LA Times, Wash. Post suggested Bush discussed Iraq policy with former officials for one hour; NY Times reported actual discussion lasted "5 to 10 minutes"

››› ››› ROB MORLINO

The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post reported that President Bush's meeting with a bipartisan group of former secretaries of state and defense to discuss Iraq war policy lasted one hour. By contrast, The New York Times reported that the actual discussion lasted only 5 to 10 minutes, and the rest of the time was devoted to an "upbeat" briefing on the war.

Two major newspapers -- the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post -- reported on January 6 that President Bush met the previous day with a bipartisan group of 13 former secretaries of state and defense to discuss Iraq war policy at the White House for one hour. But neither newspaper's coverage of the meeting noted, as the The New York Times did, that most of the time was devoted to a briefing on the war -- described by The New York Times as "upbeat" -- by Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the senior U.S. commander in Iraq, and U.S. ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, with only 5 to 10 minutes of actual discussion among Bush and his guests.

The Los Angeles Times article by staff writer James Gerstenzang described the meeting as having "lasted about an hour" and quoted Bush as saying that it had given him "a chance to listen to [the former secretaries'] concerns, their suggestions about the way forward." But the paper did not note the length of the briefing by Casey and Khalilzad, leaving readers with the false impression that Bush devoted the full hour to discussion.

An article in The Washington Post by staff writer Jim VandeHei also described the meeting as lasting an hour but did not indicate how much time Bush apparently allowed for discussion. VandeHei wrote that White House officials "believed they accomplished their twin goals of portraying a more solicitous president and underscoring the broad bipartisan agreement that a speedy withdrawal from Iraq would be unwise and potentially devastating to U.S. interests."

In contrast, staff writer David E. Sanger of The New York Times noted that "if it was a bipartisan consultation, as advertised by the White House, it was a brief one," and that Bush "allowed 5 to 10 minutes for interchange with the group." The Times also described the briefing as being "exceedingly upbeat" and lasting approximately 40 minutes.

From the January 6 article in The New York Times:

Colin L. Powell said nothing -- a silence that spoke volumes to many in the White House on Thursday morning.

His predecessor, Madeleine K. Albright, a bit stirred up after hearing an exceedingly upbeat 40-minute briefing to 13 former secretaries of state and defense about how well things are going in Iraq, asked President Bush whether, with the war "taking up all the energy" of his foreign policy team, he had let the nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea spin out of control and allowed Latin America and China policy suffer by neglect.

[...]

But if it was a bipartisan consultation, as advertised by the White House, it was a brief one. Mr. Bush allowed 5 to 10 minutes for interchange with the group -- which included three veterans of the Vietnam era: Robert S. McNamara, Melvin R. Laird and James R. Schlesinger -- before herding the whole group into the Oval Office for what he called a "family picture."

Those who wanted to impart more wisdom to the current occupants of the White House were sent back across the hall to meet again with Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, and Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But as several of the participants noted, by that time Mr. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had gone on to other meetings.

[...]

The session Thursday morning began with briefings from Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the senior American commander in Iraq and, by secure video connection from Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador there.

"The message was, briefly stated, that the political process is working," said William J. Perry, who served as defense secretary under President Clinton.

[...]

In the few minutes that he engaged with his guests, Mr. Bush seemed to call on the oldest officials present: Mr. McNamara, whose own second-guessing about his decisions on Vietnam have now become legendary; Mr. Laird; and George P. Shultz, secretary of state to President Reagan and still an important behind-the-scenes adviser to some officials in the Bush administration. (Henry Kissinger, whom Mr. Bush also consults periodically, had to cancel at the last minute; Warren M. Christopher and Caspar W. Weinberger could not make it.)

From the January 6 Los Angeles Times article:

Bush and a number of the participants said some of them disagreed about whether he was right to invade Iraq but agreed that, with American forces deployed throughout the country, the United States had to be certain of success.

The president said the meeting, which had been scheduled for 45 minutes but lasted about an hour, had given him "a chance to listen to their concerns, their suggestions about the way forward."

"Not everybody around this table agrees with my decision to go into Iraq. I fully understand that," Bush told reporters during a photo session at the end of the meeting. "But these are good, solid Americans who understand that we've got to succeed now that we're there.

"We take to heart the advice," he said.

From the January 6 article in The Washington Post:

The session in the Roosevelt Room came complete with a photo opportunity and presidential statement after Bush spent an hour with such prominent foreign policy voices as Robert S. McNamara, a Democratic secretary of defense during the Vietnam era 40 years ago, and James A. Baker III, the secretary of state for Bush's father during the Persian Gulf War of the early 1990s.

While the president was challenged once or twice in the meeting, according to participants, White House aides believed they accomplished their twin goals of portraying a more solicitous president and underscoring the broad bipartisan agreement that a speedy withdrawal from Iraq would be unwise and potentially devastating to U.S. interests.

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