“Media Matters” ; by Jamison Foser

In April, Bill Moyers introduced Buying the War by explaining, “The story of how high officials misled the country has been told, but they couldn't have done it on their own; they needed a compliant press to pass on their propaganda as news and cheer them on. ... [A]s the war rages into its fifth year, we look back at those months leading up to the invasion, when our press largely surrendered its independence and skepticism to join with our government in marching to war.”

Manufacturing consent, stifling dissent

In April, Bill Moyers introduced Buying the War by explaining, “The story of how high officials misled the country has been told, but they couldn't have done it on their own; they needed a compliant press to pass on their propaganda as news and cheer them on. ... [A]s the war rages into its fifth year, we look back at those months leading up to the invasion, when our press largely surrendered its independence and skepticism to join with our government in marching to war.”

Buying the War included an interview with NBC News' Tim Russert, during which the Meet the Press host seemed to blame the media's reliance on Bush administration sources on the lack of an “opposition party” :

MOYERS: What do you make of the fact that of the 414 Iraq stories broadcast on NBC, ABC, and CBS nightly news, from September 2002 until February 2003, almost all the stories could be traced back to sources from the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department?

RUSSERT: It's important that you have an opposition party. That's our system of government.

MOYERS: So, it's not news unless there's somebody --

RUSSERT: No, no, no. I didn't say that. But it's important to have an opposition party, your opposition -- opposing views.

Moyers pointed out the obvious flaw in what Russert seemed to be saying -- that the media are under no obligation to question the government if an “opposition party” does not do so first. It was such an obvious flaw that Russert insisted that wasn't what he meant -- and it may well not have been.

Nonetheless, there's another problem with Russert's statement: There was an “opposition party” during the run-up to the Iraq war. The majority of congressional Democrats opposed invading Iraq and voted against the law authorizing the use of force. Among the Democrats who voted against the authorization were some of the party's most prominent and powerful members, including Sens. Ted Kennedy, Barbara Boxer, and Dick Durbin, and Reps. John Conyers, Nancy Pelosi and Charlie Rangel.

Given that the majority of congressional Democrats voted against the authorization, including such household names as Ted Kennedy and Barbara Boxer, how could Tim Russert suggest there was no “opposition party” during the Iraq debate?

Maybe because there was scant evidence of an opposition party on Russert's Meet the Press during the run-up to the Iraq war. On his personal blog earlier this year, Media Matters for America Senior Fellow Duncan Black examined five months of Meet the Press guest lists, starting on the day Congress authorized the use of force against Iraq to the day coalition forces actually invaded. Of the appearances by Democrats that involved a discussion of Iraq, eight appearances were by Democrats who voted for the authorization, and only three were by Democrats who voted against it.

Remember, a majority of Democrats voted against the authorization; but on Russert's Meet the Press, there were nearly three times as many Democratic supporters of the authorization as opponents.

Is it any wonder that Russert said there wasn't an “opposition party” during the Iraq debate?

The most striking example of Russert and Meet the Press marginalizing anti-war voices may have come years later. Last November, Democrats routed Republicans on Election Day. According to Open Left's Chris Bowers, the Democrats won last year's congressional races by a larger margin than the much-ballyhooed “Republican Revolution” brought in 1994, and by a larger margin than the first President Bush defeated Mike Dukakis. The 2006 elections were, as President George W. Bush acknowledged, a "thumpin' " -- largely due to voter opposition to the GOP's war.

So who did Tim Russert host on the first edition of Meet the Press following this overwhelming victory for the Democrats -- and overwhelming public rejection of the Iraq war? Sens. John McCain and Joe Lieberman. A Republican and an independent who had been re-elected by handing Democrats one of their few high-profile losses. Perhaps most ridiculously, McCain and Lieberman are two of the staunchest supporters of the Iraq war. (Lieberman likes the Iraq war so much, he seems to want to do it again in Iran.)

Having all but ignored these anti-war voices during the debate over whether to go to war in Iraq, Russert now pretends they didn't exist, blaming the supposed lack of an “opposition party” for the media's failure to challenge the Bush administration.

Not that Russert was alone in ignoring anti-war voices. Walter Pincus of The Washington Post wrote last year:

Although given little public credit at the time, or since, many of the 126 House Democrats who spoke out and voted against the October 2002 resolution that gave President Bush authority to wage war against Iraq have turned out to be correct in their warnings about the problems a war would create.


