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HOW THE PUBLIC GETS MISINFORMED! Senator Bond refused to respond. Margaret Warner said that was “OK”: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2006

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Despite last Friday’s Senate report, major Republicans keep pretending that Saddam was in league with al Qaeda. On Meet the Press, Dick Cheney said it (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/11/06). On Fox News Sunday, Condi Rice did the same (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/12/06). Last night, it was Senator Kit Bond’s turn. How does the public get misinformed? Just watch Margaret Warner react.

HOW THE PUBLIC GETS MISINFORMED: How do Americans get misinformed about even the most elementary facts? Dissembling pols are part of the problem. And so are cowardly TV hosts, like the NewsHour’s Margaret Warner.

Here are the questions at hand, questions which were answered last Friday in a Senate Intelligence Committee report: Was Saddam Hussein in league with al Qaeda? Did Zarqawi’s pre-war presence in Iraq demonstrate such a connection? The Senate Intelligence Committee answered “no” to each question. Saddam was not in league with al Qaeda, they said. And he was trying to capture Zarqawi.

But so what? Over the weekend, major Republicans kept saying the opposite, as major hosts stared off into air. And the same thing happened last night on The NewsHour, as Warner interviewed—and failed to challenge—Missouri’s Republican senator, “Kit” Bond. Bond had voted for the report which put the kibbosh to these treasured old claims. But so what? Speaking with Warner, he suggested that these claims might be true—and Warner allowed him to do it.

Here’s the way Warner started her segment. The Senate Intel Committee had actually issued two reports. As Warner notes, Bond voted in favor of the report which debunked the Saddam-al Qaeda link:
WARNER (9/12/06): For more on these two new Senate Intelligence Committee reports, we turn to two members of the committee, Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan—he voted for both reports—and Republican Senator Kit Bond of Missouri. He voted for the report debunking the terror links, but against the report on the Iraqi National Congress.

Welcome to you both.

Senator Levin, in your view, does this report, for once and for all, put to rest the allegation that Saddam Hussein had a relationship with and was cooperating with al Qaeda?

LEVIN: Well, it should put it to rest. It's a very strong, thorough, bipartisan report.
Note again: Bond voted for the report which debunked the Iraq-al Qaeda link. But last night, he spent ten minutes ducking Warner’s questions about this—and sometimes seemed to argue the opposite.

How can such a thing occur? Let’s go over the basic steps. First, when Warner asked Bond an obvious question, he launched a long, off-topic discussion, failing to answer Warner’s question—but taking valuable time off the clock. Below, we offer his entire statement. Note well—at the end of his rambling, off-topic statement, he seems to suggest the claim which his Senate report has debunked:
WARNER: Senator Bond, do you concur on what this report says about the allegations of a link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda before the war?

BOND: The first thing that is important to point out is that the two reports that we actually issued, not the additional Democratic views, which went off into other areas in a report we haven't considered, haven't formally adopted, add nothing to what we learned when we examined all the prewar intelligence in 2003 and 2004.

At that point, we learned that, number one, contrary to my Democrat colleague's contention, there was no misuse of intelligence. The intelligence that was produced was sloppy. It was bad intelligence craft, and it omitted key caveats and key questions that some of the agencies in the intelligence community had.

Secondly, there was no pressure to change or shift the analysts' positions. So, we shouldn't have wasted two years, looking in the rear-view mirror for two more years, when we should have been trying to figure out what it was that we needed to do to make our intelligence better.

We spent two years. And my Democratic friends tried to use it to defeat President Bush. Now they're going back and bringing up the same old charges.

The fact is that, before the war, Director Tenet said in three different statements about al Qaeda's link with Iraq in his testimony before Congress, and, afterwards, prewar intelligence said that there were at least three instances of corroboration between Saddam's government and al Qaeda, primarily through the head of the intelligence agency of Saddam Hussein.

