With the announcement that New York Times columnist William Safire is set to retire on January 24, 2005, as Editor & Publisher reported on November 15, Media Matters for America has compiled a sampling of Safire's history of unsupported statements, distortions, and outright falsehoods.
MMFA has documented several of Safire's recent dubious claims:
- In a November 1 column titled "Osama Casts His Vote," Safire suggested that Osama bin Laden was hoping for the defeat of President George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election, echoing the oft-repeated and unsupported speculation that terrorists preferred Senator John Kerry over Bush in the November 2 election. In fact, as Media Matters for America has pointed out, what evidence there is suggests that bin Laden and Al Qaeda were hoping for a Bush victory.
- In an October 18 column, Safire asserted as a fact the baseless claim that "members of [Senator John] Kerry's debate preparation team" orchestrated Kerry's reference to Vice President Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter during the final presidential debate. Safire's claim was contradicted in the same edition of the paper by reporter Adam Nagourney.
- In an October 11 column, Safire distorted facts in order to declare Bush the winner of the second 2004 presidential debate.
- In a September 13 column, during the controversy surrounding the authenticity of controversial memos regarding Bush's National Guard service used by CBS, Safire distorted and omitted facts in a rush to discredit the memos.
- In a July 14 column, Safire wrongly claimed that a Senate Intelligence Committee report found that Bush did not lie about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Salon.com's Joe Conason, The Nation's Washington editor David Corn, and journalist and blogger Joshua Micah Marshall have also debunked false claims made by Safire:
- In a May 19 entry on his Talking Points Memo weblog, Marshall referred to Safire's May 19 column, in which Safire baselessly claimed that stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction may still be found in Iraq and falsely asserted a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda prior to the Iraq war, as "a clotted mix of discredited ridiculousness, slurs, false claims of racism, disinformation and lies."
- Corn pointed out the contradiction between Safire's claims in his February 11 column titled "Found: A Smoking Gun" and reports published by his own paper regarding a "clear link" between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.
- In a March 14, 2000, article at Salon.com, Conason recounted the numerous false accusations Safire leveled against the Clintons, including Safire's January 1996 headline-making column that called Hillary Clinton a "congenital liar:"
Again and again over the past several years, Safire has charged the Clintons and their associates with such offenses as fraud, conspiracy, perjury, witness tampering and obstruction of justice. Using the jargon of Watergate to emphasize their culpability, he has written about the so-called Clinton scandals as if even the most minimal professional scruples and cautions did not apply to him -- let alone the standards of fairness that are held sacred at the newspaper of record and in all reputable news organizations. ... But a newspaper as uniquely powerful as the New York Times carries unique responsibilities. When one of its most prominent writers recklessly damages the reputations of people who turn out to be innocent of the offenses he has alleged, a reckoning is in order.