Saturday, November 19, 2005

# Posted 9:47 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HARDBALL: MAYBE THEY SHOULD CALL IT "SOFTBALL": The transcripts for Friday don't go up until Monday, but you can listen to Chris Matthews' interview with John Murtha via podcast. (URL: http://podcast.msnbc.com/audio/podcast/MSNBC-Hardball.xml)

Actually, it isn't right to call it an interview, since Matthews let Murtha ramble on with his usual talking points for five or six minutes in response to Matthews' opening question. Then Matthews tucked in a few quick questions at the end, which were softer than softballs:
MATTHEWS: Mr. Murtha, I've known you for years, I really like you, but you've always been a hawk, you've always been a defense defender, big defense spending, big support for the Pentagon, known as the soldier's friend, why are you against this war in Iraq now?

MURTHA: Well, I've come to the conclusion, Chris, after visiting Iraq two months ago, and listening to the commanders, who obviously say what the White Hosue wants them to say, but they don't say it with the enthusiasm... [Five minutes of rambling without interruption.]

MATTHEWS: I've only got a minute, Congressman, I've got to ask you one last question. When you say redeployed beyond the horizon rather than pull out, does that mean pull our troops back from the cities into camps? Into barracks? What does it mean actually?

MURTHA: No, Chris, what I'm saying is redeploy them outside Iraq...I'm convinced that we need to redeploy outside the country as quickly as practical and safe for the troops.

MATTHEWS: How's that different from what the Republicans are pushing, this kind of bogus resolution they're pushing today?

MURTHA: It's ridiculous. It's an immediate withdrawal without any kind of plan at all. All they're trying to do is prove to the American people a political message.

MATTHEWS: Is this some Mickey Mouse trick of theirs? How would you describe it?

MURTHA: This is exactly what it is, and it's infuriating to me...For them to bring up a resolution today just to discredit what I've done is really reprehensible.

MATTHEWS: Congressman Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania, have a nice weekend sir. Thank you for coming on.
Two things to notice. First, Matthews' introduction of Murtha perpetuates the myth that a renowned hawk has suddenly turned against the war. A renowned hawk is what Murtha is, but as many, many bloggers pointed out immediately after Murtha made headlines, he's been saying exactly the same thing about Iraq for more than a year now. This is a manufactured story.

Second of all, it is remarkably disingenuous for Murtha to talk about how his recent visit to Iraq changed his mind about the war. If you listen to the full interview, he also lists a number of other recent data points as contributing factors. In other words, Murtha himself is now peddling the myth of his sudden conversion from hawk to dove. Karl Rove would be proud.

CLARIFICATION: The next-to-last sentence in the previous paragraph clearly suggests that Murtha is being disingenuous, perhaps even dishonest. However, I would like to add some nuance to that point.

Even though Murtha was on the brink of coming out in favor of withdrawal almost a year and a half ago, his did not do so, instead calling for the impossible option of a Shinseki-sized occupation.

Thus, some new consideration must have convinced Murtha that now was the time to go all out and demand an ASAP withdrawal. But the considerations Murtha cited in response to Matthews' question were hardly new: too many insurgent attacks, not enough troops, and the unpopularity of the occupation forces.

So it's not really clear at all what led Murtha to change his official position. One might infter that it was fatigue -- eighteen more months of the same problems as before, with another thousand American soldiers killed in action. That's not unfair.

And if one were in Murtha's position, and one perceived oneself as having had a major change of heart, and one were asked by an interviewer to explain that change of heart, one probably wouldn't start out by saying "Well, Chris, nothing really changed. I just got sick of seeing more of the same."

So let me take back the comparison between Murtha and Rove. That was mostly meant as a provocation to Murtha's fans, anyhow.

The real issue here is that the media have fallen so completely for the "hawk becomes dove" storyline that Murtha's comments, in that misleading context, seem to be much more disingenuous than they really are.
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