Media coverage of Iraq debate steeped in GOP talking points

A Media Matters analysis of the media coverage of the Iraq war debate shows that the favored Republican talking points on Iraq have gone largely unchallenged in the media and have even been adopted as truths by some media outlets and figures.

In recent weeks, both houses of Congress have sustained the debate over continued U.S. military involvement in Iraq, and the Republican-controlled Senate voted down two Democratic resolutions calling for the withdrawal of U.S. forces. As the debate has progressed, a number of dishonest and misleading talking points on Iraq have been repeated time and again by the White House, the Republicans in Congress, and other GOP officials -- talking points that have served to cloud and distort the public discourse, and obscure the fact that Republican are supporting an increasingly unpopular war. A Media Matters for America analysis of the media coverage of the Iraq war debate has found that the favored Republican talking points on Iraq have gone largely unchallenged in the media and have even been adopted as truths by some media outlets and figures.

Below, Media Matters presents the favored Republican talking points on Iraq and demonstrates how the media have embraced them in covering the Iraq war.

1. Republicans are “pro-military” or “support the troops”/Democrats are “anti-military” or “attack the troops”

“Democrats undermine our troops in Iraq from the security of their Washington, D.C., offices.” -- Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO), responding to Rep. John P. Murtha's (D-PA) call for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, November 17, 2005.

The GOP has frequently conflated support for the United States' continued, indefinite presence in Iraq with support for American troops, and it has accused Democrats of “attacking” or “undermining” the military by calling for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. Supporters of continued troop presence in Iraq have promoted this talking point to great effect, and are rarely, if ever, challenged in the media to explain how those calling for withdrawal and expressly motivated by concern over U.S. troop casualties are “anti-military” or do not support the troops. Notwithstanding the inherent inconsistency in the charge, the media have simply absorbed this talking point, uncritically quoting Republicans who use it and even repeating it as a truism.

One manifestation of this talking point occurs when the media refer to Democrats who are regarded as military hawks or who strongly supported the Iraq invasion as “pro-military,” setting up a comparison with those Democrats who opposed the Iraq war, who are by implication “anti-military.”

For example, the Associated Press, in a June 13 article, described Murtha as “a pro-military Democrat who has gained prominence in recent months by leading his party in demanding an early troop withdrawal from Iraq.” By describing Murtha as “pro-military,” the AP left the implication that other Democrats are somehow “anti-military.” The AP previously described Murtha as “pro-military” when he first called for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq in November 2005. As Media Matters noted at the time, such nomenclature raises several questions:

First, would these news organizations characterize any of the 184 Democrats in the House who voted to compensate for a $1 billion shortfall in spending for veterans caused by the federal deficit -- but many of whom also voted against the Iraq war resolution -- “anti-military”? What about those 216 [House] Republicans who voted against increasing veterans' benefits, the vast majority of whom voted for the war resolution? Are they pro or anti-military? And what about the 44 Senate Democrats who voted for Sen. John F. Kerry's (D-MA) amendment increasing death benefits to military families -- many of whom also voted against the Iraq war resolution? And the 25 [Senate] Republicans who voted against the Kerry amendment?

As recently as June, the Post reported that the Senate Republican majority had repeatedly rejected amendments put forth by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) that would have increased spending for veterans. Pro- or anti-military Republicans?

When anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan and Beverly Young, wife of Congressman Bill Young (R-FL), were ejected from the 2006 State of the Union address for wearing Iraq-war themed T-shirts -- Sheehan's read “2,245 Dead. How Many More?” and Young's read “Support the Troops -- Defending our Freedom” -- the media cast Young's shirt as “pro-military” and “more patriotic”:

  • On the February 2 edition of CNN's Live From..., host Kyra Phillips characterized Sheehan as an “anti-war activist” while casting Beverly Young as a “staunch advocate for the troops.”
  • A February 1 Associated Press report described the message on Sheehan's T-shirt as “just the opposite” of the one worn by Young, while a February 2 Baltimore Sun article described Young's message as “more patriotic” than Sheehan's.
  • On the February 2 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly interviewed Rep. and Mrs. Young, introducing the segment by saying: “In the 'Impact' segment tonight, Cindy Sheehan got the headlines, but another spectator was removed from the State of the Union address on Tuesday for wearing a message shirt. This one pro-military.”

