Couric fails to challenge “scary smart,” " 'girly' and fun" Rice on a host of issues

During a profile of “scary smart,” " 'girly' and fun" Condoleezza Rice, broadcast on 60 Minutes, Katie Couric let Rice make, without challenge, a series of false and misleading statements about the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq and its use of prewar intelligence, as well as the war's effect on global instability. Couric tossed Rice softball questions, such as, “Is it hard for you to have a social life?” "[H]ow does one go about asking the secretary of state out on a date?"

In a profile of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, broadcast during the September 24 edition of CBS' 60 Minutes, CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric offered Rice a platform to make a series of false and misleading statements about the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq and its use of prewar intelligence, as well as the war's effect on global instability. During the interview, Rice asserted that the “world is safer because we're finally confronting these terrorists,” and claimed that “the administration was using the best available intelligence [during the lead-up to the Iraq war], and so, everybody thought that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” despite abundant evidence contradicting those claims. During the rest of the interview, Couric repeatedly lauded “true believer” Rice, tossing her softball questions, such as, “Do you ever doubt yourself or your ideology?” “Is it hard for you to have a social life?” "[H]ow does one go about asking the secretary of state out on a date?" and “Would you like to get married one day?”

Moreover, in a September 22 post on the CBS News weblog Couric & Co., Couric previewed her profile of Rice, describing her as “scary smart” and “much warmer, more 'girly' and fun than the disciplined, controlled stateswoman you see on the world stage.” Couric concluded the post by asserting that Rice “doesn't like to muck anything up.”

As if validating that assertion, during her interview on 60 Minutes, Couric failed to challenge Rice's misleading answers on a variety of issues and did not press Rice on others.

Bin Laden still at large

During the interview, Rice asserted that the Bush administration's foreign policy has made the “world ... safer because we're finally confronting these terrorists,” and stated that “we've done a great deal to ... begin to lay that foundation” for a “democratic and prosperous and ... truly stable” Middle East. At no point, however, did Couric mention Osama bin Laden, Al Qeada, or any of Bush's specific counterterrorism policies.

Couric failed to question Rice about Bush's reported failure to capture bin Laden in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan after the post-9-11 U.S. invasion. As Media Matters for America has noted, in his recent book, The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11 (Simon & Schuster, June 2006), investigative journalist Ron Suskind wrote that the CIA had warned Bush specifically that the Pakistani and Afghan forces, who, along with CIA special forces, had cornered bin Laden at Tora Bora, were “definitely not” equipped to capture him themselves. The CIA officer overseeing the agency's hunt for bin Laden in Afghanistan personally warned Bush that the United States risked “los[ing] our prey” if more U.S. troops were not sent to help in the effort. The troops were not sent, and bin Laden escaped the area.

Couric further failed to press Rice on the fact that bin Laden is still at large and, according to counterterrorism officials cited in a September 9 Washington Post article, that leads on bin Laden's location are “stone cold”:

The clandestine U.S. commandos whose job is to capture or kill Osama bin Laden have not received a credible lead in more than two years. Nothing from the vast U.S. intelligence world -- no tips from informants, no snippets from electronic intercepts, no points on any satellite image -- has led them anywhere near the al-Qaeda leader, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials.

“The handful of assets we have have given us nothing close to real-time intelligence” that could have led to his capture, said one counterterrorism official, who said the trail, despite the most extensive manhunt in U.S. history, has gone “stone cold.”

Finally, Couric did not note any of the myriad contradictory statements Bush has made on the priority his administration places on capturing bin Laden.

Bush's contradictory statements on sending troops to Pakistan to capture bin Laden

In addition to not asking Rice about bin Laden, Couric also failed to ask her about Bush's recent contradictory statements on whether he would consider ordering U.S. troops into Pakistan to apprehend or kill bin Laden. Bush asserted, during a September 20 interview on CNN's The Situation Room, that he would "[a]bsolutely" order U.S. military forces into Pakistan to capture or kill bin Laden if intelligence revealed he was there, despite having stated, during a September 15 press conference, that Pakistan is a “sovereign nation” into which the United States would have to be “invited.”

Prewar intelligence

Regarding the administration's use of prewar intelligence in building the case for war, Couric stated that Rice used her “credibility to rally the American people behind” the war, and then asked: “Now it turns out there were no weapons of mass destruction. Do you regret using that [argument]?” Rice replied: “The idea that, somehow, because the intelligence was wrong, we were misleading the American people -- I really resent that.” Couric then said, “Really? Because that's what ... so many people think.” Rice responded that “the administration was using the best available intelligence, and so, everybody thought that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.” At no point did Couric challenge Rice with reports that she knowingly made false statements, in both her current capacity as secretary of state and previous position as national security adviser, concerning intelligence over Iraq's purported WMDs and the administration's use of that intelligence in building the case for war.