The day after the House vote, The Washington Post recorded that 126 House Democrats voted against the final resolution. None was quoted giving a reason for his or her vote except for Rep. Joe Baca (Calif.), who said a military briefing had disclosed that U.S. soldiers did not have adequate protection against biological weapons.

“As a veteran, that's what hit me the hardest,” he said.

[Rep. Barbara T.] Lee [D-CA] was described as giving a “fiery denunciation” of the administration's “rush to war,” with only 14 colleagues in the House chamber to hear her. None of the reasons she gave to justify her concerns, nor those voiced by other Democratic opponents, was reported in the two Post stories about passage of the resolution that day.

As the war drags on, and the number of critics swells, it gets harder and harder for the media to pretend they don't exist. Instead, some media figures have taken to pretending those critics are actually supporters -- and pretending supporters are actually critics, thus lending their support more weight.

Sound absurd? It is. But it's true.

In the weeks preceding Gen. David Petraeus' testimony before Congress, the news media were full of reports that the “surge” was working. Many of those reports went so far as to claim that Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Carl Levin, and Dick Durbin, admitted that the “surge” was working. As Greg Sargent of Talking Points Memo explained:

This has happened again and again in recent weeks. When Democratic Senator Carl Levin came back from Iraq and said that the escalation was showing measurable results but has “totally and utterly failed” to reach its goal of political reconciliation in Iraq, big news orgs repeatedly spun Levin's words to make it sound as if he were saying that the surge was succeeding, when he wasn't.

And when Hillary Clinton claimed in a recent speech that various tactical changes in Al Anbar province were showing results, news outlets reported again and again and again and again that she'd said the “surge” was “working,” when that isn't what she'd said at all.

It's important to keep in mind that this wasn't a case of one Democrat making an ambiguous statement that was misconstrued as indicating the “surge” had succeeded. This was several Democrats having their comments grossly distorted to make it appear as if they had said something they did not say, and apparently do not believe. And it wasn't just one news organization doing it; there were several: The Associated Press, CBS, MSNBC, the New York Post, and The Washington Times all distorted Clinton's comments.

While Iraq war opponents like Clinton and Obama were falsely portrayed by the media as having declared the “surge” a success, other news reports were portraying war supporters as war critics, in order to give their support for the war more weight.

In 2002, Kenneth Pollack wrote a book titled, The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq. In May 2007, Pollack wrote: “We are finally shifting toward the right strategy and tactics, and we have a first-rate team in place (General David Petraeus, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker) to implement them.” In April 2003, Michael O'Hanlon wrote an analysis of the Bush administration's Iraq efforts titled “Was the Strategy Brilliant?” While he conceded that it was “debatable” whether the overall strategy deserved to be called “brilliant,” he did conclude that “it has indeed been a very good plan.” In February 2004, O'Hanlon declared that “Coalition and Iraqi security forces will ultimately defeat” the few “dead-enders” left in Iraq. In December 2006, he also wrote in favor of “a surge of perhaps 25,000 more American troops to Iraq.” The next month, he penned a column for The Washington Post headlined “A Skeptic's Case For the Surge.”

On July 30, The New York Times published an op-ed by O'Hanlon and Pollack called “A War We Just Might Win.”

Now, “longtime Iraq war supporters support Iraq war” isn't a particularly compelling storyline, no matter how accurate it is.

But, of course, that wasn't the storyline the media adopted in the wake of O'Hanlon and Pollack's op-ed. Instead, the media told the American people, over and over and over again, that these two longtime advocates of the Iraq war, one of whom had written at least two op-eds in favor of the “surge,” were actually war critics, thus giving additional weight to their claims that the “surge” was succeeding.

Again, it wasn't one or two news organizations that portrayed O'Hanlon and Pollack as longtime critics of the Iraq war; many news organizations did it, over and over again. They lavished attention on these two “critics” -turned-supporters, while, as Greg Sargent noted, “the same news outlets gave little to no coverage to people -- the troops included -- who were far more pessimistic." Eventually, Salon.com's Glenn Greenwald got O'Hanlon himself to admit that it was misleading to describe him as a war critic: "[I]f I'm being held up as a 'critic of the war' ... it's certainly only fair to ask if that is a proper characterization of me. And in fact I would not even use that characterization of myself. ... As you rightly reported -- I was not a critic of this war. In the final analysis, I was a supporter."

