Zachary Pleat

Author ››› Zachary Pleat
  • Meet The Iraq War Architect: Paul Wolfowitz Uses Opportunity On NBC To Re-litigate Iraq Invasion

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    NBC’s Meet the Press hosted Paul Wolfowitz, one of the discredited architects of the Iraq War, on the 15th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Wolfowitz took advantage of the platform to downplay his role in starting the conflict. He also used his appearance on the program to object to statements that President George W. Bush misled America before the war, despite a Senate intelligence report which concluded that the Bush administration made its case for war with statements not supported by the intelligence available at the time.

    Wolfowitz, who served in the Bush administration from 2001 through 2005 as Deputy Secretary of Defense, is universally recognized as one of the original architects of the Iraq invasion. He infamously predicted the war reconstruction effort could pay for itself from Iraqi oil revenue (for reference, the cost of the Iraq War is now estimated to be more than $2 trillion), and publicly accused Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein of possessing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) long after the intelligence community had informed the Pentagon that he did not. Later, Wolfowitz claimed that the conflict was primarily about liberating the Iraqi people rather than confronting the supposed WMD threat, while also making the assertion -- without evidence -- that without the invasion, "we would have had a growing development of Saddam's support for terrorism."

    On his September 11 appearance on Meet the Press, Wolfowitz said he rejects the title of “architect of the Iraq war,” because he “was not the commander-in-chief, or even the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, or national security advisor.”

    Wolfwowitz also whitewashed President Bush’s misleading statements leading up to the war. Wolfowitz said: “People who say after the fact that Bush lied and got us into a war, he wasn’t lying. He was saying what everyone believed” about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction. Host Chuck Todd responded by asking, “Who lied? … Somebody got us into this, and somebody convinced the United States Congress that weapons of mass destruction were imminent in Iraq.”

    But instead of asking an Iraq War architect to deflect blame from the administration he served in, Todd could have referenced the Senate Intelligence Committee report that was covered by news outlets when it was released in June 2008. The report found that some statements by President Bush and senior members of the administration about Iraq, terrorist organizations, and weapons of mass destruction were “contradicted by available intelligence information,” “did not accurately convey the intelligence assessments,” and “were not substantiated by the intelligence.”

    From the June 5, 2008, United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report, titled Whether Public Statements Regarding Iraq by U.S. Government Officials Were Substantiated by Intelligence Information:

    (U) Conclusion 12: Statements and implications by the President and Secretary of State suggesting that Iraq and al-Qa'ida had a partnership, or that Iraq had provided al-Qa'ida with weapons training, were not substantiated by the intelligence.

    Intelligence assessments, including multiple CIA reports and the November 2002 NIE [National Intelligence Estimate], dismissed the claim that Iraq and al-Qa'ida were cooperating partners. According to an undisputed INR [State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research] footnote in the NIE, there was no intelligence information that supported the claim that Iraq would provide weapons of mass destruction to al-Qa'ida. The credibility of the principal intelligence source behind the claim that Iraq had provided al-Qa'ida with biological and chemical weapons training was regularly questioned by DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency], and later by the CIA. The Committee repeats its conclusion from a prior report that "assessments were inconsistent regarding the likelihood that Saddam Hussein provided chemical and biological weapons (CBW) training to al-Qa'ida."

    (U) Conclusion 13: Statements in the major speeches analyzed, as well additional statements, regarding Iraq's contacts with al-Qa'ida were substantiated by intelligence information. However, policymakers' statements did not accurately convey the intelligence assessments of the nature of these contacts, and left the impression that the contacts led to substantive Iraqi cooperation or support of al-Qa'ida.

    [...]

    (U) Conclusion 15: Statements by the President and the Vice President indicating that Saddam Hussein was prepared to give weapons of mass destruction to terrorists groups for attacks against the United States were contradicted by available intelligence information.

    The October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate assessed that Saddam Hussein did not have nuclear weapons, and was unwilling to conduct terrorist attacks [sic] the US using conventional, chemical or biological weapons at that time, in part because he feared doing so would give the US a stronger case for war with Iraq. This judgment was echoed by both earlier and later intelligence community assessments. All of these assessments noted that gauging Saddam's intentions was quite difficult, and most suggested that he would be more likely to initiate hostilities if he felt that a US invasion was imminent.

