Letting a scoop slip by

Larry King is one of the most experienced journalists and broadcasters in the US, indeed the world. That makes it a little surprising that he should pass up a monumental story in a live interview.

On February 10th 2010, Vice-President, Joe Biden, said in an interview with King: I am very optimistic about — about Iraq. I mean, this could be one of the great achievements of this administration. You’re going to see 90,000 American troops come marching home by the end of the summer. You’re going to see a stable government in Iraq that is actually moving toward a representative government.

The twists and turns of Biden’s mind on Iraq are remarkable. In 1990 he opposed sending troops to the Gulf to assist Kuwait, and in so doing he was standing outside an overwhelming global consensus. By 1998, he favored carpet bombing Iraq. In 2002 he wanted – much more controversially than in 1990 – to deploy troops. In 2005 he concluded that the policy he had supported was a failure, though he was careful to blame this failure not on his own bad judgment but on mismanagement of the war by the Bush administration. He believed the appropriate response was to set a deadline for troop withdrawal of 2008. Like Barack Obama, who, by this point, was also serving in the Senate, he opposed the troop surge in 2006. Obama predicted that this would heighten sectarian tensions in Iraq.

In 2008 Obama was supporting Biden’s previous policy – a deadline for troop withdrawal – a policy which Biden now considered crazy. Not coincidentally, this was Obama’s view of Biden’s latest position, the forcible partition of Iraq into three countries, for which there is no evidence of any support from Iraqis.

By the 2008 election, the success of the surge was apparent to everyone, even the Democratic ticket members, who chose not to major on this issue in the campaign, though it was already clear that there was no prospect of an Obama administration actually changing the Bush administration’s policy now that it was working.

So, now, Biden wishes to claim credit for the current policy. Well, I suppose that, in the face of overwhelming evidence that it would have been stupid to do so, the administration declined to do the things that Obama had promised to do while seeking the nomination of his party. It also declined to do the equally silly things that Biden had promised at the same time. In the circumstances, changing the policy would have been stupid, and it is somewhat to the administration’s credit that it left the policy, and the Defense Secretary, unchanged.

To claim the credit for a policy which he vehemently opposed is almost Clintonian in its breathtaking dishonesty. The old plagiarizer has plagiarized the political techniques of the master. But he lacksClinton’s charm, and a half-way competent journalist would not have let him get away with it without comment.

But King, whom we might have expected to say, “Hey, hang on a minute, this certainly is good news, but isn’t it all down to the success of the surge, a policy which both you and Barack Obama both opposed?” But King could not be bothered to ask a follow up. Instead his next question was about Iran.

Article provided by Quentin Langley
Lecturer in PR and Political Communications,
School of Journalism, Cardiff University

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