Media ignored Bush's pledge to retain Rumsfeld while continuing to play up Kerry story


Despite the significance of President Bush's November 1 pronouncement that Donald Rumsfeld will remain defense secretary until the end of his presidency, multiple media outlets have devoted much greater attention to the controversy over Sen. John Kerry's "botched joke."

During a discussion with wire service reporters on November 1, President Bush stated his intent to keep Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary until the end of his presidency, despite widespread, bipartisan criticism of Rumsfeld's management of the Iraq war. That evening, MSNBC host Keith Olbermann asked MSNBC correspondent David Shuster whether Bush's pledge to retain Rumsfeld or the ongoing uproar over Sen. John Kerry's (D-MA) "botched joke" will have "the greatest net effect on these really tight" congressional races around the country. Shuster replied, "[T]he Rumsfeld news is going to strike a lot harder than the news about John Kerry." But a Media Matters for America survey of political reporting on the evening of November 1 and morning of November 2 found that many news outlets briefly mentioned -- and, in some cases, altogether ignored -- Bush's statement regarding Rumsfeld, while devoting significant coverage to the Kerry flap.

Also, amid the uproar over Kerry's remarks, the media have ignored a separate statement by Bush about Al Qaeda. During an October 30 interview, Fox News host Sean Hannity asked Bush, "How important is getting Osama bin Laden in the war on terror?" Bush replied that the search continues for bin Laden but went on to emphasize that it is important to capture other Al Qaeda leaders, such as "the number-three guy, whoever he is."

Following are news outlets that continued to highlight the controversy surrounding Kerry's October 30 remarks while overlooking the significance of Bush's pledge to keep Rumsfeld at the helm of the Pentagon:

  • CBS Evening News with Katie Couric: CBS led the November 1 edition of the Evening News with a report from chief White House correspondent Jim Axelrod on Kerry's apology and Republicans' ongoing criticism of the senator. Host Katie Couric then briefly discussed the issue with chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer. Absent from the program was any mention of Bush's statement regarding Rumsfeld.
  • USA Today: The November 2 print edition of USA Today featured an article on Page 5 devoted to Kerry's apology and the ongoing controversy. But the newspaper did not mention Bush's pledge to keep Rumsfeld on until 2009.
  • The Washington Post: In a November 1 post on the website Slate, Post national political editor John Harris "proudly pointed out" that his newspaper had buried the Kerry story in that day's edition of the paper. "[P]lease note," Harris wrote, "that this ... story ran inside the Post today, not on the front page." But on November 2, an article on Kerry's apology by Post staff writers Peter Baker and Jim VandeHei ran on the newspaper's front page. While Baker and VandeHei noted in passing Bush's comments on Rumsfeld, the Post did not devote a separate article to the story.
  • NBC News: On the November 1 edition of NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams, chief White House correspondent David Gregory noted Bush's declaration of support for Rumsfeld at the end of the report on the Kerry flap. Anchor Brian Williams subsequently discussed both issues with Washington managing editor Tim Russert. And later that evening on MSNBC's Countdown, Shuster predicted that the Rumsfeld story "is going to strike a lot harder than the news about John Kerry," as noted above. But on the November 2 edition of Today, NBC led with a report on the Kerry story from White House correspondent Kelly O'Donnell, then hosted a discussion of the issue with Democratic strategist James Carville and conservative radio host Michael Smerconish. At no point during the program was Bush's pledge of support for Rumsfeld noted.
  • CBS' The Early Show: In contrast with its coverage the night before, CBS did mention Bush's statement regarding Rumsfeld on the November 2 edition of The Early Show. But White House correspondent Bill Plante did so only in passing at the end of an extended report on the Kerry controversy. Later in the show, co-host Harry Smith again brought up the Kerry story, showing a photograph taken by a group of U.S. soldiers mocking the senator. The photograph had been highlighted a day earlier by House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and Internet gossip Matt Drudge.

From the November 1 edition of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann:

OLBERMANN: Assess it for me in the big picture. In these key races where Iraq and the question of the troops and now the question of John Kerry and now the question of the president saying, "Don Rumsfeld is staying as secretary of defense through the end of my term" -- which of those two news developments -- the Rumsfeld thing or the Kerry thing -- will have the greatest net effect on these really tight races?

SHUSTER: Rumsfeld will clearly have a huge effect. In fact, there were groans that went up today from Virginia when that news circulated in Richmond, in part because [Sen.] George Allen [R-VA] has been getting hammered by [Democratic challenger] Jim Webb over the issue of Iraq and management of the war, and this was another sign that there is no room, that the president is essentially -- there is no lifeline the president is giving to George Allen. So the Rumsfeld news is going to strike a lot harder than the news about John Kerry.

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