On the April 4 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, while reporting on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) visit to Syria, CNN congressional correspondent Andrea Koppel stated, “Congressional Republicans accuse Speaker Pelosi of acting like the secretary of state.” Koppel did not note that a congressional Republican accompanied Pelosi to Syria as part of her Mideast trip delegation. Additionally, Koppel's report included no commentary from anyone speaking in support of the speaker. Koppel is the latest CNN reporter to fail to report that a Republican-led delegation met with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad on April 1, or that after returning from the trip, Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL) was quoted in an April 4 Associated Press article disagreeing with White House objections to Pelosi's trip. Aderholt was quoted as saying: “This is an area where we would disagree with the administration.”
From the AP:
Three Republican congressmen who parted with President Bush by meeting with Syrian leaders said Wednesday it is important to maintain a dialogue with a country the White House says sponsors terrorism.
“This is an area where we would disagree with the administration,” said Rep. Robert Aderholt of Haleyville. “It doesn't mean you're weak in your policy or that there's no problems ... We just wanted to let them know that the lines of communication are open and if we can find some common ground on some issues we need to go forward on that.”
Bush sharply criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for leading a delegation to meet with Syria's president, Bashar Assad.
The White House, however, stayed relatively quiet about a similar trip just a few days earlier by Aderholt and GOP Reps. Frank Wolf of Virginia and Joseph Pitts of Pennsylvania.
Returning on Wednesday, the lawmakers said they made clear to Assad that they support Bush and were not representing the administration. But they said they felt it was important to maintain dialogue.
“I don't care what the administration says on this. You've got to do what you think is in the best interest of your country,” said Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va. “I want us to be successful in Iraq. I want us to clamp down on Hezbollah.”
The Dayton Daily News subsequently reported that Rep. David Hobson (OH), the Republican congressman who took part in the seven-member Mideast tour led by Pelosi, “rebuffed Bush administration criticism of his trip to Syria with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying she has reinforced Bush administration policies in the region and possibly made progress toward peace in the Middle East.”
As Media Matters for America has documented, media figures have repeatedly reported on Pelosi's trip -- and White House criticism of it -- without mentioning the Republican-led delegation. Indeed, CNN reporters and hosts have asked if the trip was a "big wet kiss to President Al-Assad" and smeared "Nancy's little play date in the Middle East," while on-screen graphics have referred to the visit as "Pelosi's bad trip."
In addition, Koppel's report quoted three people, none of whom expressed approval for Pelosi's trip. Koppel instead included quotes from two people criticizing the speaker -- Vice President Dick Cheney, who claimed that Pelosi's trip was rewarding “bad behavior,” and Peter Brookes, senior fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, who said that the trip was “more about politics than policy.” Koppel also quoted former Clinton official and head of the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy Martin Indyk, who did not discuss the Pelosi trip specifically but noted that previous speakers had also engaged in such diplomacy, adding that such an attempt by former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) “created a real problem for our policy.”
As blogger and media critic Greg Sargent noted, earlier in the program, guest host Suzanne Malveaux had teased Koppel's segment by asking: “Is [Pelosi] on her way to becoming the most controversial House speaker yet?”
From the April 4 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
KOPPEL: Speaker Pelosi may have looked like a tourist, strolling through old Damascus, sampling Arabic sweets, and praying at the tomb of John the Baptist, but that's not what has the White House crying foul.
It's this: her meetings with top Syrian officials, including President Bashar Al-Assad. In an interview with ABC News, Vice President Cheney said Pelosi's visit is sending Syria's president the wrong message.
CHENEY: In other words, his bad behavior is being rewarded, in a sense.
KOPPEL: Congressional Republicans accuse Speaker Pelosi of acting like the secretary of state. Other critics say they believe her trip to Syria isn't about foreign policy at all.
BROOKES: My concern is that this is more about politics than policy -- that it's more about the elections in 2008 than the problems we're facing in 2007.
KOPPEL: Congresswoman Pelosi is by no means the first speaker to travel overseas or to knock heads with the White House. The 46th speaker of the House, Oklahoma Democrat Carl Albert, was a Rhodes scholar who reveled in international affairs.
But it was Georgia Republican Newt Gingrich who really used his gavel to hammer away at then-President Bill Clinton's foreign policy. In 1996, for example, Gingrich added $18 million to legislation for a CIA covert operation designed to overthrow the Iranian government.
INDYK: It created a real problem for our policy, because it sent the signal to the Iranians that we were trying to overthrow them when our policy was exactly the opposite -- that we weren't trying to overthrow them, we were trying to change their behavior -- and we were unable to reverse that perception.