This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys", May 15, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: Hot story number one is muddle through. That's in Iraq, of course. And I think, despite, and I suspect you'll agree, that despite the prison scandal, and despite a pretty scary security situation in Iraq, and despite this lingering uprising by that radical young Muslim cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr (search), we are muddling through in Iraq.

And Don Rumsfeld, the defense secretary, was over there this week. He visited Iraq and Abu Ghraib prison. I think he had it just about right when he said the following. Listen.


DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The United States is the beacon of liberty and of freedom and opportunity. And it's a great country. And the American people are wonderful people. And we'll get through this tough period, let there be no question.


BARNES: There's no question in my mind, although I'll have to say there is a question in a lot of people's minds in the U.S., including some Republicans and even some people inside the administration.

But look, the prison guards at Abu Ghraib (search) and their leaders are being prosecuted very, very publicly. Al-Sadr and his revolt ... al-Sadr's a defining factor there. He's being taken care of, the other Muslim clerics have ostracized him. And sovereignty is going to be handover to Iraqis on June 30, despite a still pretty dicey security situation. Now.

So I have a question for you, but I want to preface it by, by reading you something in an article in The Weekly Standard coming up next week by David Gortley, who's a Yale professor. And here's what he wrote.

He said, "Too many Democrats and some Republicans are acting as if Abu Ghraib means that the Bush administration is in trouble. They are wrong. It means America is in trouble. And when America is in trouble, every public official is required to help," unquote.

Now, that leads to this question, Mort. Are Democrats helping, are they defending America against its critics and its enemies, or are they merely using the prison scandal as an opportunity to bash Bush?

MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Well, look, every leader has every right to ask, Where in the chain of command does this thing stop? I mean...

BARNES: Yes, yes.

KONDRACKE: ... how, who, who, who made these orders? Now...

BARNES: Mort, I wasn't referring to that.

KONDRACKE: ... OK, but, now, I will grant you that the Democrats have been prejudging the case, and they've already assigned blame to President Bush and to Dick Cheney and to Don Rumsfeld ... for these, these acts and called for their resignations and so on. And they're trying to make political hay out of this.

Here's what John Kerry said this week. "This," the Iraqi prisoner photos, "have put our troops at greater risk. It's an unbelievable recruitment tool. It sets the war on terror back. The fact is that this thing," the Iraq war, "has been so extraordinarily mismanaged and ineptly prosecuted that we're paying billions. We're almost at the $200 billion mark."

Now, the media have also gone berserk on, on this story, playing it on page one day after day after day. I mean, I think that Don Rumsfeld was exactly right. This is a body blow to the war effort. The media are portraying it as though it's a shot through the heart. I mean, it's, it's not a shot through the heart. I mean, the fact is that we just may be able to muddle through.

And one of the other good things that's happened that you didn't mention was the fact that David Petraeas, the former commander of the 101st Airborne Division, is now going over to train the Iraqi military, and he's one of the best generals we've got.

Now, the other hot story is, what's it all about? And then, referring to the horrible, horrific beheading of Nicholas Berg, this American who wandered into Iraq, that was proudly displayed by Al Qaeda on, on its Web site.

I mean, this, as far as I'm concerned is the hot story of the week. And it should have been front-page news all the time, and maybe only you can explain why the media, the press in particular, played the story on page one for one day and no more.

Furthermore, I think that both President Bush and John Kerry were pathetically weak in their response to this. Just watch what they said.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no justification for the brutal execution of Nicholas Berg, no justification whatsoever.

U.S. SENATOR JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it will harden the resolve of a lot of Americans to make certain that the terrorists won't get away with it, even as we move to address obvious problems that have existed in Iraq.


KONDRACKE: What both of them should have said is, This is what we are fighting about. This is the future of civilization, the future of civilizations at stake. These butchers and murderers would kill us all if they, if they possibly could, and they would do it supposedly in the name of God.

Well, you know, not only will it steel American resolve, it should steel American resolve.

BARNES: Yes, and I think it has steeled American resolve.

Now, do you want me to explain to you what the media was up to here?


BARNES: It's very easy to explain. The American mainstream media would like to but can't tell you what to think. But they can tell you what to think about, by dwelling ad nauseam on and excessively on some story.

Now, so what they want you to think about is the prison scandal at Abu Ghraib. And they want you to think about it as ... as a metaphor for America's intervention in Iraq, if not a metaphor for America itself and America's role in the world.

And anything that conflicts with that story, even something as graphic as the beheading of Nicholas Berg, gets short ... shrift, because it doesn't fit the story line. It's as simple as that, Mort. OK.

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