Sunday :: Jun 22, 2003

A Perfect Example of the Media Double Standard: Bush Exonerated of Lying by the New York Times


by Steve

If you want a textbook example of the double standard applied to Bush’s integrity as compared to Clinton or Gore’s, you need look no further than today’s piece by David E. Rosenbaum of the New York Times. Entitled “Bush May Have Exagerated, But Did He Lie?”, Rosenbaum goes on to more or less exonerate Bush on the charge that he lied about WMDs and his tax cuts. Nowhere of course in the piece does Rosenbaum deal directly with the issue of imminent threat, which for some reason the media chickens out on. But some of Rosenbaum’s statements deserve attention.

In fact, a review of the president's public statements found little that could lead to a conclusion that the president actually lied on either subject. But more pertinent than whether the president told the literal truth is what factors he stressed and which ones he played down.

Certainly, a strong argument can be made that he exaggerated the danger posed by banned Iraqi weapons when he was trying to convince the country and Congress of the need for a pre-emptive strike and that he overemphasized the benefits to people of modest means when he was trying to sell his tax cut.

Look at what the president said about weapons of mass destruction in two prime-time television speeches — one on Oct. 7, his first big address on Iraq, and the other on March 17, when he declared that Saddam Hussein had to leave Iraq in 48 hours or face an attack.

The October speech was devoted largely to the threat of banned weapons. Iraq, Mr. Bush said, had "a massive stockpile of biological weapons" and "thousands of tons of chemical agents" and was "reconstituting its nuclear weapons program." The president asked, "If we know Saddam Hussein has dangerous weapons today — and we do — does it make any sense for the world to wait to confront him as he grows even stronger and develops even more dangerous weapons?"

In the speech in March, on the eve of war, Mr. Bush declared, "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised."

There is no evidence the president did not believe what he was saying.

Huh? Is that the standard we are applying to Bush here? That as long as Bush believed what he was saying, regardless of the fact that he had no conclusive intelligence evidence to support what he said, that he cannot be accused of lying? If this is the standard, then why did the Times not apply that same standard to Clinton’s claim that he didn’t have sex with Lewinsky? If Clinton didn’t believe that oral sex was sex, then why was that treated as a lie, if Bush’s claims about WMDs aren’t also?

Since when did the issue of personal beliefs become a criteria for judging someone on their credibility? Since Hitler believed every word of the lies he spewed about the Jews, using the Rosenbaum standard we could not accuse Hitler of lying about the Jews, could we?

Keep in mind what Bush said in October 7, 2002 speech to the nation: he said that Saddam had "a massive stockpile of biological weapons" and "thousands of tons of chemical agents" and was "reconstituting its nuclear weapons program." He went on to ask "If we know Saddam Hussein has dangerous weapons today — and we do — does it make any sense for the world to wait to confront him as he grows even stronger and develops even more dangerous weapons?" Yet as Walter Pincus of the Washington Post told us several days ago:

the backup material in a declassified version of it made public Oct. 4 was less definitive. The backup material said that "accounting and current production capabilities strongly suggest that Iraq maintains a stockpile of chemical agents" and not that it possessed such a stockpile. It also said that Iraq "probably" had concealed items "necessary for continuing its CW [chemical warfare] effort" and was rebuilding dual-use equipment that "could" be diverted to weapons production, not that Baghdad was improving its capabilities.

Bush said on October 7 that we knew that Saddam had dangerous weapons, yet the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, upon which Rice and Powell insist the Administration based its actions upon, had no such certainty in it. Doesn’t that mean that Bush lied when he said the Administration knew that Saddam had dangerous weapons in October 2002 when the CIA didn’t say he had those weapons?

Yet to Rosenbaum this is not a lie.

Similarly, look at what Bush said in the March 2003 speech to the nation, which Rosenbaum uses as an example to exonerate Bush of lying. As Rosenbaum quotes him, Bush said in March 17, 2003 that "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised." Yet by the time Bush made that statement, the Niger nuclear materials story that Powell regrettably used the previous month at the UN had been fully debunked by the CIA and British Intelligence, in some cases a year before Bush made the statement. And whatever new information that Bush was relying upon was cast into doubt by the IAEA as well as CIA and British intelligence reports that were less than definitive. Yet Bush said the intelligence “leaves no doubt.” In fact, the intelligence left much in doubt, but Bush asserted the opposite.

Where I come from, that is a lie. But not to Mr. Rosenbaum. Why is someone’s belief about what constitutes sex a lie, when what someone said contrary to the documented intelligence concerns of two separate intelligence agencies not a lie?

Can Mr. Rosenbaum explain that one to us? And why did he exclude the lies Bush told about Iraq’s imminent threat capability from his discussion?

Ask Mr. Rosenbaum about this double standard. You can email him at darose@nytimes.com.

Steve :: 2:23 PM :: Comments (19) :: Digg It!