Iraq: Three Years Later

The following is a transcription of the March 18, 2006 edition of "FOX News Watch", that has been edited for clarity:

ERIC BURNS, FOX NEWS HOST: On the "FOX News Watch" panel this week, there are no

Sunday is the third anniversary of the war in Iraq. Here is President Bush speaking last Monday.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The terrorists are losing on the field of battle. So they are fighting this war through the pictures we see on television, and in the newspapers everyday. They're hoping to shake our resolve and force us to retreat. They are not going to succeed.


BURNS: Obviously, Neal, we've gotten seriously quickly. Let me ask you this question: are the media covering this war different now that it is three years old, compared to how they were covering it two, one and when it started?

NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: Absolutely. Let's face it: even now, this is not a stellar moment in the history of media coverage. This is going to rank with the Spanish-American War. But in the ramp up to the war, they were cheerleaders. They did not ask tough, hard questions. For the first two and a half years of the war, they virtually bought the Bush line, hook, line and sinker. And believe me, there are a lot of mea culpas that ought to be issued out there, especially by the right-wing press. But lately — I mean, it is — it is undeniably, except being denied by Bush and Rumsfeld and Cheney — this war is a disaster. And there is no way that the press — to the extent it can cover the war, which is very difficult for them to do — can say anything other than the fact that we're on the verge of civil war, it hasn't turned out the way it was supposed to have turned out, the casualties have been enormous. This is not good.

CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: The president should be reminding the public, and we should be reminding ourselves, that the media war is an important component in Usama bin Laden's strategy, and those who are insurgents in Iraq. It's fine for the president to say that - what he just said in that sound byte. But what is he doing to counter it with information that proves his point? He ought to be having Iraqis over here. He ought to be having Kurds praising the United States. He should have had the mayor of Talafar, who wrote this incredible letter — I think I'm the only columnist that wrote about it — praising the troops and thanking them for liberating his town. Where are the pictures? Where are the people who are benefiting?

GABLER: Yes, but — but Cal, you're talking about P.R.


GABLER: We're talking about reporting.

THOMAS: No. No. Well, but he's saying - he's making the case that basically one side of the story has been told. It's incumbent upon him to tell more of the story, if there's one to tell.

GABLER: On him, but not on reporters.

THOMAS: Well, them, too.

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: I agree with Cal about that. But I think — you know, I think it's a mistake for President Bush to try to blame the media, and say it's only pictures. The media are reflecting a pretty disastrous reality, as Neal has just articulated. But I think while we're pointing fingers, the media should look at this episode and — and try to learn from it. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, the liberal media watch group, has a devastating piece out on the anniversary with all the pundits who not only, you know, were cheerleaders, but attacked the patriotism of anybody who opposed this. The anti-war sentiment, the anti-U.S. sentiment was undercovered by the media. And we have a terrible situation. And I think that we need to be looking at ourselves more than blaming the Bush administration.

BURNS: Are we doing more of that now, Jim, than before? We meaning the media.

JIM PINKERTON, COLUMNIST, NEWSDAY: I think the media have certainly changed. The mainstream media, I think, was pretty solidly pro-war in the run-up to the war, and I would say for the first — I would disagree with Neal — I would say for the first few months only. And then they turned, probably in the summer of '03, and have been substantially negative since. Again, I'm not sure how much reporting it is, and how much commentary it is. There's — let's face it, there's — I was there in June of '03, and haven't really been anxious to go back as the situation has gotten more dangerous. What is interesting, however, is that a substantial of the conservative media intelligentsia — David Brooks, for example, describes himself as an armchair strategist, whose to my knowledge never been to Iraq, but certainly talks about it a lot. And he — but he and others like Max Boot and so on have made the point all along, we haven't - the president hasn't and the administration - treated it properly as a counterinsurgency. They haven't really seen the reality of the fighting unit as a - as a phenomenon of guerrillas as opposed to just the war itself, which ended in April of 2003.

HALL: There are books coming out now about — about just this — this fact, about the generals, and whether they were saying that. The thing that's — it comes under the sort of "now they tell us." Why are we reading this three years into the war, things that were controversial. The one paper that I know that covered a lot of this was Knight-Ridder's Washington bureau talked about the split in the intelligence community in 2002, not 2006.

THOMAS: Once again, Usama bin Laden has said that Vietnam, Blackhawk down, Lebanon, all of this stuff is his model. And General Vo Nguyen Giap, of course, from North Vietnam, said we knew we couldn't win the war on the ground. We had to use the American media to undermine the resolve of the American people. Three years is nothing. They think they're winning when they read polls and they see the American media coverage going discouraging on us.

PINKERTON: Hold on — and don't give it to Neal!

BURNS: In a phrase, will the coverage continue to get more critical.

GABLER: Yes, as the situation gets more critical. Yes.

HALL: But the poll numbers are what's really important, not the media.

PINKERTON: I agree with Cal. The U.S. has yet to prove we can win a war in the — a long war in the media age.

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