President Trump is taking plenty of media criticism for the air strike that killed Major General Soleimani, was it necessary. Since his speech and since Iran’s response was rather puny, has the media environment soften towards Donald Trump?
I would say not. They are continuing to portray it as chaotic and that there is no long-term strategy. I think the most important thing in reviewing the media coverage of what transpired this past week that the media hasn’t reflected that this is the “anti-Benghazi.” Our embassy was attacked. We responded with lethal force immediately in a very surgical attack.
Unfortunately in this week, we’ve seen that the mainstream media has been shilling for Tehran’s autocratic, theocratic regime. The Washington Post called Soleimani the most revered military leader. The New York Times said similarly flattering reports about Soleimani. The NYT in particular talked about Soleimani dedicating his life to the Iranian national security and yet this is the man responsible for the deaths of 600 Americans and injuries of a thousand more.
I was on Fox News Media Buzz with host Howard Kurtz and other guests Griff Jenkins and Ray Suarez to discuss the media’s response to the US strike. Watch:
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: On the Buzz Meter this Sunday, much of the media continues to castigate President Trump for killing Iran’s top terrorist, challenging him on the disputed intelligence despite the easing of tensions with Tehran.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A president of the United States, they used to hide from assassination responsibility. This president is bragging about it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are not crazy. We are on the precipice of what many imagined as a worst-case scenario of Donald Trump as president of the United States.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Those worries were not helped today by the bizarre double-take, walk back. Oops we didn’t really mean it announcement and then un-announcement from the pentagon that all U.S. troops were leaving Iraq.
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KURTZ: Many media conservatives rally to the president’s side, but there is a definite divide on the right.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A huge success. The world is safer. One of the world’s worst, most powerful terrorists is dead. The mob in the media, Democratic Party, they just seem distraught.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Trump forces Democrats to reveal themselves in the media. They’re so caught up with resisting and hating Trump, for everything he does and breathes, that over the weekend they literally sounded more empathetic to the mourners of an Iranian mass murderer.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As recently as last week, most people didn’t consider Iran an imminent threat. It seems like about 20 minutes ago we were denouncing these very people as the deep state and pledging never to trust them again without verification. But now for some reason, we do seem to trust them implicitly and completely.
KURTZ: Are the pundits justified in saying Trump spread confusion after the attack as the House was right to invoke the War Powers Act to rein him in? Are the president’s detractors to admit that in cold political terms he seems to have won this round? And is the press challenging Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders as they accuse Trump of a political assassination?
Plus, much media mockery for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle as they step away from their royal duties, but isn’t this really about trying to escape the constant carping from the tabloids? I’m Howard Kurtz and this is MEDIA BUZZ. In the aftermath of his deadly drone strike against Iran’s top general, the media began slamming the president for sending contradictory signals, what the New York Times called a chaotic brew of conflicting statements, crossed signals, and mixed messages.
It was in that atmosphere that Trump delivered a televised address, beginning with tough and ending with an olive branch.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Iran has been the leading sponsor of terrorism, and their pursuit of nuclear weapons threatens the civilized world. We will never let that happen. The United States is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it.
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KURTZ: The media reaction was mixed with many journalists, but not all, seeming to breathe a sigh of relief.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was measured by Donald Trump’s standards. And I would even argue that it was measured by the standards of any American president.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You’ve got to bring people together as the president and just continue to take shots at President Obama three and a half years later doesn’t make any sense.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a moment for statesmanship. He comes out and gives the cheapest of cheap shots at a predecessor.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He’s sending him a message that America will not be pushed around. You will not cross our red lines. And Iran is now staying within those red lines.
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KURTZ: Joining us now to analyze the coverage, Gayle Trotter, political analyst in the Wire, who today is launching the podcast the Gayle Trotter Show RIGHT IN DC. Griff Jenkins, a Fox News correspondent who has reported from the Middle East, and Ray Suarez, former correspondent for the PBS news hour and co-host of World Affairs on KQED.
Gayle, President Trump obviously taking plenty of media criticism for the airstrike that killed General Soleimani. Was it necessary? Did the intel support it. My question is since his speech and since Iran’s response was rather puny, has the media environment response softened toward Donald Trump?
