Three years after former President George W. Bush declared "Mission Accomplished" on an aircraft carrier, MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann proceeded to mock the early propagandistic call by announcing each successive night on his Countdown show that it has been "one thousand and blank" days since the the war in Iraq "ended."
Chances are, three years from now, even if US troops are still caught up in a quagmire in Iraq, Olbermann won't be doing a similar signoff schtick to mock the coverage that ran on NBC and MSNBC Wednesday evening.
At Mediaite, Steve Krakauer notes, "ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s no question NBC News had an impressive, gripping scoop last night: the last U.S. combat troops are leaving Iraq. NBC NewsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Richard Engel was embedded, MSNBCÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Rachel Maddow was in Baghdad, the all-star line-up anchored Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and the other networks played major catch up."
But this fantastic coverage also showed a cooperation at least on some level between NBC and MSNBC and elements in the Obama administration.
There is already a debate going on about what exactly we witnessed tonight on what amounted to mostly NBC and MSNBC. The withdrawal was significant, but symbolic as well. But there are disputes about how many troops or left and what they will be called. There are disputes about whether this day is even the Ã¢â‚¬Ëœbig dayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ or if that comes at the end of August. Even MSNBC shifted from calling the images the final Ã¢â‚¬Å“combat troopsÃ¢â‚¬Â and instead started using Ã¢â‚¬Å“combat brigade.Ã¢â‚¬Â Perhaps more interestingly, the White House is essentially disputing some of how NBC has characterized whatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s happening.
But some elements within the military, so by extension the Obama administration, clearly worked with NBC (and MSNBC) to let them have this exclusive. Richard Engel broke the news at 6:30pmET on NBC Nightly News, and the line-up was set from that point on for MSNBC to provide blanket coverage. While other networks like Fox News, which had reports on Iraq from Dominic Di-Natale throughout the day, didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t ignore the story, they were clearly caught off guard by what MSNBC had coming (there was no mention in the east coast broadcasts of ABC or CBSÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ evening news programs). CNN quickly scrapped whatever plans there were for Rick SanchezÃ¢â‚¬Ëœ 8pmET show and went wall-to-wall, but by the time Larry King was on, that coverage subsided.
At The New York Times Media Decoder blog, Brian Stelter reported, "The combat mission in Iraq doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t officially end until Aug. 31 but viewers and readers could be forgiven for thinking it ended tonight."
In a broadcast that Brian Williams said constituted an Ã¢â‚¬Å“official Pentagon announcement,Ã¢â‚¬Â NBC showed live pictures Wednesday night as members of the last combat brigade in Iraq drove toward the Kuwait border, symbolizing an end to fighting in the country.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We are with the last combat troopsÃ¢â‚¬Â in Iraq, the NBC correspondent Richard Engel said at 6:30 p.m. Eastern, the same time that the military lifted an embargo that had been placed on the reporters traveling with the 440 troops, a part of the 4/2 Stryker Brigade.
The Associated Press, Fox News, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, Al Jazeera and other news media outlets also reported Wednesday evening that the last combat troops were crossing into Kuwait. Only NBC broadcast it live, in asymmetrical image to the invasion that captured the nationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s attention on television seven years ago.
Stelter adds, "Asked how the NBC broadcast constituted 'an official Pentagon announcement,' Steve Capus, the president of NBC News, said the broadcast was such a declaration because 'the announcement that the last Stryker brigade was leaving Iraq had not been made' by the military."
David Verdi, an NBC News vice president, added, "The military had said, 'You are the ones who are going to broadcast it first.'"
From Huffington Post's report, which included a highlight from Engel's report:
"Richard, I understand your reporting of this at this hour tonight constitutes the official Pentagon announcement," anchor Brian Williams said on "NBC Nightly News."
"Yes, it is," Engel responded. "Right now we are with the last American combat troops who--and they are in the process of leaving this country right now. We are with the 4-2 Stryker Brigade. I'm broadcasting right now live from the top of a Stryker fighting vehicle. There are 440 American troops in this convoy...as soon as they cross the border into Kuwait. And it is not far to the border, just about 30 miles from here. As soon as all these soldiers leave Iraq, Operation Iraqi Freedom, the combat mission in Iraq, will be over."
Sounding almost like a weatherman bragging about a new chopper, Media Bistro adds that MSNBC host Rachel Maddow said at the top of the 9pm ET hour, "The reason no one else in all of TV and all the world is able to bring you the image that we've been able to broadcast ... and no one else can show you footage like this is because NBC has technology to do this like no one else has."
At The Upshot blog, Michael Calderone reports,
NBC wasn't the only news organization along for the convoy rideÃ¢â‚¬â€the Associated Press, Washington Post and Fox News were a few of the outlets with reporters embedded. But those outlets didn't have the technology available that allowed for NBC's live shots with Engel. An NBC spokeswoman told The Upshot that the network's producers "knew we' d be the only broadcast outlet to broadcast live" because of the capabilities of the Bloommobile.
So how did NBC News get such incredible access and network bragging rights? Well, they asked.
Douglas Wilson, the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, told The Upshot that "there was nothing pro-active on our part" and that Engel simply "requested that he and the Bloommobile ride in one of the last convoys."
"There was absolutely no favoritism," Wilson continued. "Actually, we didn't know this was something exclusive. This was a normal press request and we supported it."
Coverage by most media outlets on the "last combat brigade" leaving Iraq paint an almost rosy picture with their headlines, which suggest that not only will the close to 60,000 troops left behind not be fighting anyone, but that there is no chance of any future surge.
"As the United States military prepares to leave Iraq by the end of 2011, the Obama administration is planning a remarkable civilian effort, buttressed by a small army of contractors, to fill the void," the New York Times reports.
To protect the civilians in a country that is still home to insurgents with Al Qaeda and Iranian-backed militias, the State Department is planning to more than double its private security guards, up to as many as 7,000, according to administration officials who disclosed new details of the plan. Defending five fortified compounds across the country, the security contractors would operate radars to warn of enemy rocket attacks, search for roadside bombs, fly reconnaissance drones and even staff quick reaction forces to aid civilians in distress, the officials said.
But the tiny military presence under the Obama administrationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s plan Ã¢â‚¬â€ limited to several dozen to several hundred officers in an embassy office who would help the Iraqis purchase and field new American military equipment Ã¢â‚¬â€ and the civiliansÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ growing portfolio have led some veteran Iraq hands to suggest that thousands of additional troops will be needed after 2011.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We need strategic patience here,Ã¢â‚¬Â Ryan C. Crocker, who served as ambassador in Iraq from 2007 until early 2009, said in an interview. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Our timetables are getting out ahead of Iraqi reality. We do have an Iraqi partner in this. We certainly are not the ones making unilateral decisions anymore. But if they come to us later on this year requesting that we jointly relook at the post-2011 period, it is going to be in our strategic interest to be responsive.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Perhaps Republican Congressman Darrell Issa needs to update his Public Relations and Propaganda Initiatives report on the Obama administration for the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.