Newsweek's Thomas, CNN's O'Brien and Sesno uncritically cited Wash. Post editorial, Cheney comments to attack Pelosi

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

On the April 8 broadcast of Inside Washington, a weekly news program on Washington, D.C., TV station WJLA, Newsweek assistant managing editor Evan Thomas claimed that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) "look[ed] ridiculous" for her recent trip to Syria, citing an April 5 Washington Post editorial attacking Pelosi's trip as "counterproductive" and "foolish." Thomas said the Post editorial "creamed her," and later added that "it's sort of pathetic that" Pelosi and congressional Democrats "look like fools" and "like rookies making rookie mistakes" regarding foreign policy.

On the April 6 edition of CNN's American Morning, co-host Miles O'Brien brought up the April 5 Post editorial and Vice President Dick Cheney's April 5 appearance on The Rush Limbaugh Show, in which Cheney called Pelosi's trip "bad behavior." O'Brien went on to ask CNN special correspondent Frank Sesno: "So, 'bad behavior,' 'foolish.' Was it a bad idea to take the trip in the first place, or was it the way she conducted herself during the trip?" Rather than challenging the basis of O'Brien's question or its assumption that Pelosi acted improperly, Sesno answered: "It may have been both."

As Media Matters for America documented, the April 5 Post editorial omitted key information reported by its own paper that undermined its attacks on Pelosi's Syria trip. The editorial attacked Pelosi for "misrepresent[ing] Israel's position" when she told Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad that Israel was ready to negotiate. However, an April 4 Post article on Pelosi's meeting with Assad reported that while Pelosi said "she conveyed a message" from the Israeli government that it "was ready to resume peace talks," she also said that she "reiterated U.S. demands that Syria stop the passage of insurgents across Syria into Iraq and stop supporting militant groups." On April 5, Pelosi's office released a statement in response to the editorial, which asserted that Pelosi "accurately relayed a message given to her by Israeli Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert to Syrian President 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."

From the April 8 broadcast of WJLA's Inside Washington, which also featured host Gordon Peterson, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, National Public Radio legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg, and Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer:

SHIELDS: I think that it's understandable, the pouncing on Nancy Pelosi. It's interesting to see Fox News leading with a Washington Post editorial; that may be a first. But, you know, after you lose the Congress, and after you have Scooter Libby convicted, and after you have U.S. attorneys debacle, and you can go on -- the prewar intelligence discredited. You know, you take every opportunity you get to jump. To quote [Rep.] Frank Wolf [R-VA], who preceded Nancy Pelosi in this bipartisan delegation, [Rep.] Dave Hobson [R-OH] is a very, very respected and reliable Republican who's voted with the president on Iraq -- he said we believe, as Ronald Reagan did, that we should talk. I don't question the missteps, and I think that's -- but the idea of not talking is absolutely folly.

PETERSON: Evan?

THOMAS: Well, I don't think it makes much all that much difference in the sense that nothing was happening diplomatically anyways. I mean, the peace talks aren't going anywhere, so I don't think all that much harm is done. She did look ridiculous. It's interesting that The Washington Post, which a lot of people still consider, wrongly, to be -- have a liberal bias, would jump all over her. They creamed her. It was one of the most brutal editorials I've read in a long time.

TOTENBERG: Well, The Washington Post also has been significantly wrong on Iraq and a lot of policy -- foreign policy questions --

PETERSON: Editorially, you mean.

TOTENBERG: Editorially. I think that it was not a trip I would have advised her to make, and if she actually thought she could do some good, it wasn't probably in having a press availability afterwards. But it's also probably true that if she was going to go, and the administration might have used that opportunity to send some sort of a message and said to her, "Stay out of the limelight, here's what we'd like you to do."

PETERSON: Vice President Cheney said -- told Rush Limbaugh the visit was bad behavior on the speaker's part, but she is the third-highest ranking official of the government.