GAYLE TROTTER, THE HILL CONTRIBUTOR: I would say not. They’re continuing to portray it as chaotic and that there’s no long-term strategy. And I think the most important thing in reviewing the media coverage of what transpired this past week is that the media have not shown that — hasn’t reflected this is the anti-Benghazi.
Our embassy was attacked. We responded with lethal force immediately in a very surgical attack. And unfortunately in this week, we’ve seen that the mainstream media has been schilling for Tehran’s autocratic, theocratic regime, and what’s surprising about that —
KURTZ: Wait, wait. Let me stop you on that, schilling for Tehran’s regime?
TROTTER: The Washington Post called Soleimani the most revered military leader. The New York Times had similarly flattering reports about Soleimani. And they talked about — the New York Times in particular talked about Soleimani dedicating his life to the Iranian national security, and yet this is the man who’s responsible for the deaths of 600 Americans and injuries of thousands —
KURTZ: I would just say some of that was trying to portray how he was viewed in Iran, although obviously there were mixed feelings about him in Iran. I sense a real exhaling, Griff Jenkins, in reporting and the commentating, even amongst some of the president’s detractors as the thing deescalating in part due to president’s speech.
GRIFF JENKINS, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: I think so. But listen, the job of the media, the press s to hold our leaders accountable whether it’s the president or members of Congress. And in this case, the one thing that is going to continue to get interest is whether or not there was an imminent threat. It’s — everyone agrees that Soleimani had killed 600 plus Americans. But the time of which you would clearly raise tensions, that’s still an untold story.
KURTZ: And we will come back to that in a moment. But Ray, on the speech, it seemed to me that some of the media said, well, there’s a lot of tough talk, stricter sanctions imposed on Tehran, a threat that Iran can never have a nuclear weapon. And by the way, we’re open to negotiations.
RAY SUAREZ, WORLD AFFAIRS KQED: It’s hard to fathom what the bottom line of American policy in Iran is right at this moment. The president announced he wants to get troops out of the Middle East, but created a situation where American troops must stay close to Tehran in order to enforce American penalties on the regime there.
KURTZ: But the question for the coverage is did he entirely create that situation, or was he also reacting to things like the siege of our Baghdad embassy by pro-Iranian militants?
SUAREZ: Sure. There’s a lot of things that lead up to attack on Soleimani.
And, don’t forget, a senior Iraqi militia leader. And there, to a degree, free agents, and we don’t know yet where that leads, whether they’re going to strike American targets or, should I say, continue to strike American targets.
KURTZ: There’s a lot we don’t know. But what we do know, Gayle, as we showed at the top, there is a divide among media conservatives including here on Fox. Many people are supporting the president’s handling of the entire matter, showing strength. But others like Tucker Carlson are saying don’t listen to the same people who dragged us into the Iraq war.
And don’t automatically believe the intel reports from what had previously been criticized as members of the deep state.
TROTTER: This is not a binary choice. And I think many members of the media want to go into that script of any military intervention by the United States is either Vietnam or another Iraq. But there are many options on the table. And President Trump has these values of America first, stopping endless wars, trying to make sure that he protects Americans.
And there are many options on the table. So where some people might in the media see that it’s chaotic or without a long-term strategy, other people on the right and Americans generally understand that it’s part — it’s staying true to his values of keeping them guessing.
KURTZ: It would be a lot simpler if it was a binary choice. Griff, it’s been 17 years — I think a lot of the media question it’s driven in part by a sense of guilt and embarrassment about what happened in dealing with the Bush administration and the slamdunk in CIA intelligence about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, which turned out not to exist, and a kind of determination not to roll over or be passive when intelligence claims are made.
JENKINS: Exactly. So what you’re going to see now is whether or not Speaker Pelosi takes the next step. In her first press release when she said she was going to take this vote on this toothless war powers resolution, she also said she would take at some point vote to repeal AMUF, the Authorization for Military Force, of which we all know was a lie or an inaccurate amount of evidence made by Secretary of State Colin Powell to the United Nations.
Now, you’re going to see whether or not they continue to do that. You have, by the way, complicating all of this, and to Gayle’s point about where people fall on all of this. You have Bernie Sanders and Mike Lee introducing something in the Senate here in the coming weeks that’s going to block anymore more funding for Iran.
