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Grapevine Whine - Muddying (the Water on) Murtha

Reported by Nancy - January 21, 2006 -

The last "picking" on Brit Hume's Grapevine on Wednesday (1/18) was a nasty little piece of gossip-cum-innuendo that attempted to denigrate Rep John Murtha (D-PA) while pretending to be above the fray. The thrust of Hume's remarks was that the artcle questioning whether Murtha "deserved" his war medals was originally reported in an "obscure conservative" source, CNS, & didn't get much attention until the liberals in the MSM (e.g, EJ Dionne in the Washington Post) & prominent Dems (e.g., House Minority Leader Rep Nancy Pelosi) got all outraged about it, & only then did it get "plenty of coverage."

Comments: The "obscure conservative" source is Cybercast News Service (CNS). For those not familiar with CNS, let's just say it's one of Fox's favorite sources, & for good reason. It's muckraking at best, & often seems to operate in concert with the reactionary Media Research Center. CNS is run by David Thibault, who formerly worked as the senior producer for "Rising Tide," a weekly TV news magazine produced by the RNC. His official CNS bio is here. To give you an example of the kind of "journalism" Thibault promotes, here's a piece he wrote himself for CNS: Abu Ghraib Abuse is a Feminist’s Dream, Says Military Expert. One of the authors of the Murtha article, Marc Morano, was formerly a writer & producer for Rush Limbaugh. Bios for Morano & his co-author, Randy Hall, can also be found at the link above for Thibault.

Here's the original article"Murtha's War Hero Status Called Into Question". The title alone should tell you all you need to know -- it's a great example of bias. The body of the article is about what you'd expect from a title like that -- the "sources" Morano & Hall cite are Don Bailey, who lost a primary race to Murtha in 1982; Harry M. Fox, who lost to Murtha in a 1974 special election (& they didn't even interview Fox, just quoted something he allegedly said to another newspaper in 1996 ); & William Choby, who lost an election to Murtha in 1994. How's that for "sources" (rhetorical question)? In fact, Morano & Hall even admit that they obtained a copy of a letter from the commandant of the US Marine Corps, which they quote as follows: "The records of this Headquarters show that you are entitled to the Purple Heart and a Gold Star in lieu of a second Purple Heart for wounds received in action against insurgent Communist Guerrilla forces on 22 March and 7 May 1967 in the Republic of Vietnam." But they dismiss that letter because "Cybercast News Service did not authenticate the letter."

James Webb, a secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration, & a Marine platoon & company commander in Vietnam, subsequently wrote an op-ed in the (gasp!) New York Times Purple Heartbreakers that rips the CNS article much more effectively than I could. Because the NYT archives material quickly, I'll reproduce fairly large chunks of Webb's op-ed here:

IT should come as no surprise that an arch-conservative Web site is questioning whether Representative John Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat who has been critical of the war in Iraq, deserved the combat awards he received in Vietnam.

After noting the history of "extremist Republican operatives" attacking Senators John McCain, Max Cleland & John Kerry, Webb continues:

... The casting of suspicion and doubt about the actions of veterans who have run against President Bush or opposed his policies has been a constant theme of his career. This pattern of denigrating the service of those with whom they disagree risks cheapening the public's appreciation of what it means to serve, and in the long term may hurt the Republicans themselves. ... the approach has been to attack an opponent's greatest perceived strength in order to diminish his overall credibility. To no one's surprise, surrogates carry out the attacks, leaving President Bush and other Republican leaders to benefit from the results while publicly distancing themselves from the actual remarks.

Webb goes into greater detail about the previous attacks on McCain, Cleland & Kerry (including the "well-financed Swift Boat Veterans for Truth"), then again continues discussing the attack on Murtha:

And now comes Jack Murtha. The administration tried a number of times to derail the congressman's criticism of the Iraq war, including a largely ineffective effort to get senior military officials to publicly rebuke him ....
Now the Cybercast News Service, a supposedly independent organization with deep ties to the Republican Party, has dusted off the Swift Boat Veterans playbook, questioning whether Mr. Murtha deserved his two Purple Hearts. The article also implied that Mr. Murtha did not deserve the Bronze Star he received, and that the combat-distinguishing "V" on it was questionable. It then called on Mr. Murtha to open up his military records.

Specifically addressing the issues raised in the CNS article, Webb says that:

The accusations against Mr. Murtha were very old news, principally coming from defeated political rivals. Aligned against their charges are an official letter from Marine Corps Headquarters written nearly 40 years ago affirming Mr. Murtha's eligibility for his Purple Hearts - "you are entitled to the Purple Heart and a Gold Star in lieu of a second Purple Heart for wounds received in action" - and the strict tradition of the Marine Corps regarding awards. While in other services lower-level commanders have frequently had authority to issue prestigious awards, in the Marines Mr. Murtha's Vietnam Bronze Star would have required the approval of four different awards boards.

After a digression wondering why the Bush administration has allowed the government of Vietnam to label Bob Kerrey (former US Senator & Governor of NB, recipient of the Medal of Honor & member of the 9/11 commission) a war criminal for more than 2 years "with no hint of a diplomatic protest," Webb gets back to the attack on Murtha:

The political tactic of playing up the soldiers on the battlefield while tearing down the reputations of veterans who oppose them could eventually cost the Republicans dearly. It may be one reason that a preponderance of the Iraq war veterans who thus far have decided to run for office are doing so as Democrats.

Webb ends on a cautionary note:
A young American now serving in Iraq might rightly wonder whether his or her service will be deliberately misconstrued 20 years from now, in the next rendition of politically motivated spinmeisters who never had the courage to step forward and put their own lives on the line.
Rudyard Kipling summed up this syndrome quite neatly more than a century ago, writing about the frequent hypocrisy directed at the British soldiers of his day:
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool - you bet that Tommy sees!

Most importantly, imho, note how Hume manages to keep the "issue" of whether Murtha deserved his medals alive by "reporting" this, when the REAL issue is what's going on in Iraq.

If you'd like to complain to Fox about this, email: special@foxnews.com

NOTE TO READERS: Please stay on topic (this particular "picking" on the Grapevine & Hume changing the subject; CNS; Murtha; what's going on in Iraq). O/T comments will be deleted. Thanks.