The Hill, ABC uncritically reported Gingrich's criticism of Pelosi's Syria visit

››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN

The Hill and ABC's World News Sunday reported Newt Gingrich's statement that Nancy Pelosi's recent trip to Syria was "very dangerous for America" because it left the impression that the government has "two foreign policies." However, neither outlet noted that during a 1997 visit, Gingrich made remarks to Chinese leaders that deviated from U.S. policy, or that in 1998, Gingrich said of then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: "I think it's wrong for the American secretary of state to become the agent for the Palestinians."

Both The Hill and ABC's World News Sunday reported former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's (R-GA) April 8 statement that current Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) recent trip to Syria was "very dangerous for America" because it left the impression that the U.S. government has "two foreign policies" without noting that during a 1997 visit, Gingrich made remarks to Chinese leaders that deviated from U.S. policy. Gingrich's criticism of Pelosi came during his appearance on the April 8 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday. During the interview, host Chris Wallace noted Gingrich's comments during his visit to China, as well as his 1998 statement regarding then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: "I think it's wrong for the American secretary of state to become the agent for the Palestinians." In reports later that day, however, neither The Hill nor ABC News mentioned either incident.

During Gingrich's 1997 visit to China, he reportedly "warned China's top leaders that the United States would intervene militarily if Taiwan was attacked," as blogger Glenn Greenwald noted. However, as Wallace pointed out on Fox News Sunday, "U.S. policy on defending Taiwan was much vaguer than that." According to a March 31, 1997, New York Times article, the Clinton administration quickly clarified that Gingrich had been "speaking for himself" and "issued a statement saying that the policy of the United States was to 'meet its obligation under the Taiwan Relations Act, including the maintenance of an adequate self-defense for Taiwan,' and that the Administration would maintain its 'one-China policy, the fundamental bedrock of which is that both parties peacefully address the Taiwan issue.' "

On Fox News Sunday, Wallace further noted Gingrich's 1998 comments regarding Albright and suggested the "outrage" of Pelosi's visit to Syria was "basically political." He went on to ask Gingrich, "In fact, weren't you far more provocative" in statements while overseas "than Speaker Pelosi?"

Contrary to Gingrich's claims, Pelosi and the congressional delegation that traveled with her do not appear to have deviated from U.S. policy in their meeting with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. According to the Dayton Daily News, the delegation's Republican member, Rep. David Hobson (OH), said of the trip: "We reinforced the administration's positions and at the same time we were trying to understand and maybe getting some voice to some things people wanted to say that maybe they were not comfortable saying to the administration. The jury's out ... but this was not an anti-administration trip at all. ... I think actually we've helped the administration's position by showing there's not dissension."

Further, as the weblog Think Progress noted, delegation member Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) claimed during the April 8 edition of C-SPAN's Washington Journal that "there were State Department officials in every meeting that we had on this codel," apparently to ensure compliance with the Bush administration's positions on Syria. Also, in an April 5 press release on the trip, Pelosi asserted that "[t]here is no separation between this delegation, Congress, and President Bush." In their talks with Syria, members of the bipartisan delegation apparently maintained Bush administration positions regarding Syria by urging the government there do more to control its border with Iraq, cease supporting terrorist organizations and activities, and release political prisoners. From the press release:

In the interest of our national security and the stability of the region, the delegation strongly urged President Assad to control Syria's border with Iraq to stop the flow of foreign fighters who are a threat to U.S. troops and to the Iraqi people. Syria must also stop supporting terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah, and must end any interference in Lebanon's internal affairs.

"We emphasized to President Assad that peace with Israel is essential to a U.S.-Syria relationship. We conveyed to him Prime Minister's Olmert's overture for peace talks when Syria openly takes steps to stop supporting terrorism.

"President Assad declared that he is ready to resume the peace process and enter into negotiations. The test will be whether Syria ceases its support for terrorism, engages in a productive and realistic effort to resolve its differences and live in peace with the State of Israel, and acts to stop the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq.

"We requested Assad's help in freeing missing and kidnapped Israeli soldiers including: Gilad Shalit; Ehud Goldwasser; Eldad Regev; Guy Hever; Zachary Baumel; Tzvi Feldman; Yehuda Katz; and Ron Arad. And we requested the return of the remains of Eli Cohen for burial in Israel.

"In Damascus, we met with opposition leaders and representatives of families of dissidents. We conveyed our strong interest in the cases of Iraqi Democracy Activists Anwar al-Bunni; Aref Dalila; Kamal al-Labwani; Mahmoud Issa; Michael Kilo; and Omar Abdullah.

