as such.

Limbaugh played a tape of King's report from the July 17 edition of CNN Live Today, in which King said: "Hezbollah is a significant political force in Lebanon, holding seats in parliament and running cabinet ministries and building public support by running social welfare programs." But that was just one sentence from King's report. In addition, King's segment included footage of a Hezbollah bombing in 1983 that "killed more than 200 Marines," labeled Hezbollah "the radical Shiite group [that] wants to eliminate Israel," and noted that "Hezbollah has ignored a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding it disarm." King also aired former acting CIA director John McLaughlin's remark that "Hezbollah is often called the A team in the terrorist world."

The next piece from Limbaugh's montage was Mitchell's July 17 statement on NBC's Nightly News that "Hezbollah's charismatic leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, has become Lebanon's best known and most controversial politician. Nasrallah provides social services." But Mitchell's statement was a lead-in to a comment by Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, who said of Hezbollah, in a comment that Limbaugh did not air: "It has developed a terrorist cadre, an international terrorist infrastructure and a powerful militia with weapons and capabilities provided by Iran and Syria."

Limbaugh's third piece of purported evidence was a report by O'Brien on the July 18 edition of CNN's American Morning, in which O'Brien interviewed Trofimov for background information on Hezbollah. Limbaugh accused Trofimov of "describing the greatness and the kindnesses engaged in by Hezbollah" when Trofimov stated that "Hezbollah doesn't just fight, but it also runs a construction branch." But in addition to noting "another dimension" of Hezbollah -- that the group provides social services to people in Lebanon -- O'Brien noted that Hezbollah is "made up of Lebanese Shiites with the stated goal of destroying Israel. The U.S. and Israel call Hezbollah a terror group." Trofimov later said that "Hezbollah's main reason, its only reason [for existing], is resistance, and once they secure south Lebanon, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, said Jerusalem is next."

From the July 18 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: There's also an effort under way to humanize Hezbollah, which is not surprising. Bush is the real enemy. You know, if it weren't so serious, it would be comical. The drive-by media -- let's go to audio sound bite number one -- the drive-by media doing everything to humanize Hezbollah. They run social welfare programs in Lebanon, midnight basketball plans for the poor, and they're socially active. It sort of reminds me of when Senator Patty Murray from Washington, after 9-11, talked about Osama bin Laden and about how the reason he had so much support from people was he built them roads and he built them schools and stuff. People were pulling their hair out. We have a little montage from John King at CNN, Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, Washington, and Miles O'Brien from CNN, and Yaroslav Trofimov, wherever he's from -- or her, whatever, she's from -- describing the greatness and the kindnesses engaged in by Hezbollah.

KING [audio clip]: Hezbollah is a significant political force in Lebanon, holding seats in parliament and running cabinet ministries and building public support by running social welfare programs.

MITCHELL [audio clip]: Hezbollah's charismatic leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, has become Lebanon's best known and most controversial politician. Nasrallah provides social services.

O'BRIEN [audio clip]: We see the militant side of Hezbollah, but Hezbollah derives support from its civilian component, its ability to deliver services.

TROFIMOV [audio clip]: Hezbollah doesn't just fight, but it also runs a construction branch, which is called the Construction Jihad, which builds houses for its members --

LIMBAUGH: Hold it! Hold it! Stop the tape! Construction Jihad? Do you know what a jihad is? Jihad is a holy war. Construction Jihad. All right, resume tape.

TROFIMOV [audio clip]: -- runs a social service for the veterans, for the wounded in these battles, with a match-making branch. It finds wives, for example, for these veterans who marry them out of a sense of jihad, without even meeting them first.

[...]

LIMBAUGH: I know how this PR works, and it's amazing. The media, if they want to -- drive-by media will fall for the slickest PR campaign, depending on who puts it out. And it's clear that there's an effort now to humanize and to soften the image of a bunch of terrorists. Hezbollah -- do you know how long they have been around? They are terrorists! These are the clowns that blew up the Marine barracks in Beirut. These are the clowns that participated in the Khobar Towers bombing. These clowns are -- have been terrorists for a long time. But all of a sudden, now that they're engaged with a U.S. ally, why, they're just poor little wife-finders, construction workers, doctors and nurses, water sanitation experts, schoolteachers. It never gets easy, doing the right thing, and being the big guy is never an easy thing, particularly when so many of the members of your club resent you, and I would say that that represents the drive-by media.

[...]

