In reports on the dispute over the Bush and Clinton administrations' anti-terrorism policies and their culpability in failing to prevent the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Associated Press and Newsday presented the two sides of the argument without exploring the factual basis for either.
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In reporting on the ongoing war of words between Bush aides and supporters of former President Bill Clinton over the two administrations' respective anti-terrorism efforts, the Associated Press and Newsday simply presented the two sides of the argument without exploring the factual basis for either. Both outlets reported that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denounced as false President Clinton's recent assertion that the incoming Bush administration was left with a "comprehensive anti-terror strategy," but neither noted that the 9-11 Commission report supports President Clinton's account. Both outlets also included Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's (D-NY) subsequent comment that, if the Clinton national security team had received the now-famous August 6, 2001, CIA memo warning of Al Qaeda's determination to strike the United States, they "would have taken it more seriously than history suggests it was taken by our current president." But neither the AP nor Newsday noted that, according to the 9-11 Commission report, when President Clinton received a similar briefing in 1998 he immediately mobilized the intelligence and law-enforcement communities in response.
Further, Fox News repeatedly highlighted Rice's comments and cast doubt on Sen. Clinton's, while ignoring entirely the 9-11 Commission report's findings that the Clinton administration both responded forcefully to the 1998 warning and left Bush a strategy for pursuing Al Qaeda.
A "comprehensive anti-terror strategy"
On September 25, Rice sat down with the editorial board of the New York Post to respond to former President Clinton's recent assertion that the Bush administration failed to adequately address the growing terrorism threat during the eight months prior to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He put forth this argument during a contentious interview with Fox News host Chris Wallace that aired on the September 24 edition of Fox News Sunday. In her comments to the Post, Rice asserted that the Bush White House "was at least as aggressive as" the Clinton administration in pursuing Al Qaeda and denied that she had been left "a comprehensive anti-terror strategy," as President Clinton stated in the interview. Both the September 26 AP article and September 27 Newsday article reported Rice's denial but made no effort to check them against the findings of the 9-11 Commission report.
In fact, the commission found that near the end of 2000, the CIA and the National Security Council drew up policy papers -- known as the "Blue Sky memo" -- that laid out anti-terrorism strategies for the succeeding administration. Then-counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke also drafted a counterterrorism strategy memo in late 2000, which the 9-11 Commission described as "the first such comprehensive effort since the Delenda plan" -- a paper written by Clarke in 1998 laying out a strategy to "immediately eliminate any significant threat to Americans" from the "Bin Ladin network." The commission wrote that Clarke's 2000 memo -- titled "Strategy for Eliminating the Threat from the Jihadist Networks of al Qida [sic]: Status and Prospects" -- "reviewed the threat and the record to date, incorporated the CIA's new ideas from the Blue Sky memo, and posed several near-term policy options." Moreover, the report found that Clarke presented this strategy memo and the Delenda plan to Rice in the "first few days after Bush's inauguration," as Media Matters has noted.
On the September 26 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle reported Rice's denial that she had received a "comprehensive strategy" from the Clinton administration and noted the Delenda plan, which he said the "administration failed to implement ... over three years." But Angle ignored entirely Clarke's delivery of the 2000 memo.
By contrast to the AP, Newsday, and Fox News, a September 27 article by Washington Post staff writer Peter Baker reported that "Clarke sent Rice an al-Qaeda memo on Jan. 25, 2001, along with a strategy to 'roll back' the terrorist network, but the Bush team decided to conduct the policy review." Further, on the September 26 edition of ABC's World News Tonight, senior national correspondent Jake Tapper noted that Rice's account "is contradicted by the 9-11 Commission report, which describes Rice receiving, in January 2001, a comprehensive paper titled, 'Strategy for Eliminating the Threat from the Jihadist Networks of Al Qaeda.' " Similarly, on the September 26 edition of NBC's Nightly News, chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell reported that "five days after taking office," Rice received "a 13-page strategy paper from the Clinton team on how to fight Al Qaeda."
