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For months, the Bush administration has claimed that Congress saw the "same intelligence" President Bush saw prior to the Iraq war. Bush himself has said it -- 102 times in all, according to The Washington Post's Dana Milbank -- in speeches carried live on cable news networks and quoted extensively in print and broadcast news stories. His surrogates also reflexively repeat the claim every time questions are raised about the administration's handling of prewar intelligence. Their point is clear: critics of the administration's use of intelligence are dishonest since Congress reviewed the same intelligence and authorized the use of force against Iraq.
Of course, it isn't true that, say, for example, some obscure junior member of Congress had the same access to intelligence as the president of the United States. The claim that they did is so obviously, laughably false, it's hard to believe anyone could take it seriously. Yet, the false claim appeared in every major news organization in the country, over and over again. Some reports merely quoted it without rebutting it; interviewers failed to challenge guests who made the false claim; media figures adopted the obviously false spin as fact; and news reports watered down Bush's claim, thus avoiding having to correct it.
Media repetition of the claim without debunking it has been nearly constant. A few of the many examples:
- The Los Angeles Times reported on November 17 that "[i]n two recent speeches, President Bush disputed Democratic charges that the White House had manipulated the available intelligence to build support for invading Iraq. The president said Democrats now leveling accusations had access to the same intelligence he did before they voted to authorize military force in Iraq." Nowhere did the Times even indicate that Democrats disputed the "same intelligence" line -- much less note that it was simply false.
- On Fox News, Charles Krauthammer declared "Everybody looked at the same intelligence and had the same conclusion. I think it is a very strong counterattack and the Democrats are going to have a lot of explaining to do."
- A Washington Times editorial headlined, "A belated response to the Big Lie," approvingly quoted Bush: "Speaking to a gathering of veterans in Tobyhanna, Pa., the president noted that when he decided to oust Saddam, 'more than 100 Democrats in the House and Senate, who had access to the same intelligence, voted to support removing Saddam Hussein from power.' "
- A November 11 New York Times article reported, "The White House's effort to stop the erosion is centered on defining the president's critics as Democrats who voted for the war based on the same intelligence Mr. Bush saw but have switched positions, often under pressure from their party's left wing." Readers were given no clue that this claim was false.
But it isn't just the national media that has passed on the Bush administration's spin. News outlets all across the country have bought the "same intelligence" lie, using it to bludgeon war opponents.
The Augusta Chronicle (Georgia) ran a November 19 editorial headlined, "Administration Hits Back, Finally Democrats' Lie Gets So Big, Republicans No Longer Can Ignore It," that denounced "anti-war zealots" and "opportunistic Democrat partisans," claiming:
Many of the president's harshest partisan critics, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., seem to have forgotten that they not only voted for the war, but also spoke strongly in favor of it.
When reminded of the uncomfortable fact that they based their judgment on the same intelligence the administration used, they complain that dissenting intelligence estimates, particularly pertaining to Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction capability, was withheld from them.
Yet, they can't point to one piece of persuasive evidence to back that claim up.
Herbert Klein, a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and former editor in chief of Copley Newspapers, wrote in a November 25 op-ed in The San Diego Union-Tribune:
Vicious Democratic attacks leveled at the president of the United States hit a new low with the claim that Bush deliberately misinterpreted intelligence reports to provide an excuse to plunge the nation into war with Iraq. If that were the case, then most of the Senate and the leaders of several other powerful nations are guilty because they saw the same intelligence reports, and they supported the war.
Nor is the "same intelligence" claim a recent development, as a July 25, 2003, Washington Post article reveals:
Vice President Cheney launched a White House counterattack yesterday against rising criticism of the administration's handling of Iraq, arguing that failing to confront Saddam Hussein would have been "irresponsible in the extreme" and could have endangered the United States. ... Bush's aides said the speech was also intended as a warning to congressional Democrats, many of whom had access to the same intelligence, that the White House plans to fight back against criticism of its Iraq policy. Aides said Bush plans to follow up on the Cheney speech next month with a major address on the war on terrorism.