Fox News host Sean Hannity has claimed that Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) “attack[ed]” U.S. troops when they said the U.S. presence in Iraq was helping to fuel the insurgency -- a position also held by Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top American commander in Iraq. On the June 13 edition of Hannity & Colmes, Hannity told former Democratic presidential candidate Gen. Wesley Clark: “Well, with all due respect, General, your party has undermined the president and the troops almost every step of the way.”

2. Democrats want to “cut and run/jog/walk”

“That sends the wrong message. It sends the wrong message to Iraqis who need to know that America will not cut and run. That sends the wrong message to the troops of our coalition who need to know that we will honor their sacrifice by completing the mission. My opponent has the wrong strategy for the wrong country at the wrong time.” President Bush, October 25, 2004, campaign speech.

“And there's a debate going on within the Democratic Party. Some are saying we need to cut and run. Others are saying we need to cut and jog. And still others are saying we need to cut and walk.” -- Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman on the June 20 edition of CNN's The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.

The GOP's “cut-and-run” smear against Democrats has gone largely unchallenged in the media -- on June 27, CNN correspondent Candy Crowley said that "'cut and run' clearly is a phrase that slices through public psyche" -- and has even been adopted by some media figures as a legitimate term of debate. Major print outlets, such as The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the AP, and Reuters have uncritically repeated Republican claims that Democratic proposals to withdraw troops from Iraq amount to a “cut and run” strategy, and failed to note that recent polling indicates the majority of Americans favor the idea of troop withdrawal. A CNN poll conducted June 14-15 showed that 53 percent of respondents favored a timetable for withdrawal, while 41 percent opposed such a measure, and only 38 percent of respondents supported the war, while 54 percent opposed it. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted June 9-12 found that 57 percent of respondents supported reducing troop levels now, compared with 35 percent who favored maintaining the current deployment, and that only 40 percent of those surveyed believed the war was “worth the number of U.S. military casualties and the financial cost.”

When, on June 21, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) denounced on the Senate floor “focus-group tested buzz words and phrases like 'cut and run' ” -- thereby repudiating his own party's message strategy on the Iraq debate -- CNN and other media outlets responded with a collective shrug. The June 21 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, guest-hosted by chief Washington correspondent Norah O'Donnell, featured a discussion with Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) which included on-screen graphics that packaged two GOP slogans into a single phrase: " 'Cut and run' or 'stay the course'?"

On June 25, The New York Times reported that Gen. Casey had briefed the White House on a plan to withdraw significant numbers of U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2007 -- sparking outrage among Senate Democrats, who noted that the White House and the GOP had spent the better part of the previous week attacking and smearing their troop withdrawal proposals as “cut-and-run” strategies. Nevertheless, on the June 25 edition of the CBS Evening News, correspondent Joie Chen claimed that Casey's withdrawal plan was “not a cut-and-run strategy” -- without explaining how she thought Casey's reported plan differs from what the White House and Senate Republicans have labeled the Democrats' “cut-and-run” proposals.

3. Iraq is the central front on the war on terror

“Iraq is a part of the war on terror. Iraq is a central front on that war, and when Iraq succeeds in having a government of and by and for the people of Iraq, you will have dealt a serious blow to those who have a vision of darkness, who don't believe in liberty, who are willing to kill the innocent in order to achieve a political objective.” -- President Bush, speaking in Iraq on June 13.

“Let's look at the facts here. We have not had an attack on our homeland. Apparently, what we are doing regarding this war on terror is working. And I would rather have them fighting over there in Iraq than fighting over here.” -- Republican Strategist Angela McGowan, June 14 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto.

Linking Iraq to the larger “war on terror,” and claiming that Iraq is a “central front” in that war, is an oft-repeated talking point used by Republicans to justify the continued U.S. military presence in Iraq. This, despite the fact that the 9-11 Commission and the Senate Intelligence Committee determined that Al Qaeda and Iraq did not have an operational or formal relationship prior to the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion -- contrary to the White House's rhetoric at the time. And, if Iraq is now to be considered the “central front,” that designation is due, in large part, to the invasion itself, according the CIA and the State Department. As Media Matters has noted, the State Department's 2005 annual terrorism report noted: “Foreign fighters appear to be working to make the insurgency in Iraq what Afghanistan was to the earlier generation of jihadists -- a melting pot for jihadists from around the world, a training ground, and an indoctrination center.” A January 2005 report from the CIA's National Intelligence Council found: “The al-Qa'ida membership that was distinguished by having trained in Afghanistan will gradually dissipate, to be replaced in part by the dispersion of the experienced survivors of the conflict in Iraq.”

