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RNC Ad Mischaracterizes Murtha

Web video edits his remarks. He did NOT say the US is a bigger threat to world peace than North Korea or Iran.

August 17, 2006

Modified: August 17, 2006

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Summary


A Republican National Committee Internet ad uses video of Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania to make it seem he said something that he didn't. What Murtha said was US allies think the US presence in Iraq makes America a bigger threat to world peace than North Korea or Iran. He was citing overseas public opinion polls. The RNC ad edits his remarks to make it sound as though Murtha himself is asserting that thought.

The same ad attracted widespread attention from liberal bloggers who pointed out evidence that an image of Democratic party chairman Howard Dean had been touched up to give him the hint of a Hitler moustache. The RNC quietly cleaned up the Dean image after being called out.

Analysis


When future dictionaries define the term "taken out of context" they might consider using this RNC Internet ad as an example. We seldom see such an extreme case of editing a person's words to change their meaning.

What Murtha Said:
Florida International University, June 24 2006

RNC Version

Rep. John Murtha: We're more dangerous to world peace than North Korea or Iran.

Full Version

Murtha: Fifty-six per cent of the people in Spain think it's more dangerous, the United States is more dangerous in Iraq than Iran is. Every one of our allies think that the United States being in Iraq is more dangerous to world stability and world peace, every one of our allies, Great Britain, every single country, they think it's, we're more dangerous to world peace than North Korea or Iran. That says something.

It appeared on the RNC's home page for several days, and as of this writing still appears on the party's website. We've also posted a copy of it here.  It consists mostly of snippets of video and audio from a number of Democrats, including Murtha, Dean and Connecticut senatorial nominee Ned Lamont criticizing US actions in Iraq. For the most part we found these brief quotes to be reasonably accurate reflections of the full context of what was said – with one very serious exception.

Murtha is shown at one point saying "We're more dangerous to world peace than North Korea or Iran."

What Murtha was really saying, however, is that international public opinion polls show that US allies think the US actions in Iraq make America a bigger threat than Iran or North Korea. He was not endorsing those opinions, and in fact was offering them as evidence of serious damage the Iraq war had inflicted on the US image overseas. (For his exact words, see the text box at left, and watch the actual video here .)

The RNC is perfectly justified in using the Democrats' own words against them, so long as they are not edited to change their intended meaning. But in this case the RNC manages to present Murtha as seeming to say nearly the exact opposite of what he actually said.

This is not the first time Murtha's June 24 remarks have been distorted in this way. They were initially misreported by the Fort Lauderdale, Florida Sun-Sentinel, which led its story the next day by paraphrasing Murtha as saying that the "American presence in Iraq is more dangerous to world peace than nuclear threats from North Korea or Iran." This misquote was quickly picked up and repeated any number of times by conservative bloggers. The newspaper ran a correction three days later, saying that the story "misinterpreted" Murtha's remarks, and adding: "Murtha said U.S. credibility was suffering because of continued U.S. military presence in Iraq and the perception that the United States is an occupying force."Nevertheless, some Murtha critics continue to recycle the misreported words.

On July 8 the conservative Washington Times newspaper even rejected the Sun-Sentinel correction and claimed in an editorial that "the initial characterization of Mr. Murtha's comments was correct." It acknowledged that he was actually citing overseas opinion polls, but added: "Watching the video, it is clear which side Mr. Murtha is taking (e.g., the side of America's critics)." There's no question Murtha is a tough critic of the Iraq war who says Iraqis see American forces as their enemy and that the troops should be pulled out. But after noting that US allies now think America is a threat to world peace, he said: "That says something." That's not an endorsement. The Times failed to note that, as does the RNC video.

A video of Murtha's entire 20-minute address can be found here.

Was Murtha Correct?

Incidentally, Murtha was not entirely accurate. He was citing survey results released June 13 by the Pew Global Attitudes Project. They show that France, Britain and Spain do indeed see the US presence in Iraq as a greater danger to peace that North Korea or Iran, but not Germany or Japan.

Just as Murtha said, in Spain 56 per cent of those polled rated the US in Iraq as a "great danger" to world peace, compared to 38 per cent who rated Iran that way, and 21 per cent who saw North Korea as a great danger. In France and Britain as well, more saw the US in Iraq as a great danger than the other two. But contrary to Murtha's remarks, in Germany 51 per cent rated Iran a "great danger," more than the 40 per cent who said that of the US in Iraq, or the 23 per cent who said it of North Korea. And in Japan, 46 per cent saw nearby North Korea as a "great danger," more than the 29 per cent who rated the US in Iraq that way. Worth noting is that even in the US a large number see the US presence in Iraq as a threat to world peace. The Pew results show 31 per cent of Americans think US actions in Iraq are a great danger, not far behind the 34 per cent who think that of North Korea, but less than the 46 per cent who think it of Iran.

Howard Dean as Hitler?

This is the same RNC web ad that attracted attention earlier because of an image of Democratic party chairman Howard Dean that appeared to have been altered to give him the faint hint of a Hitler moustache. Here we show the original photo of Dean delivering a speech during the 2004 presidential campaign, the image as it appeared originally on the RNC website, and as it appeared later after liberal bloggers pointed to evidence of foul play.

The original photo, of Dean making his "I have a scream" speech Jan. 19, 2004 following his third-place finish in Iowa's Democratic presidential caucuses:

The initial RNC "Hitler" version, showing the apparently altered Dean image:

And here is the image as it appeared more recently, after the "Hitler" image drew widespread attention on various blogs and news websites:

 

So far as we've been able to determine, the first to speak of the Hitler resemblance in the initial RNC version was blogger George Johnston. He noticed that the Eschaton blog run by Philadelphia blogger Duncan B. Black, who uses the pseudonym "Atrios," had posted a copy of the RNC image. Black joked that he was "jealous" that the RNC line-up of notorious Democrats included another liberal blogger, Markos Moulitsas of "Daily Kos," and not him. Shortly after, Johnston posted a brief comment saying "it sure looks like the Republicans have photo-shopped a subliminal Hitler moustache onto Howard Dean." Later Johnston posted a comparison of the original and the RNC version on his own blog, "Old Fashioned Patriot." Later Daily Kos and others took up the cry, and the RNC image soon changed, minus the shading under Dean's nose. One blogger set up a page superimposing the two images, letting visitors click to switch quickly between the initial image and the cleaned-up version, making the alteration even more obvious.

The RNC may not have done the shading themselves. The "Hitler" images looks identical to one that an obscure blogger posted as a joke 2-1/2 years ago, the day after Dean made the speech. It appeared under the heading "Howard Dean Goes Mad," with a caption saying "Howard Dean puts on his 'Vee Vill Konker tee Vorld' act..." If the RNC got their initial image there it would have been hard to miss the Hitler reference.

-by Brooks Jackson, with James Ficaro

Sources


Elizabeth Baier, "Pull Out of Iraq Now, Congressman Urges," Fort Lauderdale, Florida Sun-Sentinel 25 Jan 2006:3b. (and correction: 28 Jan 2006)

"Nobles and knaves," The Washington Times 8 July 2006: A11.

"America's Image Slips, But Allies Share U.S. Concerns Over Iran, Hamas: No Global Warming Alarm in the U.S., China," press release, Pew Research Center, 13 June 2006.