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Only in Limbaugh land could Martha Raddatz be a lefty

By this point, I thought there was nothing Rush Limbaugh could say that would surprise me, but he did with his comments last week about the four moderators selected for the presidential debates. Jim Lehrer, he declared, is “a far left-wing liberal Democrat.” Candy Crowley is “a far, far left-wing Democrat mama,” Bob Schieffer is “a far, far left-wing liberal Democrat and dinosaur,” and Martha Raddatz is “a far, far left-wing liberal Democrat” and “info-babe.”

Jim Lehrer, of course, is known for his poker-faced blandness, and Bob Schieffer has never rocked a boat in his life. But it was Limbaugh’s description of Martha Raddatz that most threw me (and not for calling her an “info-babe”—we’ve come to expect such casual sexism from him). Since joining ABC in 1999, Raddatz has been a faithful conveyor of official US policy; I can think of few journalists who more exemplify the embedded mindset of so many national security and foreign affairs correspondents, especially those on TV.

Raddatz has been to Iraq more than 20 times, and while she deserves credit for her intrepidity and willingness to venture into the field, it’s usually in the company of American generals, colonels, and captains, and her reports strongly reflect their viewpoints. (For a good example, see this piece from last December, in which Raddatz shares a helicopter ride with a general.) Her book, The Long Road Home: A Story of War and Family, about a US unit badly shot up in Sadr City in April 2004, vividly captures the devastating effect of combat on inexperienced soldiers, but it’s indifferent to the war’s toll on Iraqis, civilians included.

Raddatz is popular with the US military. “She is one of the few journalists who really cares about showing our side of the story,” Brig. General Gary Volesky, who met her in Iraq, told The New York Times for a profile of Raddatz published last year. (In her book, Raddatz describes Volesky as “one of the most highly respected battalion commanders in the US army—smart, even cerebral, but with a true warrior’s sensibilities.”) “She keeps in touch with us on Facebook, she calls us and invites us over for dinner,” Volesky’s wife, LeAnn, said. “She knows both the soldier’s side and the military family’s side.”

Such solicitude for the troops is certainly admirable. The problem is the effect it has on Raddatz’s reporting. As she herself told the Times, “No matter how you feel about this war or how we got into it, you have to care about our servicemen. I can’t pretend to be objective when it comes to service or sacrifice.”

A good example of her lack of objectivity (flagged by FAIR last November) came in May 2011, after NATO airstrikes in Afghanistan killed 14 civilians, including 11 children. Furious, Afghan President Hamid Karzai imposed new restrictions on such strikes. Asked by Diane Sawyer to comment, Raddatz said that “they simply have to carry out airstrikes over there.” Though flaws sometimes occur, she said,

I’ve been on these missions. I’ve been on a combat mission in a fighter jet. I’ve seen all the very, very careful steps they take. They go through what’s called the nine line. In fact, the mission I went on, some French soldiers were calling for them to bomb and the pilot and the weapons officer said, “We can’t bomb, we think there’s a school, we think there might be people in there.” So I think you will see a real fight over these restrictions, but the air strikes and these night raids just simply have to continue if they’re going to go after the enemy.

The reference to “the enemy,” the full-throated defense of these controversial strikes, the faith in the evidence gathered from a carefully controlled mission—all are hallmarks of the embedded correspondent whose perspective largely coincides with that of the US military. (Raddatz declined a request to comment.)

What, then, was the source of Limbaugh’s ire? Going online, I think I found it—a post on the right-wing site Newsbusters that offered a collection of flattering comments Raddatz has made about US officials over the years. In one, she gushed over Hillary Clinton, calling her “cool” and “trending.”

In Limbaugh land, such comments qualify Raddatz as a far-far-lefty. What they really show, though, is a willingness to flatter those in power. And that, no doubt, helps explain why the debate commission chose her.

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Michael Massing is a contributing editor to CJR and the author of Now They Tell Us: The American Press and Iraq.