After more than two years of mindless media repetition of the obviously nonsensical claim that the commander in chief of the U.S. military has no greater access to intelligence than a back-bench freshman member of Congress, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service has released a report confirming what everyone -- except, of course, the president, Republican spinners, and the media -- knew all along. As The Washington Post reported December 16:
A congressional report made public yesterday concluded that President Bush and his inner circle had access to more intelligence and reviewed more sensitive material than what was shared with Congress when it gave Bush the authority to wage war against Iraq.
In that same article, the Post then tried to explain the report's import:
Democrats said the 14-page report contradicts Bush's contention that lawmakers saw all the evidence before U.S. troops invaded in March 2003, stating that the president and a small number of advisers "have access to a far greater volume of intelligence and to more sensitive intelligence information."
Though it isn't completely clear in the Post's wording, it was the Congressional Research Service, not "Democrats," who stated that the President and his advisors "have access to a far greater volume of intelligence." More importantly, there is absolutely no reason for the Post to suggest that it is merely a Democratic claim that the report "contradicts Bush's contention that lawmakers saw all the evidence." The report empirically does contradict Bush's claims.
This is simply not a matter of dispute: Bush and his aides have repeatedly said Congress had the "same intelligence" Bush had. The report says that is not true. The report may or may not be correct, but it is a fact that the report "contradicts Bush's contention." Yet, even now, even with a Congressional Research Service report as evidence, The Washington Post apparently can't bring itself to directly contradict Bush. Instead, it pretends that something that is incontrovertible fact is merely a Democratic allegation.
Such behavior gives us little hope that the nation's leading news outlets will take the suggestion made by American Prospect reporter Greg Sargent. Sargent posted on the magazine's Web page a memo he suggests the heads of CNN, CBS, ABC, and NBC send to the White House:
On an untold number of occasions during the past two months, we have provided airtime for President Bush, Vice President Cheney and other White House officials, which these officials used to assert repeatedly that Congress had access to the same intelligence that the White House did in evaluating whether to go to war with Iraq. These assertions have come both in speeches aired by our organizations and during on-air interviews with our reporters and anchor people. While there were, previously, reasons to question these assertions, we believe that the CRS report demonstrates beyond any doubt that these assertions are, simply put, false.
We view our role with extraordinary seriousness, as the ability of a free press to hold public officials accountable to the truth is essential to keeping our democracy functioning smoothly. In that spirit, we believe that the willingness of White House officials to repeatedly air on our networks demonstrably false statements undermines the credibility of our organizations and demonstrates contempt for us as professionals, not to mention contempt for the American people who turn to us for news and information.
Thus, we feel we have no choice but to act jointly. Until you can pledge to us that White House officials will refrain from repeating these untruthful assertions in interviews on our programs or in speeches you ask us to air live, we regret that we can no longer extend invitations to White House officials to appear on our shows, and we will show far greater discretion in deciding whether to air presidential and vice-presidential addresses in the future.
Sadly, there is little chance CNN and the networks will take Sargent's suggestion. But perhaps now, at long last, the media will stop reporting this obviously false Bush administration spin without correcting it.
Last week, we noted that Sen. Joe Lieberman's (D-CT) recent comments criticizing fellow Democrats were much more widely covered than Sen. Chuck Hagel's (R-NE) November criticism of President Bush.
This week brings fresh evidence of a double standard in the media's coverage of intra-party squabbles.
On Friday, December 9, the Republican National Committee unveiled an internet ad attacking Democrats. The cable news networks immediately covered the ad: portions of it were shown on CNN's The Situation Room; and Anderson Cooper 360 featured not only a clip of the ad, but another of RNC chairman Ken Mehlman describing it. Lou Dobbs Tonight also reported on it. MSNBC's The Situation with Tucker Carlson aired the ad in its entirety. Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson and Hannity & Colmes each aired portions of the ad, as did Fox News Sunday. Print media covered the ad as well: It was mentioned in The Washington Post, Washington Times, and New York Post, among other outlets.
