Media amnesia: News outlets omitted key facts in coverage of Bush press conference

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN

In their coverage of President Bush's August 21 press conference, the media repeatedly omitted key information, including evidence of sharp divisions among Republicans on the issue of withdrawal from Iraq and repeated examples of Bush administration officials suggesting a connection between the 9-11 attacks and Iraq.

In addition, the Los Angeles Times uncritically quoted Bush's false claim that critics of his warrantless domestic surveillance program want to deprive law enforcement officials of "the tools necessary to protect the American people." Further, in a report on the press conference, CBS' Early Show recycled Republicans' "cut and run" rhetoric.

Media ignored GOP divisions over Iraq withdrawal

In his remarks at the press conference, Bush singled out Democrats as those who "who believe the best course of action is to leave Iraq." But a growing number of Republican lawmakers also support redeploying troops out of Iraq in the near future -- a fact that many news outlets neglected to point out.

Following are several examples of Republican members of Congress who have called for some form of withdrawal:

  • Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) has on numerous occasions urged the administration to set a plan for withdrawal. Most recently, he said on the August 20 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co's Fox News Sunday that the United States should "start withdrawing troops" in the next six months.
  • Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT) -- previously a vocal opponent of redeployment -- has "promised to offer a time frame for troop withdrawals when he returns next week from his 14th trip to Iraq," according to an August 19 Washington Post article. "We have to say 'This is the latest we will leave' and be able to live with that," Shays told the Post.
  • After returning from a trip to Baghdad in July, Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-MN) urged the Bush administration to begin withdrawing U.S. forces immediately. A July 20 Post article reported that Gutknecht -- "once a strong supporter of the war" -- had declared that "conditions in Baghdad were far worse 'than we'd been led to believe.' "
  • GOP Reps. Walter B. Jones Jr. (NC) and Ron E. Paul (TX) both co-sponsored a bipartisan resolution last June that would have required Bush to submit a withdrawal plan by the end of 2005. "I voted for the resolution to commit the troops, and I feel that we've done about as much as we can do," Jones said on the June 12, 2005, edition of ABC's This Week.

Despite the positions taken by these lawmakers, news reports on the August 21 press conference advanced the false impression -- left by Bush -- that only Democrats support withdrawal. For instance, on the August 22 edition of CBS' Early Show, senior White House correspondent Bill Plante reported that Bush "made it clear he's not going to stop pointing out his disagreement with anti-war Democrats" and aired a clip of Bush labeling the Democrats' call for redeployment "wrong." But while Plante noted that "a lot of" GOP lawmakers are resisting the White House's suggestion that they embrace the issue of Iraq during the lead-up to the midterm elections, he failed to note those Republicans who have themselves called for withdrawal.

Similarly, an August 21 article by Reuters staff writer Jeremy Pelofsy reported that "Bush said he would continue to challenge Democrats who called for the quick withdrawal of U.S. troops" without noting the Republican support for redeployment.

Media ignored White House's repeated suggestion of Iraq-Al Qaeda link

At one point during the August 21 press conference, Cox News staff writer Ken Herman challenged Bush after he alluded to a connection between the war in Iraq and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Bush responded by declaring that Iraq had "nothing" to do with the attacks and that no one in his administration "has ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq":

BUSH: You know, I've heard this theory about everything was just fine until we arrived [in Iraq], and kind of "we're going to stir up the hornet's nest" theory. It just doesn't hold water, as far as I'm concerned. The terrorists attacked us and killed 3,000 of our citizens before we started the freedom agenda in the Middle East.

HERMAN: What did Iraq have to do with that?

BUSH: What did Iraq have to do with what?

HERMAN: The attack on the World Trade Center?

BUSH: Nothing, except for it's part of -- and nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack. Iraq was a -- the lesson of September the 11th is, take threats before they fully materialize, Ken. Nobody has ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq. I have suggested, however, that resentment and the lack of hope create the breeding grounds for terrorists who are willing to use suiciders to kill to achieve an objective. I have made that case.

