COMMENTS: No Holiday From Iraq

The Memorial Day weekend may be beginning and millions may already be out of town--but there was hardly a holiday mood at the networks' newscasts. The Iraq War absorbed the news agenda as Congress finally voted to fund the fighting through September. CBS led with Pentagon red tape that is leaving the Marine Corps underequipped in Iraq. NBC led with a pre-war briefing that warned President George Bush of mayhem in Iraq. ABC led with Campaign 2008 and how the Democratic contenders are consumed by Iraq. Even on ABC's daytime talkshow The View Topic A was Iraq.

"The troop funding bill passed Congress overwhelmingly," stated ABC's Jake Tapper. The 80-14 margin in the Senate was not the news--it was the identity of two of the minority, Presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama. "Their votes contradict positions both Democrats staked out earlier this year." Republican Presidential candidate John McCain disagreed with his fellow senators calling their vote an embrace of "the policy of surrender" and likening it to "waving a white flag to al-Qaeda." When Obama responded with a misspelled press release, McCain teased Obama for not knowing the difference between "flack" and "flak." CBS' Jim Axelrod observed that "the playground brawl was on." Overshadowed by the battle over the war was part of the bill that "on a normal day," NBC's Chip Reid reckoned "would have been banner headlines all across the nation." The federal hourly minimum wage will increase to $7.25 over the next two years.

ABC's George Stephanopoulos (no link) offered political analysis of the rationale behind the late switch by Obama and Rodham Clinton. He cited pressure from Democratic activists, specifically, and their anti-war rival John Edwards. As for their potential vulnerability to charges of excessive dovishness from McCain and his fellow Republicans, Stephanopoulos quoted the "iron rule" of campaign politics concerning the primary and the general: "If you look past the next election you will not get past the next election."

On The View on Wednesday, Rosie O'Donnell and Elisabeth Hasselbeck found themselves in a knockdown shoutfest sparked by O'Donnell's rhetorical question: "655,000 Iraqi civilians are dead. Who are the terrorists?" Hasselbeck hinted that O'Donnell's answer was the US military but when Hasselbeck refused to say directly whether she, personally, believed O'Donnell had called US troops "terrorists," O'Donnell called Hasselbeck's hints "cowardly." So why did ABC find this newsworthy enough--aside from offering publicity to its own network's talkshow--to assign David Muir (no link) to take A Closer Look at the blow-by-blow? Muir offered an answer by Vanity Fair columnist Michael Wolff: the Iraq War is "no longer the elephant in the living room" and is now "impossible for television hosts and personalities to ignore."


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