  • CBS’ John Dickerson Is Only Sunday Host To Cover Trump Foundation’s Proven Lawbreaking

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    A Washington Post report that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump paid the IRS a $2,500 fine after his charitable foundation illegally gave a political contribution went mostly ignored by the cable and network Sunday political talk show hosts, with only CBS’ John Dickerson questioning a Trump surrogate about the story.

    The September 1 Post article reported that the Donald J. Trump Foundation had “violated tax laws” with a $25,000 political contribution to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who at the time was deciding whether or not to take action against Trump University. The report also highlighted an error, “which had the effect of obscuring the political gift from the IRS.” According to the Post’s article, the Trump Foundation is still out of compliance because “under IRS rules, it appears that the Trump Foundation must seek to get the money back” from the group which should never have received it:

    Donald Trump paid the IRS a $2,500 penalty this year, an official at Trump's company said, after it was revealed that Trump's charitable foundation had violated tax laws by giving a political contribution to a campaign group connected to Florida's attorney general.

    The improper donation, a $25,000 gift from the Donald J. Trump Foundation, was made in 2013. At the time, Attorney General Pam Bondi was considering whether to investigate fraud allegations against Trump University. She decided not to pursue the case.

    Earlier this year, The Washington Post and a liberal watchdog group raised new questions about the three-year-old gift. The watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, filed a complaint with the IRS — noting that, as a registered nonprofit, the Trump Foundation was not allowed to make political donations.

    The Post reported another error, which had the effect of obscuring the political gift from the IRS.

    In that year's tax filings, The Post reported, the Trump Foundation did not notify the IRS of this political donation. Instead, Trump's foundation listed a donation — also for $25,000 — to a Kansas charity with a name similar to that of Bondi's political group. In fact, Trump's foundation had not given the Kansas group any money.

    The prohibited gift was, in effect, replaced with an innocent-sounding but nonexistent donation.

    With the breathless media hyping of every new detail about the Clinton Foundation, despite the lack of anything illegal occurring, one would think that the proof of lawbreaking by a charitable foundation founded and named for one of the two major party presidential nominees would attract significant attention from the media. But Face the Nation host John Dickerson was the only Sunday political talk show host to bring up the Post’s findings.

    During his interview with Trump campaign surrogate Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), Dickerson cited the Post story to ask if it was an example of Trump knowing “how to use political donations to get the system to work for him” because in this situation Trump “gave the money then the investigation didn’t happen”:

    JOHN DICKERSON (HOST): I want to ask you about a report in The Washington Post this week about Donald Trump's foundation paying a fine to the IRS for a $25,000 donation it had given to a political committee supporting Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi in 2013. She was looking into maybe investigating Trump University, ultimately didn't. Donald Trump has said he knew better than anybody how to use the system, how to use political donations to get the system to work for him. Is that an instance of that in that situation, gave the money then the investigation didn't happen?

    ABC’s This Week guest host Martha Raddatz had a similar opportunity to question the Trump campaign about the story when speaking with campaign manager Kellyanne Conway during a 7 minute interview, but failed to bring it up. Fox News’ MediaBuzz and CNN’s Reliable Sources also both failed to even mention the news that Trump paid a fine for his foundation’s illegal act.

    On the other Sunday shows where this story was mentioned, it was up to the guests to mention it, usually in the context of the media’s double standard in reporting on the Clinton Foundation and Clinton’s emails. When Center for American Progress president Neera Tanden said “we just learned this week that Donald Trump was engaged in a pay to play” with Florida’s attorney general, Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace repeatedly interrupted her, before casting the story aside.

    On NBC’s Meet the Press, MSNBC contributor Maria Teresa Kumar brought up the report, saying Trump “basically took his foundation money and actually wrote a check to a campaign. That is actually illegal, and he had to pay a fine.”

    And on CNN’s State of the Union, commentator Bakari Sellers was the only one to even allude to the story, saying, “we know that Donald Trump actually had a foundation that was pay to play, and we’re back to [Clinton] emails.”

  • The Huge Media Failure Behind The Latest Clinton Global Initiative Pseudo-Scandal

    Despite Reporting, Bahraini Crown Prince Didn’t Give $32 Million To CGI

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Numerous media outlets covering released State Department emails pushed by the conservative group Judicial Watch falsely claimed that Crown Prince Salman of Bahrain gave the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) tens of millions of dollars, which they suggested was linked to him meeting with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In fact, none of the money in question went to the Clinton Global Initiative -- the crown prince made a “Commitment to Action” to fund the scholarship program at a Clinton Global Initiative event, and the money raised from business donors in Bahrain and elsewhere went to the crown prince’s scholarship program to educate Bahraini students.

