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On the November 12 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace allowed Dan Bartlett, counselor to the president, to claim that President Bush's admitted pre-election lie about Donald H. Rumsfeld staying on as defense secretary until the end of Bush's term was necessary to avoid injecting the issue into the midterm election. During the same interview, however, Bartlett asserted that firing Rumsfeld before the election would have looked "desperate" and "would have weakened the president and Republican support going down the stretch of this campaign." In other words, Bartlett said both that Bush did not want to politicize Rumsfeld's situation and that Bush made a political decision in not firing Rumsfeld before the election. Wallace did not note the apparent contradiction.
Bartlett asserted that "the president made the decision [to fire Rumsfeld] when he did" because "[t]he American people expect their president to make decisions about war and peace based on the national security interests of our country, not the short-term political interests of any political party." But when Wallace pressed Bartlett as to what he would say to Republicans who believed that "this decision ended up contributing ... to the fact that you lost both the House and the Senate," Bartlett appeared to admit that the decision was, in fact, political, saying that terminating Rumsfeld immediately prior to the election "would have looked desperate."
During the discussion of Rumsfeld's resignation, Wallace also failed to note that Bush admitted he lied to the press prior to the election by answering in the affirmative when asked if Rumsfeld would remain in the administration through the end of Bush's second term. On the November 12 edition of CBS' Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer similarly failed to note the admitted lie while discussing Rumsfeld's resignation with White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten.
As the weblog Think Progress noted, on the November 12 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory acknowledged that Bush "deliberately misled those reporters" but refused to say that Bush's deception would, in host Tim Russert's words, "hurt his credibility with you and the press corps." Gregory stated: "He laid out his case for, for why he did it, and there's no question that would've injected politics. So I think people see it different ways." Media Matters for America has documented the media's inability, by and large, to characterize the president's dramatic reversal on Rumsfeld as a lie.
From the November 12 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:
WALLACE: The former House Speaker Newt Gingrich blistered the president this week for the decision he made to get rid of Don Rumsfeld the day after the election.
Let's take a look at what Gingrich had to say. "If the president had decided to replace Secretary Rumsfeld, he should have told us two weeks ago. I think we would today control the Senate and probably have 10 to 15 more House seats."
I've got to tell you, I talked this week to Republicans who lost around the country, and they're seething about this. They say if -- if the president decided that he needed a fresh look at Iraq, he should have gotten rid of Rumsfeld this summer, not the day after the election -- "We carried a lot of water, we were defending Rumsfeld all fall, and we ended up losing seats."
BARTLETT: Well, I don't necessarily buy the calculation that he was the difference in the election. But more importantly, I think the president in his press conference this past week made very clear why he made the decision and when he made the decision.
And most importantly, it was because he was not going to inject the leadership of our military during a time of war into the final weeks or throes of a presidential or a midterm congressional campaign. It would send the wrong signal.
WALLACE: But it didn't have to be the final weeks. It could have been August.
BARTLETT: Well, that's still very much in the campaign season. The president and Secretary Rumsfeld hadn't came to the mutual understanding that a new leadership was necessary at that time.
The American people expect their president to make decisions about war and peace based on the national security interests of our country, not the short-term political interests of any political party. That's why the president made the decision when he did. It was the right decision.
WALLACE: So what do you say to Republicans and what do you say to Newt Gingrich who say, look, part of the national security of the country -- that was certainly the argument you made -- depended on having a Republican House and a Republican Senate --
WALLACE: -- and this decision ended up contributing -- and I think everybody would agree it contributed -- to the fact that you lost both the House and the Senate.
BARTLETT: Think about the signal it would have sent two weeks before the election if President Bush, desperate to change political polls, would have jettisoned his secretary of defense. It would have looked desperate.
It would have looked like it was made based on political motivations, not on the security interests of our country. And I think that would have weakened the president and Republican support going down the stretch of this campaign.
From the November 12 edition of NBC's Meet the Press:
RUSSERT: An inoperative choice of words, in terms of --
GREGORY: Right, well, he deliberately misled those reporters, and he said he did it because he didn't want to inject politics in the campaign. You have to wonder why -- how he could -- was there a way to, to get around that question in some fashion so he didn't have to give that ammunition to people who thought the policy was a failure. And that's what he did right at the end.
Look, Republicans were worried that the president was talking about the war at all within the last couple weeks of the campaign. He's saying that he was frustrated, that, you know, that we have to adapt. A lot of people thought, A, that that was too late to realize that, and B, he shouldn't have been injecting that in the last couple of weeks.
RUSSERT: Does that hurt his credibility with you and the press corps?
GREGORY: Well, I -- look, you know, you like to get a straight answer out of the president. He laid out his case for, for why he did it, and there's no question that would've injected politics. So I think people see it different ways.