So when Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said on NBC's Meet the Press that the RNC should pull the ad, surely the national media applied the "Lieberman Standard" and gave his comments wide coverage?
CNN, so eager and breathless in reporting the RNC's attack on Howard Dean and other Democrats, hasn't found time in the five days since Graham's Meet the Press appearance to report on his call to pull the ad. Not a single mention. Remember, when Joe Lieberman criticized his fellow Democrats, CNN all but offered him his own hour-long primetime show. But when Graham criticizes Republicans -- over an ad CNN has covered extensively -- CNN ignores it.
Not just CNN, though. No mention of Graham's comments on MSNBC* or Fox*, either. The Washington Post, which reported on the ad, also ignored Graham's comments.
* Graham's comments were not reported on any MSNBC or Fox programs that are available on the Nexis database. We cannot be certain they were not reported on MSNBC or any Fox programs that are not available on Nexis. They were not, however, reported on The Situation with Tucker Carlson, The Big Story with John Gibson, Hannity & Colmes, or Fox News Sunday, all of which covered the ad itself.
As the Year of Fake News comes to a close, two more conservative columnists have snuck in under the wire to join Armstrong Williams, Maggie Gallagher, Michael McManus, Charles Chieppo, and much of the Iraqi press among the ranks of supposedly independent "news" figures who turned out to be on the take.
Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the conservative/libertarian Cato Institute and a syndicated columnist for Copley News Service, has admitted taking thousands of dollars in payments from Jack Abramoff in exchange for writing about topics Abramoff's clients were interested in. BusinessWeek Online reported that Bandow admitted "that he had accepted money from Abramoff for writing between 12 and 24 articles over a period of years, beginning in the mid '90s."
Bandow explained, "It was a lapse of judgment on my part, and I take full responsibility for it."
It must have been quite a "lapse" to have lasted "a period of years." Suzette Martinez Standring, president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, doesn't buy Bandow's explanation, saying what Bandow did "isn't a lapse in judgment, it's soul-selling."
BusinessWeek Online reported:
Bandow has written more than 150 editorials and columns over the past five years, each identifying his Cato affiliation. His syndicated column for Copley News Service is featured in several hundred newspapers across the country. Bandow's biography on the Cato Institute Web site says he has also appeared as a commentator on all the major television broadcast networks and the cable news channels.
A former Abramoff associate says Bandow and at least one other think-tank expert were typically paid $2,000 per column to address specific topics of interest to Abramoff's clients. Bandow's standing as a columnist and think-tank analyst provided a seemingly independent validation of the arguments the Abramoff team were using to try to sway Congressional action.
Bandow confirms that he received $2,000 for some pieces, but says it was "usually less than that amount." He says he wrote all the pieces himself, though with topics and information provided by Abramoff. He adds that he wouldn't write about subjects that didn't interest him.
Abramoff was indicted in Florida in August on wire-fraud charges in relation to his purchase of a Florida casino-boat company. He faces trial in January in that case.
Separately, a Senate committee and a Justice Dept. task force are investigating allegations that Abramoff defrauded some of his clients -- a handful of American Indian tribes that had gotten wealthy from running casino-gaming operations on their reservations. Abramoff's business partner, Michael Scanlon, pleaded guilty in November to conspiring to corrupt public officials with gifts, including political contributions, and defrauding clients, and is cooperating with the ongoing probe.
Copley News Service has suspended Bandow's column.
But, BusinessWeek Online reports that Bandow wasn't alone:
Bandow isn't the only think-tanker to have received payments from Abramoff for writing articles. Peter Ferrara, a senior policy adviser at the conservative Institute for Policy Innovation, says he, too, took money from Abramoff to write op-ed pieces boosting the lobbyist's clients. "I do that all the time," Ferrara says. "I've done that in the past, and I'll do it in the future."
Ferrara, who has been an influential conservative voice on Social Security reform, among other issues, says he doesn't see a conflict of interest in taking undisclosed money to write op-ed pieces because his columns never violated his ideological principles.
