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Covering the troop withdrawal

By DAVID BAUDER
August 20, 2010

Combat troops leave Iraq (AP)

Nowhere was the difference between the cable news networks on starker display than in prime-time coverage on the night the last American combat brigade left Iraq following a war that started seven years and five months ago.

MSNBC devoted its entire prime-time footprint to the story, with Richard Engel riding with the troops in a specially equipped vehicle and host Rachel Maddow based in Baghdad. Keith Olbermann anchored the coverage from a New York studio.

Fox News Channel devoted just under 10 minutes to the story, much of it during Shepard Smith’s 7 p.m. newscast. The network spent 45 minutes discussing the potential construction of an Islamic cultural center near ground zero, while that story wasn’t mentioned on MSNBC at all. CNN, meanwhile, spent an hour on each story.

The news decisions led critics of Fox and MSNBC to suggest politics was at play in the coverage decisions.

Engel had been embedded with the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, the last combat brigade in Iraq. Since President Barack Obama had said combat units would leave by Aug. 31, Engel was closely tracking the exit time with an eye toward providing live coverage, said Phil Griffin, NBC News executive in charge of MSNBC.

It was a chance to bring Iraq coverage full circle for NBC News. Engel was riding in the vehicle designed to provide live coverage while moving, nicknamed the “Bloom-mobile” at NBC because the late correspondent David Bloom first rode it in 2003 when American troops entered Iraq, Griffin said.

The evening presented a logistical challenge in that MSNBC’s individual prime-time programs prepared telecasts for use in case military plans forced a last-minute delay, he said.

Given the access, a decision to devote the entire evening to the story was a “no-brainer,” Griffin said. “We’ve got something unique and it’s an important story. We said, ‘Let’s go for it.'”

The Iraq story was important, one that had been given short shrift in the media in recent years, said Tim Graham, director of media analysis for the conservative Media Research Center. But with MSNBC’s left-of-center opinion lineup, politics has to be considered part of the equation, he said.

“I would certainly think politics are involved in their ‘flooding the zone’ to suggest that ‘Lookie here, the Obama people doing what they said they were going to do,'” he said.

Griffin said the access, technology and importance of the story drove the decision. “I don’t think there was any politics in our coverage last night,” he said. “It was about the soldiers.”

White House correspondent Major Garrett and reporter Dominic Di-Natale in Iraq reported on the story Wednesday night for Fox. But during the opinionated Fox prime-time shows, the story clearly was given low priority. It was talked about for less than a minute total during news breaks in Sean Hannity’s telecast. The “talking points” for Bill O’Reilly’s top-rated show was about the Islamic cultural center, a single segment that stretched over eight minutes.

Ari Rabin-Havt of the liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America said he believed the Iraq story received little coverage on the opinionated shows because it did not reflect poorly on the president — unlike the Islamic center controversy.

“This was a big story about President Obama keeping one of his big campaign promises and it was virtually ignored,” Rabin-Havt said. “It wasn’t a campaign announcement. It was a conflict the nation has been embroiled in for seven years.”

Fox representatives had no immediate comment on the criticism.

CNN’s Rick Sanchez devoted much of his 8 p.m. EDT show to the Iraq story, while the bulk of “Larry King Live” concerned the New York City Islamic center and mosque. Anderson Cooper’s 10 p.m. newscast split its time relatively evenly between the two issues.

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press

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12 Responses to Covering the troop withdrawal

  1. Carl Nemo

    August 20, 2010 at 11:36 am

    This entire ‘pullout’ story is just a feelgood canard concerning Obama’s “campaign” promise. It’s “half-steppin’ as far as I’m concerned. : |

    We’ll have ended our involvement with this sorry country when the last boot lifts off from the ground and we are no longer engaged in training or lining the pockets of greedy contractors to perform combat related functions in lieu of the 53,000 that are allegedly leaving. The amounts of money we are paying the contractors probably equals the entire amount spent on the exiting contingent of soldiers. The more things change, the more they remain the same in Iraq.

    Iraq also has a terminally corrupt regime; ie, the Karzai brothers & Co., simply two CIA cutouts, the same as Saddam and OBL.

    I thought I’d share a February 2009 vidclip demonstrating the frustration our military has in trying to ‘train’ the Iraqi’s to defend their country and to maintain law and order. You can witness “Sarge” ever so ‘eloquently’ chewing out this bunch of shufflebutt, route step Iraqi’s. I urge readers to watch the “LiveLeak” clip in its entirety. It will leave one hushed.

    http://hotair.com/archives/2009/02/05/tough-love-us-soldier-chews-out-iraqi-police/comment-page-1/

    We need to pull the plug on Iraq and Afghanistan immediately if not sooner and let them get back to their endless 12th century internecine tribal conflicts. Within a few months it will be as if we were never there for nine years, no differently than Nam. All the materiel that we either sell for a few cents on the dollar or simply abandon will end up in the hands of short-fingered Middle Eastern junk dealers; ie, our hard-earned and purloined tax revenues down a sandy rathole courtesy of our crimpols in D.C.

