Bush acknowledged he lied about Rumsfeld, but media refused to call him on it

››› ››› RYAN CHIACHIERE

Reporting on President Bush's announcement of Donald Rumsfeld's resignation, media outlets, with few exceptions, have avoided characterizing Bush's assertion the previous week that he wanted Rumsfeld to stay on as a "lie" or intentional misrepresentation -- this, despite Bush's own admission of a deliberate deception. Some outlets even failed to acknowledge Bush's previous statement that Rumsfeld would stay on as defense secretary until the end of his presidency.

During his November 8 press conference, President Bush announced Donald H. Rumsfeld's resignation as defense secretary and nominated former CIA director Robert Gates to take his place, even though days before the November 7 elections, Bush had said he wanted Rumsfeld to stay on through the end of his presidency. Bush explained that the reason for announcing Rumsfeld's resignation after the elections was due to the fact that he "didn't want to inject a major decision about this war in the final days of a campaign"; however, media outlets, with few exceptions, have avoided characterizing what Bush did as a "lie" or intentional misrepresentation -- this, despite Bush's own admission of a deliberate deception. Some outlets even failed to acknowledge Bush's November 1 statement that Rumsfeld would stay.

According to the Associated Press, Bush said on November 1 that Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney "are doing fantastic jobs and I strongly support them." The AP also reported that Bush "replied in the affirmative when asked if he wanted Rumsfeld and Cheney to stay with him until the end."

Media soft-peddled Bush's lie

  • Bush "fudged"

On the November 8 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, CNN chief national correspondent John King concluded in a report that Bush "fudged," even though King had earlier acknowledged that Bush admitted he previously claimed Rumsfeld would remain in the administration because he "didn't want the news to come out before the election ... so, essentially, he didn't tell the whole truth." Prior to concluding that Bush "fudged," King stated: "Did he lie to the wire service reporters? Did he just withhold information? You know, we can have a semantics debate to the end."

  • "Maybe he was deceitful, maybe not"

On the November 8 edition of MSNBC's Tucker, host Tucker Carlson told Republican strategist Ed Rogers that Bush "knew that that was a lie" when he said Rumsfeld would stay on; later, when Rogers accused Carlson of "wanting to suggest that [Bush] was deceitful," Carlson backed off, saying, "[m]aybe he was deceitful, maybe not." Carlson then stated that "[m]aybe, [Bush] didn't know when he said that that he was going to sack Donald Rumsfeld," even though Bush himself acknowledged otherwise during the November 8 press conference. Noting that acknowledgement yesterday, Media Matters for America asked whether the media would note that Bush has been caught in an apparent lie about a Cabinet switch before.

  • Bush "reversed course"

In a report on the November 8 edition of the CBS Evening News, CBS News chief White House correspondent Jim Axelrod said only that "[t]he move comes after recent guarantees Rumsfeld was welcome until the end of Mr. Bush's term" and that "Mr. Bush completely reversed course."

  • Bush "misled"

On the November 8 edition of ABC's World News, ABC News chief White House correspondent Martha Raddatz noted that "[j]ust one week ago, Mr. Bush said he expected Rumsfeld to remain as secretary to the end of his presidency," adding that "[t]oday, the president acknowledged that he had misled the press."

Similarly on NBC's Today, NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory stated that the president "did admit he misled reporters last week when he said during a round of interviews he wanted Rumsfeld to remain with him until the end of his presidency." Additionally, The Washington Post reported that "Bush was already thinking about sacking Rumsfeld when he met with news service reporters on Nov. 1, but, by his own account, he decided to mislead them to preserve the secret," adding that "[t]he president answered yes" when a "reporter asked Bush if he wanted Cheney and Rumsfeld to remain through the end of his term."

