MSNBC’s Pro-Bush “Town Meeting”
Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting
Media analysis, critiques and activism
June 29, 2005
After George W. Bush’s June 28 speech about Iraq, MSNBC’s Hardball presented viewers with a decidedly skewed “town meeting” featuring a panel dominated by Iraq war boosters.
The two-hour coverage, hosted by Chris Matthews, was anchored by a panel discussion that featured MSNBC reporter Norah O’Donnell, Islam scholar Reza Aslan, and four conservative Bush supporters: Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, MSNBC host Tucker Carlson, Bobbie Patray of the Eagle Forum of Tennessee and Jerry Sutton, pastor of the Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, where the event was held.
MSNBC’s coverage also included interviews with Newsweek’s Jon Meacham, Democratic Sen. Joe Biden (who called for “more boots on the ground”), and Republican senators John McCain and John Warner.
In other words, MSNBC’s “town meeting” excluded forceful critics of the Iraq war—a war that polls show most Americans no longer support, or believe the White House is mismanaging.
MSNBC’s O’Donnell was careful to note that while war critics were the majority, “at the same time, a majority of Americans also believe that we should stay and finish the job. Only 1 in 8 Americans believe that we should cut and run. There are liberal groups like Moveon.org that say we should get out. That’s the minority in America. People think that we should stay and finish the job.” O’Donnell was apparently referring to a Washington Post poll question (6/28/05) that asked about increasing or decreasing troops, in which 13 percent of respondents wanted U.S. troops to “withdraw immediately.”
Most polls, however, show that support for withdrawing U.S. troops is substantially higher than 13 percent. In response to another question in the same poll, 41 percent said that the U.S. troops should be withdrawn from Iraq. In a recent Gallup poll (6/8-12/05), 46 percent said that the “U.S. should bring its troops home as soon as possible,” while a Harris poll (6/7-12/05) found 63 percent in favor of “bringing most of our troops home in the next year.”
Audience participation also tended to support Bush, causing host Matthews to comment: “It’s been a great group. As you can see, the people are passionate. And they have strong patriotic beliefs and moral beliefs, and yet it’s been very nice here. No fights or anything.” Of course, having an unbalanced panel discussion makes it easy not to have any “fights.” Matthews also praised the audience for being supportive of Bush, asking one guest: “Why do you think the people in this part of the country seem to be more manifestly patriotic about this president, and this war, and this situation? What do you think it is, the separation from the coasts?”
Does Matthews really believe that supporting the Iraq war makes citizens more “patriotic”? And is supporting a president the same as being “patriotic about” the president? Were citizens who opposed President Clinton being “unpatriotic” about him?
One member of the audience who disagreed with the consensus provided by MSNBC was actually booed by the town meeting audience, causing Matthews to remark: “Don’t boo, now, please, ladies and gentlemen. It’s been a good night here. Howard Dean is going to come on our program tomorrow, a different point of view. We have diversity run amok.” Has it really come to the point where having the leader of the Democratic National Committee on TV qualifies as “diversity run amok”?
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