On Fox News Sunday, Mara Liasson asserted that "there are plenty of aspects of the media that have blamed President Bush every step of the way for every misstep," but gave no examples to support her claim. She then falsely suggested that the press was not to blame for its treatment of Bush on Iraq, since everyone thought Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. But she made no mention of mounting evidence that the Bush administration had reason to know that its claims about Saddam Hussein were false.
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In a discussion of the media's treatment of the Clinton and Bush presidencies, National Public Radio senior political correspondent Mara Liasson asserted, on the September 24 edition of Fox News Sunday, that "there are plenty of aspects of the media that have blamed President Bush every step of the way for every misstep." But she gave no examples of the "plenty of aspects of the media" she claims have blamed Bush "for every misstep." Then, despite conceding that the media "gave" Bush "a pass" in their prewar coverage -- a concession that appears to contradict her unsupported assertion about "plenty" of media -- she excused the media for that "pass," suggesting that everyone -- even Democrats -- thought that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. But in excusing the media, she then demonstrated the kind of "pass" she was excusing: Entirely missing from her assessment was any acknowledgment of the mounting evidence that, as Media Matters for America has noted, Bush administration officials and Bush himself had reason to know that their claims about Saddam's possession of weapons of mass destruction -- as well as their suggestions of links between Saddam and the September 11, 2001, attacks -- were false.
In an October 7, 2002, speech, Bush claimed: "Evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program." On the March 16, 2003, broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press, Vice President Dick Cheney said of Saddam Hussein: "And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons." (Cheney later said he "misspoke" and had intended to say "weapons capability" rather than "weapons.")
Though the administration did not say so, the State Department's own Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) disputed the claim -- advanced by the majority of intelligence agencies in an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) -- that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program.
As Media Matters has noted, Tyler Drumheller -- a 26-year CIA veteran who served as chief of the agency's European operations during the lead-up to the Iraq war -- said on the April 23 broadcast of CBS' 60 Minutes that, by the fall of 2002, the CIA had recruited an Iraqi official in the "inner circle of Saddam Hussein" to provide intelligence on Saddam's weapons programs. Drumheller said that the Bush administration "stopped being interested in the intelligence" when the CIA reported that the Iraqi official -- whom 60 Minutes identified as then-foreign minister Naji Sabri -- revealed that Iraq "had no active weapons of mass destruction program."
As Media Matters and others have noted, then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and then-National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice made false statements at key points that helped advance the Bush administration's campaign to sell the war to the American people and to international allies.
On February 5, 2003, Powell delivered an address to the United Nations Security Council that, given Powell's stature at home and abroad, proved critical to Bush's campaign, but that contained key falsehoods, including that Saddam was developing a nuclear weapons program. In his speech to the U.N., Powell said: "Saddam Hussein is determined to get his hands on a nuclear bomb. He is so determined that he has made repeated covert attempts to acquire high-specification aluminum tubes from 11 different countries, even after inspections resumed." But as Media Matters documented, two separate government inquiries determined that there was little cause to believe the aluminum tubes were intended for use in uranium-enrichment centrifuges.
Further, in The New York Times' investigation of the intelligence regarding Iraq's purchase of aluminum tubes, the paper reported on October 3, 2004, that Rice had misrepresented the state of intelligence on the tubes. Prior to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the White House and parts of the intelligence community had promoted the purchase as crucial evidence that Saddam had restarted his nuclear weapons program:
The tubes were "only really suited for nuclear weapons programs," Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser, explained on CNN on Sept. 8, 2002. "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."
But almost a year before, Ms. Rice's staff had been told that the government's foremost nuclear experts seriously doubted that the tubes were for nuclear weapons, according to four officials at the Central Intelligence Agency and two senior administration officials, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity. The experts, at the Energy Department, believed the tubes were likely intended for small artillery rockets.
Link between Saddam and 9-11
As Media Matters has repeatedly noted (here, here, and here), in the lead-up to the Iraq war, Bush claimed there was a connection between Saddam and the attacks on 9-11, often generally, and specifically, in a letter to Congress at the start of the war. In fact, as Media Matters noted, the Senate Intelligence Committee, on September 8, released a postwar report on Iraq's weapons programs and its purported links to terrorism that thoroughly debunked the claim that there existed a connection between the government of Saddam, Al Qaeda, and 9-11. The report broadly concluded that "Saddam Hussein was distrustful of al-Qa'ida and viewed Islamic extremists as a threat to his regime, refusing all requests from al-Qa'ida to provide material or operational support," and that "[n]o postwar information indicates that Iraq intended to use al-Qa'ida or any other terrorist group to strike the United States homeland before or during Operation Iraqi Freedom." The report further noted that prewar intelligence showed that no connection between Saddam and 9-11 existed. From the report: "Postwar information supports prewar Intelligence Community assessments that there was no credible information that Iraq was complicit in or had foreknowledge of the September 11 attacks or any other al-Qa'ida strikes."
From the September 24 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:
LIASSON: That is the subject of probably the most intensely polarized debate in America right now. Does the media -- was the media as tough on Clinton or as tough on Bush as they were on Clinton? Did the Bush administration get a pass? I mean, that is a huge debate. I don't think you can talk about the media as a whole. I think there are plenty of aspects of the media that have blamed President Bush every step of the way for every misstep, and certainly, the country has come to a kind of consensus about the war in Iraq. It's a kind of a split one, but the war in Iraq is very unpopular. I think the president has, over time, come in for a lot of criticism -- whether, you know -- presidents always feel they're mistreated by the press worse than any other president. So, it's hard to --
JUAN WILLIAMS (NPR senior correspondent and Fox News analyst): But walk-up to this war and the weapons of mass destruction?
LIASSON: On that one, he certainly did.
WILLIAMS: No, come on! The press gave him a pass.
LIASSON: You know what? At that time, Democrats and people all over the world thought that Iraq did have weapons of mass destruction. We learned later that wasn't the case.