KRAUTHAMMER: But she is completely ignorant about her negotiations. That's her problem. She misunderstood the Israeli message, she contradicted our efforts on Lebanon, and the worst thing is that the president of Syria is now in deep trouble over this international court, which is trying to convene to convict him of the murder of [former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik] Hariri in Lebanon, a brazen terrorist attack in the middle of Beirut, which threatens his government. And she goes there, and she kisses his hand in the midst of this delicate enterprise of getting a tribunal, which is absolutely the wrong thing to do.

PETERSON: Mark?

SHIELDS: She had with her two of the strongest supporters of Israel in the entire Congress, [Democratic Reps.] Tom Lantos and Henry Waxman of California. I mean, it was -- this was not some sort of a renegade group by any means. But let's get Dick Cheney in perspective. Dick Cheney goes to Rush Limbaugh -- this is his chosen venue now -- where he continues to argue -- falsely, falsely -- that there was a connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, even as the Defense Department inspector general is revealing further evidence that this was a total hoax, fabrication for America to go to war.

PETERSON: We'll get back to that in a minute. Let's stick with Pelosi for a minute.

SHIELDS: OK.

PETERSON: My question is, still, as the third-highest ranking official of the government, why can't she visit foreign countries?

TOTENBERG: She can. The question is how you do it and how the administration handles it. Instead of just sending her out there -- if Charles is right and she's as ignorant as he says she is, then all the more reason for the administration to say, "Come in here, let us talk to you before you go if you insist on going, and here's some points we need you to understand." They didn't do that.

THOMAS: Well, look at it this way. If you've been basically quiescent on foreign policy for a long time -- out of the game, as the Democrats on the Hill have been, just completely ignored, you want to -- when you finally do get in the game -- you want to at least get your script right. I mean, you want to at least take the right steps. So they look like -- it's sort of pathetic that they look like fools, as they look like rookies making rookie mistakes.

TOTENBERG: That's -- it's not going to matter much --

SHIELDS: Nancy Pelosi is not an ingénue on foreign policy. She was the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee --

THOMAS: I understand that, so why'd she look --

SHIELDS: -- and made the strongest statement against the war, and voted against it on the argument that they did not have weapons of mass destruction.

THOMAS: OK, that's all the more reason why she shouldn't have screwed this up.

SHIELDS: No, I agree -- I'm not saying that. But I mean, she hasn't just, you know, been worrying about San Francisco's Market Street.

From the April 6 edition of CNN's American Morning:

O'BRIEN: But the meeting with the Syrian president has sent the speaker down a rocky path of condemnation. Joining me live from our Washington bureau is our CNN special correspondent Frank Sesno. Frank, good to have you with us.

SESNO: Good morning, Miles.

O'BRIEN: The Washington Post yesterday, normally a friend of Speaker Pelosi, said this: "Ms. Pelosi's attempt to establish a shadow presidency is not only counterproductive, it's foolish." And then listen to this. This is the vice president dialing into The Rush Limbaugh Show.

CHENEY [video clip]: I think it is, in fact, bad behavior on her part. I wish she hadn't done it, but she is the speaker of the House and, unfortunately, I think the various parties involved recognize she doesn't speak for the United States in those circumstances. She doesn't represent the administration.

O'BRIEN: So, bad behavior, foolish. Was it a bad idea to take the trip in the first place, or was it the way she conducted herself during the trip?

SESNO: It may have been both. For one thing, I think it's definitely thumb-in-the-eye politics. I mean, she knew full well that she was doing this against what the administration wanted, and though congressional members all the time goes overseas and they do these fact-finding missions -- and they should, because they should know what is going on around the world, since they vote on how to spend money and how to conduct policy. She's not just any old congressperson any more. She's the speaker of the House. She's third in line to the presidency. When she steps in front of a camera with an American ally or adversary, it has special meaning. So, that's why this is such thin ice, and it's why, to some, it may have made her look like the prime minister when she's really a congresswoman, Speaker of the House.

Network/Outlet
The Washington Post, CNN, Newsweek
Person
Miles O'Brien, Evan Thomas
Show/Publication
American Morning, Inside Washington
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