During the “Strategy Session” segment on the October 2 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, conservative talk show host Bill Bennett, purporting to defend Rush Limbaugh against criticism over his recent “phony soldiers” comments, claimed that Limbaugh “did not call [Rep.] Jack Murtha [D-PA] a 'phony soldier.' ” Bennett asserted that instead, Limbaugh “took Jack Murtha on, on the merits of the argument.” In fact, as Media Matters for America documented, on the September 28 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show -- while responding to the growing criticism over his September 26 characterization of service members who support U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq as “phony soldiers” -- Limbaugh said:
LIMBAUGH: You shouldn't hold your breath because there's no standard to hold me to, in the sense that you're -- I never said what you think I said, Congressman [Frank] Pallone [D-NJ], Congresswoman [Jan] Schakowsky [D-IL], Sen. [John] Kerry [D-MA], or any of the rest of you in the drive-by media. I was talking about a genuine phony soldier. And by the way, Jesse MacBeth's not the only one. How about this guy Scott Thomas [Beauchamp] who was writing fraudulent, phony things in The New Republic about atrocities he saw that never happened? How about Jack Murtha blanketly accepting the notion that Marines at Haditha engaged in wanton murder of innocent children and civilians?
Further, Bennett asserted that Limbaugh was referring to Jesse MacBeth -- a soldier who pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for falsely claiming to be an injured Iraq war veteran and a corporal in the Army, as well as of having received a Purple Heart -- when he made his “phony soldiers” comment. Bennett asserted:
BENNETT: The argument was that he used the phrase “phony soldiers” : He was talking about a phony soldier. The AP ran a story called “phony soldiers.” ABC, three days before Rush's comments, ran a story called “phony soldiers.” He was talking about a guy who was lying. He wasn't a corporal in the Army. He didn't get a Purple Heart. That's the guy Rush was talking about. Media Matters left that out.
Later, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile pointed out that Limbaugh “said 'phony soldiers,' so he didn't make the distinction that he was just referring to Mr. MacBeth. He was referring to soldiers who have come out against this war.” She added, "[M]any people on the left believe that he was taking on those soldiers [who've served in Iraq and now oppose the war], as well as Mr. MacBeth." Bennett responded: “All you have to do is listen to the show and it is perfectly clear, crystal clear, couldn't be clearer, who he's talking about.”
In fact, as Media Matters documented, Limbaugh made no reference to MacBeth during the September 26 broadcast until 1 minute and 50 seconds after making his “phony soldiers” comment. As Media Matters also documented, during his September 28 show, Limbaugh edited the audio clip from his September 26 show to omit a full 1 minute and 35 seconds of discussion that occurred between his original “phony soldiers” comment and his later reference to MacBeth.
From the October 2 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
BLITZER: What do you think of this Democratic strategy now to go after conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh. One Democratic congressman, Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania, a veteran himself -- he says, “Someone should tell chicken-hawk Rush Limbaugh that the only phonies are those who choose not to serve and then criticize those who do.”
What do you make of this strategy that Harry Reid [D-NV], the Senate majority leader, and others are saying now that Rush Limbaugh was inappropriately offensive to veterans by some of the comments he recently made?
BENNETT: Not much. You know, I'm willing to criticize Republicans and conservatives when they have it wrong. You've heard me do it on this show any of a number of times -- not this time. You know, when you shoot at the king -- and he's the king of talk radio -- you better get him. They didn't get him here.
The argument was that he used the phrase “phony soldiers” : He was talking about a phony soldier. The AP ran a story called “phony soldiers.” ABC, three days before Rush's comments, ran a story called “phony soldiers.” He was talking about a guy who was lying. He wasn't a corporal in the Army. He didn't get a Purple Heart. That's the guy Rush was talking about.
Media Matters left that out. I have been savaged by Media Matters unfairly. They did it this time. There's plenty to disagree with, with Rush if you are on the left, but this isn't. This wasn't fair. Let me tell you why: The “Betray Us” thing has really hurt the Democrats. They say it doesn't, that it was all fair, but this thing is not going away. This is a soldier, a commander in the field, and it really stung --
BLITZER: Because --
BENNETT: -- and they're looking for revenge.
BLITZER: As Bill says, Donna, a lot of people suggest that what Senator Harry Reid and the Democrats were doing in trying to go after Rush Limbaugh on this issue -- quote “phony soldiers” -- was sort of payback for the MoveOn.org and the “General Betray Us” ad that a lot of people think backfired on the Democrats.
BRAZILE: Well, a lot of Americans who care about our troops, we thank our troops, we believe that what they're doing is noble and courageous -- and the left can condemn MoveOn, the right should be able to condemn Rush Limbaugh for the comments he made about “phony soldiers.” Not only did he talk about this one soldier, who may be discredited, but he also used Jack Murtha. And many of us believe that Jack Murtha is a courageous American -- he stood up and he fought for his country -- and when Rush Limbaugh take on Jack Murtha, then the left has every right to call on Rush Limbaugh to apologize.
BENNETT: He took on Jack Murtha. He did not call Jack Murtha a “phony soldier.” He took Jack Murtha on, on the merits of the argument. It's an entirely different case. You can take on Rush Limbaugh; you can take on George Bush; take on Jack Murtha. Name-calling was about a phony soldier.
BLITZER: 'Cause you saw Bill Clinton last week in the interview with Anderson Cooper. He was really irate.
BLITZER: He was seething.
BLITZER: Yeah, I think that's a good [inaudible] word.
BLITZER: When he pointed out that the Republicans went after veterans like Max Cleland --
BRAZILE: Of course.
BLITZER: -- and John Kerry with the Swift Boat attack and all that.
BRAZILE: He said “phony soldiers,” so he didn't make the distinction that he was just referring to Mr. MacBeth. He was referring to soldiers who have come out against this war -- and over a third of MoveOn.org members are soldiers, many of them who've served in Iraq, and they are now opposed to the war. So, many people on the left believe that he was taking on those soldiers, as well as Mr. MacBeth.
BENNETT: All you have to do is listen to the show and it is perfectly clear, crystal clear, couldn't be clearer, who he's talking about.