Murtha, Murtha, Murtha, Murtha, Murtha, Murtha, (Lieberman), Murtha, Murtha, Murtha.
That's about how news coverage has gone the past several weeks concerning Rep. John Murtha's call to withdraw from Iraq versus Sen. Joe Lieberman's call to stand fast.
And the media wonder why newspaper circulations are dropping and why Fox News dominates television ratings over the networks and other cable programs.
It's not that Murtha doesn't deserve airtime to voice a point of view many Americans share. It's that Lieberman surely deserves at least equal time for a point of view that other Americans, as well as most Iraqis, share.
Those who rely on traditional news sources other than The Wall Street Journal, which published an op-ed by the Connecticut senator, may not even have known that Lieberman recently returned from Iraq. Or that his conclusions were that the U.S. has to keep fighting the insurgency, and that two-thirds of Iraq is in "pretty good shape."
You don't have to be a partisan war hawk to see the difference in treatment of these two stories, from news reports to the talking head shows. Nearly all news outlets have presented Murtha as though he were suddenly emerging from the fevered swamps of manly conscience to share his revelations with a duped public.
In fact, as others have reported, he began expressing reservations in 2003, and in May of 2004 told Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, that Iraq was "unwinnable," according to the conservative media watchdog Media Research Center (MRC). Even assuming that Murtha's arguments are heartfelt, they are not necessarily the revelatory assertions of a recently converted war hawk.
Meanwhile, Lieberman has been relatively ignored. As the MRC reported, the three major networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) led their evening newscasts with Murtha's remarks when he first came forward. CBS even included Murtha's attack on Vice President Dick Cheney's lack of military service.
By comparison, neither ABC nor CBS mentioned Lieberman's comments the day his op-ed ran. NBC included a sound bite from Lieberman along with a story about war protesters outside a Denver fundraiser the president was attending.
Even the late-night comedy shows have given his remarks more coverage than many serious news sources. On the "Tonight Show" last week, Jay Leno pressed Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean about Lieberman's eyewitness account.
"Everybody gets to march to their own drummer in this party," Dean said.
Here's what Lieberman said in the op-ed piece published Nov. 29 in the Journal:
"I have just returned from my fourth trip to Iraq in the past 17 months and can report real progress there," he began. "More work needs to be done, of course, but the Iraqi people are in reach of a watershed transformation from the primitive, killing tyranny of Saddam to modern, self-governing, self-securing nationhood unless the great American military that has given them and us this unexpected opportunity is prematurely withdrawn."
Lieberman spent the rest of his piece outlining the progress he saw, balanced against criticism for the slow pace and considerable expense of rebuilding. He also noted the importance to Israel of having democratic neighbors among Iraqis and Palestinians.
Finally, he pointed out that the current war is really between "27 million Iraqis who want to live lives of freedom, opportunity and prosperity and roughly 10,000 terrorists who are either Saddam revanchists, Iraqi Islamic extremists or al Qaeda foreign fighters who know their wretched causes will be set back if Iraq becomes free and modern."
"Ö We are fighting on the side of the 27 million because the outcome of this war is critically important to the security and freedom of America."
We can agree to disagree on that point. Plenty of smart people share Murtha's misgivings and his passion for ending the war. But it's hard to make an argument for giving one side so much more coverage than another, as has been explicitly the case here.
It is also worth asking why, less than a month before the pivotal Dec. 15 Iraqi elections and in the days leading up to Saddam Hussein's trial the Democratic Party chose to place Murtha front and center with his call to withdraw? Why not wait until after the elections, which is such a critical juncture in the success or failure of Iraq?
And why, we might wonder, have the media always so insistent in denying liberal bias been so willing to play one story and not another?
I'm just askin'.