Nonetheless, an April 8 online article from The Hill -- headlined "Gingrich criticizes Pelosi over Syria visit" -- simply reported Gingrich's claim regarding the danger of "hav[ing] two foreign policies," while ignoring his conduct in China and his 1998 attack on Albright. From the article:

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) criticized current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) Sunday for visiting Syria.

"I think it's very important not to have two foreign policies," Gingrich said on Fox News Sunday. "And I think it's very dangerous for America to do what Speaker Pelosi did."

Every legislator should make fact-finding trips around the globe, Gingrich said, but when lawmakers attempt diplomacy, it confuses foreign leaders and misrepresents America's policy.

"She claimed to be carrying a diplomatic message from the Israeli prime minister, which the Israeli prime minister promptly disowned and said she got it wrong," Gingrich said, referring to Pelosi's talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, which led Pelosi to tell President Bashar al-Assad of Syria that Israel would work for peace.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) defended Pelosi's trip, citing North Korea's development of nuclear weapons while the U.S. refused to engage it in talks.

Similarly, on the April 8 edition of World News Sunday, correspondent John Hendren reported on Gingrich's criticism of Pelosi and noted that, as speaker, Gingrich "made a visit to China during the Democratic Clinton administration." But Hendren did not note that Gingrich's statements to China in 1997 were inconsistent with Clinton administration policies and that, the following year, he attacked Albright as an "agent of the Palestinians."

From the April 8 edition of ABC's World News Sunday:

HENDREN: The president's allies say Pelosi encouraged a state sponsor of terror.

GINGRICH: I think it's very important not to have two foreign policies. And I think it's very dangerous for America to do what Speaker Pelosi did.

HENDREN: Prominent politicians have a long tradition of engaging in alternative diplomacy, including Gingrich, who, as the Republican speaker of the house, made a visit to China during the Democratic Clinton administration. Former President Jimmy Carter riled the Bush administration when he traveled to Cuba in 2002, calling for an end to the U.S. trade embargo. It's not just politicians. Sometimes, Hollywood celebrities have made forays into international diplomacy, garnering headlines and criticism. The Reverend Jesse Jackson says he, and other freelance diplomats, have succeeded in, for example, releasing American hostages precisely because they operate outside of government rules.

From the April 8 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:

WALLACE: Let me bring in Speaker Gingrich.

Speaker, in fairness, when you were speaker, you made a number of foreign trips. You expressed opinions when you were overseas. So have other speakers.

GINGRICH: Sure.

WALLACE: Is the outrage here basically political?

GINGRICH: Look, there's a huge difference. And I think Senator [Charles] Schumer [D-NY] would agree, every legislator should be encouraged to travel. Every legislator should go on fact-finding. Every legislator should learn about the world.

What I found amazing about Speaker Pelosi's visit to Damascus was, first of all, the exact opposite of what's happening with Governor [Bill] Richardson [D-NM]. Governor Richardson has been encouraged to go to North Korea by the Bush administration. Speaker Pelosi was publicly asked not to go to Damascus and rejected it.

Second, she claimed to be carrying a diplomatic message from the Israeli prime minister, which the Israeli prime minister promptly disowned and said she got it wrong.

We do not want 535 secretaries of state running around the planet, confusing dictators by letting them think that there are two or three or four or five Americas. I think it was a major mistake.

I wish she would just relax, say in the future, she's going to go on trips in coordination with the executive branch. I think it's very important not to have two foreign policies. And I think it's very dangerous for America to do what Speaker Pelosi did.

WALLACE: Mr. Speaker, we looked at your record. And let's put up some of the instances.

During a trip to China in 1997, you told leaders there, "We will defend Taiwan, period," when U.S. policy on defending Taiwan was much vaguer than that. Just before a trip to Israel in 1998, you said, "I think it's wrong for the American secretary of state," Madeleine Albright, "to become the agent for the Palestinians."

In fact, weren't you far more provocative than Speaker Pelosi?

GINGRICH: Look, Speaker Pelosi can be very provocative in the U.S. What I said in China, by the way, was U.S. policy. The U.S. --

WALLACE: Well, not according to the Clinton administration, it wasn't.

GINGRICH: The U.S. government -- well, President Clinton had just put U.S. aircraft carriers in the Straits of Taiwan. I mean, the American position has always been, we do not recognize Taiwan as an independent country. We would protect Taiwan if there was a Chinese -- if the People's Republic invaded Taiwan.

And I think it was very important for the Chinese to understand that there was a unified agreement. They were being very aggressive at that time.

WALLACE: And what about saying that the -- Madeleine Albright was an agent for the Palestinians?

GINGRICH: I think, at the time, she was taking steps that were very, very pro-Palestinian. And I think --

WALLACE: But you understand my point that it looks like there are two foreign policies.

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ABC, The Hill
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ABC World News Tonight
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