Some even go so far as to link the Iraq war to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, as Mehlman and O'Donnell did during the June 21 edition of MSNBC's Hardball. When Mehlman attempted to justify the “2,500 U.S. troops dead” (O'Donnell's words) in the Iraq war by invoking the “3,000 people we lost on 9-11,” O'Donnell replied: “I hear what you're saying.”

Other media figures content themselves simply to echo the GOP in linking the “war on terror” to Iraq:

  • Fox News Washington bureau managing editor Brit Hume, on the June 18 broadcast of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:

    HUME: You know, you have to wonder when you hear these calls for a pullout and these claims -- we heard them on this program today -- that well, you know, we're losing the war on terror, we're not -- this a distraction from the war on terror. Who do people think we're fighting in Iraq? We're fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq. Al Qaeda has chosen to make a stand in Iraq. Where better to fight them? I mean, they're going to pit their terrorists against our military forces and the Iraqi military forces over there. Why is that a bad thing?

  • Fox News host John Gibson, from the June 15 edition of Fox News' The Big Story:

    GIBSON: Iraq's national security adviser also says they found a document which details the worries of Al Qaeda in Iraq that include several bullet points on why Americans seem to be winning the war on terror in Iraq. All of this new information comes today as Congress takes up a debate on the war.

  • MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, from the June 22 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country:

    SCARBOROUGH: Now, from terror at home to the war on terror in Iraq. Today, the United States Senate continued its fiery debate on whether to maintain the status quo or to bring our troops home.

  • Fox News correspondent Bret Baier, from the April 28 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

    BAIER: Iraq is called the key front on the global war on terror, and the appearance of Abu Musab al Zarqawi on video this week emphasized the danger from his group that is trying to turn Iraq into a terrorist safe haven.

4. Democrats are “divided” or “weak” on Iraq and national security

“Senate Democrats Are 'Scrambling' And Divided Over Which Cut-And-Run Plan They Can All Agree” -- From a Republican National Committee “Research Briefing” titled: "The Real Dem Agenda: The Dems' Cut-And-Run Competition"

“There's an interesting debate in the Democrat Party about how quick to pull out of Iraq. Pulling out of Iraq before we accomplish the mission will make the world a more dangerous place. It's bad policy. I know it may sound good politically; it will endanger our country to pull out of Iraq before we accomplish the mission.” -- President Bush, speaking at a June 14 White House press conference following his return from Iraq.

“They may be with you for the first shots, but they're not going ... to be with you for the tough battles.” -- White House senior adviser Karl Rove, attacking Democrats during a June 12 speech in New Hampshire.

Much of the media coverage of the recent debate over the two Democratic Senate proposals for U.S. troop withdrawal involved, as political strategist and CNN contributor Paul Begala put it in a June 21 post on the weblog TPM Cafe, “hyperventilating about 'Democrats in disarray' over the war in Iraq.” Begala continued:

ABC's “The Note” captures the stupidity, vapidity and gullibility of the mainstream media perfectly: “Democrats can deny it all they want (and not all do ...), but they are on the precipice of self-immolating over the issue that has most crippled the Bush presidency and of making facts on the ground virtually meaningless. In other words, they are on the precipice of making Iraq a 2006 political winner for the Republican Party.”

I'm sure I've read a dopier statement of conventional wisdom, a more perfect transcription of Karl Rove's ignorant talking points, but I really can't remember when.

Indeed, those media outlets that played up the “Democrats in disarray” angle often misstated the actual debate taking place within the Democratic Party and ignored the fact that the Democrats were and are overwhelmingly united in the belief that the United States should begin planning a withdrawal of its troops from Iraq. As Media Matters noted, on the June 21 edition of CNN Live Today, congressional correspondent Dana Bash, in characterizing the Senate debate, emphasized that despite Sen. Reid's efforts “to find consensus,” the two Democratic camps had arrived at “very different views” about how to move forward in Iraq. She further reported that Republicans had decided to debate “the one thing that actually does divide Democrats, which is whether or not U.S. troops should come home.” But the disagreement between the two proposals debated by Senate Democrats was not whether U.S. forces should be redeployed out of Iraq, as Bash reported, but rather how soon.