  • Fox’s Sunday Shows Ignore Reports That Former Chief Roger Ailes Is Advising Trump

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Fox News Sunday and MediaBuzz failed to cover new reporting that Fox News’ former chairman and CEO Roger Ailes has assumed an advisory role in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. According to The New York Times, Ailes successfully urged Trump to change his campaign’s leadership and offered guidance on his first series of television campaign ads.

    On August 19, the Times reported that an irate Trump “hastily convened” a group “of paid and unpaid advisers including the pollster Kellyanne Conway, Roger Ailes, the ousted Fox News Chairman, and Stephen K. Bannon, the chairman of Breitbart News” to address concerns the candidate had with then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort. The report, which detailed Manafort’s ouster from the “chaotic presidential campaign,” noted that during the August 14 meeting, Ailes “urged Mr. Trump to reconfigure the campaign’s leadership.” Bannon and Conway formally joined the campaign as its chief executive and manager, respectively, on August 17, and Manafort exited just two days later.

    The Trump campaign had previously denied Ailes’ advisory role after reports that Ailes was assisting Trump with preparation for the upcoming presidential debates, and Conway told CNN’s Dana Bash this morning that Ailes “has no formal or informal role with the campaign,” but acknowledged that Trump “speaks to many different people.”

    But while CNN’s State of the Union host asked Conway directly about Ailes’ role in the campaign, and CNN’s Reliable Sources also discussed Ailes’ burgeoning role, Fox News’ Sunday shows ignored this development concerning their departed chairman and CEO. A Fox News Sunday panel discussion, and two MediaBuzz segments, all discussing the shake-up in Trump’s campaign leadership team, failed to even mention Ailes. A SnapStream transcript search of Fox News for “Ailes” showed no results from any other shows on the network from today.

  • Report: The Trump Campaign Paid The Firm Of CNN's Corey Lewandowski $20,000 In July

    Washington Post Reports Paid CNN Contributor Is Still Receiving “His Regular $20,000 Monthly Fee” From Trump Campaign

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    CNN, which has repeatedly defended its hire of former Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski as a paid contributor, will soon have to explain why he is still receiving his regular salary from the Trump campaign.

    As Media Matters has documented, Lewandowski’s hiring by the network on June 23 prompted widespread criticism from media experts who called the relationship “profoundly disturbing,” “problematic,” and a “sea of muck.” Last month, Media Matters president Bradley Beychok sent a letter to CNN president Jeff Zucker detailing the numerous ethical concerns surrounding Lewandowski, including questions about the reported non-disparagement agreement he has with the Trump campaign, and the disclosure by the network in early July that he was “still receiving severance from the Trump campaign” while working for CNN. After all of this, Zucker defended the hire, saying Lewandowksi had “done a really nice job.”

    On August 3, it was reported that Lewandowski returned to advising Trump despite his paid commentary position with CNN. A Washington Post report on August 21 seems to confirm that Lewandowski is still actually on the Trump campaign payroll:

    While Trump’s payroll remained a fraction of Clinton’s last month, he continued to pay one former staffer: ousted campaign manager Corey Lewandowski received his regular $20,000 monthly fee on July 6 – two weeks after he was jettisoned and had been hired by CNN as a political commentator. Trump has continued to call on Lewandowski for advice since his departure, a dynamic that contributed to friction with campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who resigned last week.

    It remains to be seen how CNN will react to this latest development in its ongoing ethics disaster.

  • Fox News Plays Benghazi Commercial Over Khizr Khan's Anti-Trump Speech At The Democratic National Convention

    Fox News Plays Katy Perry Song After Khan Leaves Stage

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Fox News ignored a speech by the father of U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan, who was killed in 2004 in the Iraq war, instead opting to air commercials during the speech. Fox later went live to a song by pop singer Katy Perry after the speech.

    During the final night of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, PA, Khizr Khan spoke about the honor he felt to be present at the convention with his wife, “as patriotic American Muslims with undivided loyalty to our country.” Khan’s speech was preceded by a video that showed Hillary Clinton calling Captain Khan “the best of America” and explaining the circumstances of his death, for which he was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

    The Washington Post reported that Khizr Khan turned his attention toward GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump:

    "If it was up to Donald Trump, [Humayun] never would have been in America," Khan said. "Donald Trump consistently smears the character of Muslims. He disrespects other minorities, women, judges, even his own party leadership. He vows to build walls and ban us from this country."

