Just one week after two Republican members of Congress repudiated remarks by radio host Rush Limbaugh (Limbaugh compared U.S. guards' abuse of Iraqi prisoners to a college fraternity prank and suggested that the U.S. guards involved were "blow[ing] some steam off"), Mary Matalin -- Bush-Cheney '04 campaign adviser, former assistant to President George W. Bush, and former counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney -- spoke as a guest on the May 21 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show, calling Limbaugh her "hero"; mischaracterizing coverage in The New York Times; and telling Limbaugh that, from his show, "I get all the information I need."
Responding to Matalin's complaint that "all the media's attacking Bush all the time," Limbaugh argued that the negative coverage of the Bush administration has little effect on public opinion because Americans "are now not getting their news from what was conventionally known as the -- as the mainstream media."
Matalin responded by calling Limbaugh her "hero" -- and then misrepresented the The New York Times' coverage of Vice President Cheney:
MATALIN: This is a -- this is another reason you're my hero, of all the reasons. I have to read these papers every day because I have to do the defense to them?
MATALIN: And it's not until I listen to you that I actually can crack a smile for the first time in the day. And the reason that they're -- I know most of the country doesn't read them ["these papers"], but they do drive a lot of the coverage. As a for instance -- not -- not to pick on The New York Times, but they are particularly egregious when it comes to the Bush administration.
There was a -- several running front-page stories, and I still work for Dick Cheney. One of them was Tenet had to tell Cheney -- I think the Vice President was on right after this -- three times to back off on -- whatever. You know, on -- on intelligence. That he was stretching the intelligence, or whatever.
Well, I am apoplectic. Before 8 o'clock in the morning. I'm calling over there and, the Vice President's like, what are you talking about? That never happened. A) it never happened. I said, well, I've got to get this story out.
Then I read the entire testimony. Tenet never said that. The New York Times put a title on a testimony that didn't occur -- an event that never happened -- and something that Tenet didn't say happened. So -- but that -- that drove several stories after that.
In fact, The New York Times' coverage was consistent with the transcript of Central Intelligence Director George J. Tenet's testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 9. The Times published an article on Tenet's testimony on its website on March 9 and an article in the Times' print edition on March 10. (The May 9 and May 10 articles were nearly identical in content, although only the March 10 version featured the headline offensive to Matalin.) The headline was "C.I.A. Chief Says He's Corrected Cheney Privately."
Contrary to Matalin's claim that the Times reported that "Tenet had to tell Cheney ... three times to back off ... on intelligence," the article actually reported: "[Tenet] identified three instances in which he had already corrected a public statement by President Bush or Mr. Cheney or would do so." The Times article went on to review specifics of Tenet's testimony.*
Toward the end of her appearance on the show, Matalin gushed:
MATALIN: [Y]ou inspired me this morning. There's no reason that I have to do that. I'm -- and at least I think I do, but when I listen to you, I get all the information I need, and I -- and I -- it is -- I have a confidence in the President, in the policies, in the goals. I have -- I know his conviction. I know he's right and I know he has the leadership to do it. What I don't have, and what I can only get from you, is the cheerfulness of your confidence --
In addition to reporting Limbaugh's highly controversial statements regarding the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal, Media Matters for America has also documented numerous distortions and misrepresentations by Limbaugh (see reports titled "Limbaugh lied about Republicans undermining the Kosovo war effort," " Limbaugh dismissed questions about Bush's National Guard service," and " Limbaugh wrong on the minimum wage"). On May 26, Media Matters for America posted a letter and petition on its website asking Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to remove The Rush Limbaugh Show from the American Forces Radio and Television Service (formerly known as Armed Forces Radio).
* Following are excerpts from Tenet's testimony, in which he answered questions from Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Carl Levin (D-MI), among others. The excerpts correspond with the "three instances" reported by the Times and confirm the accuracy of the Times' report:
KENNEDY: All right. Did you ever tell [President George W. Bush] that he was overstating the case? You see him every other morning after he makes these statements. Did you ever tell him, "Mr. President, you're overstating the case"? ...
TENET: ... There are instances, obviously, with regard to the State of the Union speech where I felt a responsibility to say something that the president said should not have been in that speech.
LEVIN: Now, the vice president of the United States, during an interview with the Rocky Mountain News on January 9th, when asked about the relationship between al Qaeda and Iraq, said the following: "One place you ought to look is an article that Stephen Hayes did in the Weekly Standard here a few weeks ago." So now he's referring to the article in the Weekly Standard. "It goes through and lays out in some detail, based on an assessment that was done by the Department of Defense and was forwarded to the Senate Intelligence Committee some weeks ago. That's your best source of information."
LEVIN: Okay. Now, but my question is this. Now you've got the vice president of the United States saying that that document that was quoted in the Weekly Standard was the best source of information, and that's the document that contains a whole bunch of conclusions that you disagree with. Have you gone to the vice president of the United States and said, "You know, you said a document was the best source of information, and it's quoted, allegedly, in the Weekly Standard, and, Mr. Vice President, that is not the best source of information according to us." Have you said that to him?
TENET: I haven't, sir. But I learned about his quote last night when I was preparing for this hearing. I was unaware that he had said that. And I will talk to him about it.
LEVIN: You know, I've got to tell you here, we've got now the vice president saying that the vans, the vans -- on NPR he makes the statement that the vans are THE proof, conclusive proof that there was a biological weapons program. You, at some point when you found out about this --
TENET: Yes, sir, I went back and talked to him about it.