THURSDAY, JULY 17, 2003
SPEAKING OF BASELESS ASSERTIONS: Weve long slammed the press corps indulgent approach to the matter of George Bushs truthfulness. The problem dates to the fall of 2000, when Candidate Bush paraded the country, grossly misstating the basic outlines of his own budget proposal. Incredibly, in his opening statement at the first Bush-Gore debate, Bush again made his standard misstatement (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/21/03). And, since Paul Krugman had devoted three recent columns to this very topic, everyone in the national press must have known it. Bush had misspoken again.
But the press had a script for the 2000 race in which Al Gore had a problem with the truth. Result? In the wake of that crucial first debate, almost no one mentioned Bushs howlers. From that time on, the press corps maintained a silly script it developed during that raceGeorge Bush is a straight-talking man, who tells you exactly what he thinks. Ridiculous, isnt it? Whatever Bushs strengths may be, he plainly isnt The Last Honest Man. But the press corps stuck with this laughable scriptuntil their sudden turn on Iraq.
But readers, habits die hard in the press corps. Instead of assembling a real critique of Bush-on-Iraq, pundits are doing what they do besttheyre presenting a mangled, simplified story, designed to persuade you of their new vision. Result? Basic facts are bent and discarded as they spin their uranium-from-Niger parable. Here, for example, is Harold Meyerson in this mornings Washington Post:
MEYERSON (pgh 1): There are no stubborn facts in the Bush White House, just stubborn men. This is an administration that will not be cowed by the truth.But of course, the presidents State of the Union address didnt mention uranium from Niger. And was Bushs assertion really baseless? His statement cited British intelligence, and as Glenn Frankel reports in this mornings Post, British intelligenceand Tony Blairstill stand behind that intelligence. But Meyerson doesnt waste time with that. He just says that the statement was baseless.
But that is only the smallest part of Meyersons rearrangement of facts. Just how malleable have facts now become? Watch as he goes for Dick Cheney:
MEYERSON (2): After all, its not as if the presidents baseless assertion in his State of the Union address that Iraq had sought to acquire yellowcake uranium from Niger was the last we heard of this claim. To be sure, Colin Powell consciously excised it from the bill of indictment he delivered to the U.N. Security Council in early February. But it popped up again as late as March 16, when Cheney himself appeared on Meet The Press to make one more case for going to war.Sadly, this statement is totally false. In fact, Cheney wasnt asked about Niger on Meet the Press. Indeed, he wasnt asked about uranium procurement at all; the topic simply never came up. But so what? The press has Brilliant Points to make, and scribes are changing facts to make them. As he continues, Meyerson lodges a serious chargeanother charge which is totally bogus:
MEYERSON (3): By then, the International Atomic Energy Agency had publicly reported that the documents purportedly recording the Iraq-Niger transaction were forgeriesa conclusion, we now know, that the CIA and the State Department sharedTo state the obvious, anyone reading that passage would assume that Cheney disagreed with the IAEA about the forged documents. But Meyersons plain implication is totally false. In fact, just as with uranium procurement, the forged documents were never discussed at any point on this program. Here, in fact, is the real exchange from which Meyerson clipped Cheneys quote:
RUSSERT: What do you think is the most important rationale for going to war with Iraq?In fact, Cheney disagreed with the IAEA about the presence of a nuclear program in Iraq. He never expressed any thoughtsnoneabout those famous forged documents. The famous forged documents were never mentioned. Meyersons charge is completely made up.
No, Cheney never said a word about the forged documents. But so whatfacts are malleable things! And by now, Meyerson was on a roll. So he said that Cheney should apologize for his invented statement:
MEYERSON (pgh 6): The point is not that an apology is in order, though it plainly is. The point is that even after the IAEAs revelation that the forged agreement had been signed by a Niger government official who in fact had been out of office for the better part of a decade, the vice president dismissed this information out of hand and disparaged its source.Sorry. No such statement ever occurred. That damaging statement by Harold Meyerson is completely and wholly invented.
Yes, readers! Here at THE HOWLER, wed support a real study of Bush-on-Iraq. But Meyerson does something totally different. How does Meyerson tell this tale? First, Bush makes a baseless assertion in the State of the Union, saying that Iraq tried to get uranium from Niger. This baseless assertion totally relies on documents later shown to be forgeries. And even after these documents are debunked, Cheney stubbornly says theyre legit. According to Meyerson, the Bush Admin had nothing except those forged documents, and its stubborn man stood by his false claims even after the forged docs were debunked. British intelligence? Directly referenced by Bush in his statement, British intell is nowhere in sight.
Here at THE HOWLER, wed support a real examination, but theres no excuse for tales like this one. Readers, you have to make a decision: Are you willing to tolerate nonsense like this just because it feels good going down?
NOT SO STUBBORN: No, the facts havent been real stubborn as the uranium-from-Niger tale gets spun. In his third paragraph, Meyerson seems to make another claim which was contradicted just last night:
MEYERSON (3): By then, the International Atomic Energy Agency had publicly reported [on March 7] that the documents purportedly recording the Iraq-Niger transaction were forgeriesa conclusion, we now know, that the CIA and the State Department shared. Indeed, when the State Department turned over the documents to the IAEA on Feb. 4, it sent along a note stating, We cannot confirm these reports and have questions regarding some specific claims.Meyerson seems to imply that CIA and State had known, for some time, that those now-famous documents were forgeries. But is that true? Just last night, Andrea Mitchell said something quite different. She said that the CIAs George Tenet only learned that the docs were forged when he watched that March 7 report:
MITCHELL: Congress also wants to know, why didnt the CIA ask to see the documents alleging that Saddam was trying to buy uranium for nuclear weapons from Niger, documents published in Rome today, for more than a year until after the presidents speech? In fact, Tenet first learned those documents were blatant forgeries by watching the U.N. say so on television, just before the war started.Mitchell then played the March 7 footage of the IAEA report. In her report, Mitchell stated something we had long understoodthat the CIAs Tenet only learned that the documents were forged on March 7, when the IAEA report was presented. If true, thats just an astonishing factone the press has yawned at for months. But Meyerson seems to imply something differentand uses it, in his bogus narration, to make Cheney look even more dishonest. Can you see that the facts havent proved real stubborn as the press corps has worked with this tale?
Readers, theres moremuch morewhere this comes from. Basic facts about this new prize tale are being spun all through the press. Yes, wed support a real review. But do you see why we put you on notice this week? Do you see why we warned that, as the press corps turns, basic facts will be grievously spun?
COMIC RELIEF: The headline on the Meyerson piece? You guessed it! Inconvenient facts