KURTZ: Right. You know, the media always complain about Donald Trump’s messy process, the way he governs, his style. So for example, the president said we would, if necessary, target Iranian cultural sites. In fact, Secretary Mark Esper said no. Mike Pompeo said we’d follow the law. And they seemed to back off. Much of the public doesn’t follow the rhetoric hour by hour —
SUAREZ: There’s a difference between messy process and messy messaging. There may be internal logic and coherence in the Trump policy. But when you roll it out and there’s five different stories within five days, that’s a problem for people who cover this for a living. If you want the story to just be kill bad guy, good, then sure, fine.
We’ll get through a couple of news cycles with that. But with all the things that are implicated by the assassination of a high-level foreign official, it gets more complicated than that, and kill bad guy, good, is not going to take you the whole way.
JENKINS: — you know, do we get enough coverage, Ray, that essentially if you’re looking for a doctrine of sorts from President Trump, he did say you kill an American, you cross the line. So it’s not just a bad guy, it’s a guy that crossed, I presume, from the White House a certain line.
ROTTER: And think about the coverage of Iran downing our drone. And President Trump said there were no lives taken. We’re not going to take lives.
KURTZ: — called off an air strike at the last moment. But let me get you this because I want to play this, the president’s interview with Laura Ingraham. And this came, Gayle, as the media criticism built about that Trump had no strategy and, of course, there was the Pentagon letter sent to the Iraqis and disavowed saying we’re pulling all of our troops out of Iraq. And of course, Laura Ingraham asked him about what’s become the pressing media issue about the intelligence. Take a look.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don’t the American people have a right to know what specifically was targeted without revealing methods and sources?
TRUMP: Well, I don’t think so. But we will tell you that probably it was going to be the embassy in Baghdad. I can reveal that I believe it would have been four embassies.
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KURTZ: Now, there’s a lot of media scepticism about what four embassies. At one point he said — and it wasn’t mentioned before by the administration, and apparently this was not given to members of Congress in those briefings.
TROTTER: Great question by Laura Ingraham, great response by President Trump. He’s got to protect his personnel who are overseas and doing their jobs as American diplomats and service members. And it was great of Laura to push back on that. But he should not have revealed any more information than that.
KURTZ: I also want to show you some of the questioning of Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State, as reporters pressed him because the operative phrase in the administration had been imminent attacks. We acted to prevent imminent attacks. That’s why we took out Soleimani. Then they kind of stepped back from that, and then it came back. Here’s what happened at the presser.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This morning, you said we didn’t know precisely when, and we didn’t know precisely where. That’s not the definition of imminent.
Did you have specific information about an imminent threat? And did it have anything to do with our embassy? Secretary Pompeo, what is your definition of imminent?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was going to happen.
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KURTZ: And Ray, the Washington Post now quotes two senior officials as saying, yes. There was a vague threat against the Baghdad embassy, none specifically about four —
SUAREZ: The secretary of defense is already pulling back on that imminent threat to four embassies part, saying that he had never been told anything
KURTZ: Right. He’s been on the Sunday shows. And Mark Esper said, look, I do believe that these embassies were threatened. But to no specific — and so you get into the sort of angels on the head of the pin debate about what’s specific, what’s imminent, and that seems to be a dominant storyline right now.
SUAREZ: If you don’t answer the question when it’s asked, they’re going to keep asking the question, which to some makes them look bad. This is part of what we do. We keep asking the question till somebody gives an answer that you can run with.
KURTZ: Well, they are answering the question. In fairness, they say, you know, they can’t prove this because releasing the raw intelligence would compromise sources and methods, which is a feature of over administration as well. I’ve got about half a minute, Griff. CNN’s Clarissa Ward went to one of the sites that was bombed in that retaliation by Iran, which seemed not to kill anybody. And she said what were the Iranians — there’s nothing here. That’s, I think, parking lot of the value of on-site reporting.
SUAREZ: Of course it is. And, you know, these missiles — my own reporting this past week, you know, I talked to some commanders, and they said, listen, the technology that the Iranians have, they could have hit much more pinpointed strikes. This looks like it was a overshoot by intention.
KURTZ: A face-saving effort, I think, by the Iranians and warnings to the U.S. that nobody would be talking if — at least for now. When we come back, the House passes a war powers bill, as we mentioned, and Nancy Pelosi getting dinged by the press as she finally agrees to send over the articles of impeachment. Plus, the network that bought into Iran’s bogus propaganda during its bombing attack.