An article in the Aug. 27 editions of The Sun about war protester Cindy Sheehan quoted Fox News' Bill O'Reilly as calling Sheehan's actions "treasonous." O'Reilly said that he was summarizing the views of families who have lost sons or daughters in Iraq but nonetheless support President Bush's policies.
In her effort to elicit an explanation from President Bush as to his reasons for continuing to wage war in Iraq, Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a fallen soldier, has ruffled feathers far and wide, riling the president's supporters unlike anyone since Michael Moore's polemics in Fahrenheit 9/11.
Yesterday, Sheehan - who has returned to her protest post near Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, after tending to a family emergency - launched a national commercial on CNN and Fox News in which she asks the president, "How many more soldiers have to die before we say enough?"
"You were wrong about the weapons of mass destruction," Sheehan says in the ad. "You were wrong about the link between Iraq and al-Qaida. You lied to us and because of your lies, my son died."
The ad had already been running on local stations in the Crawford and Waco markets. It also ran in Salt Lake City and Boise, Idaho, during visits by Bush this week to both areas. But several stations refused to run the ad, in at least one case because there was "no proof" that weapons of mass destruction had not been found in Iraq, a representative of the station said.
"In the spot, Ms. Sheehan accuses the president of the United States of being a liar," said Paul Anovick, vice president of sales at Fisher Broadcasting Inc., which owns KBCI, the CBS affiliate in Boise. "She claims the president lied about, among other things, the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. There is no proof that we are aware of regarding the truthfulness of her claim. We require proof of claims such as this. Until that is provided, our station will not carry this ad."
A spokesman for KTRV, the Fox affiliate in Boise, said the station would not accept Sheehan's spot "because inventory is sold out."
Last week, KTVX in Salt Lake City banned the commercial because, general manager David D'Antuono said, "it could very well be offensive to our community in Utah."
Sheehan had based her claims against the administration on assertions by Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and other top officials that it was imperative to invade Iraq in order to stop Saddam Hussein from deploying weapons of mass destruction, which they insisted he possessed. Rice went so far as to invoke the specter of "a mushroom cloud" rising over the United States. No such weapons were found, and Hussein's armies offered only token resistance.
Most of the American troop deaths in Iraq have occurred in the insurgency that arose after the invasion, and none involved large-scale weaponry.
Sheehan's 24-year-old son Casey died with six other soldiers in Sadr City on April 4, 2004. The date, as Frank Rich pointed out in a column Sunday in The New York Times, was almost a year after the president had declared the end of "major combat operations" in Iraq.
Rich pointed out that, once Ms. Sheehan could no longer be ignored, "the Swift Boating began," an allusion to the campaign during the latest presidential race to belittle Democratic Sen. John Kerry's service in Vietnam and the wounds he received there. Rich said such campaigns are launched "whenever the White House is confronted by a critic who challenges it on matters of war."
"True to form, the attack on Cindy Sheehan surfaced early on Fox News, where she was immediately labeled a 'crackpot' by Fred Barnes," Rich wrote. "The right-wing blogosphere quickly spread tales of her divorce, her angry Republican in-laws, her supposed political flip-flops, her incendiary sloganeering and her association with known ticket-stub-carrying attendees of Fahrenheit 9/11."
Also on Fox News, Bill O'Reilly called Sheehan's behavior "treasonous" and accused her of changing her opinion on Bush, with whom she met a year ago. At the time, Sheehan said she believed the president was sincere, but later said he had treated their meeting like a party, insisted on calling her "mom" and did not know her son's name. She is demanding another meeting.
Sheehan's stance has been widely covered by media around the world, and her cause has drawn other mothers of dead soldiers to Crawford. One is Celeste Zappala, whose son, Sherwood Baker, a sergeant in the Pennsylvania National Guard, died April 24, 2004, in Baghdad.
In a column in the Aug. 14 Daily News in New York, Zappala recalled that a week after her son arrived in Baghdad, Bush held court at the 60th annual Radio and Television Correspondents' Association dinner in Washington and, as part of the show, pretended to look for weapons of mass destruction under the Oval Office rug.
"I talked to Sherwood shortly after the president's circus show," Zappala wrote. "He wasn't finding anything funny about his mission in Iraq."
From Sheehan's point of view, her TV ad "is just another attempt to reach President Bush."
Even as he disagreed with her call for a troop withdrawal, Bush is on record as expressing sympathy with Sheehan, who began her vigil at the president's ranch Aug. 6. On Wednesday, in a reference to the almost 1,870 Americans who have died during the war, Bush said, "We will honor their sacrifice by completing the mission."
The $67,000 airing of the commercial nationally is being paid for by Gold Star Families for Peace, a coalition of military families who have lost relatives in the war. In addition, Sheehan is blogging on the Web site of columnist Arianna Huffington, who recently described the media coverage about Sheehan as "a strange mix of detachment, condescension, distortion and aggression."
Huffington appeared on CNN's Reliable Sources on Sunday alongside O'Reilly, who said Sheehan was "being used by very far-left elements in this country, elements that not only object to the Iraq war, but object to basically our way of life here."
Terry Michael, writing in Thursday's Washington Times, said the Crawford protest "is the opposite of reasoned debate."
"It's a sideshow of verbal combatants yelling past each other," wrote Michael, founder of the Washington Center for Politics & Journalism. "For average citizens to be presented with meaningful alternatives to the current war policy, we must have legitimate, fully engaged discourse, with intelligent voices coming to competing conclusions."