NBC, CBS, Fox cropped Rumsfeld questioner's challenges, Rumsfeld's "stammer[ing]" replies

››› ››› JEREMY SCHULMAN

After a speech by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld on May 4, retired CIA analyst Ray McGovern questioned Rumsfeld over his previous claims about Iraq's purported weapons of mass destruction and ties to Al Qaeda. Rumsfeld gave misleading answers, which McGovern pointed out during the exchange. But in their coverage, NBC, CBS, and Fox News deceptively edited the exchange, excluding McGovern's rebuttals of Rumsfeld's claims without noting that they had done so.

On May 4, retired CIA analyst Ray McGovern confronted Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld over Rumsfeld's previous claims about Iraq's purported weapons of mass destruction and ties to Al Qaeda. Responding to McGovern, Rumsfeld denied having made a statement that he did, in fact, make and gave other misleading answers, which McGovern pointed out during the exchange. But in their coverage of Rumsfeld's speech, NBC, CBS, and Fox News deceptively edited the exchange, excluding McGovern's rebuttals of Rumsfeld's claims without noting that they had done so.

During the exchange -- which was part of the question-and-answer session of a speech given by Rumsfeld in Atlanta -- Rumsfeld stated: "It appears that there were not weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq. McGovern responded: "You said you knew where they were" -- a charge that Rumsfeld falsely denied:

RUMSFELD: The president spent weeks and weeks with the Central Intelligence people and he went to the American people and made a presentation. I'm not in the intelligence business. They gave the world their honest opinion. It appears that there were not weapons of mass destruction there.

McGOVERN: You said you knew where they were.

RUMSFELD: I did not. I said I knew where suspect sites were and we were just --

McGOVERN: You said you knew where they were -- near Tikrit, near Baghdad, and north, east, south, and west of there. Those are your words.

McGovern was correct. On March 30, 2003 -- while the invasion of Iraq was still in progress -- George Stephanopoulos, host of ABC's This Week, noted in an interview with Rumsfeld that a raid on an Ansar Al-Islam camp in northern Iraq had not uncovered weapons of mass destruction despite the fact that "[a] lot of people expected to find ricin there." The context of Rumsfeld's This Week comments makes clear that they referred to "where weapons of mass destruction were dispersed." His comments did not refer -- as he told McGovern -- to "where suspect sites were":

STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, weapons of mass destruction. Key goal of the military campaign is finding those weapons of mass destruction. None have been found yet. There was a raid on the Answar [sic] Al-Islam Camp up in the north last night. A lot of people expected to find ricin there. None was found. How big of a problem is that? And is it curious to you that given how much control U.S. and coalition forces now have in the country, they haven't found any weapons of mass destruction?

RUMSFELD: Not at all. If you think -- let me take that, both pieces -- the area in the south and the west and the north that coalition forces control is substantial. It happens not to be the area where weapons of mass destruction were dispersed. We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.

The Los Angeles Times reported on May 5 that Rumsfeld "briefly stammer[ed]" when McGovern cited his This Week claim:

But Rumsfeld became uncharacteristically tongue-tied when McGovern pressed him on claims that he knew where unconventional Iraqi weapons were located.

"You said you knew where they were," McGovern said.

"I did not. I said I knew where suspected sites were," Rumsfeld retorted.

McGovern then read from statements the Defense secretary had made that weapons were located near Tikrit, Iraq, and Baghdad, which led Rumsfeld to briefly stammer.

Later in his exchange with McGovern, Rumsfeld noted that American troops "put on chemical weapon protective suits" when they entered Iraq, adding, "They honestly believed that there were chemical weapons." McGovern countered: "That's what we call a non sequitur. It doesn't matter what the troops believe, it matters what you believe."

McGovern also referred to Rumsfeld's September 27, 2002, assertion that he had been told by the intelligence community that the claim that "there are in fact Al Qaeda in Iraq" was "bulletproof." In that same speech, Rumsfeld had also asserted twice that Saddam Hussein "plays host to terrorist networks." Defending his claim, Rumsfeld told McGovern that Jordanian-born terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi "was in Baghdad during the prewar period. That is a fact." McGovern responded that Zarqawi "was in the north of Iraq in a place where Saddam Hussein had no rule" and that he only went to Baghdad "when he needed to go to the hospital":

McGOVERN: We're talking about lies, and your allegation that there was "bulletproof" evidence of ties between Al Qaeda and Iraq. Was that a lie or were you misled?

