Newsweek article on Bush marked by "spinonymous" sourcing, soft-pedaling of Bush's admitted falsehood
Research ››› ››› SIMON MALOY
A February 12 Newsweek article by senior White House correspondent Richard Wolffe, White House correspondent Holly Bailey, and assistant managing editor Evan Thomas on President Bush's purported tendency to compare himself to Harry Truman granted anonymity to several Bush aides who praised the president, in seeming violation of the magazine's guidelines that state "the burden of proof should lie with the reporters and their editors to show why a promise of anonymity serves the reader."
In addition, Wolffe, Bailey, and Thomas wrote that after the election, Bush "virtually admitted that he held back" information regarding former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's resignation until after the election. In fact, Bush flatly stated that he deliberately deceived the press and the public about Rumsfeld for political reasons.
Wolffe, Bailey, and Thomas twice cited anonymous Bush administration officials praising the president:
Bush's grasp of history may have been a little shaky, but there is no doubting the force of his conviction. Bush wants his legacy to be the long-term defeat of Islamic extremism. Indeed, senior officials close to Bush who did not wish to be identified discussing private conversations with the president tell NEWSWEEK that Bush's plan after he leaves the White House is to continue to promote the spread of democracy in the Middle East by inviting world leaders to his own policy institute, to be built alongside his presidential library.
Those who see the war as a growing disaster might be surprised by Bush's ability to remain upbeat. When he visits the families of the dead, or sees the casualties come home from the battlefront, doesn't he have crises of confidence? Doesn't he wonder if he's made a terrible mistake that has cost the lives of more than 3,000 Americans and more than 54,000 Iraqis, not to mention the stature and prestige of the United States? Those close to Bush say that such questions misunderstand a fundamental aspect of his character: he doesn't get tangled up thinking about his own mistakes in the raw, recent times of his own making. "He's the least backward-looking person I have ever known in my life," says a senior staffer who didn't want to be named discussing the president's emotional state. Bush laments the casualties, says the aide, but never regrets the decision to go to war.
As Media Matters for America has noted (here, here, and here), Newsweek -- Wolffe and Bailey in particular -- has previously granted anonymity to Republicans and Bush administration officials seeking to praise the president, despite Newsweek's written guidelines. In each instance Media Matters has identified, Newsweek has not explained how allowing Bush aides to anonymously praise their boss "serves the reader."
The article went on to soft-pedal Bush's acknowledgement that he lied about Rumsfeld's resignation:
At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sensed that his long and domineering reign was coming to an end, and offered his resignation. With the mid-term elections less than a month away, Bush could not publicly reveal that Rumsfeld was on the way out. At a post-election press conference, Bush virtually admitted that he had held back because voters would see Rummy's exit as a sign of failure.
In reporting that Bush "could not publicly reveal that Rumsfeld was on the way out," Newsweek glossed over Bush's active promotion of the opposite impression, claiming in the week before the election that he wanted Rumsfeld to remain as Defense secretary until the end of his administration. As Associated Press White House correspondent Terrence Hunt reported, Bush said on November 1 that Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney "are doing fantastic jobs, and I strongly support them." Hunt also reported that Bush "replied in the affirmative when asked if he wanted Rumsfeld and Cheney to stay with him until the end." At the November 8 press conference Newsweek referenced, Bush did not "virtually admit" that he "held back" on Rumsfeld's resignation -- he flatly stated that he gave a false answer to Hunt, who, according to Bush, asked, "[A]re you going to do something about Rumsfeld and the vice president?" Bush explained: "And my answer was, they're going to stay on. And the reason why is I didn't want to inject a major decision about this war in the final days of a campaign. And so the only way to answer that question and to get you on to another question was to give you that answer."
As Media Matters noted at the time, most media outlets refused to characterize Bush's pre-election statements about Rumsfeld as a "lie" or intentional misrepresentation.
Notably, the February 5 edition of ABC's newsletter The Note touted the Newsweek article -- specifically, Newsweek's citation of anonymous administration officials hyping Bush's proposed "policy center."