On the April 8 broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press, NBC News political director Chuck Todd observed that Republican and conservative attacks against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for her recent trip to Syria marked “the second time that they've been able to get the sort of conservative media machine going.” The first time, according to Todd, was “the plane incident with Pelosi” -- a reference to discredited accusations by Republicans and conservatives that Pelosi requested a luxurious military aircraft to travel between Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. At no point, however, did Todd acknowledge that it is not just the “conservative media machine” attacking Pelosi -- false and misleading conservative attacks on Pelosi have been embraced and repeated uncritically by mainstream media outlets, including NBC and MSNBC.
Also, rather than faulting the “conservative media machine's” coverage of the Pelosi trip, Todd instead faulted Democrats, saying: “I think they need to, when they do these things, think, 'What's the worst case scenario?' and think about the optics of this.” Todd proceeded to offer Pelosi advice on what she “should've” done to avoid these media attacks, such as having “more than just one Republican” in her delegation. At no time did he criticize the media for buying into conservatives' false or misleading attacks.
From the April 8 broadcast of Meet the Press:
DAVID GREGORY (NBC News chief White House correspondent): No. But the Democrats want to assert themselves, not just on Iraq but on foreign policy generally, because they know their base wants to see that. They know there's a lot of people in the country who think they could -- they should have a more assertive voice and be -- and have more accountability. On the facts here, it appears that it was at least a bit sloppy, critics will say, that the way she represented the Israeli point of view was not entirely complete, that she should have said, “Yes, they want peace talks, but you have to really crack down on Hamas and Hezbollah.”
Pelosi maintains she said those very things, and she said them on camera during that same press conference that you played a portion of. The issue was, this was asserting herself in a bit of shuttle diplomacy during a trip when the White House already said, “You shouldn't be on it.” You saw Dick Cheney come out and say, “This is the danger, Republicans -- Nancy Pelosi running foreign policy.” In effect, it's a way for conservatives, for Republicans to unite a little bit.
TODD: This was a -- Republicans found an opening. You know, remember the plane incident with Pelosi? Now, this is the second time that they've been able to get the sort of conservative media machine going -- Rush Limbaugh, Drudge -- all in sync, which really only for the first time, it seems like, in three months. And they hit her hard. She's going to weather this storm. I think they need to, when they do these things, think, “What's the worst case scenario?” and think about the optics of this.
They should've had those three Republican members of Congress that went sooner, they should've had them with them -- her on this trip. She should've had more than just one Republican and possibly had a high profile person from the Iraq Study Group, since that's what she has used as a defense for going to Syria. She could've done this in a much more -- much more carefully orchestrated way, and she didn't. It was sloppy, as David said.
As Media Matters for America has documented, several media outlets -- CNN in particular -- have uncritically parroted Republican and conservative attacks on Pelosi for meeting with Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad, but ignored the fact that Republican-led delegations also met with Assad in the days preceding and following Pelosi's meeting. CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux asked why anyone should “see” Pelosi's trip as “any more [than] a political stunt here, a publicity stunt, a big wet kiss to President Al-Assad.” Malveaux also declared that Pelosi was “not traveling in any official capacity,” had no “standing,” and suggested she was “overstepping her role.” Joining Malveaux were CNN's Lou Dobbs, who devoted an entire segment to “Pelosi's Bad Trip,” and Paula Zahn, who asked: “Is the speaker of the House aiding terrorists by taking the road to Damascus?”
Internet gossip Matt Drudge, whom Todd singled out as part of the “conservative media machine,” was among the media figures who hyped criticism of Pelosi for wearing a headscarf while in the Middle East, but ignored the fact that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and First Lady Laura Bush have done the same, as Media Matters has also documented. Vice President Dick Cheney appeared on Limbaugh's nationally syndicated radio show on April 5 and attacked Pelosi's trip as “bad behavior.”
The “plane incident with Pelosi,” as Todd put it, was spurred by Congressional Republicans and conservative media figures attacking -- without evidence -- Pelosi for, as Rep. Adam Putnam (R-FL) put it, “an arrogance of extravagance that demands a jumbo jet that costs $22,000 an hour to operate to taxi her and her buddies back and forth to California.” Numerous media uncritically reported the baseless allegation, and in comments similar to Todd's, NBC's Matt Lauer and David Gregory agreed that the matter posed a “PR” problem for Pelosi, despite the complete absence of allegations of wrongdoing. Putnam later acknowledged that he attacked Pelosi despite having “no personal knowledge” of any such request being made, and, indeed, no evidence exists indicating that Pelosi made such a request. Todd's own network has reported the fact that the charge was baseless as well -- as Media Matters for America noted, NBC News congressional correspondent Mike Viqueira reported on the February 8 edition of MSNBC News Live that “there's really no evidence that Pelosi specifically asked for ... this 757 [aircraft].”