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A Civil Action

NBC News has started calling the situation in Iraq a civil war. And the network has stressed that they didn't make the decision to do so lightly. On the "Today Show" this morning, Matt Lauer said this: "As you know, for months now the White House has rejected claims that the situation in Iraq has deteriorated into civil war. And for the most part, news organizations, like NBC, have hesitated to characterize it as such. But, after careful consideration, NBC News has decided the change in terminology is warranted -- that the situation in Iraq, with armed militarized factions fighting for their own political agendas, can now be characterized as civil war."

Over the past week, CBS News has repeatedly used the phrase "civl war" in reference to Iraq – but only when discussing what the situation might eventually become. "…one of the worst weekends of violence in Iraq since the war began, the debate is on: Is this a civil war?" asked Gloria Borger on "Face the Nation" yesterday. Here's Tracy Smith on Saturday's "Early Show": "Also in the Middle East today, Vice President Dick Cheney arrived in Saudi Arabia, where he'll meet with Saudi leaders and with Iraq's prime minister. It's part of the diplomatic push by the Bush administration to prevent full-scale civil war in Iraq." And Elizabeth Palmer, on the Nov. 24 "Early Show": "Calm is holding for now. But once the funerals are over for yesterday's victims, Iraqis fear that reprisal killings could spiral rapidly into all-out civil war." Here she is on that night's "Evening News": "Iraq remains on the brink of civil war."

Appearing on CBS News recently, figures such as Henry Kissinger, John Murtha and Claire McCaskill have all referred to Iraq as a civil war. The Los Angeles Times, as Jim Romenesko notes, is calling it as such. But according to Linda Mason, Senior Vice President, Standards and Special Projects, CBS News does not presently see any reason to refer to the situation as a civil war. She said that any decision to do so would come from the network as a whole, not any individual program.

"We're just covering the war, and I think we're doing a good job," said Mason. "We don't see a need to characterize it one way or another right now." Mason noted that "that could change."

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