Media reported White House criticism of Pelosi Syria trip, but not its silence on GOP-led trip

››› ››› SARAH PAVLUS & ANDREW IRONSIDE

In reporting that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is planning a visit to Syria accompanied by a bipartisan congressional delegation this week, several media outlets highlighted White House criticism of Pelosi's trip but did not note that a Republican-led delegation met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on April 1 -- nor did they note the White House's inconsistency in criticizing Pelosi for her trip but remaining silent on the GOP-led visit.

As the weblog Think Progress noted, during a March 30 White House press briefing, deputy press secretary Dana Perino attacked Pelosi for her decision to spend time in Syria as part of a Mideast tour. Perino stated: "I know that Assad probably really wants people to come and have a photo opportunity and have tea with him, and have discussions about where they're coming from, but we do think that's a really bad idea." But the White House did not criticize Republican lawmakers who were separately slated to visit Syria. Indeed, on April 1, Reps. Frank Wolf (R-VA), Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) and Robert Aderholt (R-AL) traveled to Damascus and met with Assad, two days before Pelosi's scheduled trip.

Several media outlets subsequently reported the White House's criticism of Pelosi without noting this inconsistency:

  • On the April 2 edition of CNN Newsroom, CNN Beirut bureau chief Brent Sadler reported that Pelosi's "Middle East shuttle with a bipartisan delegation has drawn fire from the George Bush Republican White House" because Pelosi "plans to meet later this week with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus." Sadler did not mention the Republican-led trip to Syria, although, during an earlier report on the April 2 edition of CNN's American Morning, Sadler did report: "Pelosi shrugged away that criticism, saying that, just 24 hours ago, a Republican three-person delegation also passed through Syria and met with Syria's President Bashar al-Assad."
  • In an April 2 article (subscription required), The Wall Street Journal reported that "White House officials continued yesterday in their public rebuking of the speaker for the Syria visit." But the Journal did not mention the Republican delegation's reported visit to Syria or the inconsistency of the White House in its criticism.
  • In a March 30 post on The Politico's Congress weblog, The Crypt, Politico staff writer Patrick O'Connor repeated the White House's attack on Pelosi but did not mention the Republican-led trip. O'Connor wrote: "The White House criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) Friday for stopping in Syria during her trip to the Middle East. ... 'We discourage members of Congress to make such visits to Syria,' White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said. 'This is a country that is a state sponsor of terror.' " Shortly before O'Connor's entry was posted, Bloomberg published an article on its website mentioning the Republican-led trip to Syria.

As Media Matters for America documented, on the April 1 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, Weekly Standard editor and Fox News contributor Bill Kristol echoed the White House's attack on Pelosi. Several other Fox News personalities have similarly criticized Pelosi while ignoring the Republican-led trip:

  • On the April 2 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-hosts Steve Doocy, Gretchen Carlson, and Brian Kilmeade sharply criticized Pelosi, while ignoring the Republican-led trip. Doocy asked: "What the heck is she doing in the Middle East?" adding, "This has got the White House flummoxed." Doocy later said, "[I]n our first hour today, about two hours ago, we had this as a question of the day, whether or not you thought she [Pelosi] was actually being helpful and mediating, or do you think she was meddling. The answer, overwhelmingly, meddler." Earlier in the show, on-screen text teasing the segment read: "Syria-ous mistake?"
  • On the April 1 edition of Fox News' Hannity's America, host Sean Hannity said that Pelosi "decid[ed] to spend her spring break frolicking with Tehran's terrorist minions." The accompanying on-screen text read: "Wrong Time for Pelosi to Hang with Terror Sponsors." Hannity did not note the Republican-led trip.

Also, on the April 1 edition of CBS' Face the Nation, while interviewing White House counselor Dan Bartlett about U.S.-Middle East relations, host Bob Schieffer did not challenge Bartlett for asserting: "We did ask her not to go. We did not believe it would advance the diplomatic efforts in the Middle East. I think most Americans would not think that the leader of the Democratic Party in the Congress should be meeting with the heads of a state sponsor of terror." Schieffer reported that "the president hasn't been too anxious to talk to Syria about what's going on there. Apparently she is."

The selective criticism by some in the media of Pelosi's planned visit to Syria mirrors conservatives' attacks on several Democrats who traveled to Damascus in December 2006. As Media Matters noted, numerous conservative media figures assailed Democratic Sens. Bill Nelson (FL), John Kerry (MA), and Christopher Dodd (CT) for meeting with Assad but ignored Sen. Arlen Specter's (R-PA) meeting with the Syrian president later that month.

