A tale of two headlines

The front page headline of the Washington Times reads: “Key House Democrat calls for Iraq pullout now.” The front page headline of the Wasington Post declares: “Hawkish Democrat Joins Call For Pullout.” Only one of these headlines regarding Rep. John Murtha’s statement about Iraq reflects neutral, unbiased reporting, and it’s not the Post’s.

The Times’ headline is just about perfect. It recognizes the significance of an influential Democrat, who is not associated with the “peace” wing of the party and who has ties to the military, calling for an immediate pullout. The Post’s headline tries to gin up extra significance for the story, and extra credibililty for Murtha, by calling him “hawkish.”

Few would deny that Murtha is a “key house Democrat” as the Times states. However, his status as a hawk is debatable. The hawk-dove dichotomy was much-invoked during the war in Vietnam. Hawks supported the war and tended to argue for the use of more force; doves supported leaving Vietnam to the Communists. Since then, the term hawk has been used in other contexts, but with the appropriate modifer, as in “deficit hawk.” To be a hawk tout court, it seems to me, Murtha must not only support big defense budgets, but also the use of force overseas to a greater extent than most other politicians do. But the Post provides no evidence that this the case with Murtha, nor does there appear to be any. It’s true that he favored going to war in Iraq, but so did John Kerry and countless other Democrats. By May 2004, Murtha had joned with Nancy Pelosi in criticizing the war. He also supported the candidacy of Howard Dean, the party’s most prominent dove, for leader of the DNC. The Post story, of course, mentions none of this. Instead, the hard copy story is larded-up at the back-end with “Bush lied” quotes from the likes of Senators Kennedy and Reid.

The Post’s headline is also arguably a little misleading in stating that Murtha has “joined” the call for a pullout. Very few of Murtha’s colleagues have called, as Murtha did, for an immediate pullout — the doves generally are too gutless to do so. If Murtha is joining anything, it’s more like a murmur than a call. Stay tuned on that, though.

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