Jun
20
2011

Meet the Press–But Skip the Libya Debate

There is growing Congressional opposition to the Libya war. Two House votes this month sought to challenge the White House policy– one of which passed by a wide margin. On Saturday (6/18/11) Charlie Savage reported in the New York Times that the Office of Legal Counsel's advice to Obama was that he needed to comply with the War Powers Act. Obama rejected their advice, which as Savage reported is "extraordinarily rare."

Congress will be taking up more Libya debates this week, with a potential vote scheduled to stop the funding of the war. And the recent Republican presidential debate showed that many candidates are speaking out against the Libya policy.

That's a lot to work with for the Sunday shows. But they mostly skipped the chance to present serious criticism of the White House. On NBC's Meet the Press (6/19/11), viewers heard from Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who wants a more aggressive war:

The War Powers Act is unconstitutional, not worth the paper it's written on…. The president's done a lousy job of communicating and managing our involvement in Libya, but I will be no part of an effort to defund Libya or to try to cut off our efforts to bring Gadhafi down. If we fail against Gadhafi, that's the end of NATO. Egypt's going to be overrun and the 'Mad Dog of the Mideast,' what Ronald Reagan called Gadhafi, if he survives this, you're going to have double the price of oil that you have today because he will take the whole region and put it in, into chaos…. So from my Republican point of view, the president needs to step up his game in Libya, but Congress should sort of shut up and not empower Gadhafi.

And the Democratic view, courtesy of Senator Dick Durbin:

The president's doing the right thing. What we have here, this would be 'Butcher of Benghazi,' Gadhafi, needs to be stopped so he doesn't kill innocent people. The president brought together the Arab League, the United Nations, and NATO and said we are going to play a supportive rule–role, no ground troops. We're going to have a limited duration conflict to stop Gadhafi. That was the right thing. But I think that the War Powers Act and Constitution make it clear that hostilities by remote control are still hostilities…. What we should do is act on a timely basis to pass congressional authorization under the War Powers Act. I reject the Republican approach, which has been suggested by Speaker Boehner and others to cut off the troops. It would give solace to Gadhafi. It would undermine the people who are resisting him in that nation, and I agree completely with Lindsey Graham. It would call into question the future of NATO.

So while they differ on War Powers Act– and on which nickname to use for Gadhafi– they both support the war.

As did NBC reporter Richard Engel, who said this during the program's roundtable segment:

I just came from Libya before I came here, and the fact of the matter is the war in Libya right now is not very serious, that NATO is not doing a terribly good job. The rebels need a lot more help. The bombing campaign in Tripoli barely exists. Every once in a while there's a few bombs on mostly empty compounds, and people go about their lives more or less unaffected. It's not the kind of thing that's going to drive Gadhafi from power. And a, a lot of European nations who are now trying to lead this, this fight, which–and are, and are struggling to do it, are looking at this debate in–within the–in the United States to end the U.S. support for NATO. If the U.S. ended its support for NATO in Libya, NATO really is dead.

It's rather odd for a reporter to offer policy advice like that. One has to wonder if NBC would be pleased if Engel were speaking out against the war.

It wasn't just Meet the Press, though. Fox News Sunday featured outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who defended the war (and the White House's legal explanation for it). And ABC's This Week took the apparent upswing in antiwar sentiment to interview pro-war Senator John McCain. A short comment from Libya War critic George Will could be heard during the roundtable.

One of the chief criticisms of the Sunday show is that they're way too obsessed with Beltway posturing and politics. That's obviously true, but in this case there would seem to be a lot happening in that world to push back against the war– and the shows seem to think their role is to man the ramparts.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.