Stephanopoulos left unchallenged Bush's revisionist history on "stay the course," Woodward books

››› ››› KURT DONALDSON & ANDREW SEIFTER

In his interview with President Bush, ABC's George Stephanopoulos did not challenge Bush on several statements that directly contradict previous statements and actions, including when Bush asserted that his administration has "never been stay the course" in Iraq.

In the portion of his interview with President Bush broadcast on the October 22 edition of ABC's This Week, host George Stephanopoulos let go without challenge several statements from Bush that contradict previous statements and actions. First, as the weblog Think Progress noted, Bush asserted that his administration has "never been stay the course" in Iraq, a statement to which Stephanopoulos could have responded -- but didn't -- by noting that Bush and other senior administration officials have repeatedly described the U.S. policy in Iraq as "stay the course." Bush began articulating his strategy for Iraq as "stay the course" shortly after the war began in March 2003 and has persisted until very recently, as Think Progress noted, and Media Matters for America has also documented (here and here).

Then, while discussing Washington Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward's new book, State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III, which centers on the Bush administration's execution of the war in Iraq, Stephanopoulos did not challenge Bush when he criticized Woodward and others as being "myopic" for writing about Bush while "I'm still in the midst of my presidency." But if such endeavors are "myopic," then why did Bush grant Woodward interviews for his first two books about the Bush presidency and the conduct of the war, Bush at War (Simon & Schuster, November 2002) and Plan of Attack (Simon & Schuster, April 2004)? Stephanopoulos did not ask. Stephanopoulos might also have pointed out that the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign did not criticize the timing of Plan of Attack when it was released and, indeed, the campaign promoted the book on its "suggested reading list" in 2004. Moreover, as Media Matters has noted, in addition to Bush himself, Woodward's sources for his books on the administration have included Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, and former White House chief of staff Andrew H. Card Jr.

Stephanopoulos also allowed Bush to claim that he "didn't read any" of Woodward's books about his administration. Stephanopoulos might, again, have asked if Bush condoned his campaign's promotion of the 2004 book without his having read it; whether given Bush's reported cooperation with Woodward in the production of the first two books, Bush wasn't interested to find out whether the administration had been accurately represented; and, finally, given the reported participation of several members of his administration in the production of the third book, whether Bush wasn't interested to know what the American people were learning from his own staff's accounts in Woodward's latest book.

Additionally, Stephanopoulos did not follow up on Bush's claim that his administration has "[a]dded 6.6 million new jobs since August 2003." But Bush was touting job growth over a selected timeframe, ignoring earlier job losses. In fact, as Media Matters has documented, the economy lost jobs in 24 of the first 30 full months of Bush's presidency (February 2001 through July 2003), shedding a net total of approximately 2.6 million jobs during that period, according to "Total Nonfarm Employment -- Seasonally Adjusted" data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Overall, 3.2 million new jobs have been created in the first 68 months of the Bush presidency. In contrast, the first 68 months of the Clinton presidency saw a net gain of approximately 16.8 million jobs, according to the same BLS survey, with a net gain of 22.7 million jobs by the end of Clinton's second term in January 2001.

From the October 22 edition of ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is the government [of Iraq] performing up to your standards right now?

BUSH: The government is. Look -- look, these guys have been in office for about four months. [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-] Maliki -- I -- in my judgment, Maliki has got what it takes to lead a unity government. But what you're seeing is a new -- a new form of government actually beginning to evolve after years of tyranny. I'm patient. I'm not patient forever. And I'm not patient with dawdling. But I recognize the degree of difficulty of the task and, therefore, we say to the American people, we won't cut and run. On the other hand, we'll constantly adjust our strategy --

STEPHANOPOULOS: That's exactly what I wanted to ask you about because [former Secretary of State under President George H.W. Bush] James Baker says he's looking for something between --

BUSH: Cut and run --

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- cut and run and stay the course.

BUSH: Listen, we've never been stay the course, George. We have been -- we will complete the mission. We will do our job and help achieve the goal, but we're constantly adjusting to tactics.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And that's exactly --

BUSH: Constantly.

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- here's what I don't get.

BUSH: OK.

STEPHANOPOULOS: James Baker is a smart guy. He's got a solid group of people on that study group. But what can he come up with that you and your military commanders haven't already thought of?

BUSH: Well, why don't we wait and see. I don't -- we're not in collaboration with the Baker-Hamilton committee. I think this is a good idea for -- to get people outside to come and take a look. That's an interesting question. I'm looking forward to seeing the answer.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, a lot of people think we shouldn't wait. And that, if a change of strategy is needed, it shouldn't come after the election, it should come now.

BUSH: We're constantly changing tactics -- constantly changing tactics.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is the strategy working now?

BUSH: If it's not working, our commanders change it, and there's progress being made on the political front. There's some progress being made on the security front. In terms of getting more Iraqi -- eventually, it's going to be up to Iraq to defend herself.

[...]

STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, you said in your press conference last week -- you joked about all the books being written -

BUSH: Yeah.

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- about your administration. Have you read any of them?

BUSH: No.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Why not?

BUSH: You know, I don't know. I haven't read the bad ones. I haven't read the good ones. I guess it makes me -- it's kind of weird to be reading books about yourself when you're still trying to be the president. I really haven't.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How do you explain, though, how Bob Woodward, who's written, now three books --

BUSH: I didn't read the book.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I know, but he's written three books about your presidency --

BUSH: Well, I didn't read any of them.

STEPHANOPOULOS: None of them -- even when they were laudatory.

BUSH: George, I have not read one book about me. I've read a lot of books this year, and -- but not one about myself. You know, I just -- I feel uncomfortable reading about myself. It's -- it's hard for you to relate, I think. But my presidency -- I'm still in the midst of my presidency, and people are writing books about my presidency. It is -- that is -- it is so myopic in many ways. The true history of my presidency will not be reflected until way after I'm gone.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you don't think there's anything you could learn from these books in real-time?

BUSH: No.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What was the last book you read?

BUSH: I'm reading History of the English Speaking Peoples from 1990 on -- 1900 on. It's a great book.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What are you taking from it?

BUSH: I'm taking that -- I'm taking that -- sometimes, history gets distorted.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you have to take the long view.

BUSH: Yes, you do.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You can see my entire interview with President Bush on our website.

[...]

STEPHANOPOULOS: Given the fact you think the economy is doing so well, and the economy has been growing, how do you explain why, in almost every poll, two-thirds of Americans think we're going in the wrong direction?

BUSH: George, I can -- all I can imagine is what happens if the unemployment rate were 10 percent? I mean, I -- look, I can't answer that. I'm not a poll guy. That's you. I don't analyze polls. All I can tell you is that people are working. The unemployment rate is 4.6 percent -- added 6.6 million new jobs since August 2003. This economy is strong. And thankfully, it's strong. Because, you know, I -- people -- people talk about all kinds of things of being issues. I've always found the economy to be an issue, and if it's good, you do OK. If it's not good, you don't do OK.

[...]

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA): Yes, between Shia and Sunni. This is a civil war. Donald Rumsfeld said our soldiers will not be caught in a civil war. George Bush said we will not tolerate North Korea having the nuclear weapon. Both are happening, and they're just sitting there with the same-old, same-old. This administration doesn't have a policy. Their policy is stay to course. The president said again -- he misled America there.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You haven't --

KERRY: He said we won't stay the course. He said we'll stay the course again and again and again.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You do have --

KERRY: You have to set a date because it's the only way to get Iraqis to respond.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
ABC
Person
George Stephanopoulos
Show/Publication
This Week
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