In addition to hyping O'Hanlon's and Pollack's views by portraying them as longtime Iraq war critics who have seen the light, the media also gave them additional weight by pointing out that the two had just returned from Iraq, where they purportedly gained an independent, firsthand view of the situation.

This has long been a favorite gambit of war supporters: Take a quick trip to Iraq; look around; announce that things have improved. Joe Lieberman sees a couple of cell phone towers and “independent” newspapers, and announces that democracy is flourishing. John McCain takes a stroll through a Baghdad market and raves that, for the first time, he was able to “drive from the airport” and “go out into the city as I was today.” And the media breathlessly pass these proclamations along as though they are meaningful assessments of the “facts on the ground.”

It's transparent nonsense, of course.

McCain didn't pick up a car at the Hertz counter, drive himself downtown, and casually wander through the city, as he would have us believe. He was wearing body armor, guarded by 100 heavily armed U.S. troops, and had helicopters flying overhead to protect him. The day after his visit, with his security phalanx no longer present, the market was again the target of sniper fire.

And the day after Lieberman made his sunny pronouncements about Iraq's thriving independent media -- the very next day -- the Los Angeles Times reported that the Iraqi media aren't so independent. According to the Times, the U.S. military pays Iraqi media to disseminate propaganda aimed at painting a rosy picture of the U.S. occupation.

Though it should be patently obvious that these Iraq junkets involve visiting dignitaries and analysts seeing exactly what the Bush administration wants them to see and talking to people the Bush administration wants them to talk to, the media typically go along with the charade, quoting and interviewing the likes of Lieberman and McCain, O'Hanlon and Pollack, as though they had conducted an extensive, independent fact-finding mission.

In January of this year, after yet another trip to Iraq led Lieberman to conclude yet again that the war must always go on, he made yet another appearance on Meet the Press (Tim Russert is apparently still searching for that “opposition party.” ) In advance of that appearance, we suggested a series of questions interviewers should ask Lieberman and others who purport to base their opinions of the situation in Iraq on their trips to the country. Among these were:

  • How many “military commanders and soldiers” did Lieberman speak to?
  • Were they unanimous? Did he encounter anyone who didn't think more troops would help; who thought the United States should get out of Iraq? What percentage opposes the escalation or thinks the United States should begin to withdraw from Iraq?
  • How did Lieberman come into contact with the “commanders and soldiers” ? Were they a random sampling or a hand-picked group? Was Lieberman alone or accompanied by Pentagon handlers?
  • What steps, then, did Lieberman take to ensure that he make a more accurate assessment of the state of things during his December 2006 trip to Iraq [than he had on previous trips that resulted in disastrously incorrect assessments]? What did he do differently that time? What did he do to ensure that he saw reality, rather than simply seeing what the Pentagon wanted him to see? What lessons did he learn from his previous mistakes? Why should people trust that he'd gotten it right that time -- especially when Sen. [Susan] Collins [R-ME] reached the opposite conclusion from the same trip?

These and other questions -- which basically boil down to “How do you know that what you saw reflects reality rather than what the Bush administration wants you to see” -- should be obvious, and essential parts of any such interview. Instead, all too often, a journalist asks a question like “You just returned from Iraq. Tell us what you saw there.”

Sure enough, that's what happened with O'Hanlon and Pollack. A Media Matters review of interviews the two analysts gave immediately following their trip to Iraq found that only one interviewer, CNN's Wolf Blitzer, asked a question about the nature of their trip. That question led to Pollack's concession that the trip “was largely organized by the military” -- an extremely significant detail that other interviewers didn't bother to ask about.

Greenwald did press O'Hanlon on the logistics of the trip, leading to the concessions that the trip was planned by the military, that the “predominant majority were people who we came into contact with through the itinerary the D.O.D. developed” ; that "[i]f someone wanted to argue that we were not getting a representative view of Iraqis because the ones we spoke with were provided by the military, I would agree that this would be a genuine concern"; that “I would agree with your point that we were certainly not getting a representative view of Iraqi opinion” ; that “all this data ultimately, all this information ultimately is coming from the U.S. military,” and more. In other words, a series of hugely significant concessions about the trip; concessions that are essential to properly assessing the analysis O'Hanlon and Pollack offered.

Yet, aside from Blitzer and (to a much greater extent) Greenwald, the media simply trumpeted O'Hanlon's and Pollack's claims without exploring these questions.

