Jan
29
2007

Staying Inside the Beltway

Networks' Sunday shows ignore public opposition to war

One day after an anti-war rally in Washington, D.C. attracted a crowd estimated at 100,000 by the Los Angeles Times, the networks' Sunday morning talk shows remained mostly unaffected by the expression of broad opposition to the war, keeping their discussions confined to the narrow spectrum of Beltway elites.

Despite overwhelming public sentiment opposing the Iraq War—expressed in opinion polls, in the streets of D.C. and elsewhere around the country—the network Sunday shows booked guests more representative of the center-right spectrum in official Washington. NBC's Meet the Press featured Republican governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, who supports the Iraq War, and a roundtable discussion with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), pro-escalation guests Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and former White House speechwriter Michael Gerson, and Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution, a prominent supporter of the Iraq invasion.

CBS's Face the Nation featured Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) as a critic of the White House, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in support and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who remains undecided but who nonetheless stated that it "is premature to talk about cutting off funding."

ABC's This Week paired Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) with pro-escalation Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.). The show's roundtable skewed right (conservatives Torie Clarke and George Will were balanced by liberal columnist E.J. Dionne and ABC reporter Martha Raddatz), but did not spend significant time discussing the war.

Fox News Sunday featured interviews with what host Chris Wallace called "two of the most intriguing figures in American politics": Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), who supports a non-binding resolution opposing Bush's troop "surge," and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), a staunch supporter of the Iraq War. The Fox roundtable skewed, as usual, to the right: conservatives Bill Kristol and Brit Hume were paired with NPR reporters Juan Williams and Mara Liasson.

The limited debate in the network studios presents a remarkable contrast to public opinion. While these shows take apparent pains to present "balanced" discussions of the escalation of the war, the White House's "surge" is solidly opposed by the American public—63 percent are against the move, according to the latest CNN poll (1/19-21/07).

And while guests who support cutting off funding for sending additional troops to Iraq are hard to come by in the mainstream media, the public is more open to such a tactic. The CNN poll found 61 percent support for a Congress voting "to block the government from spending money to send more troops to Iraq." A recent Newsweek poll (1/17-18/07) showed the public evenly split on the question of cutting off funding.

While the guests who appeared on the Sunday talk shows as critics of the White House certainly take issue with the way the Bush administration has handled Iraq, they are mild in their approach compared to anti-war leaders or public opinion. Schumer, for example, does not support a funding cut for the troop "surge," and still supports the notion of preemptive war (NBC, 1/25/07).

Webb, one of the more forceful Senate critics, rejected a proposal from Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) to cap troop levels, saying it was "not the place or the time" to discuss such matters (Chicago Tribune, 1/24/07). In his appearance of Face the Nation, Webb did not directly answer a question about cutting off funding for the war.

Biden suggested on a recent appearance on Meet the Press (1/7/07) that it is "constitutionally questionable" for Congress to set limits on troop numbers in Iraq or to cut off funds for the war. "As a practical matter," he said, "there is no way to say, 'Mr. President, stop.'"

Since the Sunday shows tend to prefer to interview elected officials, in light of Saturday's protests it would have made journalistic sense to hear from one of the nine co-sponsors of Sen. Ted Kennedy's S.233, a bill that would block funding for an escalation of the war in Iraq—a group that includes prominent senators like Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Pat Leahy (D-Vt.). Or, better yet, one of the House members who are backing H.R. 508 (the Bring Our Troops Home and Sovereignty of Iraq Restoration Act of 2007), which calls for a full withdrawal of U.S. troops on a six-month timeline—a group that includes 28 representatives, including Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.).

But seeing such guests on television is rare—even when they represent broad public sentiment. (Sixty-five percent of Americans want U.S. troops withdrawn either within a year or immediately, according to an L.A. Times/Bloomberg poll—1/13-16/07.)

The Washington protests were mentioned in passing on the Sunday shows. CBS host Bob Schieffer called them "like a day from yesteryear" before mentioning that "many of those grievances will be heard not in the streets, but on the floor of the Senate." ABC's George Stephanopoulos put it more bluntly to guest Richard Lugar: "We saw tens of thousands of protesters here this week. Polls show that two-thirds of Americans almost oppose this plan. Doesn't Congress at some point, at some level, have a responsibility to give voice to that opposition?"

It's a good point—but when will the media give voice to that opposition?

ACTION:

Tell the Sunday talk shows that their discussions of the Iraq War one day after massive anti-war protests should have reflected the broad opposition to the war. Encourage them in the future to present guests who represent the public consensus against the war and the escalation of the Iraq War—even if that means interviewing experts who aren't elected officials.

CONTACT:

ABC's This Week

thisweek@abc.com

CBS Face the Nation

ftn@cbsnews.com

Phone: (202) 457-4481

NBC's Meet the Press

mtp@nbc.com

Fox News Sunday

fns@foxnews.com