The war in Afghanistan has re-emerged as a major news story, thanks to the controversies surrounding the removal of Gen. Stanley McChrystal and the WikiLeaks release of classified documents. But on NBC's Meet the Press, the opportunity to engage in a robust debate about the war has taken a back seat to promoting the views of the military and supporters of Obama's Afghanistan policies.
The most recent example came on August 15, when Meet the Press devoted the entire episode to a profile of Gen. David Petraeus. Host David Gregory's opening indicated it wasn't going to be a feet-to-the-fire interview: "At 57, General David Petraeus is easily America’s most famous warrior. On this morning we find him in the middle of physical training as this fiercely competitive four-star general works over soldiers half his age with the same intensity as he works the war plan."
Gregory questioned Petraeus about the timeline for withdrawal of U.S. troops as if it were an irritant: "How stifling is the concept of this deadline and this Washington debate to what you're trying to do here?" At the close of the broadcast, Gregory echoed that sentiment and worried about the public's lack of support:
General Petraeus is a military leader with great commitment and great intellectual rigor, but you have to wonder whether he has enough time politically to achieve what he thinks is possible here.... The question now for the American public is whether it has the stomach and the will to do what it takes to succeed here, and whether it has the stomach for what could happen here if the U.S. and its allies fail.
The hour with Petraeus was in keeping with recent patterns on the show. Right after the WikiLeaks disclosure, the show's August 1 broadcast led with Gregory announcing, "The leaking of secret Afghanistan war documents has enraged U.S. military officials who warn of serious consequences for the leaker and the man behind the Web site WikiLeaks." The featured one-on-one interview was with Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. There were no guests on hand to comment from an antiwar perspective.
On July 11, the program featured a one-on-one interview with White House press secretary Robert Gibbs that touched briefly on the war. The show's panel discussion featured MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, who offered a somewhat mild critique of the war, mostly stressing that a withdrawal timeline improves the performance of the Afghan government. Her co-panelists were conservative pundit David Brooks and Ed Gillespie of the Republican State Leadership Committee, both of whom support the war effort to varying degrees (Brooks called himself a "strong supporter," while Gillespie opposes any talk of a withdrawal timeline).
On June 27, Meet the Press devoted significant time to Afghanistan, thanks to the McChrystal controversy. The one-on-one interview was with Republican Sen. John McCain, a die-hard supporter of the war who opposes a withdrawal timetable.
The panel discussion that followed was notable in that it featured a rarity: a bona fide anti-war voice in Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). But Lee was surrounded by pro-war guests: writer Sebastian Junger, retired U.S. Army captain Wes Moore, retired general Barry McCaffrey and Tom Ricks of the Center for a New American Security. Any talk of leaving Afghanistan was outnumbered by the pro-war majority. Junger stated that if U.S troops leave, the Taliban are "going to be right back in Afghanistan." Ricks added, "I think if you want an endless war, Congresswoman, leave Afghanistan right now, and you'll find us having to go after Al-Qaeda again and again there for decades." At one point Junger even objected to Lee's terminology, arguing that "the word occupation really is not accurate."
So in weeks when public support for the war has continued to drop (CNN's most recent poll shows 62 percent oppose the war--8/6-10/10), why has NBC been so intent on promoting the war? It is hard to overlook the fact that NBC's parent company General Electric is heavily involved in weapons-related contracts with the U.S. military, and has also benefited from reconstruction contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan (Center for Public Integrity, 10/31/03).
On one recent show (7/11/10), Gregory mused that "finding the ideological fault lines here are difficult between left and right, frankly." But the host of Meet the Press can't "find" a debate only because he refuses to have one on his show.
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This story was published on August 18, 2010.