In her report on the press conference during the August 21 edition of CNN's Live From ..., White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux said that the exchange between Bush and Herman "underscores the intensity, perhaps, of the suspicion and the debate whether or not this administration intentionally blurred the lines between Iraq and September 11 to justify the invasion of Iraq three years ago." But while Malveaux reported Bush's denial of any connection between Iraq and September 11, she failed to note the stark contrast between this assertion and his previous statements suggesting the opposite. For instance, on October 14, 2002, Bush declared, "[T]here is a connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein." Shortly before the invasion, on March 17, 2003, he claimed that Saddam's government had "aided, trained and harbored terrorists, including operatives of Al Qaeda." And on May 1, 2003, Bush said that the toppling of Saddam's government had "removed an ally of Al Qaeda."

USA Today staff writer David Jackson also reported Bush's answer to Herman's question without providing this context. From his August 22 article: "When asked what Iraq had to do with the Sept. 11 terror attacks, Bush said, 'Nothing.'"

L.A. Times uncritically reported GOP "straw man" on warrantless surveillance

When asked at the press conference about the recent federal court ruling striking down his warrantless domestic surveillance program, Bush falsely suggested that Democrats and other critics of the program oppose wiretapping of suspected terrorists. He said, "Those who heralded the decision not to give law enforcement the tools necessary to protect the American people simply don't see the world the way we do." Both White House senior adviser Karl Rove and Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman have previously claimed that Democrats want to "surrender" the ability to eavesdrop on terrorists and "disagree" with the proposition that "if Al Qaeda is calling somebody in America, it is in our national security interest to know who they're calling and why." But as Media Matters has repeatedly noted, this is a "straw man" argument. Indeed, Democratic leaders have explicitly acknowledged the need for U.S. intelligence agencies to spy on suspected terrorists but have said that the government should conduct such surveillance in accordance with the law.

Nonetheless, in an August 22 article on the press conference, Los Angeles Times staff writer Peter Wallsten uncritically reported Bush's statement:

He invoked one of Democrats' favorite topics -- the National Security Agency's warrantless domestic surveillance, which a federal judge ruled unconstitutional last week -- as a way to ridicule his opponents while tying Iraq to his broader foreign policy of targeting terrorists.

"Those who heralded the decision not to give law enforcement the tools necessary to protect the American people simply don't see the world the way we do," Bush said.

CBS went further than Bush, claimed he "said now is not the time to cut and run"

On the August 22 edition of CBS' Early Show, co-host Hannah Storm told viewers: "President Bush acknowledged Monday that the war in Iraq has put a strain on America and its people. But he also said now is not the time to cut and run." Yet in repeating the common Republican talking point that proposals to redeploy U.S. troops out of Iraq amount to a "cut and run" strategy, Storm went a step further than even Bush himself. Indeed, while he has used the term on numerous occasions in recent months, Bush refrained from doing so during the August 21 press conference.

From the August 22 edition of CBS' Early Show:

STORM: President Bush acknowledged Monday that the war in Iraq has put a strain on America and its people. But he also said now is not the time to cut and run. CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante has details.

[...]

PLANTE: But the president made it clear that he's not going to stop pointing out his disagreement with anti-war Democrats.

BUSH: What matters is that -- in this campaign -- that we clarify the different point of view. And there are a lot of people in the Democrat [sic] Party who believe that the best course of action is to leave Iraq before the job is done. Period. And they're wrong.

PLANTE: Now the president insists that he is not questioning the patriotism of those who disagree with him. But, at the same time, he calls Iraq a fundamental issue of national security. And it's the issue that the White House wants Republicans to run on this fall. Problem is, a lot of them aren't taking that very well.

From the August 21 edition of CNN's Live From ...:

MALVEAUX: And, also, [CNN anchor] Kyra [Phillips], a very interesting, poignant exchange with a reporter, who, quite frankly, asked the president, what does Iraq have to do with the attack on the World Trade Center, the September 11th attacks? President Bush said, "Nothing."

And, then, he goes on to say nobody's ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attacks. He said, the lessons of September 11th is to take the threats before they fully materialize, and that Iraq, they believed at the time, having weapons of mass destruction, their belief was, is that it was, in fact, a threat.

But, Kyra, the fact that this question even came up, three years after the Iraq war, really underscores the intensity, perhaps, of the suspicion and the debate whether or not this administration intentionally blurred the lines between Iraq and September 11th to justify the invasion of Iraq three years ago.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, Terrorism, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
CBS, CNN, USA Today, Los Angeles Times
Person
Suzanne Malveaux
Show/Publication
Live From..., The Early Show
Stories/Interests
Christopher Dodd, 2008 Elections
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