Why is CBS paying Nicolle Wallace to sound like Tony Snow?

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN

In her first appearance as a CBS "political consultant," former White House communications director Nicolle Wallace repeated several talking points recently advanced by the Bush administration.

On September 25, CBS News announced the hiring of Nicolle Wallace, who left her job as White House communications director three months ago, as a "political consultant." Two days later, Wallace made her first appearance on CBS in this capacity and immediately repeated talking points recently advanced by the White House communications office and President Bush himself.

On the September 27 edition of CBS' Early Show, co-host Harry Smith sat down with Wallace for a brief discussion of the recently released National Intelligence Estimate -- completed in April -- which concluded that the Iraq war has led to an increase in global terrorism. Smith first asked her, "What do you make of all of it?" Her response:

WALLACE: I think the most telling thing now is that this NIE has formed the basis of the public communications that the White House has engaged in, in a very concerted effort over the last six weeks to communicate directly to the American people about the stakes in Iraq. And they've made a lot of these points that are ... being played up and that are being politicized by Democrats -- have been made by the president.

Wallace's claim -- that the assessments contained in the NIE echo the statements made in recent months by Bush and his aides -- was laid out in detail in a White House press release published a day before her appearance on CBS. The September 26 release, titled "The Rest of the Story: The NIE Reflects Previous Statements About the War on Terror," purported to show how the Bush administration's message on Iraq has been consistent with the findings of the intelligence report. During a September 27 press briefing, White House press secretary Tony Snow reiterated this point, saying, "The NIE mirrors statements that the president has made about the nature of the threat that we face."

Wallace later took issue with Smith's assertion that Bush "decided to merge" the war on terror and the war on Iraq. Wallace replied, "[H]e didn't decide to merge them." Smith then noted that Bush has repeatedly stated that "the focal point of the war on terror is the war in Iraq." Following is Wallace's response:

WALLACE: I think that's because he listens to the words of the terrorists, who have written to each other in communications that it's very important that we're able to intercept that the central front in their war on terror is Iraq and that the stakes for the terrorists are higher in no other place than in Iraq. So, I think that's why he said, "Don't take my word for it. Listen to the terrorists themselves."

Again, the argument offered by Wallace can be traced back to a White House press release, this one titled "In Their Own Words: What the Terrorists Believe, What They Hope to Accomplish, and How They Intend to Accomplish It." The September 5 release included a section headlined, "The Terrorists On The Importance Of Iraq," that listed statements from Al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri on the need for victory in Iraq. The release also coincided with a September 5 speech from Bush in which he quoted extensively from various terrorist communications and asserted, "[T]hey've made clear that the most important front in their struggle against America is Iraq."

Moreover, a day before Wallace's appearance on the Early Show, homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend held a White House press briefing on the NIE during which NBC News White House correspondent David Gregory questioned Bush's repeated conflation of the war in Iraq and the war on terror, saying, "[O]ne might conclude from this, though it does not explicitly state it in any way here, that had we not done Iraq first ... that you might not have created what they refer to here as the Iraqi jihad movement that has attracted so much motion." Townsend -- like Wallace -- responded by citing the "the quotations from Al Qaeda, themselves." She said, "[P]ut aside for the moment what the president has said, because he's been clear about the administration's view. Let's look at what bin Laden and Zawahiri have said ... about this [Iraq] being either where they're going to have ultimate victory or ultimate defeat."

Not only does Wallace still appear to be taking her cues from the White House, she has frequently lavished praise on Bush in her various media appearances since leaving the administration in late June. For instance, on the August 27 edition of ABC's This Week, during a discussion of Bush's handling of the Gulf Coast reconstruction following Hurricane Katrina, she referred to him as a "president who is walk-the-walk, who made a commitment and is following through on that commitment." Later in the show, Wallace remarked, "I think you see Republicans, you know, voting their conscience on issues like stem cell [research]. ... That's certainly what the president did." Further, during a June 30 interview on CNN's The Situation Room, Wallace described Bush as an "incredibly consequential and relevant leader of our times" and "somebody who, you know, fights for what he believes in."

From the September 27 edition of CBS' The Early Show:

SMITH: We want to bring in Nicolle Wallace, a former communications director for President Bush who is now a CBS News political consultant. Nicolle, good morning.

