YouTube video

Gareth Porter: Most US media helps Obama back away from Iraq pledge

Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. Recently, President Obama has been talking about his pledge to get out of Iraq. And he was supposed to have all the combat troops out more or less by the end of this month. But it seems what we’re getting, perhaps, is rebranding. Now joining us to talk about this is Gareth Porter. He’s an investigative journalist and historian. Thanks for joining us.


JAY: So in an earlier interview we played the Obama clips about this. But we’re going to take this up a little bit more from the media angle, how is it that he’s doing this. And there doesn’t seem to be too much comment about it. But let’s show the two clips, first of all. So, first of all, here’s what President Obama said in Atlanta on August 2. And then we’ll follow that up with what he said last year, in February 2009.


BARACK OBAMA, US PRESIDENT: I made it clear that by August 31, 2010, America’s combat mission in Iraq would end. And next month we will change our military mission from combat to supporting and training Iraqi security forces.


OBAMA: I have chosen a timeline that will remove our combat brigades over the next 18 months. So let me say this as plainly as I can. By August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.


JAY: So it looks like, really, just, you know, a rebranding, if combat troops are still going to more or less be there but you’re going to say it’s not—their mission isn’t combat. Part of the question is: how is the media responding to this?

PORTER: Well, in fact, the idea of rebranding—or re-missioning, as the military like to call it—combat troops into non-combat troops or—advisory and assistance brigades is what they decided to call what are in fact combat brigades with some advisors and assistants. That whole rebranding process was really only made possible because the news media just went along with it very consciously. In other words, there is a major story here, which is that what the president told the public in his address February 27, 2009, was really not the truth. I mean, he simply boldly stated, I’m pulling out all combat brigades within 18 months.

JAY: Now, hadn’t The New York Times done some articles about the re-missioning plan?

PORTER: Well, that’s exactly right. That’s what’s so interesting. The New York Times had been adumbrating, had been anticipating exactly what the military was going to do for the two or three months before that, starting in November-December 2008. They were publishing stories saying the military has this idea to re-mission, to rebrand, essentially, the combat brigades as noncombat troops, noncombat brigades. And then they reported in mid-December of 2008 that they had had a meeting with Obama in Chicago—of course before he’d taken residence in the White House—and had presented this idea of re-missioning. It wasn’t reported exactly how Obama responded.

JAY: In your article you refer to this specifically. You say: “The ‘re-missioning’ scheme was then presented to Obama by [Robert] Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, in Chicago on Dec. 15, 2008, according [to] a report in The New York Times three days later.” So that’s a quote from your piece.

PORTER: Right. And so the point is The Times had been really on top of this story. They knew pretty much in detail—. Nobody else had been reporting this. The Times had really an exclusive on it, and it was clearly a major story. Now you get to the president making the speech, saying, I’m pulling out all combat brigades, end of quote. Does The Times say, well, the president didn’t really mean that; what he really means is that he’s going to rebrand them? No, they didn’t say that.

JAY: So you’re thinking the headline should have been, “President Obama’s not carrying out the campaign [inaudible]

PORTER: It should have been. The news media understood this, I think, perfectly well, but they chose not to cover that story, which is by any definition a news value [inaudible]

JAY: [inaudible] it’s just because everyone’s so cynical, they expected him to be doing this, and then he [inaudible]

PORTER: Well, certainly, cynicism is clearly involved, but, you know, cynicism of a particular variety, a particular direction. Clearly, the news media understood that what the president was doing here was on one hand satisfying his antiwar base in the Democratic Party, and at the same time basically serving the interests of the military leadership, which had been pressing him very hard, even before he was elected, to back away from his 16-month withdrawal pledge when he was a candidate, and then, of course, continuing that pressure once he was in the White House. So they were basically facilitating his being able to accomplish these two things at once, because [inaudible] The New York Times, The Washington Post, and all the rest of the major news media agreed that this is what he should do, that they believed that it was important for the president to back away from his pledge to withdraw combat troops from Iraq. And so they were helping him do that, essentially; they were facilitating it.

JAY: Thanks for joining us. And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Gareth Porter is a historian and investigative journalist on US foreign and military policy analyst. He writes regularly for Inter Press Service on US policy towards Iraq and Iran. Author of four books, the latest of which is Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam.