Media outlets discover a “pro-military” Democrat

Reporting that Rep. John P. Murtha (D-PA) called for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq during a press conference on November 17, a photo caption on the front page of The Washington Post's website the evening of November 17 (pictured below) labeled him a “pro-military Democrat.” In stories published November 18, Associated Press writer Liz Sidoti and CBS News described Murtha as “usually pro-military,” implying that his calling for immediate withdrawal from Iraq is somehow “anti-military.” Knight Ridder reporter James Kuhnhenn also applied the “pro-military” label to Murtha.

Murtha's announcement was significant in that he is the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on defense, having initially voted to support the Iraq war, and was the first Vietnam veteran -- a recipient of the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts -- to serve in Congress.

The Post's and the others' labeling of Murtha as “pro-military” or a “pro-military Democrat” 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 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 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?

In 2004 Republican Rep. Christopher H. Smith (NJ), then-chairman of a House Veterans Affairs subcommittee, called for such increases; his own party summarily removed him as chairman two years shy of the end of his term. A Media Matters for America search has found no instances of the Post or others reporting that “anti-veteran” Republicans ousted their own Veterans Affairs chairman.

* Motion to recommit appropriations bill to committee in order to address the $1 billion shortfall.

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