CALLER: No, I'm not sure what you're talking about here, but I wanted to go back to my point. When I was watching today, they spent about 10 seconds talking about Hezbollah doing the social services, and that was just explaining how Hezbollah has infiltrated the Lebanon's government and how -- what they are doing. The left is in no way trying to say that they weren't a murderous terrorist group. I mean, I just think you're totally blowing it out of proportion. They are terrorists and they need to be stopped. But that was not the left's point of trying to humanize them and sympathize with them at all.

LIMBAUGH: Well, I think it is, and I think it's part of a pattern. It's not just Hezbollah. Bin Laden has been praised for some of the great social work he has done, and they do this -- you can't take the context out of it, [caller].

[...]

LIMBAUGH: If you look at the coverage -- and this is something, [caller], you cannot take out of the equation, it's part of the context -- you look at the way the United States drive-by media treats its own members in the U.S. military, its own citizens, and the prison guards and so forth and the president, you compare it with that montage that I just played for you about Hassan Nasrallah and how wonderful he is and what great social services this terrorist group operates; I guarantee you, if you landed here from Mars and you watched the drive-by coverage of U.S. military personnel in Iraq versus the coverage of Hezbollah in the last couple of days, you would conclude Hezbollah is the good guys, according to the drive-by media. Don't forget, Reuters doesn't even allow terrorists to be called terrorists in their news stories.

From the July 17 edition of CNN Live Today:

KING: Beirut, 1983, the suicide bombings that killed more than 200 Marines. Perhaps the first time most Americans became familiar with the work of Hezbollah.

McLAUGHLIN: Hezbollah is often called the A team in the terrorist world. Prior to September 11, they had killed more Americans than any other terrorist group in the world.

KING: "Hezbollah" means "Party of God," and the radical Shiite group wants to eliminate Israel and develop a Muslim fundamentalist state modeled on Iran. Hezbollah is blamed by Israel and others for more than 200 attacks and more than 800 deaths since its founding a quarter-century ago.

McLAUGHLIN: It really is, in many respects, a creature of Iran. Iran gives it a lot of money. It's been estimated at least $100 million a year. It shares Iran's aims strategically.

KING: But it is more than a terrorist organization. Hezbollah is a significant political force in Lebanon, holding seats in parliament and running cabinet ministries and building public support by running social welfare programs.

McLAUGHLIN: About 250,000 of Lebanon's 3.8 million people benefit in some way from the schools, hospitals and other social institutions that Hezbollah sponsors.

KING: It was just a year ago that Syria bowed to international pressure and withdrew its troops from Lebanon, raising hopes at the White House of a democratic example in the troubled region. But Hezbollah has ignored a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding it disarm and effectively controls much of southern Lebanon. So, for the president, it is yet another Middle East setback. Traveling in Europe, Mr. Bush blamed Syria for the escalating tensions in Lebanon and in Gaza.

BUSH: Syria's housing the militant wing of Hamas. Hezbollah has got an active presence in Syria.

KING: But most regional and intelligence experts say the far bigger worry is Iran, who is already accused of stirring the insurgency in Iraq. And now some see Tehran as using Hamas and Hezbollah as proxies to stoke tensions just as the president tries to win support for sanctions against Iran for refusing to curtail its nuclear program.

INDYK: There's a direct connection between Iran and Hezbollah that is very strong and well established, and an interest that Iran has in creating a diversion from its nuclear program.

RICHARD MURRAY (former U.S. ambassador to Syria): I'm concerned by the evidence that that suggests of the Iranian capabilities to push and prod the diplomatic scene throughout the region. I think -- I think it's a nervous time.

KING: Whatever its motivation, the daring capture of two Israeli soldiers reopened southern Lebanon as a military battleground and reasserted Hezbollah's influence on the already volatile Middle East stage. John King, CNN, Washington.

From the July 17 edition of NBC's Nightly News:

MITCHELL: As Hezbollah rockets reach farther into Israel, what is Hezbollah and what is its endgame? Experts say to prove it can damage Israel in ways Arab countries couldn't. Since Syria was forced out of Lebanon a year and a half ago, Hezbollah's charismatic leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, has become Lebanon's best-known and most controversial politician. A Shiite populist, Nasrallah provides social services where Lebanon's weak new government cannot, has ministers in the cabinet, and operates militias.

INDYK: It has developed a terrorist cadre, an international terrorist infrastructure, and a powerful militia with weapons and capabilities provided by Iran and Syria.

MITCHELL: What does Iran get out of this fight? It gets a proxy war that damages Israel and tells the world, "Don't get too aggressive in the nuclear showdown."