The media regularly tell the American public that a wide range of people -- war supporters and critics alike -- making independent assessments have concluded that the situation in Iraq is improving, that the strategy is working, that the war must go on. The reality is that the supposed wide range of people consists of war supporters who occasionally criticize the administration and war supporters who do not. And the independent assessments are typically based on hearing and seeing exactly what the Bush administration makes available to be seen and heard.

And so the media spent the weeks before Petraeus' testimony trumpeting the “independent” assessment by two longtime “critics” of the Iraq war that things are improving on the ground in Iraq. The assessment wasn't “independent” in any real sense, and the “critics” were actually supporters, but other than that, the media performed their role admirably.

But news coverage of Petraeus and his testimony may have been even worse. In advance of his appearance before Congress, it was clear that the “surge” had failed. In announcing the surge, President Bush said that the purpose of reducing violence was to give the Iraqi government “the breathing space it needs to make progress in other critical areas. Most of Iraq's Sunni and Shia want to live together in peace -- and reducing the violence in Baghdad will help make reconciliation possible.” And the goal of political reconciliation had not been met, not even close. So, the media helpfully moved the goalposts, pretending that the objective had been a reduction in violence.

Unfortunately, it's a bit of a stretch to say that even that retroactive goal has been accomplished. Sure, the media were full of reports touting the decreased violence from the beginning of the year to midsummer. But that is an extremely misleading comparison. Nobody would argue with a straight face that a reduction in the use of home heating oil in Vermont from February to August shows that Vermonters are cutting down on their energy consumption. That would be insane; nearly everyone understands that seasonal adjustments must be made. The same is true of violence in Iraq. As Matt Yglesias has noted, in every month so far this year, U.S. military deaths in Iraq have been higher than they were in the corresponding month last year. Yet news organizations routinely trumpet selective and misleading statistics that purportedly show a reduction in violence while ignoring more meaningful measures that show an increase.

The bottom line, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO): the goal of reducing “the level of sectarian violence in Iraq and eliminating militia control of local security” was “not met.” And according to a Washington Post report, Bush administration claims of a reduction in sectarian violence rely on bizarre classifications of violence, under which someone shot in the back of the head is counted as a victim of sectarian violence, while someone shot in the front of the head is counted as a victim of criminal violence.

That's what war proponents have been reduced to: touting a reduction in the number of people shot in the back of the head -- and the media go along with it.

As Petraeus' testimony approached, the media hyped him as the ultimate authority, as though George W. Bush's hand-picked surrogate was more likely to provide an accurate assessment of the war he is waging than the GAO or the National Intelligence Estimate.

Though various pre-testimony reports, like that of the GAO, indicated that all is not well in Iraq, journalists announced that Petraeus held the only opinion that mattered -- damn the facts.

Washington Post reporter Lois Romano declared during an online discussion: “I think the only report that matters now on the Hill ... is the greatly anticipated report by General Petraeus -- which will give assessment of the conflict.” Romano later offered an extraordinary defense of her statement:

Anonymous: “I think the only report that matters now on the Hill right is the greatly anticipated report by General Petraeus -- which will give assessment of the conflict.” Why do you think that is the case? It strikes me the other two reports released this week are exponentially more reliable and informative, so why is Petraeus's “the only report that matters” ?

Lois Romano: Because it the report that the politicians will latch onto and the media will emphasize. I don't mean to suggest the other reports are not important -- I think everything will be considered as a whole. But the Petraeus report will likely create the most fanfare.

According to Romano, the Petraeus report is the only one that matters because “it [is] the report that the politicians will latch onto and the media will emphasize.”

Lois Romano is “the media.” She is a reporter for one of the most influential news organizations in the world. Yet she speaks of “the media” emphasizing Petraeus' report as though she has nothing to do with it; as though her own comments don't make that more likely. The other part of her explanation -- that “the politicians” will latch onto the Petraeus report, making it the report that matters, was no less revealing. The Republican politicians were likely to “latch onto” the report. Democratic politicians had already highlighted the GAO report. For example, just the day before Romano's comments, House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Lantos had opened a hearing on the GAO report by citing its findings and expressing skepticism about the administration's report Petraeus would deliver.

So, it was obvious that Republicans would tout Petraeus' report, while Democrats would talk about the GAO and other reports. Yet Lois Romano declared the Petraeus report the one that “matters now on the Hill” because it was the one “that the politicians will latch onto.” Remember, Democrats are the “politicians” who control “the Hill” -- yet Romano speaks as though they don't exist; as though the only reaction that matters is the Republican reaction.

