O'Reilly distorted 9-11 Commission findings, blamed the press

On both his TV and radio shows, Bill O'Reilly distorted the findings of a recent 9-11 Commission staff report in order to defend the Bush administration's rationale for invading Iraq. O'Reilly has devoted significant airtime to excoriating the media for allegedly collaborating with what he calls "Far Left Bush haters" to misreport recent findings by the 9-11 Commission in order to discredit the administration's rationale for war. But O'Reilly's so-called “correction” of what he charged were inaccurate media reports fundamentally misrepresented the report's content.

O'Reilly's campaign began on the June 17 edition of Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor, when he accused The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and other newspapers of misrepresenting the commission's recently released “Staff Statement 15.”

From the June 17 broadcast of The O'Reilly Factor:

Once again, we are being misled by some in the press. ...

The 9-11 Commission has come to some conclusions. And today, newspapers across the country blare headlines. The New York Times wrote, “Panel Finds No Qaeda-Iraq Tie.” The Washington Post put forth, “Al Qaeda-Hussein Link is Dismissed.” The L.A. Times opined, “No Signs of Iraq-Al Qaeda Ties Found.” And even the conservative Wall Street Journal trumpeted “No Iraq-Al Qaeda Link.”

But if you read below the headlines, you see the commission said something a bit different, that there was not a collaborative relationship between Saddam and Al Qaeda regarding 9-11. And that's true, but there were certainly links and ties between Saddam and Al Qaeda. That's provable.

Contrary to O'Reilly's claim, the report does not address the September 11 plot at all, let alone the question of Iraq's involvement in it. Rather, the report “focus[es] on al Qaeda's history and evolution,” tracing the origins and maturation of al Qaeda through the 1980s and 1990s. The commission's statement that “contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda ... do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship” and that "[w]e have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks on the United States" is based on an examination of the development of Al Qaeda's funding sources, recruiting networks, and training camps, as well as the assistance of state sponsors like Sudan during this period. It's also based on a review of all attacks against U.S. interests prior to September 11 for which there is evidence of Al Qaeda involvement: the shooting down in 1993 of two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters in Somalia; a 1995 car bomb in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; the 1996 bombing of Khobar Towers in Dharan, Saudi Arabia; the 1998 embassy bombings in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; and the 2000 suicide bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in Aden, Yemen. Again, contrary to O'Reilly's claim, the September 11 plot does not figure at all in the report's finding concerning Iraq.

Rather, what the commission said in "Staff Statement 15" was that Iraq did not collaborate with Al Qaeda in any of Al Qaeda's attacks against the United States, nor did Iraq provide Al Qaeda with training, funding, or any other assistance worthy of note. Here's the relevant passage from the statement:

There have been reports that contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda also occurred after Bin Laden has returned to Afghanistan [in 1996], but they do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship. Two senior Bin Laden associates have adamantly denied that any ties existed between al Qaeda and Iraq. We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks on the United States.

O'Reilly's distortion of the commission's findings is strikingly similar to comments by Vice President Dick Cheney later the same day. On CNBC's Capital Report, Cheney told co-anchor Gloria Borger that the commission had only examined the September 11 plot. (O'Reilly played an audio clip of Cheney's comments on the June 18 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, The Radio Factor.)

From Cheney's June 17 appearance on Capital Report:

CHENEY: What they [the commissioners] were addressing was whether or not they [the Iraqis] were involved with 9-11, and there they found no evidence to support that proposition. They did not address the broader question of a relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda in other areas, in other ways.

Cheney's statement, like O'Reilly's, is flatly contradicted by "Staff Statement 15."

O'Reilly has been upfront about his motivation for “correcting” supposed distortions of the commission's reports in the media. O'Reilly said he wants to defend President George W. Bush's rationale for the Iraq war. As O'Reilly explained on the June 21 edition of The Radio Factor:

And why is this important? Well, it's important because the rationale for going to war in Iraq was that the -- the regime of Saddam, if they had WMDs -- and everybody thought they did ... -- could have given them to [Jordanian-born terrorist Abu Musab al-] Zarqawi and Al Qaeda, and then used here, of course. That was the rationale.