So, we know that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was operating in Iraq, and that Iraq had supported the Palestinians and offered rewards for terrorists who killed innocent Israelis. [End of statement]
None of that was actually relevant to the question Warner asked. And the highlighted part of Bond’s rambling reply almost surely suggested, to the casual viewer, that Zarqawi’s pre-war presence in Iraq did suggest a link to Saddam. (The Senate report rejected that claim.) So Warner did what comes natural to the modern broadcaster. Instead of posing her question again, she let Bond’s misleading answer stand—and posed a new, different question to Levin! Only after Levin’s reply did she come back to Bond. To her credit, she then posed the relevant question again: Given the contents of that Senate report, why are Bush and his major aides still asserting that there was a tie between Saddam and al Qaeda? Why are they still citing Zarqawi’s presence in Iraq as evidence?
WARNER: How do you explain that, Senator Bond, the discrepancy between what your report found, at least now, about what's known about Zarqawi's presence in Iraq, and what the president and vice president, or the president's spokesman is still saying?
Superlative question! The report says Saddam was not in league with al Qaeda. It says there was no tie with Zarqawi. So why are Bush and his major aides still saying the opposite? The question couldn’t have been more clear—and it concerned what Bush is “still saying” now. But Bond refused to answer again, going back to “what was known prior to the war.” Again, for the record, we’ll post his complete non-answer:
BOND (continuing directly): Yes. First, we go back to what was known prior to the war. And we had the testimony of George Tenet, saying there was a relationship, and there are now confirmed instances where people from Saddam Hussein's organizations, the head of intelligence, was working with and had meetings with Osama bin Laden. Now—

WARNER: Excuse me, Senator. I believe only one such meeting has been confirmed. Is that right?

BOND: There—there were—there were—

WARNER: Back in '95?

BOND: Well, there are three instances. There are three reported instances of working together.

The simple fact is, Iraq it has been a hotbed of terrorism. David Kay's Iraqi Survey Group said Iraq was a far more dangerous place than we even knew it. And rather than to go back and try to challenge the assessments made by administration officials—and some of them made by members of the Senate on both sides of the aisle were even more conclusive we should have been there—we know that we have to fight that war.

And, rather than arguing over how bad the intelligence was—we know there was no misuse. There was no pressure. And the fact remains that we need to be working forward, trying to get intelligence that's adequate to protect ourselves and our troops on the field in Iraq. That's what we ought to be doing.

My Democratic colleagues want to go back and argue over that, instead of how we organize to defeat the active radicals and terrorists who are still threatening in Iraq and in Afghanistan, and threaten the United States.
None of that had a thing to do with Warner’s perfectly sensible question. It was time for her to ask it again. Does Warner care about her viewers? Here’s what she should have said:
WHAT WARNER SHOULD HAVE SAID: But with respect, Senator, I’ve now asked you twice: Why are Vice President Cheney and Secretary Rice still claiming that there were pre-war ties, since your report has told us the opposite? Why are they still citing Zarqawi’s presence in Iraq, since your report debunks a link between Saddam and Zarqawi? Here is the question I am asking: Why are they still asserting these links, even after your committee’s report has said these links didn’t exist?
But what did Warner actually say? She actually said this to Bond: “OK.” And then she asked Levin another new question! Bond had avoided her question twice. To Warner, this was “OK.”

Last night’s NewsHour segment lasted ten minutes. Bond refused to answer Warner’s question, and kept killing time with rambling non-answers. And he created a great deal of confusion in the process, suggesting again that there had been a link between Saddam and Zarqawi. But the courtesies of our modern press elite are designed to favor such public dissembling. It’s awkward to challenger a man like Bond—and it’s easy to buckle and tell him, “OK.” Who gets thrown under the bus in the process? That segment of the American public which is getting misled by the NewsHour.

How do Americans get misinformed? We’ve been tracking the process all week. We’ve now seen Zarqawi cited three times, even after the Senate report. And three different broadcasters—Russert, Wallace, Warner—all seem to think that’s “OK.”
Viewers got confused or misled in the process. But so what? The broadcasters will be able to clink their glasses without awkward feelings at the next cocktail party. And yes, that is a part of the way we rubes out here get misinformed.

THEY AIN’T NO EXPERTS: Sorry—we’ve had a nasty cold. Tomorrow or Friday, we’ll show you what a parent confronts when she tries to check up on her kid’s public school in Virginia.