From the April 2 edition of CNN Newsroom:

SADLER: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's Middle East shuttle with a bipartisan delegation has drawn fire from the George Bush Republican White House because the speaker, who presides over a Democratic majority in Congress, plans to meet later this week with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus -- a stopover that the White House calls, quote, "a bad decision," because the Bush administration considers Syria a supporter of terrorism.

Pelosi's visit to Lebanon comes amid escalating political tension in Beirut, where Hezbollah-led opponents of the Western-backed government supported by Syria and Iran have virtually paralyzed the city center by camping out on the prime minister's doorstep. Pelosi said solutions to some of Lebanon's problems, including crucial agreements on an international court to try suspects in the murder two years ago of former five-time Prime Minister Rafik Hariri lie on the road to Damascus. She made no apology for putting Syria on her agenda but made it clear Syrian behavior needs to change.

PELOSI [video clip]: Of course, the role of Syria and Iraq, the role of Syria supporting Hamas and Hezbollah, the role of Syria and so many respects that we think there could be a vast improvement. So, therefore, we think it's a good idea to establish the facts, to hopefully build some confidence between us. We have no illusions, but we have great hope.

SADLER: But Lebanon's anti-Syrian leaders are weary of rapprochement between Syria and the West, fearing it could occur at Lebanon's expense and weaken their efforts to end Syrian interference in the country. Brent Sadler, CNN, Beirut.

From the April 2 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:

DOOCY: Now, let's talk about Nancy Pelosi. What the heck is she doing in the Middle East? The headline in the New York Post over the weekend said "Miss Syria" because she is going to go to Syria later on in the week, and, in fact, yesterday she was speaking to the prime minister of Israel, and apparently, she's got a message she's going to take to the people who run Syria. This has got the White House flummoxed. Dan Bartlett talked yesterday just about how crazy this is. Listen to this.

BARTLETT [video clip]: I think most Americans would not think that the leader of the Democratic Party and the Congress should be meeting with the heads of a state sponsor of terror.

CARLSON: Well, that'd usually be the role of the secretary of state. So, that's maybe why some people would think that this is maybe not the right move for the speaker of the House. Now, what is this message that she is apparently going to give to Syrian leaders? Apparently, it's to -- a message that they've known loud and clear, they just haven't listened to it, which is to stop supporting Palestinian militants.

KILMEADE: Yeah, Israel says if you are willing -- we are willing to talk if Syria stops supporting terrorism. OK, fantastic. So, now, if they just knew this, now she could be the referee to show up with this message. The bottom line is, even Secretary of State Colin Powell, who Democrats seem to really embrace, said, "Look, I'm very frustrated. They say one thing, they do another."

By going out there, she's enabling herself to be played by a Syrian president, Assad, and the government that could say, "Look, even their -- his own -- the United States' own government can't get on the same page. See how crazy that President Bush is? Even the speaker of the House is split from him." So, it looks like America is running two parallel governments to the Middle East.

DOOCY: Well, in our first hour today, about two hours ago, we had this as a question of the day, whether or not you thought she was actually being helpful and mediating, or do you think she was meddling. The answer, overwhelmingly, meddler.

CARLSON: Maybe she wants to be secretary of state, if possibly a Democrat is elected into office. That's one way to possibly look at this. Maybe she's trying to make inroads.

From the April 1 edition of Fox News' Hannity's America:

HANNITY: But never fear, here comes the San Francisco speaker. Now, it's bad enough that before she left, the speaker wouldn't bring to a vote a Republican resolution condemning Iran for this new hostage crisis. Instead, she decides to spend her spring break frolicking with Tehran's terrorist minions. But when you come from a city that bans military recruiters and teaches schoolchildren using left-wing books with anti-war propaganda cartoons, I guess playing volleyball with terrorists -- well, it doesn't seem like too much of a stretch. And that's the state of America tonight.

From the April 1 edition CBS' Face the Nation:

SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you, speaking of the war, and Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, has left for the Middle East, and she's also going to Syria. Now, the president hasn't been too anxious to talk to Syria about what's going on there. Apparently she is. What do you think of that mission?

BARTLETT: Well, we were against it, to be frank. We don't believe we should be sending these types of mixed signals to the leaders of a country that is on the "state sponsor of terrorism" list for a good reason. But they are --

SCHIEFFER: Did you ask her not to go?

BARTLETT: We did.

SCHIEFFER: You did ask her not to go?

BARTLETT: We did ask her not to go. We did not believe it would advance the diplomatic efforts in the Middle East. I think most Americans would not think that the leader of the Democratic Party in the Congress should be meeting with the heads of a state sponsor of terror. They should be back in Washington and passing a war supplemental bill to make sure that our troops in harm's way get the funding they need.

SCHIEFFER: Also on the same general subject, the president came down very hard on Iran yesterday. He said there's no excuse for them taking these prisoners. Are we about to get into a war with Iran here?

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