White House: Americans aren't getting 'full story' on Iraq
Administration criticizes national news outlets
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Top Bush administration officials and Republicans in Congress stepped up complaints about news coverage of the war in Iraq Tuesday, with Commerce Secretary Don Evans saying he feels "very safe" in Baghdad.
"Having watched the news back home for the past number of months, I must tell you that I came over here expecting to see a sense of despair and, quite frankly, a somewhat frightening area, and it's anything but that," Evans told CNN.
The Bush administration says national news outlets have ignored good news in Iraq in favor of stories on the ongoing violence there. As part of an effort to shore up public support for the war, it has launched an effort to bypass those outlets by focusing on local and regional media.
"The American people are not getting the full story about the progress we are making in Iraq," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Tuesday.
U.S. officials say the U.S.-led administration in Iraq has restored electric power service to pre-war levels and beyond, reopened hundreds of schools and hospitals and established democratic local governments in cities across Iraq.
Monday, in an interview with Hearst-Argyle television stations, President Bush said, "There's a sense that people in America aren't getting the truth. ...
"We're making great progress about improving the lives of the people there in Iraq," he said. "It's very important for the American people to know that a peaceful Iraq, a free Iraq, is in our national interests. It'll make America more secure, and it'll change the neighborhood."
At the same time, however, guerrilla attacks have killed six U.S. soldiers in the past week, and two car bombs have exploded in Baghdad on the past three days. Sunday's car bomb killed at least eight Iraqis, including the bomber, near a hotel housing members of the U.S.-led administration and the Iraqi Governing Council.
Democratic presidential candidates vying for a chance to challenge Bush in 2004 have accused the Bush administration of bungling the occupation and reconstruction process, and the White House has been fending off reports of disputes among top officials.
"The Bush administration, for reasons that I don't understand, was not ready with a plan to secure Iraq and to begin quickly to turn it over to the Iraqis, and bring other countries in to share with us both the dangers of keeping the peace, so our soldiers wouldn't be the only ones being shot at, and the cost of rebuilding Iraq, so our taxpayers wouldn't be the only ones paying the bill," Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Connecticut, told Fox News.
Lieberman has been a staunch supporter of the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
And Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, another White House hopeful, announced Tuesday that he would vote against an $87 billion spending bill for Iraq and Afghanistan, saying he does not agree with the administration's approach to Iraq. Edwards had voted for the congressional resolution last fall authorizing the use of force against Iraq.
Meanwhile, Evans, in Baghdad to help launch a new Iraqi currency, dismissed Sunday's bombing as an isolated act of terrorism amid a season of renewal. he said businesses are reopening in Baghdad and Iraqis are "uplifted with the spirit of freedom."
"I'm not scared here," Evans said. "I feel very safe here, quite frankly. And I'll tell you what else -- the people of Iraq are not scared."
Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyoming, said the Bush administration has a plan to restore an Iraqi government within a year, "and that plan's being implemented." Thomas, who recently returned from a visit to Iraq, said he was "amazed" at the progress he saw during a recent visit to Iraq.
"You drive downtown in Baghdad, with the exception of those few isolated buildings that were selectively bombed, you would hardly know that anything has happened," he said. "The streets are full of people, the cars are going everywhere."
But Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle said the administration has refused to support a similar trip by congressional Democrats before lawmakers' August recess.
"If they're going to make these characterizations, it would be nice if we could analyze those circumstances in a bipartisan way," said Daschle, D-South Dakota.
"We were told that an airplane was not available, but Britain offered us an airplane," he added. "If Britain can offer United States senators an airplane, you would think the United States government could do so as well."