NY Times, MSNBC's Morning Joe ignored evidence undermining former Bush speechwriter's defense of administration's national security policies

››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI, ROB SAVILLO & MORGAN WEILAND

In citing an op-ed by Marc Thiessen, President Bush's former chief speechwriter, in which Thiessen claimed that "the policies and institutions" Bush implemented in the name of national security after 9-11 "are succeeding," The New York Times and the hosts of MSNBC's Morning Joe did not note evidence undermining Thiessen's argument.

On January 22, The New York Times and MSNBC's Morning Joe cited former Bush chief speechwriter Marc A. Thiessen's January 22 Washington Post op-ed, in which Thiessen claimed that "the policies and institutions that George W. Bush put in place to stop" Al Qaeda from attacking the United States again "are succeeding," and that "[i]f [President Barack] Obama weakens any of the defenses Bush put in place and terrorists strike our country again, Americans will hold Obama responsible." But in referring to Thiessen's defense of the Bush administration's policies and his warning to President Obama, neither the Times nor the hosts of Morning Joe noted evidence undermining Thiessen's argument that Bush administration policies and actions "are succeeding" and have played an essential role in protecting the United States from further terrorist plots. To the contrary, Morning Joe co-host Joe Scarborough touted Thiessen's assertions about the importance of these purported "Bush safeguards." Moreover, at no point during the Morning Joe discussion of Thiessen's op-ed was he identified as a senior Bush aide, nor was his affiliation with the Bush administration noted in accompanying on-screen text.

As Media Matters for America has noted, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released on April 17, 2008 -- titled "Combating Terrorism: The United States Lacks Comprehensive Plan to Destroy the Terrorist Threat and Close the Safe Haven in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas" -- found that "[t]he United States has not met its national security goals to destroy terrorist threats and close the safe haven in Pakistan's FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas]." Investigative journalist Ron Suskind has also reported that many CIA analysts believe Al Qaeda leaders have declined to attack the United States for strategic reasons, not because of the Bush administration's counterterrorism policies. And the actual threat posed by several terrorist plots the Bush administration claimed to have thwarted has been disputed, as has the importance of Bush administration policy to the obstruction of terror threats. Moreover, a 2006 National Intelligence Estimate (AIE) reportedly "found that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks."

Yet in a January 22 New York Times article, White House correspondent Peter Baker uncritically reported:

Two of his former top aides, Mr. [Karl] Rove and Marc A. Thiessen, the former chief White House speechwriter, have newspaper columns out Thursday morning implicitly rebutting Mr. Obama.

[...]

Mr. Thiessen, in The Washington Post, focused his argument on the fact that terrorists never struck American soil again after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, calling that Mr. Bush's singular legacy. 'If Obama weakens any of the defenses Bush put in place and terrorists strike our country again, Americans will hold Obama responsible -- and the Democratic Party could find itself unelectable for a generation,' he wrote.

During the January 22 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, co-host Mika Brzezinski quoted Thiessen's claim that the controversial measures adopted by the Bush administration in the name of national security "are succeeding," as well as his warning that "[i]f Obama weakens any of the defenses Bush put in place and terrorists strike our country again, Americans will hold Obama responsible -- and the Democratic Party could find itself unelectable for a generation." Co-host Joe Scarborough then replied: "Well, that's what we've been saying here, Mika, isn't it? That's what we've been talking about now for months." Brzezinski did not challenge the effectiveness of the Bush administration's policies, but did state: "I would just like to add for the sake of argument that the problem that Obama confronts, for example, with Gitmo, is that this is a mess that President Bush has created. ... He created this situation, which challenges every facet of our Constitution and what our country stands by. ... It challenges our principles."

On-screen text during the segment quoted portions of Thiessen's op-ed and identified him only as "Marc A. Thiessen":

mj-20090122-thiessen.jpg

Later, Scarborough echoed Thiessen's op-ed, asking Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX): "[I]s it fair to say, in closing, that if Barack Obama's administration strips our agencies of the protection that have been afforded since September 11th, if there are terror attacks in the future, that the responsibility of those terror attacks will rest, in part, with an administration that stripped the Bush safeguards?" Cornyn replied: "Well, I think that's something they ought to be thinking about, because, of course, people debate it, but the one thing you can't debate is that we have not had another terrorist attack on our own soil since 9-11." Scarborough agreed, stating, "No doubt about it."

From the January 22 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:

BRZEZINSKI: Washington Post, "2,688 Days," Marc Thiessen: "As the new president receives his intelligence briefings, certain facts must now be apparent: Al-Qaeda is actively working to attack our country again. And the policies and institutions that George W. Bush put in place to stop this are succeeding. During the campaign, Obama pledged to dismantle many of these policies. He follows through on those pledges at America's peril -- and his own. If Obama weakens any of the defenses Bush put in place and terrorists strike our country again, America will hold Obama responsible -- and the Democratic Party could find itself unelectable for a generation."

SCARBOROUGH: Well, that's what we've been saying here, Mika, isn't it? That's what we've been talking about now for months.

BRZEZINSKI: I think it's a fine line, and you know what? I would just like to add for the sake of argument that the problem that Obama confronts, for example, with Gitmo, is that this is a mess that President Bush has created, creating this situation --

SCARBOROUGH: A mess that --

BRZEZINSKI: Hold on.