"It's a matter of general support," Ferrara says. "These are my views, and if you want to support them, then that's good."
Ferrara wouldn't say which publications have published pieces for which Abramoff paid him. But a review of his work shows that he wrote articles for The Washington Times that were favorable to the Choctaw Indians and the Mariana Islands. He also wrote a 1998 book called The Choctaw Revolution: Lessons for Federal Indian Policy. Ferrara says the tribe paid him directly for his work on the book, which was published by the Americans for Tax Reform Foundation and is still available for sale on Amazon.com.
Ferrara isn't just another conservative pundit, he is one of the driving forces behind conservative efforts to privatize Social Security, as his IPI biography notes:
He wrote the first book for the Cato Institute providing a comprehensive intellectual foundation for a personal account option for Social Security, Social Security: The Inherent Contradiction (1980), and has continued to write on that concept in further books, studies and articles for Cato, the Heritage Foundation, the National Center for Policy Analysis, the Family Research Council, the U.S Chamber of Commerce, and a wide range of other institutions and publications.
Ferrara is also director of the Free Enterprise Fund's Social Security Project and has served as Director of the Club for Growth's Social Security Project. He is also president of the Virginia chapter of the Club for Growth. He's been affiliated with Americans for Tax Reform, the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the National Center for Policy Analysis, and the American Civil Rights Union, among others. He has testified before the Senate; he has been quoted by ABC, CBS, The New York Times and The Washington Post; and he has been interviewed on MSNBC, Fox News, and CNN.
Just over a week after Media Matters for America delivered nearly 5,000 letters to CNN asking that the cable news giant not renew anchor Robert Novak's contract, CNN announced that it will, indeed, part ways with Novak at the end of the year. Novak has not appeared on CNN since using vulgar language and storming off the set during a live discussion in August.
In his December 14 column, NPR ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin tabulated the number of NPR guests this year from various think-tanks, which he identified as either "liberal" or conservative," finding a total of 239 guests from conservative think tanks and only 141 from liberal think tanks.
Dvorkin's conclusion? "NPR does not lean on the so-called conservative think tanks as many in the audience seem to think."
No, really, that's what he wrote. While showing a 239-141 split in favor of the conservatives, Dvorkin argued that "NPR does not lean on the so-called conservative think tanks."
And, as CJR Daily noted, Dvorkin made highly questionable decisions in labeling think tanks:
Secondly, Dworkin's own definition of the word "liberal" is suspect -- there's a lot of that going around these days -- if he truly considers CSIS and Brookings part of some sort of liberal infrastructure. (Brookings in particular has been known to lean over so far backward to inform rather than to advocate that it sometimes falls on the seat of its centrist pants.)
Indeed, as Media Matters explained:
One could argue whether centrist think tanks such as The Brookings Institution (which has been led in the past by Republicans, though its current president is a Democrat) and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (whose board of directors includes Henry Kissinger) provide "balance" to highly conservative institutions such as the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research and The Heritage Foundation.
Fox's Brian Kilmeade, on musician Sting's fondness for Brazil: "He'd be happy to be down there raising money for those with plates in their lips."
Accuracy in Media's Cliff Kincaid: "Have you noticed that many news organizations, in honor of former ABC News anchorman Peter Jennings, have embarked on a quit smoking campaign? So why don't our media launch a campaign advising people to quit engaging in the dangerous and addictive homosexual lifestyle? Life-threatening sexually transmitted diseases among homosexuals are on the increase. ... It appears that the homosexual lifestyle is as addictive as smoking."
Radio host Neal Boortz: "I believe that the main reason the execution of Tookie Williams won't be executed is because Schwarzenegger knows full well that as soon as Tookie's death is announced there will be riots in South Central Los Angeles and elsewhere. The huge media exploitation of this story has made drop-dead sure of that. There are thugs just waiting for an excuse ... not a reason, an excuse. The rioting, of course, will lead to wide scale looting. There are a lot of aspiring rappers and NBA superstars who could really use a nice flat-screen television right now."