Media continue to excise Bush assertion that "sometimes I'm happy" over news from Iraq

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN

Several media outlets, in their reporting on a response President Bush gave in his August 21 press conference to a question on Iraq, either excised or omitted Bush's admission that "sometimes I'm happy" when hearing about the situation there.

In reporting on a response President Bush gave in his August 21 press conference, to a question on Iraq, many media outlets either excised or omitted Bush's admission that "sometimes I'm happy" when hearing about the situation there. Most notably, reports by CBS News White House correspondent Bill Plante, Fox News chief White House correspondent Bret Baier, and NBC News White House correspondent Kelly O'Donnell included most or all of Bush's response except his statement that "sometimes I'm happy," while providing little or no indication that they had substantively cropped the quote.

As Media Matters for America has noted, during the press conference, Bush faced a question regarding whether he is -- as The New York Times recently reported -- "frustrated" by news from Iraq and the lack of gratitude among the Iraqi people. Bush responded:

BUSH: Frustrated? Sometimes I'm frustrated. Rarely surprised. Sometimes I'm happy. You know, this is -- but war is not a time of joy. These aren't joyous times. These are challenging times. And they're difficult times. And they're straining the psyche of our country, I understand that.

But multiple press accounts of the press conference either excised, cropped out or didn't mention the president's admission that "[s]ometimes I'm happy" -- even when they reported or quoted most of Bush's response. Several accounts -- including that of The Washington Post on August 21, as Media Matters noted -- simply removed Bush's admission that he is "sometimes ... happy" from their airing of the statement.

For example, a report by Plante, on the August 21 broadcast of the CBS Evening News, visibly jumped over the space where the admission would have aired:

PLANTE: But as the public's frustration with the war continues to grow, the president conceded that the daily reports of death and destruction take a toll -- both on the nation and on him.

BUSH: Frustrated? Sometimes I'm frustrated. Rarely surprised.

BUSH: These aren't joyous times. These are challenging times. And they're difficult times. And they're straining the psyche of our country, I understand that.

Plante repeated his flawed presentation on the August 22 broadcast of CBS' The Early Show:

PLANTE: The president did make an impassioned defense of the Iraq war. It was personal; it was political. He acknowledged the ongoing casualties and the divisive effect of the war, and he admitted that it was taking a toll -- both on the nation and on him.

BUSH: Frustrated? Sometimes I'm frustrated. Rarely surprised.

BUSH: These aren't joyous times. These are challenging times. And they're difficult times. And they're straining the psyche of our country, I understand that.

Similarly, on the August 21 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, Baier's report provided viewers with no indication that the quote had been tampered with:

BAIER: The president was asked if he was frustrated about the situation in Iraq.

BUSH: Frustrated? Sometimes I'm frustrated. Rarely surprised. These are challenging times. And they're difficult times. And they're straining the psyche of our country, I understand that.

Finally, in her report on the August 21 broadcast of the NBC Nightly News, O'Donnell spoke over what appeared to be that portion of Bush's answer -- to her own question -- in order to provide her own context for the latter part of Bush's response:

O'DONNELL: Pressed about unrelenting sectarian violence and failed efforts to slow the killing, President Bush offered an unusual glimpse into his thinking.

BUSH: Frustrated? Sometimes I'm frustrated. Rarely surprised.

O'DONNELL: And acknowledged Iraq's weight on the nation.

BUSH: And they're difficult times. And they're straining the psyche of our country, I understand that.

O'Donnell's flawed report also aired on that evening's edition of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann.

Other accounts, such as ABC's World News with Charles Gibson's or the Associated Press', reported just about everything in the response except Bush's admission that "sometimes I'm happy" -- including noting that Bush said he was "frustrated," that he commented on the current lack of "joy," that he called the current "times" "challenging" and "difficult," and that he said they are "straining the psyche of our country."

From the August 21 broadcast of ABC's World News with Charles Gibson:

RADDATZ: Charlie [Gibson], the president is under intense pressure. He has staked his foreign policy reputation on the Mideast, and the region is in turmoil.

"These are challenging times," said the president today. And while he was talking about Iraq, it was a phrase that could apply to so many troubled spots around the world.

BUSH: These aren't joyous times. These are challenging times. And they're difficult times. And they're straining the psyche of our country, I understand that.

RADDATZ: The president acknowledged that he is sometimes frustrated by the lack of progress in Iraq and worries about civil war. But he was adamant that the U.S. will stay the course.

From an August 22 Associated Press report:

Bush said he was frustrated by the war at times.

"War is not a time of joy," he said. "These are challenging times, and they're difficult times, and they're straining the psyche of our country. I understand that. You know, nobody likes to see innocent people die. Nobody wants to turn on their TV on a daily basis and see havoc wrought by terrorists."

From Washington Post staff writer Dana Milbank's August 22 "Washington Sketch" column:

It's official: The Iraq Civil War has begun -- not necessarily in Iraq, but in Washington, where an all-out fight has broken out over whether what is happening on the Tigris can be called a civil war.

