On September 29, FOX News Channel hosts Brit Hume and Fred Barnes returned to a distortion they debuted on August 4: that in the run-up to war, President George W. Bush never said that Iraq posed an "imminent threat" to the United States. This time, though, Hume and Barnes went a step further, claiming President Bush actually "said that there was not an imminent threat."
In fact, as Media Matters for America has chronicled, while Bush never uttered the phrase "imminent threat," Bush did call Iraq an "urgent threat"; Vice President Dick Cheney called Iraq a "mortal threat"; and other senior White House officials assented (on October 16, 2002 and January 26, 2003) when reporters applied the "imminent threat" characterization.
Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard and a co-host of FOX News Channel's Beltway Boys, was defending Bush against criticism from Senator John Kerry, who, as a guest on ABC's Good Morning America that day, said that if he had been president, he "would not have gone to war knowing that there was no imminent threat"; Kerry also charged that Bush "misled the American people." Hume, FOX News Channel's managing editor and chief Washington correspondent, agreed that Bush told the public the threat Iraq was not imminent.
From the September 29 edition of FOX News Channel's Special Report with Brit Hume:
BARNES: What's interesting to me is that these three things he [Kerry] said -- knowing now that there were no weapons of mass destruction, no imminent threat -- well, of course, Bush had said that there was not an imminent threat --
HUME: -- and if there is an imminent threat, it's too late.
An MMFA search uncovered no instances of Bush explicitly saying that the Iraqi threat was "not imminent." Barnes and Hume seemed to be echoing the claims of White House press secretary Scott McClellan, who insisted on January 27 that Bush and other administration officials had rejected the term "imminent" because they believed the threat was still "gathering":
QUESTION: Does the President now believe that, in fact, while the threat was gathering, while the threat may have been grave, that, in fact, it was not imminent?
McCLELLAN: I think we've said all along that it was a grave and gathering threat. And that in a post-September 11th world, you must confront gathering threats before it's too late.
I think some in the media have chosen to use the word "imminent."
Those were not words we used. We used "grave and gathering threat." We made it very clear that it was a gathering threat, that it's important to confront gathering threats in this post-September 11th world.
This denial came in the wake of comments by former chief weapons inspector David Kay indicating that Iraq had likely destroyed its stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in the mid-1990s.
Nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh made the same misleading claim on his September 29 show as Barnes and Hume: "Bush never said the words 'imminent threat.' That's another myth that gets perpetuated by Kerry and picked up by the mainstream press. Bush never said there was an imminent threat. He wanted to go. It was a mounting threat. He wanted to get in there before it became an imminent threat. ... Now, Bush has never -- Bush hasn't used the word 'imminent' ever, and neither has Cheney."