DANIEL BENJAMIN (terrorism analyst, Center for Strategic and International Studies): I think that's very clearly one of the messages we're getting here: "Don't mess with us, you'll pay a big price."

MITCHELL: Syria also has an endgame: to reassert control through Hezbollah of Lebanon's fledgling democracy. But what does Israel get out of this conflict?

BENJAMIN: They need to show that this cannot stand. Israel simply can't leave its citizens undefended in the face of all these missiles.

MITCHELL: And why has the U.S. given Israel a green light? Experts say since the administration won't deal with Iran or Syria, having Israel fight Hezbollah is the only way to control the terror group and indirectly strike a blow at its chief sponsor, Iran. The risk? Instead of helping Lebanon's government crack down on Hezbollah, Israel's barrage could cause that government to collapse, creating even more danger for Israel. Andrea Mitchell, NBC News at the State Department.

From the July 18 edition of CNN's American Morning:

O'BRIEN: Hezbollah, or the "Party of God," was born during Israel's occupation of southern Lebanon -- excuse me -- 24 years ago. It is made up of Lebanese Shiites with the stated goal of destroying Israel. The U.S. and Israel call Hezbollah a terror group. But like many groups that are branded that way, it also has another dimension. Yaroslav Trofimov spent time with members of Hezbollah and traveled in southern Lebanon for his book Faith at War [Henry Holt, 2005]. He's a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, and he joins us now from Rome. Yaroslav, good to have you with us this morning.

TROFIMOV: Glad to be on the program.

O'BRIEN: We see the militant side of Hezbollah, but Hezbollah derives support from its civilian component, its ability to deliver services and act as a de facto government in southern Lebanon. Give us a sense of the breadth and depth of the kind of services they provide there.

TROFIMOV: Well, Hezbollah's goal was not just to combat Israel on the battlefield, but also to create a resistant society, that is to transform the entire Shiite community, both in south Lebanon and in south Beirut and the Bekaa Valley into a pot of support and sustainment for the fighters. So this means Hezbollah doesn't just fight, but it also runs a construction branch, which is the called the Construction Jihad, which builds houses for its members. It runs an agricultural outfit which provides livestock and seeds for the farmers along the border. And it even runs a social service for the veterans, for the wounded in its battles, with a matchmaking branch. It finds wives, for example, for these veterans, who marry them out of a sense of jihad, without even meeting them first.

O'BRIEN: So it really has become, in many respects, a government within a government, and, of course, the Lebanese government apparently does not have the power to reckon with this force, does it?

TROFIMOV: Well, militarily, Hezbollah is the only militia that has been allowed to keep its weapons once the civil war there ended. So the government doesn't have the military muscle, obviously, to take on Hezbollah at this time. On the other hand, socially, the difference between Hezbollah and the other Lebanese parties is that Hezbollah has a direct line to Tehran. It's receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in financial aid from Iran, which it then disburses to its communities, something that other communities in Lebanon cannot do.

O'BRIEN: So Hezbollah is very careful to spread the largesse from Iran, and that, of course, ensures that it has devoted followers?

TROFIMOV: Well, absolutely, absolutely. In the areas of south Beirut that are now being bombarded so heavily, which is a virtual Hezbollah stronghold, everything is run by Hezbollah. Even the drinking water is provided to this tower, apartment blocks, by Hezbollah, and if you walk the streets there, these drinking water containers are decorated with the portraits of the Iranian leader, [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei, of Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah, and with the Iranian flags.

O'BRIEN: All right, well, let me ask you this. In spite of all of that, in spite of the fact they have gained political force, and they now have 14 seats in the parliament, could Hezbollah exist without its opposition to Israel? In other words, does it need to be fighting in order to survive?

TROFIMOV: Well, in its present form, absolutely. Hezbollah's main reason, its only reason, is resistance, and once they secure south Lebanon, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, said Jerusalem is next. So once he spoke to the Muslim and the Arab world in his latest speech a couple days ago, he didn't even bother referring or mentioning the existence of the Lebanese government. He spoke of himself as the sword of the entire arm of the Muslim nation. So he sees himself as far more than just a Lebanese faction. And in conditions of peace, obviously, this tremendous stranglehold that Hezbollah exercises over large parts of Lebanon would not exist.

O'BRIEN: Yaroslav Trofimov with The Wall Street Journal, author also of Faith at War, thanks very much for your insights.

TROFIMOV: Great to be here.

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