Bush and Clinton's respective reactions to warnings of Al Qaeda strikes
During a September 26 Capitol Hill press conference, Sen. Clinton objected to Rice's assertion that Bush "was at least as aggressive as" President Clinton on the Al Qaeda threat. She stated: "I'm certain that if my husband and his national security team had been shown a classified report entitled 'Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States,' he would have taken it more seriously than history suggests it was taken by our current president."
In their subsequent articles, both the AP and Newsday simply contrasted the arguments put forward by Rice and Sen. Clinton. But just as these outlets failed to note that the 9-11 Commission report undermined Rice's comments, they ignored that it supported Sen. Clinton's.
Absent from the AP and Newsday articles was any mention of the 9-11 Commission report's determination that the Clinton administration received a memo similar to that delivered to Bush on August 6, 2001. The CIA delivered this memo, titled "Bin Ladin Preparing to Hijack US Aircraft and Other Attacks," on December 4, 1998. The commission's report described the Clinton White House's immediate and aggressive response to the warning:
The same day, Clarke convened a meeting of his CSG [Counterterrorism Security Group] to discuss both the hijacking concern and the antiaircraft missile threat. To address the hijacking warning, the group agreed that New York airports should go to maximum security starting that weekend. They agreed to boost security at other East coast airports. The CIA agreed to distribute versions of the report to the FBI and FAA to pass to the New York Police Department and the airlines. The FAA issued a security directive on December 8, with specific requirements for more intensive air carrier screening of passengers and more oversight of the screening process, at all three New York area airports.
As the weblog Think Progress noted, President Clinton's response to the 1998 CIA memo stands in stark contrast to the report's description of the Bush administration's reaction to the August 6, 2001, briefing. The commission stated that Bush "did not recall discussing the August 6 report with the Attorney General or whether Rice had done so" and "found no indication" that his aides further discussed with him "the possibility of a threat of an al Qaeda attack in the United States" prior to 9-11 -- this despite the fact that "[m]ost of the intelligence community recognized in the summer of 2001 that the number and severity of threat reports were unprecedented."
By contrast to the AP and Newsday, a September 27 article by New York Times reporter Raymond Hernandez quoted an aide to Sen. Clinton who cited the 1998 memo:
But Philippe Reines, a spokesman for Senator Clinton, noted that the 9/11 Commission Report found that after President Clinton received intelligence warnings in 1998, he immediately mobilized his National Security Council, the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. while also increasing security and putting airports and airlines on high alert. By contrast, he said, the commission found no indication of any further discussion before Sept. 11 among President Bush and his top advisers of the possibility of a threat of an attack by Al Qaeda in the United States, even after Mr. Bush received an August 2001 briefing that Mr. bin Laden intended to attack inside the United States.
"President Clinton saw the warnings and took action,'' Mr. Reines said. "President Bush saw the warnings and took no action.
On the September 26 edition of Fox News' The Big Story, host John Gibson brought up the 1998 warning in a misleading effort to rebut Sen. Clinton's remarks. During the "My Word" segment of the show, Gibson quoted her statement that, if her husband "had been shown" the August 6 memo, "he would have taken it more seriously than history suggests it was taken by our current president." Gibson responded, "Well, Bill Clinton was shown that" and proceeded to read the headline of the 1998 memo warning of Al Qaeda hijackings in the United States. Apparently unaware of the Clinton administration's aggressive response to that very warning -- as reported by the 9-11 Commission -- Gibson asked, "Will Hillary now correct the record and apologize for misstating the facts? No, she won't."
On the September 27 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade similarly attempted to undermine Sen. Clinton's argument. At the beginning of the segment, co-host Steve Doocy held up that day's edition of the New York Post, which featured photos of Rice and Sen. Clinton and the headline "It's War." Doocy informed viewers that Rice had earlier told the Post "that Bill Clinton pretty much lied when he was sitting across, wagging his finger at Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday." The hosts then aired Sen. Clinton's statement, after which Kilmeade remarked, "I am astounded personally for the past three-and-a-half weeks that the president and the administration -- from [Clinton national security adviser] Sandy Berger to Hillary Clinton -- want this argument, because we don't know what their daily briefings said. We don't know."