Romano's bizarre comments recall Tim Russert's lament that there wasn't an “opposition party” during the run-up to the Iraq war. Attention, reporters: Democrats exist. They control both houses of Congress. The American people agree with them about ending the war in Iraq.

Romano certainly wasn't alone in hyping Petraeus. As Greg Sargent noted, CNN's Kyra Phillips also talked up Petraeus' report as opposed to the GAO's: “He's the man on the ground, really running the show. So, does this really hold weight when everybody is really wanting to hear from General Petraeus and what he has to say?”

Meanwhile, anyone who dared suggest that maybe, just maybe George W. Bush's hand-picked choice to run the Iraq war might not offer a completely independent and objective assessment of his performance was quickly shouted down. Media reports were full of suggestions that it was wrong and inappropriate for anyone to criticize Petraeus or his report before he had testified. CNN's Jack Cafferty, for example, quoted a spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner attacking people for criticizing Petraeus' report “before it's even delivered.” Cafferty went on to ask, "[I]s it wrong to the Democrats to dismiss General Petraeus' progress report on Iraq before he even delivers it?"

That was a common feature of news reports prior to Petraeus' testimony: the suggestion that criticism of him, or his report, before the testimony was inappropriate; it was “pre-judging” him.

There are two obvious problems with this: First, we didn't see Cafferty or anyone else suggesting it was inappropriate for Republicans to praise Petraeus before he had even delivered his testimony. Apparently many journalists consider it acceptable for Republicans to “pre-judge” Petraeus' testimony favorably, but not for Democrats to “pre-judge” it unfavorably. That's a glaring double standard, but it isn't a new one. During Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito's confirmation hearing, the media repeatedly suggested that Democrats who criticized Alito were pre-judging him, and that they were using the hearing to make a case against Alito, rather than assess his qualifications for the Supreme Court. But Republicans who praised Alito and asked leading, softball questions were not similarly described as pre-judging, or trying to make a case for Alito, rather than assess his qualifications.

The second problem is: of course everyone knew roughly what Petraeus would say. Is there anyone who is truly surprised that he claimed that things are getting better, and that we should continue to fight the war? Anyone at all? See the update to this Glenn Greenwald post for a reminder of just how predictable this all was.

As if to drive home the point that Petraeus was above reproach, CNN's Blitzer took time out from coverage of the General's testimony to walk viewers through the “array of badges and ribbons on his chest” :

BLITZER: It's difficult to watch General Petraeus without noticing the array of badges and ribbons on his chest. The Defense Distinguished Service medal is the highest defense decoration, awarded to officers for exceptional performance and contributions to national security. The Defense Superior Service medal recognizes superior service and honors accomplishments over a long period. The Bronze Star with a V for valor is awarded for heroic or meritorious service against an armed enemy and the Meritorious Service medal is awarded for outstanding non-combat achievement or service.

If only the media thought the words Petraeus spoke were as relevant to assessing his testimony as the medals on his chest.

But it didn't get much better than that on CNN, which hosted David Gergen as its “go-to guy” for analysis of Petraeus' testimony. Gergen sang Petraeus' praises, denounced those who criticized him, and declared, “I think after hearing him with that blizzard of facts and statistics and charts, it's going to be very hard for Democrats now to say, let's pull the plug” on the Iraq war.

It was bad enough for CNN to feature a pundit gushing over Petraeus' testimony like a star-struck 13-year-old, without pitting him against one of the many critics for balance. Even worse, it turns out that Gergen has a “personal relationship” with Petraeus, which he acknowledged during one -- and only one -- of his pro-Petraeus appearances on CNN. “I'm biased,” Gergen admitted. Still, CNN brought him back later, again by himself. During that second appearance, Gergen kept quiet about his personal relationship with the man he was praising.

One final example of the deep and abiding commitment of many journalists to praising Petraeus under any circumstances: Time's Joe Klein -- purportedly the magazine's liberal columnist, it is always important to remember -- wrote this week about Petraeus' shifting answer to a question about whether the Iraq war is making us safer. Petraeus originally answered, “I don't know.” Later, in response to a follow-up question, he changed his answer, embracing the Bush administration position. In a post on Swampland, Klein speculated about Petraeus' shift:

As for his change of heart on the “Is America Safer?” question, it could have been a call from the White House or the Pentagon or his wife, saying: “Do you really want your 163,000 troopers to think that they're not making America safer?”

