On Bush legacy tour, media often just along for the ride

››› ››› SIMON MALOY, ELBERT VENTURA, ANDREW WALZER, MATT GERTZ, LAUREN AUERBACH & TOM ALLISON

In recent weeks, the media have repeatedly indulged President Bush and Vice President Cheney through various interview stops on their Bush legacy tour, utterly failing to push back against statements that were demonstrably false or highly disputable. Media Matters has reviewed interviews given by Bush and Cheney since the November 4 election and has identified numerous instances in which interviewers have failed to challenge false or debatable statements; these failures span a variety of issues, including Hurricane Katrina, prewar Iraq intelligence, national security, and the economy.

In a June 2006 interview with the Columbia Journalism Review, PBS NewsHour host Jim Lehrer explained how he handles public officials who make "blatantly untrue" statements: "I don't deal in terms like 'blatantly untrue.' That's for other people to decide when something's 'blatantly untrue.' ... I'm not in the judgment part of journalism. I'm in the reporting part of journalism." Indeed, as Media Matters for America has noted, Lehrer has conducted interviews consistent with a theory that sources or subjects should not be challenged on their falsehoods. In recent weeks, as Lehrer did with Vice President Cheney in 2006, the media -- including Lehrer -- have repeatedly indulged President Bush and the vice president through various interview stops on their Bush legacy tour, utterly failing to push back against statements that were demonstrably false or highly disputable. Media Matters has reviewed interviews given by Bush and Cheney -- reportedly armed with talking points that "present[] the Bush record as an unalloyed success" -- since the November 4 election and has identified numerous instances in which interviewers have failed to challenge false or debatable statements; these failures span a variety of issues, including Hurricane Katrina, prewar Iraq intelligence, national security, and the economy.

Examples include:

Claim: The Bush administration is responsible for "keep[ing] the nation safe"

Several interviewers failed to challenge assertions by Bush and Cheney that, in Cheney's words, "we've managed to keep the nation safe from further terrorist attacks for the last seven and a half years." In these cases, interviewers did not note that a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released on April 17, 2008 -- titled "The United States Lacks Comprehensive Plan to Destroy the Terrorist Threat and Close the Safe Haven in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas" -- found that "[t]he United States has not met its national security goals to destroy terrorist threats and close the safe haven in Pakistan's FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas]." Nor did they note that investigative journalist Ron Suskind has reported that many CIA analysts believe Al Qaeda leaders have declined to attack the United States again for strategic reasons, not due to the Bush administration's counterterrorism policies. Further, the degree to which several terrorist attacks the Bush administration supposedly thwarted were credible threats has been disputed.

Additionally, during interviews with Cheney, Fox News host Sean Hannity and CNN contributor and radio host Bill Bennett have themselves asserted that the Bush administration is responsible for "keeping us safe" following the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Examples of Bush and Cheney making such statements, unchallenged by their interviewers, or interviewers making such statements to Cheney, include:

  • In a December 15 interview with nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh, Cheney said, "I think the extent to which we've kept the country safe and secure now for the last seven-and-a-half years has been probably the achievement that I'm proudest of." From the interview:

LIMBAUGH: What are you most proud of? I mean, everybody is focusing right now on negative things. We find ourselves in the midst of an economic circumstance that has people unsettled because they don't know yet where it's going in terms of where it's going to bottom out. In times like this, though, I mean, when you get reflective -- I have a theory that people, when they look back on times in their past, that they tend to remember the good things. What are those for you?

CHENEY: Well, I think probably the most significant thing during our time here, Rush, has been the fact that we've been able to stop or disrupt all further Al Qaeda attacks on the U.S. homeland. That doesn't mean there won't be some in the future, but I think the extent to which we've kept the country safe and secure now for the last seven and a half years has been probably the achievement that I'm proudest of. I think it required some very tough decisions by the president, and some remarkable work by some very capable military and intelligence folks that worked with us.

LIMBAUGH: Does it bother you that that achievement is largely missing in present-day historical reflection, that, in fact, maybe it's mischaracterized as not the way you just said it? Does that bother you? Are you confident and content to let history handle things like this?

  • In a December 15 interview with ABC News senior national security correspondent Jonathan Karl, Cheney said that after the 9-11 attacks, "I said at that point, that's not going to happen again on my watch. And we've done everything we could -- the president has, I have, a lot of the people that we work with -- to make certain that didn't happen. And we've succeeded." Cheney added: "I think it's incumbent upon us to take bold action and make certain that never happens. And as I say, we've been successful for seven and a half years now." From the interview:

KARL: What do you say to those who say you've changed? I mean, you've seen -- Brent Scowcroft says, "I don't know Dick Cheney anymore." I mean, really, he's known you as long as just about anybody in this town. What do you say to that?

CHENEY: Well, I -- the way I think of it is -- in terms of whether or not I've changed. I think a prime motivation for me in much of what I've done was 9-11. And being here on 9-11, going through that experience, and reaching the conclusion that somebody said the other day, that I said at that point, that's not going to happen again on my watch. And we've done everything we could -- the president has, I have, a lot of the people that we work with -- to make certain that didn't happen. And we've succeeded.

But when you contemplate a 9-11 with terrorists, instead of being armed with the box cutters and airline tickets, equipped with a nuclear weapon, or a biological agent of some kind in the middle of one of our cities, you think about the consequences of that. And I think we're justified in taking bold action; I think it's incumbent upon us to take bold action and make certain that never happens. And as I say, we've been successful for seven and a half years now.

[...]

KARL: What did you think when you saw that shoe flying at the president?