RUMSFELD: Zarqawi was in Baghdad during the prewar period. That is a fact.

McGOVERN: Zarqawi? He was in the north of Iraq in a place where Saddam Hussein had no rule. That's where he was.

RUMSFELD: He was also in Baghdad.

McGOVERN: Yeah, when he needed to go to the hospital. Come on, these people aren't idiots. They know the story.

An October 5, 2005, Knight Ridder article noted that "[t]here's no dispute that al-Zarqawi spent time in Iraq before the U.S. invasion, but virtually all that time was in a portion of northeastern Iraq that wasn't under Saddam's control." Citing unnamed "intelligence officials," Knight Ridder reported: "A new CIA assessment undercuts the White House's claim that Saddam Hussein maintained ties to al-Qaida, saying there's no conclusive evidence that the regime harbored Osama bin Laden associate Abu Musab al-Zarqawi." Knight Ridder further noted that the CIA report "follows the independent Sept. 11 commission's finding that there was no 'collaborative relationship' between the former Iraqi regime and" Al Qaeda.

The Washington Post reported on Zarqawi's hospitalization in Baghdad in an October 21, 2004, article:

In 2002, Bush administration officials said, Zarqawi went to Baghdad to have one leg amputated after having been wounded by a U.S. bombing attack. That account has turned out to be wrong, according to U.S. intelligence officials who have interrogated Zarqawi associates.

"It was for another ailment, but not his leg," one intelligence official said yesterday. "We are still learning about him," this official added.

CBS

On the May 4 broadcast of the CBS Evening News, national security correspondent David Martin showed viewers the portion of the Rumsfeld-McGovern exchange in which McGovern asked: "[Y]our allegation that there was 'bulletproof' evidence of ties between Al Qaeda and Iraq. Was that a lie or were you misled?" Martin showed Rumsfeld's repeated statements that Zarqawi was "in Bagdhad" before the war. CBS, however, edited out McGovern's response that Zarqawi came to Baghdad "when he needed to go to the hospital." Without giving viewers any indication that the footage had been edited, Martin then showed McGovern's subsequent statement: "Come on, these people aren't idiots. They know the story."

Martin also showed viewers footage of Rumsfeld asking McGovern: "[W]hy do you think that the men and women in uniform, every day when they came out of Kuwait and went into Iraq, put on chemical weapon protective suits?" Martin did not show McGovern's response that Rumsfeld's question was a "non sequitur."

NBC

On the May 4 broadcast of NBC's Nightly News, senior Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski showed viewers McGovern's accusation that Rumsfeld had "lie[d]." Miklaszewski then showed Rumsfeld's denial:

McGOVERN: Why did you lie to get us into a war that was not necessary and that has caused these kinds of casualties? Why?

RUMSFELD: Well, first of all, I haven't lied. I did not lie then.

Miklaszewski's report did not include any of the evidence that McGovern presented in support of his accusation. Miklaszewski did note that McGovern "challeng[ed] Rumsfeld's claim [that] Saddam Hussein had prior links to Al Qaeda." But while Miklaszewski showed footage of Rumsfeld saying Zarqawi was "in Baghdad," he omitted McGovern's response. Miklaszewski then declared that "Rumsfeld appeared to pretty much hold his own."

Miklaszewski's report on the May 5 broadcast of NBC's Today was even more deceptive. This time, Miklaszewski omitted McGovern response to Rumsfeld's claim about Zarqawi but included McGovern's subsequent statement that "these people aren't idiots." Like CBS' Martin, Miklaszewski provided no indication that the video had been edited.

Fox News

On the May 4 edition of Fox News' Special Report, host and Washington managing editor Brit Hume introduced footage of the exchange by noting that McGovern "accused ... Rumsfeld and the Bush administration of lying about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction." Hume's footage include McGovern's statement that "[y]ou said you knew where they [weapons of mass destruction] were" as well as Rumsfeld's response: "I did not. I said I knew where suspect sites were."

