This week on CBS’s Face the Nation (11 December 2005), host Bob Schieffer twice used the same phrase to introduce Congressman John Murtha (D-PA). In the show’s opener, he said this:
John Murtha is no knee-jerk antiwar activist. He’s an ex-Marine and twice wounded in Vietnam, so when he said it is time to pull back our forces, people listened.
Then, as the interview was wrapping up, he asked this question:
Congressman, was this hard for you? Because you were a hawk on this whole operation, you’re an ex-Marine, you were twice wounded in Vietnam, you’re not the knee-jerk anti-war activist. Uh, was it hard for you to finally make the decision to say what you said?
What Schieffer is saying is that Murtha’s military service gives him more credibility on the war than others who opposed the war. More importantly, Schieffer’s characterization of anti-war activists as “knee-jerk” ignores the fact that many of those who opposed the war from the beginning (including Murtha and most of the rest of the world) were unconvinced by the administration’s claims that Iraq was an imminent danger, a viewpoint that Face the Nation (among others) has never acknowledged. It wasn’t simply s reflexive (“knee-jerk”) reaction to US military policy for many — if not most — Americans who were against the war.
I wrote to Face the Nation, pointing out that fact. Surprisingly, I received a (short) response from Schieffer:
Oh Please, I meant no disrespect to those who oppose the war. Nor do I believe many would take it that way. Bob Schieffer
But is there any respectful way to use the term “knee-jerk”? Certainly, there are people who are opposed to war in any form on moral grounds — Quakers, for instance — but I’ve never seen “knee-jerk” used in any other than a derogatory way. Would you take it as a sign of respect? Or would you be one of the people Bob Schieffer doesn’t believe in who would find it disrespectful? If you’d like to let him know yourself, write to the Face the Nation comment address. Please, be respectful, but tell him whether you think the characterization is appropriate.
The clip (Quicktime, 4.2MB) contains both usages of “knee-jerk” and — just for giggles— a bit from the same show where Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-MS) was on as the “balance” to Murtha. In his last response, to a question about Sen. Joe Lieberman, Sessions made this startling admission:
I think what Joe Lieberman brought to this discussion was he voted to — as did almost all the Democratic leadership: Daschle and Reid, Hilary Clinton, uh, vice-presidential candidate Edwards, presidential candidate Kerry — all voted for the military action. But Joe Lieberman has consistently tried to make it a success. He’s tried to support the President — who was elected this time — to make sure that we could be successful and I think that’s been the differences in his commentary and some of the political comments we’ve been hearing.