What Murtha Really Said

Previously we noted a controversial speech by Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) at a town hall meeting in Miami, FL, June 24, 2006. Elizabeth Baier, the reporter on the story, was forced by her editors at the Sun-Sentinel to do a hatchet job (or it was done for her) on the story in the face of an organized effort led by well funded liberal groups like Media Matters and Think Progress, and Murtha’s office that he was misquoted.

Here is the retracted first paragraph, as originally reported.

MIAMI — American presence in Iraq is more dangerous to world peace than nuclear threats from North Korea or Iran, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., said to an audience of more than 200 in North Miami Saturday afternoon.

Well we now have the video tape from the event, and Murtha’s words can speak for themselves. Going into the clip (transcript below), Murtha was discussing Abu Ghraib and the McCain torture legislation.

Just think what that does to us internationally.

On the debate on the floor of the House, and I was leading the debate on the floor, and this one fella says, “You talk about terrorism.” He says, “Ask Spain.”

Well you ask Spain. Fifty six percent of the people in Spain think it’s more dangerous, the United States is more dangerous in Iraq than Iran is.

Everyone of our allies think that the United States being in Iraq is more dangerous to world stability and world peace, every one of our allies; Great Britain, every single country… They think its more, uh, we’re more dangerous to world peace than North Korea or Iran.

That says something.

Notice anything missing?

Well for starters there’s absolutely no reference whatsoever to the Pew Research report Murtha’s office claims he was quoting. Here’s what Murtha had to say about the speech after the firestorm started:

I was recently misquoted following a speech I gave at a Veterans forum at the Florida International University Biscayne Campus on June 24, 2006. During the speech, I made a point that our international credibility was suffering, particularly due to our continued military presence in Iraq and that we were perceived as an occupying force. For illustrative purposes, I provided the example of a recent Pew Poll which indicates a greater percentage of people in 10 of 14 foreign countries consider the U.S. in Iraq a danger to world peace than consider Iran or North Korea a danger to world peace.

The substance of Baier’s first paragraph, the one her editors made her pull, is pretty well supported by the transcript and video. What’s missing is the context of the remark, which is the only correction the Sun-Sentinel should have made. Had they simply added the words, “The whole world” to the beginning of the paragraph they would have captured the essence of the speech and the context of the remark.

Miami Herald reporter Melissa Sanchez (who also covered the event), was quoted by Murtha’s office characterizing the Baier quote thusly: “That was in reference to international polls. It was not so much his own conjecture, but a conclusion drawn from polls in various countries.” Sanchez did not mention this section of the speech at all in her reporting.

Now obviously an audience wouldn’t suspect that the 56% number was pulled out of thin air, but his further generalizations are pretty sweeping, and do give the impression that in Murtha shares the opinion. And again, there’s no mention of international polls or the Pew Report.

I defy you to watch the whole video and come to the conclusion that Murtha doesn’t agree with world opinion. In fact in his closing he states that he’s counting on it to push his pullout scenario.

The revised story at the Sun-Sentinel is an amalgamation of the original report and the Murtha press release, in short a disaster.

Perhaps they would like to give it one more shot, and just report what Murtha said…

Update: Will the Sun-Sentinel revise their story yet again? And a better question is why did they do a hatchet job on the original story, introducing information directly from Murtha and his supporters into the coverage, with no sourcing? They hung their own reporter out to dry. At this point the story is less about the content of Murtha’s remarks than the campaign by David Brock’s, Soros-funded Media Matters, and others to change the reporting of the story without providing all the facts.

A Very Timely Question
I'm leaving on a jet plane...


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