SCARBOROUGH: No. I'm not --

BRZEZINSKI: -- creating a situation where you have --

SCARBOROUGH: Osama bin --

BRZEZINSKI: Hold on.

SCARBOROUGH: -- Laden created this situation --

BRZEZINSKI: Let me speak for a moment.

SCARBOROUGH: -- when he took down the twin towers.

BRZEZINSKI: I did not debate you on torture, but let me debate you on this. He created this situation, which challenges every facet of our Constitution and what our country stands by. And I know it's out of the country --

SCARBOROUGH: No it doesn't. I can't let you say that.

BRZEZINSKI: Well, let me finish.

SCARBOROUGH: You've got to listen, Mika.

BRZEZINSKI: It challenges our principles. And now, the question is what to do with these people. And it's wrong to have them sitting there for years --

SCARBOROUGH: Mika --

BRZEZINSKI: -- and years, and years on end.

SCARBOROUGH: -- that is speaking in generalities. Again, I want you --

BRZEZINSKI: So, it -- but my -- what -- as Obama --

SCARBOROUGH: I want you to find me the Nazi prisoner that was provided habeas corpus.

BRZEZINSKI: As Barack Obama --

SCARBOROUGH: I want you to find me the Nazi prisoner that was read the Miranda rights on the beaches of Normandy. This --

PAT BUCHANAN (MSNBC political analyst): Right.

SCARBOROUGH: -- is lunacy.

BRZEZINSKI: All right, let me speak. All I'm saying is that this is a situation that is not good, that Bush has put in place, and now, Obama, as he tries to deal with it, is going to run risks.

SCARBOROUGH: You're blaming George Bush for protecting America.

BRZEZINSKI: No, I'm not.

BUCHANAN: All right, let me ask you --

BRZEZINSKI: I'm blaming him for creating a very bad --

BUCHANAN: If you let -- if we let -- let's say we let --

SCARBOROUGH: He didn't create it. Osama bin Laden did.

BUCHANAN: Let's say we let 150 of these guys go 'cause we just can't make the case against them, and they go out and blow up some airliners, would you talk to the parents of the children on those airliners and tell them, we had to stand up for our ideals? That's why that guy is out there and that's why he put that bomb on that plane?

BRZEZINSKI: And that is --

BUCHANAN: Would you take moral responsibility for that/

BRZEZINSKI: That is the challenge that Obama has to deal with. And I'm not sure what to do now that this Gitmo has been created --

SCARBOROUGH: Well --

BUCHANAN: But wouldn't you not feel responsibility yourself --

BRZEZINSKI: -- and these people are sitting there.

BUCHANAN: -- for advocating that?

BRZEZINSKI: No. That's the -- that's my point and that's the point of this op-ed -- is that the challenge is now in place, but not because Barack Obama has come up with some bad ideas, he has to now deal --

SCARBOROUGH: It's -- but you can't blame --

BRZEZINSKI: -- with the policies in place from the Bush administration.

SCARBOROUGH: -- George Bush because we live in the age of terror.

BRZEZINSKI: I'm questioning him; I'm not blaming him.

SCARBOROUGH: Question him, that's fine -- that's what we as Americans do.

BRZEZINSKI: I'm questioning the whole creation of Gitmo, and why it's there, and why -- how it's being conducted, and I think now Obama has a big problem on his hands because of that.

[...]

MARK HALPERIN (Time senior political analyst): Senator, good to talk to you. You talk about -- people talk about your party being a loyal opposition. You say you want him to succeed. You can read the poll numbers. What is the point of the Republican Party during this period? Is it to nitpick at some of these people who are going to be confirmed? Is it to propose new ideas? Is it to find common ground with the president? What's the point for your party now?

CORNYN: Well, I think what President Obama and his administration is starting to find already is that governing is hard -- harder work than running for election. They ran a flawless campaign, but governing is hard work. Dealing with these important questions about closing Guantánamo Bay -- what are we going to do? Release some of these dangerous people into the American public? Are we going -- I don't want them in Texas, that's for sure.

What are we going to do with our intelligence officials, who were following legal guidance about what they could do to get actionable intelligence from some of these detainees? We certainly can't turn around and then prosecute them, and further, make them risk averse which, of course, the 9-11 Commission said risk aversion was one of the big problems we had that resulted in 9-11. So, these are legitimate areas for policy discussion. We need to do it civilly and in a dignified way, but I think we've got to stick to our principles.

SCARBOROUGH: Hey, Senator, is it fair to say, in closing, that if Barack Obama's administration strips our agencies of the protection that have been afforded since September 11th, if there are terror attacks in the future, that the responsibility of those terror attacks will rest, in part, with an administration that stripped the Bush safeguards?

CORNYN: Well, I think that's something they ought to be thinking about, because, of course, people debate it, but the one thing you can't debate is that we have not had another terrorist attack on our own soil since 9-11.

SCARBOROUGH: Yeah.

CORNYN: That's not a mistake; that's the result of the hard work of a lot of good people and our troops in the battlefield. So, we got to be very careful and thoughtful and try to work together in the best interests of our country.

SCARBOROUGH: No doubt about it. Senator, thanks for being with us.

BRZEZINSKI: Thank you, Senator.

CORNYN: Thank you.

SCARBOROUGH: Senator John Cornyn. Keep up the fight.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy
Network/Outlet
MSNBC, The New York Times
Show/Publication
Morning Joe
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