Couric did not challenge Giuliani's assertion that “Iran is moving toward” obtaining “nuclear weapons”

Responding to a question from CBS' Katie Couric, Rudy Giuliani asserted that “Iran is moving toward accomplishing the worst nightmare of the Cold War -- nuclear weapons in the hands of an irresponsible regime. And then they're threatening the use of these weapons.” Although the most recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iran concluded with “high confidence” that Iran had “halt[ed]” its nuclear weapons program in 2003, Couric did not challenge Giuliani's assertion or ask him a follow-up question about his answer.


On the December 12 edition of the CBS Evening News, anchor Katie Couric did not challenge Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani's assertion that “Iran is moving toward accomplishing the worst nightmare of the Cold War -- nuclear weapons in the hands of an irresponsible regime. And then they're threatening the use of these weapons, which is something unheard of.”

But, contrary to Giuliani's assertion, the most recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran concluded with “high confidence” that Iran had “halt[ed]” its nuclear weapons program in 2003, and “assess[ed] with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007.” Giuliani was responding to Couric's question: “What country ... frightens you the most and what would you do about it?” which was “one of the 10 questions” Couric is asking “each of the major [presidential] contenders” as part of the CBS Evening News' "Primary Questions: Character, Leadership, and the Candidates" series. Couric did not challenge Giuliani's assertion or ask him a follow-up question about his answer. While Couric does not always ask candidates follow-up questions as part of the Primary Questions series, she did ask a follow up of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) on the very same question.

Contrary to Giuliani's assertion that “Iran is moving toward accomplishing” the development of “nuclear weapons” , the NIE report concluded:

  • We assess with high confidence that until fall 2003, Iranian military entities were working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons.
  • We judge with high confidence that the halt lasted at least several years. (Because of intelligence gaps discussed elsewhere in this Estimate, however, DOE and the NIC assess with only moderate confidence that the halt to those activities represents a halt to Iran's entire nuclear weapons program.)
  • We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.
  • We continue to assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Iran does not currently have a nuclear weapon.
  • Tehran's decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005. Our assessment that the program probably was halted primarily in response to international pressure suggests Iran may be more vulnerable to influence on the issue than we judged previously.

Though Couric did not air a follow-up question challenging Giuliani's claims about Iran's nuclear capabilities and intentions, she did follow up McCain's answer to the same question:

McCAIN: Probably now Iran is the greatest threat, but the greatest threat is radical Islamic extremism. And one of the reasons why it's such a great threat, it spills over any international boundaries. It's in Denmark, it's in Germany, it's in Glasgow, Scotland. And it's trying to establish itself here in the United States of America, according to the director of the CIA. That's the great threat.

COURIC: What do you do to reduce or to calm the fires of this?

McCAIN: If we had succeeded in Iraq and used the right strategy, you and I would be talking of other things now. It has become a place where Al Qaeda wants to establish itself. It has become and will become, if we leave according to a date for withdrawal, a center of Al Qaeda activities who want to destroy everything we stand for and believe in.

From the December 12 edition of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric:

COURIC: No doubt about it, the world is a dangerous place. But which country do you believe is America's greatest enemy? In a CBS News/New York Times poll out tonight, Iran was named most often, followed by Iraq and China. And, by the way, 2 percent said the United States is its own worst enemy.

[begin video clip]

I put the same question to the men and woman running for president for our series “Primary Questions: Character, Leadership, and the Candidates.” It's one of 10 questions we asked each of the major contenders.

COURIC: What country frightens you the most and what would you do about it as president?

[...]

McCAIN: Probably now Iran is the greatest threat, but the greatest threat is radical Islamic extremism. And one of the reasons why it's such a great threat, it spills over any international boundaries. It's in Denmark, it's in Germany, it's in Glasgow, Scotland. And it's trying to establish itself here in the United States of America, according to the director of the CIA. That's the great threat.

COURIC: What do you do to reduce or to calm the fires of this?

McCAIN: If we had succeeded in Iraq and used the right strategy, you and I would be talking of other things now. It has become a place where Al Qaeda wants to establish itself. It has become and will become, if we leave according to a date for withdrawal, a center of Al Qaeda activities who want to destroy everything we stand for and believe in.

[...]

GIULIANI: Iran gives me the greatest concern, because Iran is moving toward accomplishing the worst nightmare of the Cold War -- nuclear weapons in the hands of an irresponsible regime. And then they're threatening the use of these weapons, which is something unheard of. Even when we go back to the Cold War, with the Soviet Union and China, we didn't have these aggressive threats for the use of nuclear weapons, talking about retaliatory use then, and we had mutually assured destruction. And we have an irresponsible regime, a state sponsor of terrorism, that now aggressively wants to become a nuclear power and tells us that they want to destroy Israel and kind of take us over as well. So I think we have to stop them from becoming a nuclear power.