But the Hume's footage omitted the next portion of the exchange, in which McGovern pointed out that on This Week, Rumsfeld had claimed to know where the supposed weapons of mass destruction were. Hume's footage picked up again with McGovern's charge that Rumsfeld lied about an Iraq-Al Qaeda connection. Like Miklaszewski and Martin, Hume gave viewers no indication that the video had been edited.

Like Martin, Hume also showed viewers Rumsfeld's statement about U.S. troops' supposed belief that Iraq had chemical weapons but failed to show McGovern's response that it was a "non sequitur."

Associated Press

Similarly, a May 5 AP article quoted Rumsfeld's insistence that he had not lied about intelligence but included none of the evidence presented by McGovern:

"Why did you lie to get us into a war that caused these kind of casualties and was not necessary?" asked Ray McGovern, the former analyst.

"I did not lie," shot back Rumsfeld, who waved off security guards ready to remove McGovern from the hall at the Southern Center for International Studies.

From Rumsfeld's May 4 speech:

McGOVERN: Atlanta, September 27, 2002, Donald Rumsfeld said -- and I quote: There's "bulletproof" evidence of links between Al Qaeda and the government of President Saddam Hussein.

Was that a lie, Mr. Rumsfeld, or was that manufactured somewhere else? Because all of my CIA colleagues disputed that, and so did the 9-11 Commission.

And so I would like to ask you to be up front with the American people. Why did you lie to get us into a war that was not necessary and that has caused these kinds of casualties? Why?

RUMSFELD: Well, first of all, I haven't lied. I did not lie then. Colin Powell didn't lie. He spent weeks and weeks with the Central Intelligence Agency people and prepared a presentation that I know he believed was accurate. And he presented that to the United Nations.

The president spent weeks and weeks with the Central Intelligence people and he went to the American people and made a presentation. I'm not in the intelligence business. They gave the world their honest opinion. It appears that there were not weapons of mass destruction there.

McGOVERN: You said you knew where they were.

RUMSFELD: I did not. I said I knew where suspect sites were and we were just --

McGOVERN: You said you knew where they were near Tikrit, near Baghdad, and north, east, south, and west of there. Those are your words.

RUMSFELD: My words -- my words were that -- no, no, no wait a minute, wait a minute. Let him stay one second. Just a second.

McGOVERN: This is America.

RUMSFELD: You're getting plenty of play, sir.

McGOVERN: I'd just like an honest answer.

RUMSFELD: I'm giving it to you.

McGOVERN: We're talking about lies, and your allegation that there was "bulletproof" evidence of ties between Al Qaeda and Iraq. Was that a lie or were you misled?

RUMSFELD: Zarqawi was in Baghdad during the prewar period. That is a fact.

McGOVERN: Zarqawi? He was in the north of Iraq in a place where Saddam Hussein had no rule. That's where he was.

RUMSFELD: He was also in Baghdad.

McGOVERN: Yeah, when he needed to go to the hospital. Come on, these people aren't idiots. They know the story.

RUMSFELD: You are -- let me give you an example. It's easy for you to make a charge, but why do you think that the men and women in uniform, every day when they came out of Kuwait and went into Iraq, put on chemical weapon protective suits? Because they liked the style?

They honestly believed that there were chemical weapons. Saddam Hussein had used chemical weapons on his own people previously, he'd used them on his neighbor, the Iranians, and they believed he had those weapons. We believed he had those weapons.

McGOVERN: That's what we call a non sequitur. It doesn't matter what the troops believe, it matters what you believe.

From the May 4 broadcast of CBS' Evening News:

[video clip]

MARTIN [voice-over]: But a retired CIA officer waited his turn to ask a question and then went for Rumsfeld's throat.

McGOVERN: Why did you lie to get us into a war that was not necessary?

MARTIN [voice-over]: He was asking about faulty prewar intelligence on Iraq. And when guards started to take him away, Rumsfeld stepped in.

RUMSFELD: No, no, no, wait a minute. Wait a minute. Let him stay one second.

McGOVERN: Your allegation that there was bulletproof evidence of ties between Al Qaeda and Iraq. Was that a lie or were you misled?

RUMSFELD: Zarqawi was in Baghdad during the prewar period, that is a fact.

McGOVERN: Zarqawi, he was in the north of Iraq in a place where Saddam Hussein had no rule. That's where he was

RUMSFELD: He was also in Baghdad.

McGOVERN: Come on, these people aren't idiots, they know the story.

