CNN reported on Pelosi's “bad trip” to Syria

On the April 2 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight, CNN ran an on-screen graphic reading “Pelosi's Bad Trip?” throughout a report about a congressional delegation visit to Syria led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). As Media Matters for America noted twice on April 2 (here and here), CNN aired reports about White House criticism of the Pelosi-led trip without mentioning the White House's inconsistency in not also criticizing a Republican-led delegation that met with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in Damascus on April 1. While Dobbs, unlike some of his colleagues, did report at the end of the segment that Pelosi had responded to criticism from the White House by noting its silence regarding the Republican-led trip, in subsequent reports, CNN persisted in leaving out any mention of the GOP-led delegation or the White House's inconsistency.

On April 3, CNN Newsroom host Betty Nguyen characterized Pelosi's trip as a “defiance of the White House” while senior international correspondent Brent Sadler noted that the White House described Pelosi's decision to go to Syria as a “bad” one. He added: "[S]he's flying in the face of that criticism." During those reports, neither Nguyen nor Sadler mentioned the Republican-led trip to Syria.

Similarly, on the April 3 edition of Your World Today, Jill Dougherty, U.S. affairs editor for CNN International, while reporting on Pelosi's trip to Syria, noted that “it is true that there have been other visits to Syria by other U.S. politicians” but did not mention that those “other U.S. politicians” include Republicans.

From the April 2 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight:

DOBBS: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is in Beirut tonight. Pelosi plans to meet with Syrian President Assad in Syria later this week. That meeting is drawing strong criticism from the White House. The speaker says she has no illusions but does have great hope for those talks, which have been recommended by the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group.

Brent Sadler reports from Beirut.

[begin video clip]

SADLER: Two high-profile visits to Lebanon. United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi paying her respects at the tomb of assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. And German Chancellor Angela Merkel treading a similar path. Half the Mideast's quartet represented here, Europe and the United States, focused on renewed international efforts to kick-start regional peace, including Pelosi's controversial plans to visit Syria.

HOUSE SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): We think it's a good idea to establish the facts, to hopefully build some confidence between us. We have no illusions, but we have great hope.

SADLER: But the White House calls her Syrian stopover a bad decision because the U.S. administration considers Syria a supporter of terrorism, citing Syrian behavior over its border with Iraq that helps insurgents and Syria's support for what the U.S. and Israel call terror groups like Hezbollah.

REP TOM LANTOS (D-CA): It is in their interest to return to a position where they can be part of the positive forces in this region and not be in a tight alliance with [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad's Iran.

SADLER: Syria's top leadership plans to welcome Pelosi's delegation, which includes the first Muslim U.S. congressman, with open arms. But they recognize that hopes for a Syrian change of behavior on Pelosi's road to Damascus is no easy ride.

Brent Sadler, CNN, Beirut.

[end video clip]

DOBBS: The speaker, for her part, says the White House is singling her out for criticism over this trip to Syria. Last week, three Republican congressmen also visited Syria, and they also met with President Assad.

Speaker Pelosi said, quote, “I didn't hear the White House speaking out about that.” Pelosi's office said she's following the recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which recommended the United States launch a diplomatic initiative with Syria.

From the April 3 edition of CNN's Your World Today:

HALA GORANI (anchor): So, what kind of power does Nancy Pelosi have? Not in setting U.S. foreign policy, of course, but setting a certain tone as speaker of the House? Why is her trip getting such strong reaction from the White House?

Our U.S. affairs editor, Jill Dougherty, joins us live now from the U.S. Capitol to put it in perspective for us.

So, that is the question, Jill. Why such a strong reaction from the White House?

DOUGHERTY: Well, you know, it is true that there have been other visits to Syria by other U.S. politicians. But this one really has struck a nerve with the Bush administration, and it's raising fears in the Bush administration that the opposition Democrats may be trying to structure their own foreign policy.

From the 11 a.m. ET hour of the April 3 edition of CNN Newsroom:

NGUYEN: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is in Syria today -- in defiance of the White House. Pelosi's visit is part of a Middle East fact-finding tour which is also taking her to Lebanon and Israel. Joining us now on the phone is senior international correspondent Brent Sadler. And Brent, she landed there in Damascus just last hour. We're looking at some new video of that. Set the scene for us; who was there to greet her?

SADLER: Well, she was met by Walid Muallem, the Syrian foreign minister, one of a number of top officials she'll be meeting here for talks including Syria's president, Bashar Al-Assad.

As you say, Betty, this is a visit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that's been highly criticized by the White House. Officials at the White House describing this as a bad decision to come to Syria and to meet the Syrian leader, Bashar Al-Assad, given the White House says, that Syria is a state sponsor of terror, that Syria supports terror groups like Hamas and Hezbollah in Lebanon and that also that Syria has situations across its border that basically destabilize Iraq.

So those are the reasons why the White House says that Pelosi will be better to have cancelled this trip. But that's certainly not what she's done, she's flying in the face of that criticism. I've just been watching her walk around the old city of Damascus where she was mingling with ordinary Syrians through English and sometimes in Arabic -- through a translator -- were telling her that America needs to recalibrate its opinion of Syria and that if the American administration showed better attitudes toward Syria then Syria could reciprocate. This is what she was being told by ordinary Syrians in this old souk area, before and after she visited the ancient, 1,300-year-old Umayyad mosque in the center of old Damascus here, Betty.

NGUYEN: That's just a few moments of her landing -- is what we're watching. But you've detailed a little bit of what she's done already on the ground, what's on the agenda for the rest of the day?

SADLER: Well, this evening she'll be attending a reception at the U.S. ambassador's residence, although there's been no ambassador here at that level for two years, since the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri -- the diplomatic status was downgraded after that over the past two years. The United States also tightened sanctions against Syria during that time.

But tomorrow, Wednesday will be the big day. That's when she'll see the Syrian president, Bashar Al-Assad. They'll be some tough talking there, certainly, Pelosi has made it clear she's not going to avoid the hot-button issue of Syria's behavior towards Iraq, Syria's behavior towards neighboring Lebanon, and other issues, not least trying to kick-start the Middle East peace process.

She says she's here on a fact-finding mission, she says she has no illusions but goes on with this mission with some hope, she says.

NGUYEN: All right, CNN's Brent Sadler joining us live from Damascus. Brent, we thank you.