Fox and AP repeated misleading Bush rhetoric on Iraq intelligence manipulation

Following President Bush's Veterans Day speech at Pennsylvania's Tobyhanna Army Depot, the Associated Press as well as Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer uncritically repeated Bush's misleading claim that the Senate Intelligence Committee disproved Democratic allegations that the Bush administration manipulated intelligence leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Neither the AP nor Hemmer noted that the Senate Intelligence Committee has yet to report on its investigation into the Bush administration's use of prewar intelligence and, therefore, has not addressed the Democrats' allegations. Indeed, “phase two” of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report would be the first such investigation into the alleged misuse of intelligence by proponents of the war.

In his November 11 speech, Bush said:

Some Democrats and anti-war critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war. These critics are fully aware that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community's judgments related to Iraq's weapons programs.

But as Media Matters for America has noted, the Intelligence Committee has not yet released “phase two” of its report, which will address allegations that administration officials misused intelligence. On November 1, Senate Democrats called for a closed-door session in order to demand that the Intelligence Committee follow through on “phase two” of its investigation.

Moreover, as Media Matters has previously noted, even the conclusion reached in the first phase of the Senate Intelligence report has been disputed by several senior intelligence officials. As The American Prospect documented in its November 23 edition, W. Patrick Lang, the former chief of the Middle East office of the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), cast doubt on the conclusion that intelligence analysts felt no pressure. The Prospect quoted Lang as follows: “The senior guys [Senate investigators] got together and said, 'You guys weren't pressured, right? Right?' ” The Prospect also noted that, according to Richard Kerr, a onetime acting CIA director who “led an internal investigation of the agency's failure to correctly analyze Iraqi weapons-of-mass-destruction capabilities,” intelligence analysts “were pressured, and heavily so.”

An Associated Press article, released soon after the speech concluded, uncritically quoted Bush's misleading comments:

Defending the march to war, Bush said that foreign intelligence services and Democrats and Republicans alike were convinced at the time that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

“Some Democrats and anti-war critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and mislead the American people about why we went to war,” Bush said.

He said those critics have made those allegations although they know that a Senate investigation “found no evidence” of political pressure to change the intelligence community's assessments related to Saddam's weapons program.

Immediately following Bush's speech, Hemmer took it a step further, claiming that Bush said “a bipartisan commission has determined that information was not manipulated.” From Fox News' November 11 coverage of Bush's speech:

HEMMER: But it's at about the thirty-ninth minute into that speech where the president truly delivered the news of the afternoon in Pennsylvania, talking about “the debate at home must be free-minded” and saying, “it's deeply irresponsible to rewrite history,” then mentioning “some Democrats,” claiming we manipulated intelligence in the buildup to the war in Iraq. He went on to say that a bipartisan commission has determined that information was not manipulated, then pointed out that the U.N. had passed a dozen resolutions talking about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and the threat that was posed by Saddam Hussein.

Hemmer's comments stand in contrast to those of Richard A. Falkenrath, a senior fellow in foreign policy studies at The Brookings Institution, who appeared on CNN to discuss Bush's speech. CNN anchor Daryn Kagan wrongly reported that Bush cited the Silberman-Robb Commission report, which also examined only the question of whether intelligence agencies were pressured and not how the administration subsequently used the intelligence obtained from the agencies. From CNN's November 11 post-speech coverage:

KAGAN: Let's look at the way the president is trying to re-steer the conversation here and bring in Richard Falkenrath. He's trying to re-steer the conversation into the intelligence and how it was gathered. Go back to this Silberman-Robb Commission report, which is something that the president was citing there, saying that in that commission report the findings were that there was not political influence in how the prewar information was gathered.

FALKENRATH: Well, Daryn, I actually agree with John [King, chief national correspondent] that the president would rather not talk about that at all and simply talk about his forward-looking strategy for the war on terror, what, in fact, he spent the vast majority of this speech talking about. He has decided, however, to directly respond to his critics, his political opponents, here in Washington who are focusing on that issue. And he notes this one commission -- you mentioned it -- the Silberman-Robb Commission, which did find that there wasn't any direct political interference with the intelligence findings that were coming up to the White House. That's only a little bit of the issue, however. There's another issue, which he did not directly address, which is: Did the president and his top aides mis-describe the intelligence when they were making their case for war? That issue was not within the ambit of the Silberman-Robb Commission, and it is what his critics are talking about.