The "Liberal" Strib Strikes Again

The folks at Gil Gutknecht's congressional campaign owe the Star Tribune news reporters (and political editor Doug Tice) a beer after the soothing massage and quick spin the Strib provided--in a front page story in their Sunday edition, no less--on Gutknecht's "wobbly" indecision regarding U.S. troops in Iraq.

Perhaps you remember Gutknecht's flip-flop. In June, when the Rove strategy was to force a debate on the floors of Congress and accuse any Democrat opposed to the war of "cutting and running," Rep. Gutknecht said, "Members, this is not the time to go wobbly. Let's give victory a chance." But in July, after being repeatedly criticized by his DFL opponent, Tim Walz, for his intransigence on the war, Gutknecht returned home from a trip to Iraq and announced that Baghdad had gone backwards during the past three years of American occupation. And to at least a few people on the scene, he seemed to call for the withdrawal of some U.S. troops from the region.

Sunday's Strib story by Kevin Diaz and Anthony Lonetree revisits this drama in the wake of pro-war Senator Joe Lieberman's primary defeat in Connecticut. They sympathetically note that Gutknecht was "still jet-lagged from the five-day trip" at the time he made his comments. They write that "Some of Gutknecht's backers understand his need to distance himself from Bush." And they note that "Gutknecht says he is simply looking for a middle course." Without any rebuttal, they allow Gutknecht to claim that "he is still in sync with the president's basic war strategy, which he defines as pulling out Americans as Iraqi forces take over the security burden."

But what about his July comments? The Strib story strongly implies that the media took him out of context.

"The Washington Post reported that Gutknecht was 'urging that troop withdrawals begin immediately.' USA Today said 'he's calling for a phased U.S. troop withdrawal.'

"Neither assertion was completely accurate, Gutknecht said (the Post later published a correction). But he acknowledges that his initial remarks left room for doubt."

The Strib makes it sound as if Gutknecht wasn't calling for any troop withdrawals. And he most certainly wasn't calling for an immediate withdrawal--the Post even corrected itself on that score.

But when you actually read the Post's correction--something nobody at the Strib seems to have done--there's still plenty of "room for doubt" about Gutknecht's position on the war.

This is the entire correction that appeared in the August 11 Washington Post: "An Aug. 1 article incorrectly described Rep. Gil Gutknecht's position on the Iraq war. The Minnesota Republican did not call for U.S. troops to pull out. He supports turning over more power to Iraqi troops, which would include bringing some U.S. forces home immediately."

I guess the ultra-fine distinction being made is that Gutknecht doesn't support troop withdrawals unless the Iraqi troops assume the burden. But even the Post's corrected version of Gutknecht's position, obviously derived from consultation with Gutknecht or his campaign, still indicates that Gutknecht favors "bringing some U.S. forces home immediately."

Or does he? Gutknecht told the Strib he favors a "symbolic" reduction of 25,000 troops that would "force the Iraqis to step it up and fill in the breach." But when the Strib asked him what the timetable should be on troop withdrawals, Gutknecht said, "I'm not sure I can answer that."

Okay, so if we've established anything, it's that Gil Gutknecht isn't quite sure what the hell we should do in Iraq. But that's okay because the Strib would have you believe it isn't that much different than what Tim Walz thinks we should do. Specifically, Diaz and Lonetree claim that Gutknecht's "symbolic" reduction "is not unlike Walz's plan to involve a regional Arab security force."

Bullshit. This is what Tim Walz told City Pages back in June: "This idea that when the Iraqis stand up we'll stand down? Their government has no intention of standing up." Walz went on to explore the concept of bringing in a regional security force involving Egyptians and Jordanians--Muslims who are neither Americans nor Iraqi citizens--to help defuse the tensions. That is very, very different than what Gutknecht is sort-of proposing.

But the Strib isn't finished propping up Gutknecht. Remember, the ostensible frame for the story was Lieberman's loss. And the scenario in the Minnesota's First District in an incumbent alternately defending and distancing himself from an unpopular president and an unpopular war while running against a popular school teacher and war veteran who personally trained many of the National Guard troops from the district currently in Iraq. So check out this weasley take on the Gutknecht-Walz horse race: "But few analysts believe Gutknecht is in trouble yet, even if they give Walz high marks as a credible challenger." Diaz and Lonetree quote no fewer than four pundits at various points elsewhere in the piece: Surely they could have included at least one willing to put his or her name behind the sentiment that Gutknecht isn't in electoral jeopardy.