Media altogether ignored Bush's lie

On the November 9 edition of NBC's Today, co-host Matt Lauer conducted an interview with White House senior adviser Dan Bartlett regarding Rumsfeld's resignation. Lauer asked Bartlett if there were Republican members of Congress who were "more than a bit mad" that Bush "didn't make this move a week ago, a month ago, or three months ago." However, Lauer did not mention Bush's November 1 statement that he wanted Rumsfeld to stay on, even when Bartlett stated that it was "too important of a decision -- who is going to be the leader of the military during a time of war -- to inject into the final weeks or days of a campaign."

A November 9 USA Today article on Rumsfeld's resignation similarly failed to note Bush's November 1 statement in any way, reporting only that the resignation came after "[a]n editorial in the Army Times, Navy Times, Air Force Times and Marine Corps Times (publications owned by Gannett, which also owns USA Today) last week called for his resignation," and "a spike in sectarian violence during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan helped push the death toll for U.S. troops to 105 in October, the fourth-deadliest month since the invasion in March 2003."

In a report on the November 8 edition of Fox News' The Big Story, Fox News chief White House correspondent Brett Baier also failed to note Bush's reversal on whether Rumsfeld would continue as defense secretary, despite noting that the president "said that he had made the decision before going into the election" and that Bush and Rumsfeld had been discussing it "over the past few weeks."

Others simply called it a lie

By contrast, on the November 8 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, host Lou Dobbs noted that Bush's reversal on Rumsfeld "could also be framed as a straight-out lie," adding that "[y]ou have to give him credit for being candid about the fact that he lied, but he straightforwardly lied." Dobbs was responding to Republican strategist Ed Rollins's assertion that Bush's November 1 statement -- that "he was keeping Rumsfeld 'till the end" -- was "not an honest statement" and that Bush had "basically misle[d] the press."

Similarly, on the November 8 edition of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360, host Anderson Cooper asked, "[W]hy would the president either say that last week about Donald Rumsfeld, when, apparently, he now admitted today, he knew all along that wasn't the case?" He added that Bush "basically said today that he was lying." During the same segment, King, who had previously said that Bush "fudged," stated that his November 1 statement "wasn't the truth."

From the November 8 edition of The Situation Room:

KING: He did know it was true and that's one of those moments, I guess, when you don't want to be president and welcome to the presidency. He said that he didn't want to leak the news -- didn't want the news to come out before the election because it would be viewed in a political context so, essentially, he didn't tell the whole truth. Did he lie to the wire service reporters? Did he just withhold information? You know, we can have a semantics debate to the end, but the president conceded the facts. He was not ready to make the announcement; he thought if he gave them any hints or clues it would throw a whole new, dicey bombshell into the political climate before the election so, he fudged.

BLITZER: He fudged indeed, and he had to acknowledge that today.

From the November 8 edition of MSNBC's Tucker:

CARLSON: So, here you have -- this is odd, actually. You have the president just the other day saying he hoped Donald Rumsfeld would stay on 'til the end of his term; then you had him today at his press conference at 1 concede that he knew that that was a lie. When he said it, he was just trying to keep the question of Rumsfeld's tenure from becoming a political issue. I'm not sure what to believe. What's the truth?

[...]

CARLSON: He did more than keep his powder dry. He could have been cagey and said, "You know, I think Donald Rumsfeld's a great guy, and he's done a great job for the last six years." He didn't say that. He said, "This guy is going to be here until the bitter end."

ROGERS: Well, you're wanting to suggest that he was deceitful and --

CARLSON: No, no. I'm actually not. Wait.

ROGERS: -- I don't think that was the case at all.

CARLSON: I'm not wanting to suggest that. Maybe he was deceitful, maybe not. Maybe he didn't know when he said that that he was going to sack Donald Rumsfeld.

ROGERS: Well, even so, OK -- but the point is moot. Rumsfeld's gone, Gates is coming in.

From the November 8 edition of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric:

AXELROD: The move comes after recent guarantees Rumsfeld was welcome until the end of Mr. Bush's term.

BUSH: He is a smart, tough, capable administrator.

AXELROD: But today, Mr. Bush completely reversed course, insisting he needed fresh eyes on Iraq, and that Rumsfeld agreed.

