Media falsely reported that Bush "took responsibility" for flawed prewar intel

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN

Numerous media figures reported that President Bush had taken "responsibility" for flawed prewar intelligence. In fact, he did no such thing. Though he described the intelligence as "wrong" and accepted responsibility for "the decision to go into Iraq," he never stated he was responsible for the intelligence failures themselves.

Following the last of President Bush's four recent speeches on Iraq, numerous media figures reported that the president had taken "responsibility" for flawed prewar intelligence. But Bush did no such thing. While he described the intelligence as "wrong," accepted responsibility for "the decision to go into Iraq," and said he was "responsible for fixing what went wrong by reforming our intelligence capabilities," he never stated he was responsible for the intelligence failures themselves.

In his December 14 speech, Bush addressed the issue of the intelligence he used in making the case for the Iraq war:

BUSH: When we made the decision to go into Iraq, many intelligence agencies around the world judged that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction. This judgment was shared by the intelligence agencies of governments who did not support my decision to remove Saddam. And it is true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong. As president, I'm responsible for the decision to go into Iraq. And I'm also responsible for fixing what went wrong by reforming our intelligence capabilities. And we're doing just that.

While the media largely described Bush as accepting responsibility for the decision to go to war on the basis of faulty intelligence -- an accurate characterization -- several media figures misconstrued Bush's statement as an acceptance of blame for the bad intelligence itself. These included Fox News host Brit Hume, CNN hosts Wolf Blitzer and Soledad O'Brien, MSNBC anchor Chris Jansing, ABC host Robin Roberts, and National Public Radio (NPR) national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Among those who misrepresented Bush's statement, Hume stands out. On the December 14 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, he asserted that Bush "said he takes full responsibility for the decision to invade and for any intelligence failures." Later in the show, Hume aired portions of his interview with President Bush -- conducted after the final speech -- in which the issue of prewar intelligence was discussed. As noted above, it is clear from the text of the speech that Bush did not accept "full responsibility" for the flawed intelligence. But if Hume had been confused about this point, his discussion with the president should have clarified it. During the interview, Bush defended himself against accusations that his administration misused the prewar intelligence by twice repeating the misleading claim that he and Congress "looked at the same intelligence" on the Iraqi threat -- a claim that would carry no weight if, in fact, he had earlier in the day accepted blame for "any intelligence failures":

BUSH: To the best of my ability, I have resisted dragging the presidency in the name-calling and the finger-pointing and the blaming. But no, you're right. And we took a pasting -- you know, a blasting -- and have begun, recently, to make the case in a more forceful way to the American people. First of all, rejecting this notion that, you know, we lied about intelligence, reminding people that some of those people making those accusations looked at the same intelligence I looked at and voted to send -- for the use of force in Iraq.

HUME: Tell me about the decision that was made to change all that, to make this set of speeches that you concluded today and to fire back in the ways that you and the others in the administration have been shooting back. How was that decision made? By whom, and what triggered it?

BUSH: Well, I think -- first of all, I was ready to make the case for Iraq coming out of the summer. And the problem was that strategy was derailed by [Hurricane] Katrina. For Katrina -- during Katrina -- it made it difficult to talk about anything other than Katrina. And so like anything else in the public arena, you have to understand the timing of how to take a message -- and so the decision was made after my foreign trips -- and remember, I was gone quite a while in the month of November, as well -- to come back here and to start laying out the case, as clearly as possible, not only in a series of speeches, but punching back when we were being treated unfairly. And one unfair treatment was this notion about -- that we had misused intelligence, particularly by the people that looked at the same intelligence I had.

From the December 14 edition of CNN's Live From ...:

BLITZER: Hi, Kyra [Phillips, anchor]. Thanks very much. Lots of news going on. Is there a new candidate for the White House in 2008? Speculation being fueled right now by a surprise announcement. We're checking the political pulse. Plus, on the eve of the historic election in Iraq, President Bush takes responsibility for bad intelligence. How will the nation move forward from here? We're looking at all of the sides.

From the December 14 edition of CNN's The Situation Room (4 p.m. ET edition):

BLITZER: Up next, the president today took responsibility for bad pre-Iraq war intelligence. Is that a smart strategy? I'll ask two experts, [CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist] Paul Begala, [former Rep.] J.C. Watts [R-OK], they're standing by, here in The Situation Room.

[...]

BLITZER: What do you think about the president? Let me play a sound bite first from what the president said on this whole issue of taking personal responsibility for the bad intelligence.

From the December 14 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

HUME: Earlier in the day, in the last of four speeches on Iraq, Mr. Bush said he takes full responsibility for the decision to invade and for any intelligence failures. Fox News chief White House correspondent Carl Cameron reports.

[...]

LIASSON: In other words, he has been able to kind of admit mistakes. Like today in his speech, he said he admitted that the intelligence was wrong and he takes responsibility for it, but he would do it again anyway. And there is something empowering about saying that you are wrong and not have it be a kind of hari-kari moment.

From the December 15 edition of CNN's American Morning:

O'BRIEN: The president is taking responsibility for Iraq intelligence failures. Could he also clear up the big questions in the CIA leak investigation? Columnist Robert Novak, quoted as saying, he thinks President Bush knows who leaked Valerie Plame's name to the media.

From the December 15 broadcast of ABC's Good Morning America:

ROBERTS: As Iraqis make their historic trip to the polls, President Bush is accepting responsibility for the faulty intelligence which helped lead the country into war. The blunt admission comes in the last of the president's recent series of speeches designed to shore up public support.

From the December 15 edition of MSNBC News Live (10 a.m. hour):

JANSING: Well, in yesterday's speech -- you know, there was a series of four speeches that the president gave leading up to today's elections - he took responsibility for faulty intelligence leading up to the war, although he still does believe that it's helping create a free and democratic Iraq, and that's the right thing to do.

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