    Carl Nemo **==

  2. Guardhouse lawyer

    August 20, 2010 at 11:48 am

    “Iraq also has a terminally corrupt regime; ie, the Karzai brothers & Co., simply two CIA cutouts, the same as Saddam and OBL.”

    You have been sitting on the biggest news story of the 21st century and you have never mentioned it before? When did that happen? What happened to Nouri al-Maliki?

    • Carl Nemo

      August 20, 2010 at 12:19 pm

      Hi GHL,

      Here’s a link to a page load of links to everything you didn’t want to know about Nouri & Co. Nouri is another plug-in module too, offering endless schmooze sessions with our duty representatives, meanwhile the opium trade and its derivative heroin product is thriving and making its way to Europe, South America and the U.S. : |

      http://www.daylife.com/topic/Nouri_al-Maliki

      Just think we pay Karzai & Nouri’s salaries along with the police, their army and infrastructure support. We’re flat, dead broke as a nation while our leadership is scheming to cut Social Security and Medicare rather than to seriously and meaningfully curtail military spending which now equates to that spent by a 44 other nations on earth including Russia and China. We’re being consumed alive by the MIC and their crimpol patrons in Congress.

      Carl Nemo **==

      • Guardhouse lawyer

        August 20, 2010 at 2:56 pm

        But you still haven’t told us how the Karzais came to be in Iraq.

        • Carl Nemo

          August 20, 2010 at 8:38 pm

          GHL it’s called “rigged” elections like we now have in the U.S. except ours are high tech with an electronic back door to voting machines whereas these guys are more straightforward and honest with a gun to the head of a voter or refusal to buy any of their subsistence poppy crops in the future “forever.

          http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/31/world/asia/31karzai.html
          http://skyreporter.com/

          I’m beginning to think you are a very wealthy man GHL, live in a gated community along with a bucket on your head. / : |

          If you believe the elections that have been held in that country are honest then I could sell you some beachfront property in the Mohave’.

          Carl Nemo **==

          • M. Rocknest

            August 21, 2010 at 12:49 am

            Mr. Nemo … GL is trying to tell you that Karzai is in Afghanistan not Iraq. That particular line was in error but your comment in general was fairly good … until the last paragraph which was pretty darn bigoted.

          • Guardhouse lawyer

            August 21, 2010 at 6:42 am

            I’m beginning to think you are not paying attention:

            KARZAI! You said and repeated that the Karzai brothers were in Iraq. Actually they are in Afghanistan.

            And you can stop with the god-damned personal insults. I am not living with a bucket over my head. I at least have the players straight.

          • Carl Nemo

            August 21, 2010 at 2:14 pm

            Hi GHL…

            I owe you and other readers and apology for my major “brainfart” yesterday. Thanks for your queue concerning my flipping Iraq and Afghanistan’s leadership issues which I missed completely. Regardless though it’s interesting how our CIA and national leadership seem to have the same modus operandi towards both these nations in terms of meddling in their affairs. We still need to exit asap and let big business handle the building of the peace.

            Sorry for the snide remarks too. I’ll quit doing so. It won’t happen again. Thanks for the heads up. : )

            Carl Nemo **==

  3. Bogofree

    August 21, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    Afghanistan….Iraq….Viet Nam. All interchangeable. Amazingly eerie the similarities. Just got an email from my son with the 164th from Massachusetts and they were under fire. Tell him and those left about a “pull out.”

  4. DejaVuAllOver

    August 21, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    Just think. Now all those resources will be free’d up for building EVEN MORE bases in Afghanistan for the zionists’ next wars with Iran, Pakistan, Yemen (!!) or whoever is next on Joe Lieberman’s list. YIPPEE!!

  5. Carl Nemo

    August 22, 2010 at 6:39 am

    Hi M. Rocknest…

    If you look two posts down from yours you’ll see I made a public apology to GHL.

    Although no excuse, I’ve been splitting cord wood for next winter I generally have six cords on hand and burn about 3.5 per winter in my area. So between my swinging a splitting maul, then coming back to the house for some lemonade and another squall with my Mrs.of 44 years supplying another “to do” list, I managed to screw up concerning my thoughts on these these two sorry zones of conflict, both Iraq and Afghanistan. My forte’ is being a multitasker in an analog sense, but seemingly I blew it on this thread.

    Should I commit seppuku or not is the question…? :D

    Carl Nemo **==

  6. Bogofree

    August 22, 2010 at 7:23 am

    Nemo:

    I post a lot on baseball boards and occasionally – well, very rarely – make a mistake. I usually include the following link in my follow-up post. For some reason I have the address memorized? LOL!

    http://www.crowbusters.com/recipes.htm