From the September 26 edition of Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson:
GIBSON: Now, "My Word."
In all the hollering Bill Clinton started when he showed his roughneck followers how to fight dirty in his interview with Chris Wallace, there has been some conspicuous trifling with the facts by FOBs -- friends of Bill -- including one from his best friend, his wife, who already has a campaign chair for her presidential campaign, when she hasn't even announced she is actually running.
Look at a couple of quotes, and you decide.
Quote number one, Hillary Clinton today: "I'm certain, if my husband and his national security team had been shown a classified report entitled, 'Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States,' he would have taken it more seriously than history suggests it was taken by our current president and his national team."
Well, Bill Clinton was shown that.
Quote number two, a presidential daily brief sent to President Bill Clinton, December 4, 1998, about three years before bin Laden attacked on 9-11. Quote: "Bin Laden and his allies are preparing attacks in the U.S., including aircraft hijacking."
Will Hillary now correct the record and apologize for misstating the facts? No, she won't.
That's because the Democrats have figured it out. The wussiness of the Gore campaign and the Kerry campaign are now officially out. We're back to the old days of brass-knuckle Clinton fighters. Damn the facts. Just come out slugging. Politics under Clinton rules is offense, offense, offense. Don't get caught up in the details of what is actually true and what is not. Just get up a good head of steam, turn purple with rage, and attack.
From the September 27 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
DOOCY: This according to the tabloid known as the New York Post, it is war. Because as you know, yesterday we told you that Condoleezza Rice said that Bill Clinton pretty much lied when he was sitting across, wagging his finger at Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. And now Hillary, the wife of the former president, is firing back at Condi. Take a listen to what she had to say yesterday.
CLINTON [video clip]: I'm certain that if my husband and his national security team had been shown a classified report entitled, "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States," he would have taken it more seriously than history suggests it was taken by our current president.
GRETCHEN CARLSON (co-host): All right, so what did the president say in response to that? Because now you gotta wonder when this war of words is going to end.
Do you hear all that other noise going on?
KILMEADE: It's not. I don't hear a thing.
But what he said yesterday was that "I'm too busy to point fingers." But here's the thing -- I am astounded personally for the past three-and-a-half weeks that the president and the administration -- from Sandy Berger to Hillary Clinton -- want this argument, because we don't know what their daily briefings said. We don't know. We know that in August the president got something that said "Bin Laden Determined to Attack within the United States." And that -- you know, did he take it serious enough? According to the 9-11 report, no, didn't do enough. On 9-9, he did say let's go kill him -- wasn't soon enough.
However, if you want to look at the record, Steve, for example, in '93, the World Trade Center -- that should have been a thing. In '98, the African embassy bombers -- that should have been something you took action on. In '96, the Khobar Towers -- maybe that should have been it. When you stop Khalid Shaikh Mohammed's -- or, excuse me, Ramzi Yousef's plan -- the Bojinka plot -- to blow up 12 planes -- maybe that should have been a reason to bomb Bin Laden.
From the September 26 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
ANGLE: National security adviser Condi Rice declined to talk about Mr. Clinton's charges, but told the New York Post that the 9-11 Commission had it right. "Nobody organized this country or the international community to fight the terrorist threat that was upon us until 9-11, when the attack on this country mobilized us to fight the war on terror in a very different way. But the notion that somehow, for eight months, the Bush administration sat there and didn't do that is just flatly false." Among other things, she said the Bush administration pushed to arm with Hellfire missiles the Predator, an aerial surveillance vehicle that had previously spotted bin Laden but had no way to attack him. The administration also turned up the heat on Pakistan and others in the region whose cooperation was critical in cracking down on the Taliban and Al Qaeda. That and other efforts, including covert action, were still under way when the 9-11 attacks came.
Rice says the Clinton administration did not pass on a comprehensive strategy. There was something called the Delenda plan proposed by Richard Clarke in 1998, but the Clinton administration failed to implement it over three years. And even if fully adopted by the Bush administration, Clarke later said, there was not the remotest chance it would have prevented 9-11.