The Chuck Hagel witch hunt, brought to you by the Beltway media

By Yaël Ossowski |

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – If one is to believe the mainstream press accounts from the nation’s capital, former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel took a beating from his GOP colleagues during his confirmation hearing to become Secretary of Defense in the Obama administration.

HAGEL ON HILL: Republican Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s choice for defense secretary, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Though the hearing lasted more than eight hours and was based on a wide range of subjects, it was reported narrowly as a litmus test based on Iran and Israel, and how “controversial comments” made some Republican senators believeHagel was “harboring radical views and helping fuel anti-American propaganda.”

POLITICO reported that Hagel “stumbled on Iran” and wasn’t “quite ready for prime time,” in a story headlined, “GOP senators pummel Chuck Hagel.”

The Christian Science Monitor summed up the hearing, “McCain pounds Chuck Hagel in Senate confirmation hearing,” while the New York Times labeled it a “rough outing.”

According to the Washington Post, “Hagel was bad.”

The press coverage centered on whether Hagel thought the Iraq surge was necessary, why he wants to reduce nuclear weapons and why in the world he isn’t ready to whip out the “military option” on the still nuclear weapon-free nation of Iran.

It’s a common beltway journalism problem: emphasizing conflict, quoting opposing politicians and framing the story to a pre-conceived narrative rather than actual merit.

Instead of doing their jobs and asking the right questions, journalists fall into the pit of doing the politicians’ bidding, giving extra leverage to worldviews and opinions that are not shared by a majority of the American population and, in fact, promote a bias to power.

OUT: Inhofe claimed Hagel’s nomination in “endorsed by Iran,” but in the same stride advocated for overthrowing Egypt’s democratically elected president.

More than 66 percent of Americans believe the U.S. should be less involved with leadership changes in the Middle East, according to an October Pew Research Center poll, but you can excuse the beltway media for forgetting this point.

The Weekly Standard took great lengths to give credence to the claim by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oka., that Hagel was “endorsed” by the Iranian government, but failed to mention that Inhofe openly advocated overthrowing the Egyptian government to install a leader friendlier to American interests.

“Right now, (President Mohamed) Morsi has already distanced himself from the military,” said Inhofe. “To me, that is a first good step, and I would like to think that we can reinstate a friend in that area.”

Outlets such as POLITICO concentrated on Hagel’s “battle” with U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., arguably the most hawkish member of Congress’ upper chamber, about whether the Iraqi surge of 2007 proved effective.

“The escalation, along with other major factors, is credited with helping to quell the violence in Iraq at the time,” states the New York Times, promoting the same view shared by many in the beltway but a diminishing number in the rest of America.

“The question is, were you right or wrong?” asked McCain. “That’s a straightforward question. I would like (you) to answer whether you are right or wrong, and then you are free to elaborate.”

McCain became visibly upset when Hagel refused to answer a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to his question.

Though 53 percent of Americans believe the entire Iraq War is a “total failure,” according to a 2010 Gallup survey, major news outlets did nothing but elevate McCain’s claim that the 30,000 troop surge was a rousing success. The surge greatly increased the number of U.S. casualties and did nothing to eradicate the violence and chaos which still run rampant in Iraqi cities and leave the country practically ruined.

SUCCESS: Despite a majority of Americans judging the Iraq War a “failure,” McCain unapologetically defends it.

“I’ll defer that judgment to history,” a confident Hagel responded to a frustrated McCain. “With 35,000 more troops, you’ll have a tactical victory, but you’ll have a significant human cost for that.”

Rather than question McCain’s assessment, POLITICO and the New York Times did exactly what was expected of them: defer to power and frame Hagel as the loser of the argument.

Though he voted for the Iraq War, Hagel was always a vociferous critic in halls of the Capitol.

He sponsored a 2006 resolution with then Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., and Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., stating that it is “not in the national interest of the United States to deepen its military involvement in Iraq.”

He recognized that the estimated death toll from the U.S.-led Iraqi invasion is anywhere between 114,000 and 1.4 million, according to Iraq Body Counts and Just Foreign Policyan independent reporting organization based in Washington, D.C.

Too often now, the job of a journalist is not to question policies or motivations, but rather play the partisan game of ‘who said what,’ playing up party differences and shoving aside truthful observations that might save a nation from unneccessary wars and interventions that put lives, American and foreign, at stake.

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