In The New York Times' large-scale investigation of the intelligence regarding Iraq's purchase of aluminum tubes, the paper reported on October 3, 2004, that Rice misrepresented the state of intelligence on the tubes and had reason to know she was doing so. Prior to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the White House and parts of the intelligence community had promoted the purchase as crucial evidence that Saddam Hussein had restarted his nuclear weapons program. From the article:

The tubes were “only really suited for nuclear weapons programs,” Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser, explained on CNN on Sept. 8, 2002. “We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”

But almost a year before, Ms. Rice's staff had been told that the government's foremost nuclear experts seriously doubted that the tubes were for nuclear weapons, according to four officials at the Central Intelligence Agency and two senior administration officials, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity. The experts, at the Energy Department, believed the tubes were likely intended for small artillery rockets.

In addition, the Center for American Progress published an analysis of a dozen false claims Rice has made regarding the administration's pre-9-11 counterterrorism intelligence, the purported link between Iraq and the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks during the buildup to war, and the administration's response to 9-11, including:

CLAIM: “Not a single National Security Council principal at [Bush's Camp David meeting with his war cabinet on September 15, 2001] recommended to the president going after Iraq. The president thought about it. The next day he told me Iraq is to the side.” -- National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, 3/22/04

FACT: According to the Washington Post, “six days after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President Bush signed a 2-and-a-half-page document marked 'TOP SECRET' ” that “directed the Pentagon to begin planning military options for an invasion of Iraq.” This is corroborated by a CBS News [story], which reported on 9/4/02 that five hours after the 9/11 attacks, “Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was telling his aides to come up with plans for striking Iraq.” [Source: Washington Post, 1/12/03. CBS News, 9/4/02]


CLAIM: “It's not as if anybody believes that Saddam Hussein was without weapons of mass destruction.” -- National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, 3/18/04

FACT: The Bush Administration's top weapons inspector David Kay “resigned his post in January, saying he did not believe banned stockpiles existed before the invasion” and has urged the Bush Administration to “come clean” about misleading America about the WMD threat. [Source: Chicago Tribune, 3/24/04; UK Guardian, 3/3/04]


CLAIM: “The president returned to the White House [following the Camp David meeting] and called me in and said, I've learned from George Tenet that there is no evidence of a link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11.” -- National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, [NBC's Today] 3/22/04

FACT: If this is true, then why did the President and Vice President repeatedly claim Saddam Hussein was directly connected to 9/11? President Bush sent a letter to Congress on 3/19/03 saying that the Iraq war was permitted specifically under legislation that authorized force against “nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11.” Similarly, Vice President Cheney said on 9/14/03 that “It is not surprising that people make that connection” between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks, and said “we don't know” if there is a connection. [Source: BBC, 9/14/03]

From the September 24 broadcast of CBS' 60 Minutes:

COURIC: As national security adviser and now secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice is one of the chief architects of American foreign policy, a foreign policy as bold and far-reaching as any in recent times. She's become the central figure at the president's side in defending the war in Iraq and the war on terror, and she's not just towing the line. Condi Rice is a true believer. What we learned in a series of interviews is that this smart, tough, deeply religious woman sees the struggle against the enemies of the United States as a fight of good versus evil -- a lot like the struggle she experienced as a child growing up in segregated Birmingham, Alabama.

RICE: I probably have, at one level, a better understanding or -- or perhaps, let me say, a more personal understanding of what the dark side of human beings can look like. I remember very well in 1963, when Birmingham was so violent, when it acquired the name “Bomb-ingham,” that even with my wonderfully protective family, you had to wonder: Why are they doing this to us? And on the other hand, I have a great faith in the ability of people to triumph over the dark side of -- of human beings.


RICE: And so, when I look around the world and I hear people say, “Well, you know, they're just not ready for democracy,” it really does resonate, or I hear echoes of, “Well, you know, blacks are kind of childlike. They really can't handle the vote” or “They really can't take care of themselves.” It -- it really does roil me. It makes me so angry because I think there are those echoes of what people once thought about black Americans.

COURIC [voiceover]: It's the same argument she uses to defend the difficult war in Iraq and the Bush administration's goal of spreading democracy around the world.

You're such a true believer, Secretary Rice. Do you ever doubt yourself or your ideology?

RICE: I just believe in the power of these values, and I know how tough it is. And I know what Americans see on their -- on their screens. But in all great times of testing, in all great times of challenge, there are doubts. And these challenges are going to be overcome.

COURIC [voiceover]: She is said to be closer to the president than any secretary of state in more than 50 years and is legendary for her loyalty.

BUSH [video clip]: All right.

COURIC [voiceover]: When Mr. Bush appeared on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and the message was “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq --

RICE [video clip]: Isn't it terrific? Hey! I'm never going to take it off.

COURIC [voiceover]: Condi Rice was there, ever the loyal soldier.