On the June 20 edition of CNN's Paula Zahn Now, Zahn seized on the “divisiveness” within the Democratic Party and said to Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-DE): “Your party is getting creamed as the party of cut-and- runners, the wobbly, the weak. Some Democrats want the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Some think they should be out a year from now. And some think setting a timetable, period, is irresponsible. So, do you understand why that divisiveness compromises the credibility of your party?”

Others in the media simply use the Iraq debate or Democratic divisions as further “evidence” that Democrats are “weak” on matters of national security:

  • Brit Hume, on the June 18 edition of Fox News Sunday:

    HUME: You know, the knock on the Democrats has been they're not serious about national security. In some instances and, in some ways, that's been unfair, but broadly speaking, it has real truth. So, now, come the Democrats laying out what they're going to run on for the fall, and the major issue of our time isn't -- national security issue of our time is not mentioned. That is -- I think that betokens a certain lack of seriousness about this sort of thing.

  • National Review Washington editor Kate O'Beirne, on the June 20 edition of Hardball with Chris Matthews:

    O'BEIRNE: Citing George McGovern is not helpful to the Democrats. The one advantage Republicans traditionally have, even in the midst of all their problems at the moment with their own base disaffected, their own popularity being even less than George Bush's, is national security. They have like a -- at least a double-digit lead on national security. And the Democrats can't help but look weak on national security. Now, they can't help it. They have been divided almost since 9-11. A majority of House Democrats voted against authorizing the president, with respect to the war in Iraq, and a majority of Senate Democrats supported it.

  • Norah O'Donnell interviewing Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean on the June 19 edition of Hardball with Chris Matthews:

    O'DONNELL: Why is it that the Democrats, who just unveiled this new plan last week, called “A New Direction for America,” make absolutely no mention of Iraq in a plan for Iraq? Doesn't that just reinforce the idea that Democrats are weak on national security? They can't come together and create -- put together a plan?

  • Former presidential adviser David Gergen, who served in the administrations of presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton, on the June 16 edition of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360:

    GERGEN: Well, hot and heavy. The Republicans, with “Team Bush” on a roll, [host] Anderson [Cooper], are clearly trying to exploit a perceived weakness on -- by the part -- on the part of the Democrats with regard to Iraq and, more generally, on the use of force. And they cleverly have pushed through a resolution in the House today by a large margin, which Democrats couldn't defeat, saying, “Don't set a timetable.”

5. The GOP won the Iraq debate politically

“And one of the reasons I think our candidates are going to win is this debate on Iraq. People may disagree about how we got there, they may disagree about some of the specifics, but they recognize that a strategy that the terrorists would see as surrender is the wrong strategy.” -- Mehlman, on the June 20 edition of CNN's The Situation Room.

Just as media figures were quick to seize upon the “Democrats in disarray” angle, they were also quick to declare Republicans the political winners of the Iraq debate, although they offered no supporting evidence for the assertion beyond what became media consensus, and despite the fact (noted above) that polling indicates the majority of Americans disapprove of the conflict and favor some form of troop withdrawal. The majority of Americans, therefore, are closer to the Democratic position than that of the Republicans. Nevertheless, on the June 21 edition of CNN Live Today, Bash reported on the Republican “field day” over the Iraq debate: “Republicans here in the Senate, over at the White House, are having nothing short of a field day with what they see going on with the Democratic Party and what they will see ... play out on the Senate floor this week, as they believe that this fundamentally plays into their plans for this election year, that they want to make Democrats look weak on national defense. And they hope that this will help.”

Following the June 22 Senate votes defeating both Democratic troop withdrawal provisions, there was no shortage of media figures crowning the GOP the Iraq debate victors, citing the alleged popularity of the Bush administration's and the Republican Congress' policy of “stay the course.”