"You know, I hear a lot of talk about civil war," President Bush said at the top of a news conference yesterday. "I'm concerned about that, of course."

But not that concerned. An unusually gloomy Bush admitted with Carter-esque candor that he has been "frustrated" and that Iraq is "straining the psyche of our country." Civil war, however, was not part of his confession. "The security forces remain united behind the government," he said.

[...]

And White House press secretary Tony Snow was categorical. "There is not a civil war going on," he said last week.

But the label would not go away. "We in fact are in probably a low-grade, maybe a very defined civil war," Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) proposed over the weekend.

Into this rhetorical minefield stepped an anxious Bush yesterday morning. "These aren't joyous times," he acknowledged as he probed the nation's strained psyche. He started with an opening statement about Lebanese reconstruction, but the Associated Press's Terry Hunt yanked him right into Iraq, reminding him about "the highest civilian monthly toll since the war began."

CNN's coverage was inconsistent. White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux mentioned all the elements of the statement except the "happy" admission during her report on CNN's Your World Today. However, her subsequent reports on Live From ... included Bush's entire response. Similarly, White House correspondent Ed Henry aired only the second half of Bush's response in his report during the first hour of The Situation Room; however, he then included the whole response in the second hour. He reverted to his initial version for reports aired in the third hour of The Situation Room and also on that evening's edition of Anderson Cooper 360.

From the August 21 edition of CNN's Your World Today:

RICHARD QUEST (anchor): The president also spoke a great deal about Iraq during that news conference, Suzanne. And what struck me listening to him was, he was almost getting testy with reporters, including yourself at one point, for the way in which people keep pushing him on this, about when -- when is the U.S. going to withdraw, when is there going to be an improvement?

MALVEAUX: Well, you're right. I mean, that's pretty typical of the president every once in a while, showing a little bit of frustration. He even was pushed on that point, whether or not he himself was personally frustrated with how thing were going in Iraq. He said he is not surprised but he is frustrated. He also said that this is not a time of joy, that these are challenging and difficult times.

As you know, Richard, this administration has just a little more than two years to try to turn things around. There is very little that is working in its favor. And what the president you saw doing here is essentially saying this is going to be on somebody else's watch when this is wrapped up. This is going to be a difficult situation in Iraq and other places in the world, but he's asking Americans and others to be patient -- Richard.

QUEST: All right. Thank you very much.

From the 1 p.m. ET hour of CNN's Live From ...:

MALVEAUX: We also heard the president say that he did care that people are discouraged about how things are going there. And he also said that is the reason why he's going to be spending a lot of time talking about this, that why it's important for the U.S. to stay in Iraq for the long term.

BUSH [video clip]: Frustrated? Sometimes I'm frustrated. Rarely surprised. Sometimes I'm happy. You know, this is -- it's -- a war is not a time of joy. These aren't joyous times. These are challenging times. And they're difficult times. And they're straining the psyche of our country, I understand that. You know, nobody likes to see innocent people die.

MALVEAUX: But [CNN anchor] Kyra [Phillips], the president says that it is important for the United States to stay resolved when it comes to Iraq.

From the first hour of the August 21 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

HENRY: Well, the president started out jovial. He was joking with reporters about our temporary digs across the street from the White House. He even teased one journalist about his seersucker suit, but I can tell you the mood shifted pretty quickly in that room because of the fact that the president was very serious and sober about the situation in Iraq.

The nearly one-hour press conference featured a dramatic admission from the president about just how unpopular the war in Iraq has become.

BUSH [video clip]: These aren't joyous times. These are challenging times. And they're difficult times. And they're straining the psyche of our country, I understand that. You know, nobody likes to see innocent people die.

From the second hour of The Situation Room:

HENRY: Last week, as you know, White House spokesman Tony Snow denied a published report about a private meeting, charging that the president was frustrated about progress in Iraq. Today, the president suggested otherwise.

BUSH [video clip]: Frustrated? Sometimes I'm frustrated. Rarely surprised. Sometimes I'm happy. You know, this is -- it's -- a war is not a time of joy. These aren't joyous times. These are challenging times. And they're difficult times. And they're straining the psyche of our country, I understand that. Nobody likes to see innocent people die.

HENRY: But in the next breath, the president declaring he has no plans to change course, saying so long as he is president, the U.S. will not withdraw troops from Iraq. Quickly, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid [NV] firing back today, teeing off on the fact that the president was talking about the American people's psyche in dealing with this conflict.

Henry's report from the third hour of The Situation Room, which was also used on that evening's edition of Anderson Cooper 360:

HENRY: Wolf [Blitzer], the president offered a sober assessment of the situation in Iraq, admitting he has no idea how long this mission will take.

The nearly one-hour press conference featured a dramatic admission from the president about just how unpopular the war in Iraq has become.

BUSH [video clip]: These aren't joyous times. These are challenging times, And they're difficult times. And they're straining the psyche of our country, I understand that. You know, nobody likes to see innocent people die.

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