You used your credibility to rally the American people behind this. Now it turns out there were no weapons of mass destruction. Do you regret using that?

RICE: I don't regret at all overthrowing Saddam Hussein.

COURIC: But that's not the question.

RICE: Am I -- well -- on my -- do I wish the intelligence had been better? Absolutely. I've wished every day since we learned. The idea that, somehow, because the intelligence was wrong, we were misleading the American people -- I really resent that.

COURIC: Really? Because that's what --

RICE: I really resent it.

COURIC: -- so many people think.

RICE: No. I resent it because the administration was using the best available intelligence, and so, everybody thought that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. He'd used them, for goodness' sakes.

COURIC: You have conceded that lots of mistakes have been made in Iraq. Vice President Cheney says, if he had to do it again, he'd do it the same way. Do you agree?

RICE: Well, I would certainly do it again and --

COURIC: But do it the same way?

RICE: Well, you -- nobody can go back and -- and reinvent the past. We can't do it, Katie.

COURIC: But you can learn from your mistakes.

RICE: I'm enough of an historian to know that things that look like brilliant policies at the time turn out to have been really stupid, and things that looked like mistakes at the time turn out to have been brilliant policies. I'll let history judge those things.

COURIC [voiceover]: In the time we spent with the Secretary, this was one of the few moments we found her alone. She works out six days a week, starting at 5 a.m., often to the music of Led Zeppelin or Cream.

But this is the music that really moves her. As often as she can, she gathers a group of four friends for an afternoon of Schumann or Brahms, and -- no surprise -- every piece is followed by a debriefing.

[begin video clip]

RICE: Yeah, OK. What did you think? I thought it was hectic, actually.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: A little sluggish, if anything.

COURIC: How often are you able to get together to play?

RICE: We were --

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Depends on the world situation.

RICE: Shall we play the recapitulation?


RICE: All right.

[end video clip]

RICE: [voiceover] It's hard to imagine my life without music. I certainly find it as a way to completely transport into another world. I've been asked, but, you know, “Is it relaxing?” and I say, “Well, it's not exactly relaxing, struggling with Brahms, but it is transporting.” You're just in another world. Life is much fuller when I've got my music.

Rice [video clip]: Good morning.

COURIC [voiceover]: Life is very full for this 51-year-old overachiever, a woman who graduated from college Phi Beta Kappa at 19. She's treated like a rock star, and everything from her sense of style to her possible suitors is the subject of endless gossip. Esquire readers voted her the woman they'd most like to take to dinner.

COURIC: Is it hard for you to have a social life? It must be impossible. First of all, when do you find the time?

RICE: Yeah.

COURIC: Second of all, how does one go about asking the secretary of state out on a date? “Hi, Madam Secretary? Listen --”

RICE: Well, I won't even go there on the second question. But I've -- I've got great friends and people that I see.

COURIC: Would you like to get married one day?

RICE: Oh, wouldn't we all love to find somebody that you'd want to live the rest of your life with? Sure. But I've never thought you wanted to get married in the abstract. You want to get married to someone, and so, I've just never particularly wanted to get married to someone. But who knows? Maybe one of these days.

COURIC [voiceover]: But these days, she's consumed by waging war and promoting democracy, and when she defends her position, this former Stanford professor can, at times, sound like she's lecturing a class.

RICE: I'm a true believer in the process of democratization as a way to overcome old wounds, and I believe that if we don't do that, then people who've had their differences, people who've resolved their differences by violence or by repression are never going to find a way to live peacefully together.

COURIC: Is it really priority number one, in terms of philosophically and pragmatically, for the United States to be spreading democracy around the world?

RICE: Well, first of all, the United States is not spreading democracy; the United States is standing with those who want a democratic future.

COURIC [voiceover]: And the future is what she focuses on. A passionate student of history, Condi Rice believes turmoil often precedes periods of peace and stability, and she rejects the notion that the U.S. is a bully imposing its values on the world.

RICE: What's wrong with assistance so that people can have their full and complete right to the very liberties and freedoms that we enjoy?

COURIC: To quote my daughter, “Who made us the boss of them?”

RICE: Well, it's not a matter of being the boss of them; it's speaking for people who are voiceless.

COURIC: You have said that your goal was, quote, “to leave the world not just safer, but better.” Right now, Iraq doesn't seem safer. Iran and North Korea have not fallen into line. Do you honestly believe that the world is safer now?

RICE: The world is safer because we're finally confronting these terrorists. We're finally confronting this challenge. And so I think we are safer. We're not yet safe. And I know that I'm not going to see the final outcome of the Middle East that we describe as democratic and prosperous and -- and, in that way, truly stable, but all that I can do on my watch is to try to lay a foundation so that that will become the Middle East of the future, and I think we've done a great deal to -- to begin to lay that foundation.