From the November 8 edition of ABC's World News with Charles Gibson:

RADDATZ: Just one week ago, Mr. Bush said he expected Rumsfeld to remain as secretary to the end of his presidency, adding that Rumsfeld was doing a "fantastic job." Today, the president acknowledged that he had misled the press.

From the November 9 edition of NBC's Today:

GREGORY: Officials admit the internal White House debate about firing Rumsfeld dates back more than a year, but aides deny that Vice President Cheney opposed the move. The president did admit he misled reporters last week when he said during a round of interviews he wanted Rumsfeld to remain with him until the end of his presidency.

From the November 9 edition of Today:

LAUER: Do you think, Dan, there might be more than a few Republicans out there right now -- especially those who lost their seats in Congress on Tuesday -- who may be more than a bit mad that the president didn't make this move a week ago, a month ago, or three months ago?

BARTLETT: Well, Matt, as President Bush said yesterday, this is too important of a decision -- who is going to be the leader of the military during a time of war -- to inject into the final weeks or days of a campaign.

From the November 8 edition of Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson:

GIBSON: Bret, it's hard to know what's the bigger news: the president reacting to the Democrats or Rumsfeld saying goodbye. You want to start with Rummy?

BAIER: I think so, John. I mean, that was the big bombshell today, announced by President Bush at the news conference today, that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was, in fact, resigning.

Next month, Rumsfeld becomes the longest-serving defense secretary ever. He will still be that. But the president announcing also today, as you mentioned, a replacement, a nominee, Robert Gates, a former CIA director, who also served under the first President Bush, to be Rumsfeld's replacement.

Late this afternoon, the president, flanked by Gates and Secretary Rumsfeld, praised the defense secretary for his work, saying Donald Rumsfeld has made America safer and more secure.

GIBSON: Bret, the -- explain the timeline, if you will. This was not a decision that was arrived at just this morning, was it?

BAIER: No. They -- the president said that, over the past few weeks, he had been having conversations with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, and that Rumsfeld had believed that there was a need for fresh eyes on this.

The president said that he had made the decision before going into the election, said that he met with Robert Gates in Texas on Sunday, and then finally met -- a final decision yesterday with Secretary Rumsfeld, here in Washington.

GIBSON: Bret, so what does change at the Pentagon and what does change in the war with the change of leadership?

BAIER: Well, it's interesting. Robert Gates is also a member of the Iraq Study Group -- that is, of course, the bipartisan commission headed up by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton.

That is the group that is getting ready to put forward its recommendations on Iraq policy -- possibly a change in policy -- so, definitely, Mr. Gates is going to have an inside track into what that group has and possibly could bring that to the Pentagon.

GIBSON: Bret Baier. Bret Baier at the White House.

From the November 8 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight:

ROLLINS: To wait 'till today to do this, and to basically mislead the press last week on doing this, convinced a lot of voters that he was trying to sell the war, and he couldn't sell the war and nothing was going to be any different, and he forced a lot of Republicans to run under that banner and that was a destructive banner.

DOBBS: When you say, "basically mislead the press last week" --

ROLLINS: Told them he was keeping Rumsfeld till the end and that's -- that's not an honest statement.

DOBBS: It's not, and I think that, maybe, it could also be framed as a straight-out lie. You have to give him credit for being candid about the fact that he lied, but he straightforwardly lied.

From the November 8 edition of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360:

KING: That is the great irony. And I can tell you, to a person, those moderate Republicans were pretty furious last week, when the president was out so actively campaigning, saying things like, "Dick Cheney will stay," and, especially, "Donald Rumsfeld would stay." Turns out that wasn't the truth.

Those moderate Republicans were furious when he said it at the time. You can bet they're scratching their heads today, saying, "Hello?"

DAVID GERGEN (former presidential adviser): Whoa.

COOPER: Well, that's the thing. Why would -- why would the president either say that last week about Donald Rumsfeld, when, apparently, he now admitted today, he knew all along that wasn't the case? I mean, he basically said today that he was lying.

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