CBS4 ignored its own reporting while repeating President Bush's claim that Iraq has not spiraled into a civil war

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During its 10 p.m. broadcast on November 28, KCNC CBS4 uncritically repeated President Bush's claim that Iraq has not spiraled into a civil war, but it did not mention that several media outlets are now calling the Iraq conflict a civil war. Only a day earlier, CBS4 aired a report on the change in terminology and its implications.

The November 28 broadcast of KCNC's CBS4 News at 10 p.m. uncritically repeated President Bush's claim that Iraq has not spiraled into a civil war without noting that several prominent media outlets have begun using that term to describe the conflict. In fact, during the November 27 broadcast of CBS4 News at 10 p.m., reporter Jodi Brooks noted, "[T]onight on the network evening newscasts, one network branded the Iraq conflict a civil war. Another network said that country slips ever closer to a civil war. And a third network says you can call it anarchy; you can call it chaos; you can call it a civil war."

As The Boston Globe noted in a November 28 article, several media outlets -- including NBC News, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, McClatchy Newspapers, and The Christian Science Monitor -- have "buck[ed] the White House" and begun referring to the conflict in Iraq as a civil war. On November 27, CBS4 aired a special report about this change in terminology and asked the question, "The violence in Iraq: Is it civil war?"

From the November 27 broadcast of KCNC's CBS4 News at 10 p.m.:

BROOKS: Molly, tonight on the network evening newscasts, one network branded the Iraq conflict a civil war. Another network said that country slips ever closer to a civil war. And a third network says you can call it anarchy; you can call it chaos; you can call it a civil war. Tonight, why the choice of words is so important.

The violence in Iraq: Is it civil war? Let's take a look. Sectarian violence between Shiite and Sunni Muslims has increased dramatically. And according to Webster's, civil war is defined as war between geographical sections or political factions of the same nation.

Brooks further noted that "[t]he Bush administration says it does not believe Iraq is in a civil war. And the Iraqi prime minister agrees. On Air Force One, national security adviser Stephen Hadley told reporters, 'We're clearly in a new phase, characterized by this increasing sectarian violence.' "

In contrast to the previous night's coverage, CBS4 co-anchor Jim Benemann uncritically reported on November 28 that "[t]he president says Iraq has not spiraled into a civil war."

From the November 28 broadcast of KCNC's CBS4 News at 10 p.m.:

BENEMANN: President Bush will be meeting with Iraq's prime minister tomorrow in Jordan. This is being called the most important meeting between the two countries since Saddam Hussein was removed. At a NATO summit in Latvia today, President Bush addressed the worsening violence in Iraq. He again blamed outside terrorists. The president says Iraq has not spiraled into a civil war.

BUSH: There's a lot of sectarian violence taking place -- fomented, in my opinion, because of these attacks by Al Qaeda, causing people to seek reprisal.

Benemann failed to report that, contrary to Bush's assertion, several other media outlets are describing the situation in Iraq as a civil war.

According to a November 27 Associated Press article, the term "civil war" is "a phrase that President Bush and many ... news organizations have avoided" in describing the Iraq conflict. On the November 27 broadcast of NBC's Today, however, co-host Matt Lauer announced, "NBC News has decided the change in terminology is warranted -- that the situation in Iraq, with armed militarized factions fighting for their own political agendas, can now be characterized as civil war."

The AP article quoted White House press secretary Tony Snow, who responded to NBC's change in terminology regarding Iraq by saying:

You have not yet had a situation also where you have two clearly defined and opposing groups vying not only for power, but for territory. ... What you do have is sectarian violence that seems to be less aimed at gaining full control over an area than expressing differences, and also trying to destabilize a democracy -- which is different than a civil war, where two sides are clashing for territory and supremacy.

From the November 28 broadcast of KCNC's CBS4 News at 10 p.m.:

BENEMANN: President Bush will be meeting with Iraq's prime minister tomorrow in Jordan. This is being called the most important meeting between the two countries since Saddam Hussein was removed. At a NATO summit in Latvia today, President Bush addressed the worsening violence in Iraq. He again blamed outside terrorists. The president says Iraq has not spiraled into a civil war.

BUSH: There's a lot of sectarian violence taking place -- fomented, in my opinion, because of these attacks by Al Qaeda, causing people to seek reprisal.

BENEMANN: The president and the prime minister will focus on giving Iraqi forces more responsibility. Iraq says that process will take time. And today, it got what it wanted from the U.N. Security Council -- the Council voting unanimously to keep a multinational force of 160,000 in Iraq for another year.

From the November 27 broadcast of KCNC's CBS4 News at 10 p.m.:

MOLLY HUGHES (co-anchor): President Bush is in Eastern Europe tonight. And later this week, he will meet with Iraq's prime minister to address the increasing violence in that country. Some are describing it as the most important meeting between the two nations since the removal of Saddam Hussein. It is expected the president, Bush, will agree to give Iraqi forces more control. But advisers are saying President Bush is not expected to talk about withdrawing U.S. troops.

Nearly 60 -- 91 people, that is -- were either killed or found dead today in Iraq, hundreds in the last few days. Many journalists, as well as political and military experts, are saying the country has spiraled into an all-out civil war. But President Bush's national security adviser is not going that far. CBS4's Jodi Brooks goes inside the story on this tonight to look at that argument. Jodi?

BROOKS: Molly, tonight on the network evening newscasts, one network branded the Iraq conflict a civil war. Another network said that country slips ever closer to a civil war. And a third network says you can call it anarchy; you can call it chaos; you can call it a civil war. Tonight, why the choice of words is so important.

The violence in Iraq: Is it civil war? Let's take a look. Sectarian violence between Shiite and Sunni Muslims has increased dramatically. And according to Webster's, civil war is defined as war between geographical sections or political factions of the same nation.

PROFESSOR ARTHUR GILBERT: There is no such thing as an objective definition of a civil war.

BROOKS: DU Professor Arthur Gilbert has studied international relations 47 years. He says language has power. And to change terminology changes the conflict.

GILBERT: Then, in effect, we become a country caught in the crossfire between the Sunnis and the Shia.

BROOKS: The Bush administration says it does not believe Iraq is in a civil war. And the Iraqi prime minister agrees. On Air Force One, national security adviser Stephen Hadley told reporters, "We're clearly in a new phase, characterized by this increasing sectarian violence." And U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan weighed in, saying Iraq is close to a civil war.

ANNAN: We could be there. And, in fact, we are almost there.

BROOKS: And to call Iraq a civil war could also change policy dramatically.

GILBERT: People who are on the fence as to whether we should be involved in Iraq will tend to lean toward the idea "we have to get out of this. It's a civil war." It's like staying out of a marital conflict.

BROOKS: Civil war is a hot-button term. Professor Gilbert says there is no committee to clean up the language here. He says when you define the war as a civil war, it comes with a political interest. Molly?

HUGHES: A lot of debate about this, Jodi; thank you. Officials at CBS Network News in New York tell us they discuss the situation in Iraq all the time, but there is currently no network policy to use the term "civil war."

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