    "Donald Trump," he said, "you are asking Americans to trust you with our future. Let me ask you: Have you even read the U.S. Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy." He pulled a copy of the Constitution from his pocket. "In this document, look for the words 'liberty' and 'equal protection of law.'"

    [...]

    "Have you ever been to Arlington Cemetery? Go look at the graves of the brave patriots who died defending America — you will see all faiths, genders, and ethnicities," Khan said.

    "You have sacrificed nothing. And no one."

    While CNN and MSNBC aired the video and Khan’s speech in full, Fox News’ The Kelly File instead continued with its regular commentary featuring Brit Hume, then went to commercial as the speech began, showing slightly more than two minutes of the speech in a small window as commercials -- including a Benghazi attack ad -- overplayed it. Watch:

    And at the end of her show, Kelly cut off her panelists’ commentary to instead air several minutes of a Katy Perry performance at the convention.  

  • Chris Hayes: Conservatives’ Climate Denial Explained By “The Alex Jonesification Of The GOP”

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    MSNBC host Chris Hayes explained in a series of tweets how conservatives’ denial of the evidence of human-caused climate change exemplifies “the rot in the conservative movement” and the Republican Party.

    USA Today reported on July 26 that according to the federal government’s Climate Prediction Center, “for the first time on record, every square inch of all 50 states is forecast to see above-average temperatures for the next three months.”

    Hayes cited this report in explaining the GOP’s refusal to acknowledge the existence of human-caused climate change. Hayes went on to say the conservative movement’s climate change denial represents “breathtaking epistemic nihilism” and that the three-decade-long “conspiracy theory” that climate change is a hoax is the embodiment of “the Alex Jonesification of the GOP.” (Alex Jones is a notorious conspiracy theorist and 9/11 truther who received special guest credentials at the Republican National Convention):

    Fossil fuel giants like ExxonMobil have known for nearly three decades that fossil fuel emissions harm the climate, but have been working to “deceive the public,” according to a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). An earlier UCS report explained that MSNBC’s climate coverage has been overwhelmingly accurate, especially when compared to conservative cable news channel Fox News.

  • “NATO RIP”: Journalists Horrified By Trump Waffling On Security Guarantees

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Media figures across the political spectrum reacted with dismay and disbelief after The New York Times reported that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump “called into question whether, as president, he would automatically extend the security guarantees” to members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) if they were attacked by Russia.

    In a July 20 interview with the Times, Trump “said that he would press the theme of ‘America First,’ his rallying cry for the past four months, and that he was prepared to scrap the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada if he could not negotiate radically better terms.” Trump also suggested that he would not honor America’s treaty obligations to defend members of NATO from attack:

    He even called into question whether, as president, he would automatically extend the security guarantees that give the 28 members of NATO the assurance that the full force of the United States military has their back.

    For example, asked about Russia’s threatening activities that have unnerved the small Baltic States that are the most recent entrants into NATO, Mr. Trump said that if Russia attacked them, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing whether those nations “have fulfilled their obligations to us.”

    Several journalists have documented the close ties and apparent affinity between Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin.

    On Twitter, liberal, nonideological, and conservative media figures alike reacted with horror and disbelief at Trump’s comments:

  • White Nationalist Website’s Tweet Featured Inside RNC Convention Hall

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    The Republican National Convention featured a tweet from the white nationalist website VDARE.com during the roll call vote following Donald Trump’s nomination for president. White nationalist groups and media have long supported Trump’s campaign.

    Weekly Standard web producer Alice Lloyd tweeted a photo of a tweet ticker inside the RNC convention hall in Cleveland, Ohio, showing a tweet from VDARE.com’s Twitter account praising a speech Rep. Chris Collins’ (R-NY) gave at the convention in support of Donald Trump’s nomination:

    VDARE.com’s Twitter account also tweeted a photo of the ticker as its tweet appeared:

    Trump’s campaign has long received support from white nationalist individuals and media outlets. VDARE.com is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “an anti-immigration hate website” with a white nationalist ideology that “regularly publishes articles by prominent white nationalists, race scientists and anti-Semites.”

    VDARE.com has bragged that Trump’s rise brought its “ideas … firmly in the mainstream,” and used this claim to solicit funds for its website. The site has praised Trump’s plan to halt Muslims from the United States and supported Trump’s racist attacks against Judge Gonzalo Curiel.