The nightly newscasts functioned as the pre-game show to President George Bush's primetime TV address to the nation on his new policy for Iraq. The build-up to the speech dominated all other content: its 35 minutes of coverage represented 61% of the three networks' newshole--with a further 11 minutes for related military features. As intensive as this pre-speech coverage was, it lagged behind the 44 minutes afforded to the report of the Iraq Study Group last month. It was a report, CBS' Gloria Borger reminded us, whose recommendation for a troop withdrawal has been flatly contradicted by the President.

All three newscasts led with their White House correspondents' preview of the speech. NBC's David Gregory and ABC's Martha Raddatz (subscription required) both focused on Bush's contrition. "The President will admit, simply, that his strategy in Iraq has not worked," Gregory declared. "The President will essentially admit his Iraq security strategy has failed, a strategy he has been touting for over a year," was how Raddatz put it.

As for the substance of his plan, the two main points are his decision to deploy more troops and his pressure on the Iraqi government, CBS' Jim Axelrod (no link) told us. "The President is going to put Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on notice that America's patience is running out and that it is time for the Iraqi government to perform," he reported. "Bush knows that he is trying to sell something most Americans and many of his own commanders do not support--more troops to Iraq."

ABC's Raddatz spelled out what Bush has demanded of al-Maliki: "to crack down on Shiite militias, especially radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr." She reported that al-Maliki has responded to Bush: "I swear to God I am not going to let al-Sadr run this country." A White House aide registered "a lot of skepticism" about that pledge: al-Maliki's government "has failed so many times in the past."

As for what is not in the speech, CBS' Gloria Borger reminded us that the ISG report suggested "talking to Iraq's neighbors. That is an idea the President has so far ignored." Far from diplomacy, NBC's Gregory noted, the US is being confrontational. A second aircraft carrier group is being sent to the Persian Gulf region "to reassure Arab allies about any future threat from Iran."


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