On Afghanistan, Fox News Decides, Then Reports


President Obama never had a chance …

It didn’t matter what decision he came to regarding troop levels in Afghanistan, or what he said about the ongoing conflict there, because Fox News and the rest of the conservative media had already reached two conclusions. First, he took too long. Second, he was wrong.

Since the Bush administration stuck him with the untended-to mess in Afghanistan, Obama had to make a choice — more troops, fewer troops, withdrawal. When Obama signaled that he actually wanted to consider his options before making a decision, the Fox News followed the lead of Dick Cheney — one of the primary authors of the Afghanistan debacle — in accusing the president of "dithering" and "inaction." Glenn Beck, never one to be subtle or reasonable, accused the president of "letting our troops literally bleed and die" and said Obama would "pay for it" in the hereafter.

Of course, Cheney’s idea of "dithering" is another man’s idea of a "substantive discussion" that came as part of a "good" process. That other man just so happens to be Gen. David Petraeus, who was asked by MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough on December 2 if Obama had been "dithering" as Cheney alleged. Petraeus responded: "This process was actually quite good, Joe. It was a very substantive discussion. Everybody’s assumptions and views were tested. I think out of this have come sharpened objectives, a very good understanding of the challenges and the difficulties and what must be done in a much more detailed and nuanced fashion."

But the big moment finally arrived, and Obama made his decision — 30,000 more troops, with a set time limit of July 2011. The decision was announced during a prime-time speech to the nation on December 1. Before the teleprompters had even cooled down, Fox News got right to the mischief. Bill O’Reilly chastised the president for not "saying, ‘Look, these are bad guys. We’re fighting evil.’ " While it’s true that Obama didn’t use those exact words, he did use some that sounded awfully similar, like when he called Al Qaeda "extremists who have distorted and defiled Islam … to justify the slaughter of innocents," and when he called the Taliban "a ruthless, repressive, and radical movement."

Other Fox News personalities got in on the fun — the crew of Fox & Friends complained that Obama never said the word "win" during the speech, even though he spoke several times about the "successful" conclusion to the war. And when they weren’t complaining about things that Obama didn’t (but really did) say, conservatives were complaining that it wasn’t the best speech the world had ever seen. O’Reilly said it was "not exactly the Gettysburg Address." Sean Hannity said: "I didn’t hear Winston Churchill, I didn’t hear Ronald Reagan, I didn’t hear George Bush." Charles Krauthammer was hoping to get his Shakespeare fix, lamenting that it wasn’t "exactly the kind of speech that you would have heard from Henry V."

And speaking of history, conservatives took the occasion of Obama’s speech to do a little rewriting of the historical record. Former Bush adviser Karl Rove said Obama was "in no position whatsoever to criticize what President Bush did" in Afghanistan because "at the time, he didn’t speak out on this." Rove must’ve been too busy ignoring subpoenas to have noticed the many, many, many times that Obama spoke out against the Bush administration’s Afghanistan policy. And then there was Hannity, who disregarded the many thousand troops Obama sent to Afghanistan earlier this year in claiming that the president has "had a "less-than-consistent stance on the issue of Afghanistan."

The bottom line is that for conservatives, there are plenty of substantive ways to disagree with Obama’s policy prescriptions. He’s a Democrat, he’s going to propose policies that fall on the left side of the spectrum, and conservatives can and should bring to the table what facts they can in making their counter-arguments. But judging by their treatment of Obama’s Afghanistan policy, Fox News isn’t interested in that. They’re simply going to reflexively gainsay anything Obama does. That’s why you get superficial, ludicrous, and transparently false claims like these — the point isn’t to be right; the point is to say the other guy is wrong.

Other major stories last week

Snapping the "Climategate" shut

It’s no secret that the American right has had a contentious relationship with science. They’ve made clear that they don’t really care all that much for practical science (embryonic stem cell research, for example), but also have a soft spot for anti-science (creationism) and anti-science dressed up to look like science (intelligent design). When forced to choose between scientific fact and ideological purity, they’ll more often than not show anyone wearing a lab coat to the door.

And in that great conflict between science and ideology, there is no greater battle than climate change, and the weight of scientific evidence stacked against the right has put it into a precarious position, forcing it to engage in asymmetrical warfare. Take, for example, the email messages illegally hacked from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia that, according to the right-wing commentariat, are prima facie evidence that climate change is nothing more than an elaborate hoax perpetrated over many generations by legions of scientists who want to undermine capitalism across the globe.

Or something like that.

Here’s what it comes down to — much of what the right is saying about those emails is wildly out of context, an outrageous distortion, or just plain false. But let’s assume, just for one moment, that these emails actually do say everything that the right claims. If that were the case, then the emails would be a damning indictment of the scientists whose names appear on them. What they would not be, however, is compelling evidence that the entirety of climate change science is "unproven" or a "hoax," as conservatives are claiming. They’ve put themselves in the laughably silly position of claiming that a few private messages between scientists outweigh the glut of scientific data accumulated over the decades, the volumes upon volumes of peer-reviewed publications on the topic, and the findings of thousands of scientists working with several independent scientific bodies.

To use a subject-appropriate metaphor, it’s as if they pulled a pebble from a glacier and held it up as proof that the glacier weren’t made of ice.

This week’s media columns

This week’s media columns from the Media Matters senior fellows: Eric Boehlert looks at how the press views Obama hatred as "populism," and Jamison Foser documents the conservative media’s increasingly lame attacks.

Greg Lewis notes the braggadocio on display in The Friday Rush, a review of Limbaugh’s radio shows over the past week.

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This weekly wrap-up was compiled and edited by Simon Maloy, the deputy research director at Media Matters for America. Maloy also contributes to County Fair, a media blog featuring links to progressive media criticism from around the Web, as well as original commentary.