You can disagree with Petraeus, as I sometimes do, but there's no disputing his skill or honor.

The two scenarios Klein suggested -- that Petraeus changed his answer as a result of pressure from the White House or the Pentagon to maintain troop morale -- both involved Petraeus, in testimony to Congress, saying something he does not believe to be true. And those aren't my guesses at what happened, they are Joe Klein's guesses. Joe Klein says Petraeus may have told Congress something he doesn't believe. And then Joe Klein says there is “no disputing” Petraeus' “honor.”

Well, look: If Petraeus testified to something he doesn't believe, there sure is a “dispute” as to his “honor.” We are not saying Klein should have declared him dishonorable, but it is simply bizarre to reflexively praise the man's “honor” one sentence after suggesting he testified dishonestly before Congress.

Of the many ways in which the American media failed the nation during the months leading to the Iraq war, two stand out: They were dismissive of anti-war voices and were insufficiently critical of the administration and its claims. There is no shortage of news organizations and journalists who have acknowledged those failings. It often seems as though journalists think that, since they have acknowledged those failings, critics should stop bringing them up. But there is a very simple reason why that doesn't happen: Those same failings continue to this day. The media no longer have the (bad) excuse that public opinion lies with the administration, or the (bad) excuse that they don't realize how dishonest the administration is willing to be in order to advance its agenda. And yet those failings continue.

The obsequiousness many journalists displayed toward Petraeus tells us that while they may have acknowledged their pre-war failings, they haven't yet learned from them. Until that happens, they will continue to fail their readers, their viewers, and their nation.

Earlier this week, Glenn Greenwald recounted a speech the legendary journalist David Halberstam gave shortly before his death. In that speech, Halberstam spoke of the proudest moment of his career: standing up during a military briefing in Saigon and demanding access to the battlefield so he wouldn't have to rely on the claims made by generals. As Halberstam described it:

HALBERSTAM: And in the back, and outside, some 40 military officers, all of them big time brass. It was clearly an attempt to intimidate us.

General Stilwell tried to take the intimidation a step further. He began by saying that Neil and I had bothered General Harkins and Ambassador Lodge and other VIPs, and we were not to do it again. Period.

And I stood up, my heart beating wildly -- and told him that we were not his corporals or privates, that we worked for The New York Times and UP and AP and Newsweek, not for the Department of Defense.

That is journalism. Questioning generals is journalism. Swooning over their medals like a little kid staring in awe at the statistics on the back of a baseball card is not journalism. Suggesting that it is inappropriate or unpatriotic to question their assertions is not journalism. It is toadyism. It helped get us into Iraq, and it is helping to keep us there.

* * *

In the wake of Petraeus' testimony, The Hill ran an article about a Rasmussen poll question on the topic. “Poll shows solid support for Petraeus plan,” the article declared.

The poll showed nothing of the kind. The poll, in fact, showed that 43 percent of Americans support “Petraeus' recommendation,” while 38 percent oppose it. Calling that “solid support” was remarkably far-fetched. Even worse, the Rasmussen question was so fundamentally flawed as to be useless. The full question read: “Do you favor or oppose Petraeus' recommendation to withdraw 30,000 soldiers from Iraq but leave 130,000 troops in place at least through the summer?” The question was so poorly worded that those who favor staying in Iraq indefinitely and those who favor getting out as soon as possible might both indicate that they favor the plan as described. Further, the description of it as “Petraeus' recommendation” may well have skewed the results. It isn't hard to imagine that, with the public so unhappy with President Bush's handling of the Iraq war, any plan that is described as someone else's would get some support. It's as close to a useless question as you can get. Yet The Hill pretended it is a meaningful measure of public approval for Petraeus' plan.

The article's first sentence may have been even worse: “When President Bush addresses the nation Thursday night to lay out the way forward in Iraq, his sell might not be so difficult, according to a new poll that shows a large majority of Americans believes that it is likely that large numbers of U.S. troops will still be in Iraq in five years.” That poll result did not indicate that a “large majority of Americans” want troops to be in Iraq in five years, it indicated that they think troops will be there in five years. Yet The Hill portrayed that as an indication that Bush has an easy sell, suggesting that people agree with Bush.

Consent has been manufactured.

Jamison Foser is Executive Vice President at Media Matters for America.