York column compounded Wash. Post reporters' misrepresentation of their own interview

››› ››› RYAN CHIACHIERE

An August 3 column in The Hill by Byron York cited a Washington Post article in which reporters Dan Balz and Chris Cillizza misrepresented their own interview with Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) by claiming Clyburn told them that a "generally positive" report on the Iraq war from Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, would be "a real big problem" for Democrats. York cited the article to support his contention that Democratic leaders in Congress are "invested in U.S. failure" in Iraq.

In fact, Clyburn was responding to a question about what Democrats would do if Petraeus recommended continuing the so-called "surge" of forces in Iraq. The question posed by Balz was, "What do Democrats do if General Petraeus comes in in September and says, 'This is working very, very well at this point; we would be foolish to back away from it'?" Clyburn responded: "Well, that would be a real big problem for us, no question about that, simply because of those 47 Blue Dogs. I think there would be enough support in that group to want to stay the course, and if the Republicans were to remain united, as they have been, then it would be a problem for us." He added, "None of us want to see a bad result in Iraq. If we are going to get in position to yield a good result, I think Democrats want to see that" -- a comment ignored by York's column as well as Cillizza and Balz's article.

From the July 30 "PostTalk" interview of Clyburn on washingtonpost.com, video of which is available at the website:

BALZ: I think there's been an assumption that when General Petraeus comes in in September with his report, that it would either be a kind of a mixed bag -- some progress, some problems -- or perhaps even a gloomier report, that this is not going well. There's now some signs -- we're hearing it that things -- that folks on the ground think that there are some signs of real progress.

What do Democrats do if General Petraeus comes in in September and says, "This is working very, very well at this point; we would be foolish to back away from it"?

CLYBURN: Well, that would be a real big problem for us, no question about that, simply because of those 47 Blue Dogs. I think there would be enough support in that group to want to stay the course, and if the Republicans were to remain united, as they have been, then it would be a problem for us.

So I think we, by and large, would do wise -- be wise to wait on the report. None of us want to see a bad result in Iraq. If we are going to get in position to yield a good result, I think Democrats want to see that. We love this country. We're as patriotic as anybody else about this. And we have loved ones involved in this issue just like everybody else. I've got family and friends involved in Iraq and Afghanistan, and so I certainly want to see a good result. But I'm certainly not going to just roll over because the president said. It is only because we get good intelligence from those people like General Petraeus who can be trusted to give us good information.

The July 30 Post article on the interview -- written by the reporters who conducted it -- left out a key element of Balz's question to Clyburn in summarizing the above exchange:

Clyburn noted that Petraeus carries significant weight among the 47 members of the Blue Dog caucus in the House, a group of moderate to conservative Democrats. Without their support, he said, Democratic leaders would find it virtually impossible to pass legislation setting a timetable for withdrawal.

"I think there would be enough support in that group to want to stay the course and if the Republicans were to stay united as they have been, then it would be a problem for us," Clyburn said. "We, by and large, would be wise to wait on the report."

Many Democrats have anticipated that, at best, Petraeus and U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker would present a mixed analysis of the success of the current troop surge strategy, given continued violence in Baghdad. But of late there have been signs that the commander of U.S. forces might be preparing something more generally positive. Clyburn said that would be "a real big problem for us."

In removing Balz's actual question, the article suggested that Clyburn's comment was a response to the lead-up to Balz's question about the potential for a "more generally positive report" from Petraeus, rather than a response to the question itself.

York's column picked up on the Post's omission:

This week the paper reported that many Democrats "have anticipated that, at best, Petraeus and U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker would present a mixed analysis of the success of the current troop surge strategy, given continued violence in Baghdad." But now, the Post continued, "there have been signs that the commander of U.S. forces might be preparing something more generally positive."

And that, Clyburn told the paper, would be "a real big problem for us."

Again, by ignoring the question Balz asked about whether the U.S. should "back away" from its current strategy in Iraq, York presented Clyburn's "big problem" remark as a response to what Balz described in the article as potentially "generally positive" news from Petraeus.

York went on to write that Clyburn was asserting that a "generally positive" report from Petraeus would be bad for Democrats in terms of electoral politics:

Clyburn's comments are the flip side of what [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid [D-NV] said in April when he declared, "We're going to pick up Senate seats as a result of this war. Sen. [Charles] Schumer has shown me numbers that are compelling and astounding."

Schumer (D-N.Y.) also said, "Look at the poll numbers of Republican senators, and the war in Iraq is a lead weight attached to their ankle." As a result, Schumer predicted, some Republicans face "extinction" while Democrats pick up more seats. American success in Iraq could mess all of that up.

York's assertion is based on at least two falsehoods. The first is the assumption -- borrowed from the Post -- that Clyburn was responding to a question about "positive" news when he said that "would be a real big problem." Second, it assumes that Clyburn was talking about electoral politics, when, in fact, Clyburn was referring to keeping his party united and maintaining the support of more conservative Democrats on matters relating to Iraq. Clyburn said, "Well, that would be a real big problem for us, no question about that, simply because of those 47 Blue Dogs. I think there would be enough support in that group to want to stay the course, and if the Republicans were to remain united, as they have been, then it would be a problem for us."

As Media Matters for America has noted, numerous media figures have misrepresented Clyburn's remarks to suggest that Clyburn was asserting that good news in Iraq is bad news for Democrats, such as National Review's Cliff May, who misrepresented Clyburn's remarks in an op-ed titled "Good News Is Bad News: At least it is for politicians who have bet on America's defeat."

From Byron York's August 3 column in The Hill:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are betting the surge will fail.

It's as simple as that. If Bush wins his bet, Iraq will be a better place, the Middle East will be a better place, and America will be a safer place.

But Reid and Pelosi lose if Bush wins. Given the position they have staked out for themselves, the best possible outcome is for Gen. David Petraeus to give a downbeat report on the surge when he comes before Congress in September. That would give tremendous momentum to those who want the quickest possible U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

It's the dilemma of being in the opposition in wartime. By betting so much of their political capital on the issue, Reid and Pelosi have become invested in U.S. failure. A U.S. success would throw a wrench in their plans.

That sounds harsh. But just read what Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told The Washington Post.

This week the paper reported that many Democrats "have anticipated that, at best, Petraeus and U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker would present a mixed analysis of the success of the current troop surge strategy, given continued violence in Baghdad." But now, the Post continued, "there have been signs that the commander of U.S. forces might be preparing something more generally positive."

And that, Clyburn told the paper, would be "a real big problem for us."

Clyburn's comments are the flip side of what Reid said in April when he declared, "We're going to pick up Senate seats as a result of this war. Sen. [Charles] Schumer has shown me numbers that are compelling and astounding."

Schumer (D-N.Y.) also said, "Look at the poll numbers of Republican senators, and the war in Iraq is a lead weight attached to their ankle." As a result, Schumer predicted, some Republicans face "extinction" while Democrats pick up more seats. American success in Iraq could mess all of that up.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
The Hill
Person
Byron York
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