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War moms, beware: Don't criticize the president
With her vigil outside President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, gaining more and more attention, Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in Iraq, has become the latest target of the right wing.
How did that happen? It started with Matt Drudge, who posted an item on his website on August 8, charging that Sheehan "dramatically changed her account" of a meeting she had with Bush in June 2004. How so? Drudge took quotes from an article in her local paper out of context to claim that she initially was happy with her meeting with Bush but is now critical of the president.
But did Sheehan change her story? No. In fact, as Media Matters has shown, the June 24, 2004, article in The Reporter of Vacaville, California, included quotes from Sheehan expressing her displeasure with the president:
"We haven't been happy with the way the war has been handled," Cindy said. "The president has changed his reasons for being over there every time a reason is proven false or an objective reached."
The 10 minutes of face time with the president could have given the family a chance to vent their frustrations or ask Bush some of the difficult questions they have been asking themselves, such as whether Casey's sacrifice would make the world a safer place.
But in the end, the family decided against such talk, deferring to how they believed Casey would have wanted them to act. In addition, Pat noted that Bush wasn't stumping for votes or trying to gain a political edge for the upcoming election.
One quote Drudge cited from the Reporter article seemed to show that Cindy Sheehan was a great admirer of Bush in 2004, when she said, "That was the gift the president gave us, the gift of happiness, of being together." This would become Exhibit A in the attack on Cindy Sheehan. As CNN's Anderson Cooper said when interviewing her on the August 11 edition of Anderson Cooper 360, "Some people have criticized you for changing your account of that original meeting you had with President Bush." He then read her the quote.
But what was the real context of the quote? Sheehan wasn't talking about her meeting with President Bush; she was talking about how the trip to Seattle for the meeting allowed her family to spend the day together, as Reporter staff writer Tom Hall noted in an August 9 article responding to Drudge. Here is the original section from the Reporter article:
The trip had one benefit that none of the Sheehans expected.
For a moment, life returned to the way it was before Casey died. They laughed, joked and bickered playfully as they briefly toured Seattle.
For the first time in 11 weeks, they felt whole again.
"That was the gift the president gave us, the gift of happiness, of being together," Cindy said.
But when the members of the right-wing echo chamber saw the Drudge item, they knew just what to do. Within hours, it had been reproduced and discussed on a number of conservative weblogs. That evening, Fox News chief White House correspondent Jim Angle reported on Sheehan's criticism of Bush, then said, "But just after that 2004 meeting, she gave a very different account," citing the "gift of happiness" quote. The next night, it was Bill O'Reilly's turn. On The O'Reilly Factor, he charged that "Mrs. Sheehan has apparently changed her mind about the president," using the "gift of happiness" quote. O'Reilly then brought on conservative pundit and blogger Michelle Malkin, who said Sheehan's "story hasn't checked out," and O'Reilly readily agreed:
MALKIN: I mean, the New York Times editorial board is all too eager to prop her up as some sort of martyr and to buy her line, when, clearly, her story hasn't checked out.
O'REILLY: Yes, her story hasn't [sic] changed.
MALKIN: And so I think -- and I think that angle you're emphasizing\ is absolutely right here, which is the mainstream media just lapping this up and perpetuating myths and inaccuracies when they know it's not the truth.
O'REILLY: Yup. They don't identify -- in the New York Times editorial today, it was obvious they did not say her story has been inconsistent. And they did not pinpoint that she is in bed with the radical left.
On the next O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly responded to a viewer's letter critical of him and Malkin by saying, "Both Michelle and I were respectful to Mrs. Sheehan, sir. You are distorting and perhaps lying about the segment." Really? Well how about this statement he made on the August 9 show: "So, I mean, I think Mrs. Sheehan bears some responsibility for this, and also for the responsibility of other American families who have lost sons and daughters in Iraq, who feel that this kind of behavior borders on treasonous." And how about Malkin, who wrote on her weblog, "I can't imagine Army Spc. Casey Sheehan would stand for his mother's crazy accusations that he was murdered by his commander-in-chief,
rather than the Iraqi terrorists who ambushed his convoy"? That's
respectful, all right.
— Paul Waldman