From an article in the July 3 edition of Newsweek:

But a place in the inner sanctum comes with its challenges -- and Kos [Daily Kos blogger Markos Moulitsas Zuniga] picked a rough time to join. Last week the GOP rallied around Karl Rove's “cut and run” battle cry and went on the offensive against a Democratic Party that was all over the place on the war. Sen. John Kerry was constantly on cable TV, touting an amendment requiring the redeployment of troops out of Iraq by July 2007; most members of his own party voted against it. The party had better discipline on a more gradual pullout measure backed by Sens. Carl Levin and Jack Reed, voting together, coordinating talking points -- and still going down to a sound defeat. The GOP was clearly on the rebound. “They're buoyed by Zarqawi's death and other steps in Iraq, but they're also strengthened by the disarray of the Democrats,” says one senior Bush aide, who asked not to be identified speaking about political strategy.

Democrats tried to downplay the significance of the GOP's momentum. “What this indicates is the White House is much better at sloganeering than they are at actually governing and conducting this war,” former Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards told NEWSWEEK.

Still, the Democrats lost the week in the war over the war, and Moulitsas -- who chats with Senate leadership aides several times a week and has brainstormed with Democratic operatives about the fall campaign -- could no longer just criticize from the outside. Indeed, the Democrats' failed Iraq strategy -- stand together, talk tough and make plans to leave -- lined up exactly with the prescriptions found on Daily Kos.

Blogger Andrew Sullivan, on the June 25 broadcast of NBC-syndicated The Chris Matthews Show:

SULLIVAN: My view is that Americans don't vote on the past, they vote on the future. And the mistake the Democrats are making is by rehashing the past, which I think most of us will agree was screwed up in this war. Nevertheless, Americans are like, look, we're here, what do we do now? Are we going to pull out? Are we going to turn this into another Afghanistan? Or are we going to stay the course? And on that argument, Bush and the Republicans are stronger.

Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes on the June 25 edition of Fox News' The Beltway Boys:

BARNES: And what helps them particularly is simply this: that the American people prefer the Republican-Bush position of “staying the course” and winning in Iraq to the Democratic position, which is getting out as soon as you can. Or as Republicans say, “cutting and running.” And the truth is, staying -- staying the course trumps cutting and running. It's as simple as that.

On the June 25 edition of Fox News' Weekend Live, Washington Post staff writer Jeffrey Birnbaum declared the GOP victorious, but took it a step further. When asked by host Brian Wilson, "[w]hat got accomplished this week in your mind," Birnbaum responded:

BIRNBAUM: Well, I think what got accomplished was the Republicans finally figured out that they could control the agenda and what is debated and how it's debated and use it to their advantage. What happened here is that the Republicans maneuvered the Democrats into looking to the endgame of the war rather than the complaints about the beginning of the war, and that way exposed Democratic division about how fast to pull out and setting a deadline. They defeated both of those efforts pretty overwhelmingly in the Senate. And, I think for -- did a real jiu-jitsu, turned around the entire debate on Iraq, so that Republicans now have the upper hand rather than being on the defensive all the time.

Read that again. A reporter for The Washington Post credited the party that has controlled Congress for over a decade for “finally figur[ing] out that they could control the agenda.” As The American Prospect's Greg Sargent noted in a June 22 entry to his weblog, The Horse's Mouth, comments like Birnbaum's and the ones noted above are symptomatic of “a larger media failing”:

The frequent depiction of Republicans on offense, and of the Dems on defense; that is, of Republicans winning and Dems on their heels. Yes, it's true that the GOP is showing newfound unity on Iraq, while the Dems are offering different approaches. But look: the Republicans are only unified in the sense that none of them is offering any plan. They're unified in their lack of any ideas about what to do.

6. The GOP will always win on national security issues

"[Sen.] Russ Feingold's [D-WI] brazen effort to mischaracterize the words of our military's leaders reflects a commitment that is long on campaign politics and short on national security. A strategy of cut and run in the central front of the War on Terror amounts to a surrender to our enemy. It should not be a surprise that the same man who wanted to censure the President for working to protect Americans, now thinks it is wise to tip our hand to the terrorists." -- Tracey Schmitt, RNC press secretary, responding to Sen. Feingold's appearance on the June 25 edition of NBC's Meet the Press

The conventional wisdom within the media is that any sort of debate regarding national security will benefit the Republicans because they have an advantage over the Democrats on security issues. Indeed, The New York Times reported on May 13, regarding the Senate confirmation hearings for then-CIA director nominee Gen. Michael V. Hayden: “Senate Democrats intend to use next week's confirmation hearings for a new C.I.A. director to press the Bush administration on its broad surveillance programs, engaging Republicans on national security grounds that have proved politically treacherous for Democrats in the aftermath of Sept. 11."

But, as Media Matters has noted, this narrative has endured because the media have largely failed to challenge the premise upon which it is based -- the Bush White House and the Republican Congress have aggressively and successfully responded to the threat of terrorism. Additionally, the media have ignored Democratic initiatives on national security. In the midst of the controversy surrounding the Bush administration's decision to allow a company owned by the government of Dubai, a member state of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), to run terminals at six U.S. ports, the media largely ignored the fact that Democrats had been calling for increased port security for years, and that the GOP-controlled Congress repeatedly rejected or blunted Democratic legislation aiming to bolster port security nationwide.

As Media Matters noted at the time of the ports controversy, Tim Russert, host of Meet the Press and the NBC News Washington bureau chief, discussed “the lesson that Democrats say they have learned from the Bush administration” during a February 22 interview on NBC's Today:

RUSSERT: That is, there is a post-September 11th mentality. That's what Karl Rove warned about, and they are playing it. And House Republicans and Senate Republicans, [then-Today co-host] Katie [Couric], are saying “Oh, my God, midterm elections coming. We can't let the Democrats get to our right on national security. We're going to join this fray as well.”


RUSSERT: Here's the situation: Democrats believe they can look tough on national security. House Republicans, Senate Republicans, saying, “We're going to join with them because they're not going to out-flank us. And we're not going to look like rubber stamps for President Bush, who's not particularly popular right now.”

It is therefore unsurprising that the press coverage of the Iraq debate was marked by similar language. The Washington Post reported on June 25:

Despite a modest rebound in approval ratings in recent weeks, many in his party see Bush as a drag in their districts, particularly on the border issue. At the same time, they agree with White House strategists that distancing themselves from Bush on the war would throw away a proven trump card -- the argument that the GOP is strong on security and Democrats are not -- just as U.S. forces have killed al-Qaeda's leader in Iraq.

On the June 25 edition of Fox News' Weekend Live, Washington Times reporter Charles Hurt said:

HURT: I kept asking Democrats all week, you know, are you really going to go down this path yet again? Because for the last two elections, in 2002 and in 2004, you know, the races were defined by national security and both times they lost. And you know, it sort of puzzles me, and I think it actually worries a lot of them, that they are walking right down that exact same path and possibly setting themselves up for the same sort of outcome.

From the June 21 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

SEN. MITCH McCONNELL (R-KY) [clip]: The Republicans are largely unified. You will notice that we have not offered an alternative. We feel very confident in having this debate.

MAJOR GARRETT (Fox News correspondent): That despite polls showing deep misgivings about Iraq and a desire to accelerate troop withdrawal. Analysts said these problems have yet to paralyze the GOP, especially when it comes to a non-binding Senate resolution.

MICHAEL O'HANLON (Brookings Institution senior fellow): The Republicans, who largely are the ones who set up this particular debate in this form, recognize they had to pull together, and they're pretty good at the politics of national security.

On the June 18 broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press, Russert asked Murtha:

RUSSERT: But if the Republicans are capable of showing a contrast between the parties -- in 2002, successfully; in 2004, successfully; the Republicans perceived, they hope, as the stronger party on national security -- will that work in 2006? The Democrats will be portrayed as cut-and-run and the Republicans as the party of strength?

From the June 17 edition of Fox News' The Journal Editorial Report:

PAUL A. GIGOT (Wall Street Journal editorial page editor): The irony here is that Republicans, believe it or not, despite all the troubles in Iraq -- and they are considerable -- they are the ones that want to have a debate, it seems, about Iraqi policy because they can fight the Democrats on that issue, not of what happened in 2003, not of how well the war has been prosecuted, but what do we do now for victory, because I think the American people still want victory.

DANIEL HENNINGER (Journal editorial page deputy editor): Yeah, I think that's their Achilles' heel, and --

KIMBERLEY STRASSEL (Journal editorial board member): And they still trust Republicans more on national security issues, and it's one reason why a lot of these new proposals don't deal with that.

As Media Matters has noted (here, here, here), the news media's portrayal of the Iraq war, terrorism, and national security as political winners for the Republicans and dangerous territory for Democrats -- despite all evidence to the contrary -- is in no way a recent phenomenon.