Numerous media outlets attribute "slow bleed" rhetoric to Democrats

››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN

CNN and MSNBC are among the latest media outlets to suggest that the term "slow bleed" was the Democrats' description of Rep. John Murtha's strategy in dealing with the administration on Iraq. In fact, the term has been embraced by Republicans to attack Democrats after it appeared in a Politico article.

While reporting on recent congressional debates over the Iraq war on the February 18 edition of CNN Newsroom, CNN White House correspondent Kathleen Koch misleadingly suggested that the term "slow bleed" was the Democrats' description of Rep. John P. Murtha's (D-PA) strategy in dealing with the administration on Iraq. In her report, Koch asserted: "White House press secretary Tony Snow confirmed President Bush would oppose Murtha's so-called 'slow bleed measure' to limit troop deployments." But she gave no indication who was actually referring to Murtha's plan as a "slow-bleed measure." As Media Matters for America has noted repeatedly (here, here, and here), the term "slow bleed" was embraced by Republicans to attack Democrats after it appeared in a February 14 Politico article by John Bresnahan, and is not used by Democrats to describe Murtha's proposal, as Koch suggested.

Additionally, several media outlets, including CNN, uncritically aired Republicans who appeared to falsely attribute the "slow bleed" term to Democrats. As Media Matters noted, the Republican National Committee (RNC), citing Bresnahan's February 14 article, falsely claimed in a press release that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) "call it their 'slow-bleed' plan." Media Matters noted that Bresnahan's article did not attribute the term to anyone and did not place it in quotes, suggesting that it was The Politico's own. In a February 16 article, Bresnahan clarified that the term "slow-bleed strategy" was The Politico's "characteriz[ation]," and "was not a term used by any Democrats or the anti-war groups supporting their efforts." He also noted: "The RNC, however, attributed the phrase to Democrats, and it was used in their e-mail alert."

Nonetheless, numerous media outlets aired Republicans continuing to attribute "slow bleed" to Democrats without noting their attribution is false. For instance:

  • On the February 16 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, congressional correspondent Dana Bash aired Rep. Roy Blunt's (R-MO) assertion that the Democrats' "so-called 'slow-bleed' approach is the bite that will surely hurt those fighting under America's flag overseas." Bash followed up on Blunt's statement by reporting only that "what Republicans are referring to there is a plan by Congressman John Murtha, an anti-war congressman from Pennsylvania, to try to set conditions on funding for Iraq, with the goal of forcing the president to bring the troops home." At no point did Bash make clear in their respective reports that it was Republicans who were using the term "slow bleed" to attack Democrats' Iraq war proposals.
  • A February 16 Associated Press article also uncritically reported Blunt's misleading characterization of the Democrats' "so-called slow-bleed approach," without making clear the origin of the term.
  • As Media Matters noted, a February 16 New York Times article reported that "Republican leaders ... have accused some Democrats of pursuing a strategy to cut war financing gradually -- 'a slow bleed,' Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi, the Republican whip, put it, 'a terminology that horrifies me.' " As Media Matters pointed out, Lott's quote suggests that it is the Democrats who chose the "terminology" that "horrifies" him, and the Times did not clarify that Democrats had not used the term.
  • Like The New York Times, on the February 16 edition of CBS' The Early Show, CBS News Capitol Hill correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reported that "[y]esterday, Republicans attacked Murtha's ideas, which some are terming a slow bleed," and followed by airing Lott's statement, "[t]hat terminology really horrifies me and scares me to death. Who would bleed?"
  • During a discussion about Murtha's proposal on the February 19 edition of MSNBC's Tucker, the onscreen text read: "Murtha's 'Slow Bleed' Plan to End the War."

  • During a February 20 Washington Post online chat, Washington Post White House reporter Peter Baker described Murtha's proposal as "being called the 'slow-bleed' strategy," without attributing the term to Republicans.

From the February 16 edition of CBS' The Early Show:

ATTKISSON: Which he revealed Thursday on the website of an activist group for Democrats. Murtha's legislation will say troops can't be sent back into battle until they've had a year at home. They must have equipment and training that they won't realistically be able to get. Their tours can't be extended and permanent bases would be prohibited.

MURTHA: If they can't extend people, if they can't send people back that don't have equipment and so forth, they can't continue to surge, is what it amounts to.

ATTKISSON: Murtha says he may also include conditions for the U.S. going into Iran, such as the administration would need congressional authority and could be required to close the Guantánamo prison for terror suspects. Yesterday, Republicans attacked Murtha's ideas, which some are terming a slow bleed.

LOTT: That terminology really horrifies me and scares me to death. Who would bleed?

ATTKISSON: Murtha's legislation would be attached to the president's war funding. For Democrats, it's all about stopping the surge without holding an unpopular vote to cut funding for the troops.

From the 4 p.m. ET hour of the February 16 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

BASH: Instead, the president's GOP allies warned against the Democrats' next move -- restrict funds for the Iraq mission.

BLUNT: We've already heard the Democrats calling the debate this week the bark before the bite -- their so-called "slow-bleed" approach is the bite that will surely hurt those fighting under America's flag overseas.

BASH: Now, what Republicans are referring to there is a plan by Congressman John Murtha, an anti-war congressman from Pennsylvania, to try to set conditions on funding for Iraq, with the goal of forcing the president to bring the troops home. Now, today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi [D-CA], who is determined to stay on message about today's vote, would simply just say that yes, the Democrats are thinking about setting benchmarks but was very quick to say after that that Congress would always support the troops.

From the 4 p.m. hour of the February 18 edition of CNN Newsroom:

KOCH: Others are eyeing a proposal by Congressman John Murtha to place conditions on future war spending and troop deployments.

[begin video clip]

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R-NE): I'm going to look very carefully at Congressman Murtha's points. And again, when --

RUSSERT: And you may be open to them?

HAGEL: And I'd be open to it.

SEN. JACK REED (D-RI): Down the road, will we consider issues with respect to funding? I think so. But we'll never compromise the ability of American soldiers to protect themselves.

[end video clip]

KOCH: One top Senate Republican points out the obvious about Murtha's measure, or those that would limit funds for the troops.

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R-IN): They're unlikely to pass two houses and be signed by the president.

KOCH: White House press secretary Tony Snow confirmed President Bush would oppose Murtha's so-called "slow-bleed measure" to limit troop deployments.

SNOW: What I would say to members of Congress is, "Calm down and take a look at what's going on, and ask yourself the simple question: If you support the troops, would you deny them the re-enforcements they think are necessary to complete the mission?"

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