[...]

MARTIN [voice-over]: But the Zarqawi blooper reel was upstaged by the ex-CIA officer who also accused Rumsfeld of lying about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

McGOVERN: You said you knew where they were.

RUMSFELD: I did not. I said I knew where suspect sites were and we were just --

McGOVERN: You said you knew where they were near Tikrit, near Baghdad and north, east, south, and west of there. Those are your words.

RUMSFELD: Why do you think that the men and women in uniform, every day when they came out of Kuwait and they went into Iraq, put on chemical weapon protective suits? Because they liked the -- the style?

[end video clip]

MARTIN: This is not the first time a former CIA officer has accused the Bush administration of misusing intelligence. But, Bob, it's never been done in such an in-your-face way.

From the May 4 broadcast of NBC's Nightly News:

[video clip]

MIKLASZEWSKI [voice-over]: But the most contentious exchange came during questions from the audience.

McGOVERN: Why did you lie to get us into a war that was not necessary and that has caused these kinds of casualties? Why?

RUMSFELD: Well, first of all, I haven't lied. I did not lie then.

MIKLASZEWSKI [voice-over]: But the questioner, a long-retired CIA analyst, persisted, challenging Rumsfeld's claim Saddam Hussein had prior links to Al Qaeda.

McGOVERN: Was that a lie or were you misled?

RUMSFELD: Zarqawi was in Baghdad during the prewar period. That is a fact.

[end video clip]

MIKLASZEWSKI: Now, Rumsfeld appeared to pretty much hold his own during today's protest, but given the political season and an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq, officials here predict this won't be the last.

From the May 5 broadcast of NBC's Today:

[video clip]

MIKLASZEWSKI[voice-over]: But the most pointed criticism came during the question-and-answer session.

McGOVERN: Why did you lie to get us into a war that was not necessary and that has caused these kinds casualties? Why?

RUMSFELD: Well, first of all, I haven't lied. I did not lie then.

MIKLASZEWSKI [voice-over]: The questioner, a long-retired CIA analyst and political activist, challenged Rumsfeld's claim Saddam Hussein had ties to Al Qaeda.

McGOVERN: Was that a lie or were you misled?

RUMSFELD: Zarqawi was in Baghdad during the prewar period. That is a fact.

McGOVERN: Come on, these people aren't idiots. They know the story.

[end video clip]

MIKLASZEWSKI: Now, Secretary Rumsfeld pretty much stood his ground and answered all of the questions and most of the criticism. But officials here expect more of these kind of fireworks as elections draw near here at home and as the war drags on in Iraq.

From the May 4 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

HUME: Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, meanwhile, was trying to avoid taking guff during a speech today in Atlanta. Rumsfeld shrugged off a couple of hecklers and then took on an audience member who said he had worked at the CIA for 27 years and accused the Bush -- Rumsfeld and the Bush administration of lying about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

[video clip]

McGOVERN: Why did you lie to get us into a war that was not necessary and that has caused these kinds of casualties? Why?

RUMSFELD: Well, first of all, I haven't lied. I did not lie then.

Colin Powell didn't lie. He spent weeks and weeks with the Central Intelligence Agency people and prepared a presentation that I know he believed was accurate. And he presented that to the United Nations.

The president spent weeks and weeks with the Central Intelligence people, and he went to the American people and made a presentation. I'm not in the intelligence business. They gave the world their honest opinion. It appears that there were not weapons of mass destruction there.

McGOVERN: You said you knew where they were.

RUMSFELD: I did not. I said I knew where suspect sites were --

[...]

McGOVERN: Your allegation that there was bulletproof evidence of ties between Al Qaeda and Iraq. Was that a lie or were you misled?

RUMSFELD: Zarqawi was in Baghdad during the prewar period. That is a fact.

McGOVERN: Zarqawi? He was in the north of Iraq in a place where Saddam Hussein had no rule. That's where he was.

RUMSFELD: He was also in Baghdad.

McGOVERN: Yeah, when he needed to go to the hospital. Come on, these people aren't idiots. They know the story.

RUMSFELD: You are -- let me give you an example. It's easy for you to make a charge, but why do you think that the men and women in uniform, every day when they came out of Kuwait and went into Iraq, put on chemical weapon protective suits? Because they liked the style?

[end video clip]

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.