Thursday, May 3, 2007

A Tale Of Two Newspapers: Reporting The Iraq Deadline Showdown

The Washington Post wants you to know that the Democrats are backing down. A front page article by Jonathan Weisman and Shailagh Murray begins with this:
President Bush and congressional leaders began negotiating a second war funding bill yesterday, with Democrats offering the first major concession: an agreement to drop their demand for a timeline to bring troops home from Iraq.

Democrats backed off after the House failed, on a vote of 222 to 203, to override the president's veto of a $124 billion measure that would have required U.S. forces to begin withdrawing as early as July. But party leaders made it clear that the next bill will have to include language that influences war policy. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) outlined a second measure that would step up Iraqi accountability, "transition" the U.S. military role and show "a reasonable way to end this war."
Wimps! Lily-livered, weak-kneed Democrats shrink before the bold leadership of the Decider!

The Los Angeles Times sees thing slightly differently. Also on the front page, Noam N. Levey and Janet Hook open thusly:
Distressed by the violence in Iraq and worried about tying their political fate to an unpopular president, some Republicans on Capitol Hill are beginning to move away from the White House to stake out a more critical position on the U.S. role in the war.
That's actually a pretty fair statement. They have legitimate strategic and political concerns, and are therefore ready to stake out a more independent position. Not only does the Times focus on the Republican discomfort, and Bush's unpopularity, it also strikes a measured tone. The Republicans aren't cast as wimps, they're made to sound reasoned.

The Post article continues:
Bush said he is "confident that we can reach agreement," and he assigned three top aides to negotiate. White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten, national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley and budget director Rob Portman will go to Capitol Hill today to sit down with leaders of both parties.
The Decider's in charge. Negotiations will begin, but the Democrats are already trembling before his bold codpiece.

The Post then, finally, touches on Republican reservations about Bush's desire for a no-strings funding bill, and even mentions that deadlines might reappear in a defense policy measure that will be voted on in two weeks. Wait. Really? So, despite the apparent readiness of the Democrats to turn tail and flee, they're actually thinking of attaching deadlines to subsequent legislation? Better not emphasize that fact. Even those liberals who love to rail against the Democrats, when they compromise, might take notice, and temper their criticism if those hard deadlines are removed from the current funding bill.
Beyond that, Democrats remain deeply divided over how far to give in to the White House.
Good. Let's get back on message. The simple, factual statement about the Republican discomfort with a no-strings approach doesn't have quite the sting of this phrasing. In fact, the paragraph that mentioned it does not in any way suggest how it should be interpreted. But we know how the Democrats should be perceived: divided. Divided Democrats. Has a nice ring to it.

The Times article, on the other hand, proceeds with eleven paragraphs describing Republican efforts to figure out appropriate benchmarks. The article does make clear that most Republicans will still support Bush:
But the call for establishing benchmarks with concrete consequences challenges the position of the president and GOP leaders, much as the Democrats did when they tried to link the same measurements with a troop withdrawal.

And it comes as some Republicans are calling on colleagues to take a more independent position on the war after years of deferring to the White House.
Again, the language is not at all negatively pejorative; rather, it actually suggests that standing up to Bush is a sign of strength! The Post wants you to know that negotiating Democrats are spineless, while the Times wants you to know that negotiating Republicans are sensible.

The Times article then goes on to discuss both the Democratic and Republican approaches, and even mentions that Republican dissent was bolstered by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates's statement, Wednesday, that the discussion of timelines is actually helpful! The Times also makes clear that:
Republicans acknowledge privately that impatience with the White House — whose Iraq policies helped sweep Democrats into the majority on Capitol Hill last year — is driving the search for an independent position.
The Post, on the other hand, goes on to talk about benchmarks. Democrats and Republicans are talking about benchmarks. We're going to be hearing much about benchmarks in the coming days. Benchmarks, benchmarks, benchmarks.
Administration officials note that they do not oppose benchmarks, and in fact have developed them in the past along with Iraqis. But they are sensitive about provoking Iraqis, who bristled last year when benchmarks crafted by U.S. and Iraqi officials became public and left the impression that Washington was dictating to Baghdad.
Sensitive. Isn't that sweet? The Democrats are gutless for merely wanting to negotiate with Bush, but Bush is "sensitive" about provoking the Iraqis. And we all know how responsible and responsive the Iraqi government has been about, well, pretty much everything! But President Codpiece wants to be "sensitive" about "provoking" them to actually do something!

The Post then tells us the Democratic leadership is "resigned" to losing some liberals, while some Republicans remain "balky." Yes, those inept Democratic leaders are going to have to cry in their Chardonnay about not being able to hold their caucus together, while some crusty Gary Cooper Republicans will steer their own independent courses. No word on the Republican leadership's reaction. I'm sure they'll maintain stiff upper lips.

The Post article then closes with two paragraphs about Bush's speech, yesterday, in which he once again claimed great progress is being made, and once again associated the war with al Qaeda and the September 11 attacks. Needless to say, the Post article offered not even a hint of factual rebuttal.

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