CNN trumpeted baseless accusation against Pelosi from "bombshell" Wash. Post editorial

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN

On the April 5 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, CNN International's U.S. affairs editor Jill Dougherty repeated the baseless accusation from an April 5 Washington Post editorial that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) had, in Dougherty's words, "allegedly botch[ed] a message from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert" about Israel's willingness to begin peace talks with Syria. Dougherty called the editorial a "bombshell," and on-screen text during the report referred to a "'Pratfall in Damascus,' " the headline of the Post editorial. Although Dougherty noted that Pelosi's staff disputed the accusations in the Post editorial, she left out other statements Pelosi made at her April 4 press conference with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, which were reported in the Post's news pages. As Media Matters for America documented, those statements undermine the Post editorial's assertion that Pelosi "misrepresented Israel's position" by failing to communicate to Assad that Israel continues to demand that Syria cease its support of groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah prior to negotiations.

In her report, Dougherty summed up the editorial and then noted the response from Pelosi's staff:

DOUGHERTY: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had barely left Syria when this bombshell lead editorial appeared in The Washington Post. Titled "Pratfall in Damascus: Nancy Pelosi's foolish shuttle diplomacy," it laid into the speaker for allegedly botching a message from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, which she delivered to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Pelosi told Assad Israel was ready to engage in peace talks with Syria. "Only one problem," the Post claimed. "That wasn't the message the Israeli prime minister gave her." On its website, the prime minister's office issued a rare clarification: "What was communicated to the U.S. House speaker does not contain any change in the policies of Israel," it said. "Although Israel is interested in peace with Syria," it went on, "Syria is still a member of the axis of evil, and it must change its ways, including stop supporting terror in Iraq, before there can be peace."

Pelosi's staff fired back at the Post, calling the editorial poisonous. They said the speaker delivered a tough and serious message to the Syrian president that contained all of Israel's demands.

Throughout Dougherty's report, the editorial's headline, "Pratfall in Damascus," was displayed in quotes as an on-screen caption, with the subtitle "Israel Takes Issue with [Message] to Syria":

However, like the Post editorial, Dougherty's report left out key facts from other news reports on what Pelosi said about her meeting with Assad -- statements that support the response by Pelosi's staff to the editorial. According to the statement her staff issued, Pelosi told Assad that "in order for Israel to engage in talks with Syria, the Syrian government must eliminate its links with extremist elements, including Hamas and Hezbollah." And according to the other news reports, the speaker had, in fact, said she relayed those demands to Assad -- though they did not report that the demands were specifically tied to resuming negotiations with Israel. As Media Matters documented, the Post reported in April 4 article that Pelosi said "she conveyed a message" from the Israeli government to Assad that Israel "was ready to resume peace talks" and also reported that she had "reiterated U.S. demands that Syria stop the passage of insurgents across Syria into Iraq and stop supporting militant groups." Also, according to the Post article, Pelosi said she "brought up ... the seizure of Israeli soldiers by Hamas and Hezbollah." Several news outlets besides the Post -- for example, April 5 articles in The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times -- also reported that Pelosi and others in the delegation said they had demanded that Assad stop supporting groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah.

From the 5 p.m. ET hour of the April 5 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

SUZANNE MALVEAUX (guest host): And Republican Congressman Darrell Issa of California meeting with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad today, one day after Democratic House Speaker Pelosi did the same. But Pelosi's mission is now coming under fresh fire. CNN's Jill Dougherty reports that Pelosi is being slammed over what critics call a bungled effort at diplomacy.

DOUGHERTY: Suzanne, Middle East diplomacy really is a minefield.

[begin video clip]

DOUGHERTY: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had barely left Syria when this bombshell lead editorial appeared in The Washington Post. Titled "Pratfall in Damascus: Nancy Pelosi's foolish shuttle diplomacy," it laid into the speaker for allegedly botching a message from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, which she delivered to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Pelosi told Assad Israel was ready to engage in peace talks with Syria. "Only one problem," the Post claimed. "That wasn't the message the Israeli prime minister gave her." On its website, the prime minister's office issued a rare clarification: "What was communicated to the U.S. House speaker does not contain any change in the policies of Israel," it said. "Although Israel is interested in peace with Syria," it went on, "Syria is still a member of the axis of evil, and it must change its ways, including stop supporting terror in Iraq, before there can be peace."

Pelosi's staff fired back at the Post, calling the editorial poisonous. They said the speaker delivered a tough and serious message to the Syrian president that contained all of Israel's demands.

Even before this flare-up, President Bush had strongly criticized Pelosi's trip. Now, the State Department has weighed in.

SEAN McCORMACK (State Department spokesman): It sends the wrong message to Syria. They exploit these high-level visits for all the PR value that they're worth, and then they don't change their behavior.

[end video clip]

DOUGHTERTY: But Pelosi's office says the administration's cold-shoulder approach is yielding nothing but more Syrian intransigence. Pelosi thinks it's a good idea to talk with Syria, and she's not the only member of Congress who's traveling to Damascus. Republicans are going there, too. Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Jill Dougherty. Thank you so much.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy
Network/Outlet
CNN
Person
Jill Dougherty
Show/Publication
The Situation Room
Stories/Interests
Attacks on Progressives, Propaganda/Noise Machine
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