Aug 19, 2010 9:51 PM by Alison Haynes
NEW YORK (AP) - Nowhere was the difference between the cable
news networks on starker display than in prime-time coverage on the
night the last American combat brigade left Iraq following a war
that started seven years and five months ago.
MSNBC devoted its entire prime-time footprint to the story, with
Richard Engel riding with the troops in a specially equipped
vehicle and host Rachel Maddow based in Baghdad. Keith Olbermann
anchored the coverage from a New York studio.
Fox News Channel devoted just under 10 minutes to the story,
much of it during Shepard Smith's 7 p.m. newscast. The network
spent 45 minutes discussing the potential construction of an
Islamic cultural center near ground zero, while that story wasn't
mentioned on MSNBC at all. CNN, meanwhile, spent an hour on each
The news decisions led critics of Fox and MSNBC to suggest
politics was at play in the coverage decisions.
Engel had been embedded with the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd
Infantry Division, the last combat brigade in Iraq. Since President
Barack Obama had said combat units would leave by Aug. 31, Engel
was closely tracking tt' exit time with an eye toward providing
live coverage, said Phil Griffin, NBC News executive in charge of
It was a chance to bring Iraq coverage full circle for NBC News.
Engel was riding in the vehicle designed to provide live coverage
while moving, nicknamed the "Bloom-mobile" at NBC because the
late correspondent David Bloom first rode it in 2003 when American
troops entered Iraq, Griffin said.
The evening presented a logistical challenge in that MSNBC's
individual prime-time programs prepared telecasts for use in case
military plans forced a last-minute delay, he said.
Given the access, a decision to devote the entire evening to the
story was a "no-brainer," Griffin said. "We've got something
unique and it's an important story. We said, 'Let's go for it."'
The Iraq story was important, one that had been given short
shrift in the media in recent years, said Tim Graham, director of
media analysis fE the conservative Media Research Center. But with
MSNBC's left-of-center opinion lineup, politics has to be
considered part of the equation, he said.
"I would certainly think politics are involved in their
'flooding the zone' to suggest that 'Lookie here, the Obama people
doing what they said they were going to do,"' he said.
Griffin said the access, technology and importance of the story
drove the decision. "I don't think there was any politics in our
coverage last night," he said. "It was about the soldiers."
White House correspondent Major Garrett and reporter Dominic
Di-Natale in Iraq reported on the story Wednesday night for Fox.
But during the opinionated Fox prime-time shows, the story clearly
was given low priority. It was talked about for less than a minute
total during news breaks in Sean Hannity's telecast. The "talking
points" for Bill O'Reilly's top-rated show was about the Islamic
cultural centerng single segment that stretched over eight
Ari Rabin-Havt of the liberal watchdog group Media Matters for
America said he believed the Iraq story received little coverage on
the opinionated shows because it did not reflect poorly on the
president - unlike the Islamic center controversy.
"This was a big story about President Obama keeping one of his
big campaign promises and it was virtually ignored," Rabin-Havt
said. "It wasn't a campaign announcement. It was a conflict the
nation has been embroiled in for seven years."
Fox representatives had no immediate comment on the criticism.
CNN's Rick Sanchez devoted much of his 8 p.m. EDT show to the
Iraq story, while the bulk of "Larry King Live" concerned the New
York City Islamic center and mosque. Anderson Cooper's 10 p.m.
newscast split its time relatively evenly between the two issues.