September 5, 2013

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On her MSNBC show last night, host Rachel Maddow ripped Fox News for having a discussion with former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld on the run up to a possible strike against Bashar al-Assad’s Syria. Maddow’s gripe? “The word ‘Iraq’ was not mentioned, not even once,” argued Maddow. Rumsfeld and his crew, Maddow said, “broke” the argument for entering into hostilities over weapons of mass destruction “by misusing it, by lying when they made it.” Maddow:

If you’re an architect or a conspirator or one of the primary actors in the Iraq war, and arguably the grandest and most craven foreign policy disaster in American history, your opinion is no longer required on matters of war and peace. Please enjoy painting portraits of dogs or something. Painting portraits of yourself in the bathroom trying to get clean. Please enjoy the forgiving company of your family, your loved ones, and your god. But we as a country never ever need to hear from you about war ever again. You can go now.

Following Maddow’s show, Fox News lapsed into its Rummy script. Host Greta Van Susteren interviewed the feisty former defense chief, who came off as an authority of towering and unblemished credentials on preparations for war. Van Susteren’s first question was this: “The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has now voted in favor of giving the president authority. It will have to be further debated. But what’s your thought about this?”

From there, the discussion veered into the predictable Fox News territory of simply bashing President Obama. Here’s a fun exchange:

VAN SUSTEREN: Okay. In light of the — where we stand right now, where the fact that Congress is voting on this, debating it, likely to give him authority, if they don’t give authority, it seems like he’s going to do it anyway, send those cruise missiles over to Syria — is there — is there any — any way that the United States can sort of regain stature, credibility, do anything at this point? Because it almost seems like we’re a little boxed in because our president has said we’re going to do this.

RUMSFELD: There’s no question but that the leadership, or the lack of leadership, to be more precise, has driven our country into a cul-de-sac, and that’s not a good place to be. Is it possible to come out of it? Sure.
We have a wonderful country, and if the president would bring in good advisers and sit down and think through where he is and get down to bedrock, to concrete and know where he is, and then decide that he’s willing to make a decision, and either the decision is to not do something — if he’s unwilling to do anything that’s going to change the regime, I think he’s probably better off doing nothing and accepting the burden that falls on us from all of his prior statements.
If he decides he wants to change the regime because he thinks the killing of 100,000 people and the use of chemical weapons is something that is damaging and harmful to our country and to the world, I think the American people would follow him.

And it’s not as if Van Susteren didn’t have a stately invitation to contextualize the shortcomings of her guest as an expert on this stuff. At one point in the interview, Rumsfeld said, “The lead-up to this, I think, has been most unfortunate.” Right there, Van Susteren could have jumped in with, say, this question: “Well, your critics have some things about the lead-up to a war that you had a hand in — that being Iraq a decade ago. What’s the difference here?” Or perhaps something along those lines.

Instead, Van Susteren seized the moment with this beaut: “Is [Obama] responsible for the lead-up to this point?” Yes! declared Rumsfeld. Have a look at the video — Rumsfeld comes off very happy with his friendly little chat. But don’t get the notion that the interview was the most skewed moment on Fox News yesterday. Earlier in the day, a Fox News contributor managed to claim that the media had largely taken a “very skeptical” approach to the Bush administration’s case for war in Iraq.

 

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.