On April 26, The Washington Post published a baseless attack on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) by columnist David Broder
with the headline “The Democrats' Gonzales” -- in which Broder characterized Reid as an "embarrassment" for recently stating that the war in Iraq “is lost.” The column inspired Media Matters for America to review Broder's recent columns and offer examples of Broder's unfounded attacks on Democrats, glaring misstatements of fact, unwarranted praise of President Bush and congressional Republicans, off-the-mark political predictions, and in at least one case, what was, by his own admission, a cringe-worthy embarrassment:
- Bush “comeback.” In his February 16 column, Broder argued that President Bush could be “poised for a political comeback” and falsely claimed that Bush, during a February 14 press conference, “endors[ed] the good motives of” the critics of his Iraq troop increase by “rejecting the notion that their actions would damage U.S. troops' morale or embolden the enemy.” In fact, when asked at the press conference if he “believe[d] that a vote of disapproval of your [Iraq] policy emboldens the enemy,” Bush specifically refused to “reject the notion that their actions would damage U.S. troops' morale or embolden the enemy,” as Broder put it. At the press conference, Bush said: “As to whether or not this particular resolution is going to impact enemy thought, I can't tell you that.” Also, despite Broder's prognostications, Bush's job approval ratings since February 16 have been stalled in the mid- to low 30s, and even went as low as 29 percent in a February 23-27 CBS News/New York Times poll, and 28 percent in an April 20-23 Harris poll. As the weblog Think Progress noted, Broder claimed in a March 30 online discussion on washingtonpost.com that he would “revisit and revise” his prediction, but has yet to do so.
- Democrats and the military. In his February 6 column, Broder wrote that retired Gen. Wesley Clark was "[o]ne of the losers" among the potential Democratic presidential candidates who spoke before the Democratic National Committee on February 2 because he forgot “that few in this particular audience have much experience with, or sympathy for, the military.” Broder offered no support for this claim, which reflected the assumption -- expressed frequently among the media and documented by Media Matters for America -- that Iraq war supporters are “pro-military,” and conversely that those opposed to the Iraq war must be anti-military.
- Detainee legislation. In his September 21, 2006, column, Broder heaped praise on Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey O. Graham (R-SC), and John Warner (R-VA) for their “revolt ... against President Bush's insistence on a free hand in treating terrorist detainees.” According to Broder: “These are not ordinary men. McCain, from Arizona, is probably the leading candidate for the 2008 presidential nomination. Graham, from South Carolina, is the star among the younger Republican senators. Warner, from Virginia, embodies the essence of traditional Reagan conservatism: patriotism, support for the military, civility.” That same day, however, these senators and the White House reached a “compromise” on terror-detainee legislation characterized by Border's Post colleague Dan Froomkin as a situation in which "[t]he Republican senators essentially agreed to look the other way." Froomkin explained: “On the central issue of whether the CIA should continue using interrogation methods on suspected terrorists that many say constitute torture, the White House got its way, winning agreement from the 'maverick' Republican senators who had refused to go along with an overt undoing of the Geneva Conventions.” As Media Matters noted, the Post reported on September 29, 2006, that the compromise was reached largely on administration terms: “Written largely, but not completely, on the administration's terms, with passages that give executive branch officials discretion to set details or divert from its protections, the bill is meant to provide what Bush said yesterday are 'the tools' needed to handle terrorism suspects U.S. officials hope to capture.” Broder has yet to address this “compromise” on terror detainee treatment.
- Hurricane Katrina. In his September 4, 2005, column, Broder wrote: “We cannot yet calculate the political fallout from Hurricane Katrina and its devastating human and economic consequences, but one thing seems certain: It makes the previous signs of political weakness for Bush, measured in record-low job approval ratings, instantly irrelevant and opens new opportunities for him to regain his standing with the public.” Broder himself later acknowledged that this column was “wildly off target.” He wrote in his December 29, 2005, column:
On Sept. 4, I published a column so wildly off target that it could have gotten me indicted by a special prosecutor. It was written in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, as President Bush was flying back from vacation to organize the federal response to that catastrophe.
Without waiting for him to actually do anything, I saluted his performance, leading off with the assertion that “it took almost no time for President Bush to put his stamp on the national response to the tragedy that has befallen New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.”
And then this howler: “Because the commander in chief is also the communicator in chief, when a crisis emerges the nation's eyes turn to him as to no other official. We cannot yet calculate the political fallout from Hurricane Katrina and its devastating human and economic consequences, but one thing seems certain: It makes the previous signs of political weakness for Bush, measured in record-low job approval ratings, instantly irrelevant and opens new opportunities for him to regain his standing with the public.”
What it opened, of course, was an abyss of doubts about the president's awareness of what was happening and about the competence of his administration. He's still paying for that episode.
But if Bush were as vindictive toward the press as is sometimes reported, he could well turn to me and say: “You're doing a heck of a job, too, Davey.”
- The case for war. During a March 25, 2003, online discussion on washingtonpost.com, Broder wrote that he was “unaware of any efforts by the administration to link Iraq to 9/11.” In fact, prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Vice President Dick Cheney repeated several times the now-discredited claim that 9-11 ringleader Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence official in Prague in 2001. On March 21, 2003, Bush sent a letter to the speaker of the House and the president pro tempore of the Senate saying that “the use of armed force against Iraq is consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.”