WALLACE: Good morning.

SMITH: It sure has been interesting to watch the war of words over the last couple of days. What do you make of all of it?

WALLACE: Well, we've seen this before. In the weeks -- about the same point in the election cycle in 2004, there was a very similar environment. We saw leaks from the intelligence community. We saw them leap to the front pages of The New York Times and other newspapers.

SMITH: Mm-hmm.

WALLACE: We saw the White House -- I was at the campaign at the time, but we worked to release more of this information. But I think the most telling thing now is that this NIE has formed the basis of the public communications that the White House has engaged in, in a very concerted effort over the last six weeks to communicate directly to the American people about the stakes in Iraq. And they've made a lot of these points that are --

SMITH: Right.

WALLACE: -- that are being played up and that are being politicized by Democrats --

SMITH: Well, it's --

WALLACE: -- have been made by the president.

SMITH: It's interesting, though, for this president, because he doesn't get good marks for the war in Iraq, but he does get good marks, in so far as the public is concerned, about the war on terror.

WALLACE: Right.

SMITH: He's decided to merge the two. And what this intelligence estimate says is: This is a failure. Is -- the war is a failure, and it's created this sort of jihadist utopia over there.

WALLACE: You know, he didn't decide to merge them. I think what he's done --

SMITH: Well, how do you -- what do you mean? No, he -- in his verbiage -- for how many years now, he's merged those two issues. He says they're the same thing. He's said 100 times in the last month --

WALLACE: Sure.

SMITH: -- that the focal point of the war on terror is the war in Iraq.

WALLACE: And I think that's because he listens to the words of the terrorists, who have written to each other in communications that it's very important that we're able to intercept that the central front in their war on terror is Iraq, and that the stakes for the terrorists --

SMITH: Mm-hmm.

WALLACE: -- are higher in no other place than in Iraq. So, I think that's why he's said, "Don't take my word for it. Listen to the terrorists themselves." And he delivered a pretty powerful speech in the walk-up to 9-11 where he really relied on the words of the terrorists --

SMITH: Mm-hmm.

WALLACE: -- to convey the importance of victory in Iraq to their cause.

SMITH: All right. Nicolle, thanks so much for being with us, and welcome aboard.

WALLACE: Thanks a lot.

SMITH: We're happy to have you here at CBS News.

From the August 27 edition of ABC's This Week:

WALLACE: You know, I think there's the sense that, as with Iraq, and as with any other issue that voters will go to the polls and express themselves on in November, that it's a choice. And again, the contrast is a president, who is walk-the-walk, who made a commitment and is following through on that commitment, and Democrats, who, you know, when national Democrats send out press releases railing against the president's performance on Katrina, I think they show that they are now out of touch. People in the region are focused on rebuilding. Everyone you talk to --

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (host): But most Americans agree. Most Americans think the government hasn't done a good job.

WALLACE: Well, but I think, again, the administration has an opportunity to show that it is walk-the-walk and it has done that. The president made promises a year ago, and he's going back down there this week. He is holding the government's feet to the fire himself, so, I don't think that there'll be an opportunity for Democrats to politicize the response.

[...]

WALLACE: Oh, I think you see Republicans, you know, voting their conscience on issues like stem cell [research]. And I think that that is something that the White House understands. That's certainly what the president did. And they pay a lot of attention to scientific developments on this front. I know that whenever new studies come out, they're followed very closely and policy folks on up to the president pay very close attention.

From the June 30 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

JOHN KING (guest host): What did you learn about president at that moment?

WALLACE: Well, I think the president is somebody who, you know, fights for what he believes in, and, you know, he stood by her [former Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers], and I think was proud to do so. And, you know, it was a difficult time here, no doubt.

[...]

KING: What does the president say when he watches television or reads the newspapers and sees the term "lame duck"?

WALLACE: I -- you know, I don't think he will accept that, you know, until he's back at his ranch. And, even then, I think he will always be an incredibly consequential and relevant leader of our times. And, so, he's told the press directly, the folks that cover us, that they are going to be sprinting until the finish -- that he is going to keep it interesting. And I'm sure he will.

Posted In
Government, The Presidency & White House
Network/Outlet
CBS
Person
Nicolle Wallace
Show/Publication
The Early Show
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