  • In a December 17 interview with Washington Times executive editor John Solomon and White House correspondent John Ward, Cheney asserted: "Defending the nation against further attacks from al Qaeda has been a preeminent concern of ours, and we've spent a lot of money doing that: creating the Department of Homeland Security, enhancing the security of our shipping container business and the airlines, and all of the other things we've done that have made us a safer nation." From the interview:

Q: Sort of along those lines, you've been a long-time fiscal conservative. How do you feel, what do you think about the markedly larger size of the government that this administration is leaving behind -- the size of the deficit, financial commitments that the government now has to a lot of private industries?

CHENEY: Well, given your druthers, you'd rather not have a growing government in terms of spending, or in terms of authority over the economy. But there are exceptions. And the exceptions historically have been wars. We've been faced since 9/11 with a war, more than one in the sense that you count Iraq and Afghanistan separately.

Defending the nation against further attacks from al Qaeda has been a preeminent concern of ours, and we've spent a lot of money doing that: creating the Department of Homeland Security, enhancing the security of our shipping container business and the airlines, and all of the other things we've done that have made us a safer nation. And then when you talk about what we've had to do in Afghanistan and Iraq in terms of the commitment of troops, the cost of those wars, those have all added to the burden.

[...]

Q: So much of the debate on the war on terror, particularly as Democrats have encapsulated in Congress, is focused on the legality of the tactics. Could you talk a little bit behind the scenes of some of the discussions that might have focused on the morality and the ethics of the tactics, and whether those things weighed into the discussions that went into --

  • In an interview that aired on the December 17 edition of Fox News' Special Report, then-Fox News chief White House correspondent Bret Baier asked President Bush, "Do you believe that there hasn't been a terrorist attack on U.S. soil in more than seven years because of the policies your administration has implemented?" Bush responded in part, "I believe the policies that we worked with Congress on to better protect America are paying off." From the interview:

BAIER: Mr. President, thanks for being here.

BUSH: Yes, sir.

BAIER: Today, you were talking about keeping America safe. Do you believe that there hasn't been a terrorist attack on U.S. soil in more than seven years because of the policies your administration has implemented?

BUSH: I believe that we've got a lot of brave men and women who are keeping the pressure on the enemy. I -- I know we've got a lot of people that are listening -- for signs of attack. And I -- yeah, I believe the policies that we worked with Congress on to better protect America are paying off. Now, the problem is, is that there's still an enemy, and they still want to attack, and -- but we have been successful, thanks to a lot of people.

BAIER: And you've heard the critics of the administration, who said the policies on interrogation techniques were -- amounted to torture, and the policies for surveillance amounted to illegal wiretapping --

BUSH: Yeah.

BAIER: -- and that America's image was hurt around the world and that made us less safe.

  • In an interview that aired on the December 22 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, Cheney told host Chris Wallace that "the actions that we took, based on the president's decisions and based on some outstanding work by the intelligence community and by the military, has produced a safe seven and a half years. I think the record speaks for itself." From the interview:

WALLACE: And we're back now to continue our conversation with Vice President Dick Cheney.

I want to discuss the controversies that we've alluded to over national security over the last eight years. First of all, let's get to the big picture: Was it worth it? Did the decisions that you helped set in place on interrogation, on detention, on interrogation -- on surveillance, did they, in fact, save lives that you would maintain would not have been saved under the old rules?

CHENEY: Yes, I believe that.

WALLACE: Can you be specific?

CHENEY: Well, I guess I'd direct you to the intelligence agencies involved, but I know specifically of attacks that were thwarted -- I think of the airliner attack that was planned out of Heathrow, when they were going to --

WALLACE: The liquid bomb attacks.

CHENEY: -- hijack six airliners and blow them up over American cities. There has not been a single attack against the homeland, against the United States, in seven and a half years. There have been attacks in Madrid, Spain; in London, England; in Mumbai and Bali and Mombosa -- all over the globe. And the threat's still out there and still very real. But the actions that we took, based on the president's decisions and based on some outstanding work by the intelligence community and by the military, has produced a safe seven and a half years. I think the record speaks for itself.

WALLACE: Let's drill down into some of the specific measures that you pushed: First of all, the warrantless surveillance, on a massive scale, without telling the appropriate court, without seeking legislation from Congress -- why not, in the aftermath of 9-11, in the spirit of national unity, get approval, support, bring in the other branches of government?

  • In a January 7 CBS Radio interview with CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller, Cheney said that "the thing that I feel most strongly about is this question of how we've managed to keep the nation safe from further terrorist attacks for the last seven and a half years." From the interview:

KNOLLER: Have you got any advice for President-elect Obama?

CHENEY: Well, I guess the thing that I feel most strongly about is this question of how we've managed to keep the nation safe from further terrorist attacks for the last seven and a half years. And he was rather critical during the campaign of some of the policies we pursued, for example, in terms of terrorist surveillance or interrogation of terrorist prisoners. Those were programs that have been absolutely essential to maintaining our capacity to interfere with and defeat all further attacks against the United States....

KNOLLER: Do you think it is easier to run for president than to be president?

  • Referring to Osama bin Laden during a January 9 CNN interview, host Wolf Blitzer asked Cheney, "How frustrating is this to you personally that he's still at large?" Cheney replied, "[A] much more important problem is keeping the country safe, and we've done that now for seven and a half years." Cheney added that "all of those steps we took in the aftermath of 9-11, has had I think a remarkable impact in that there has not been another mass casualty attack on the United States since 9-11." From the interview:

BLITZER: How frustrating is this to you personally that he's still at large?

CHENEY: Obviously, I would like to solve that problem. But a much bigger problem, a much more important problem is keeping the country safe, and we've done that now for seven and a half years. The fact that we were able, through our Terror Surveillance Program, interrogation program of high-value detainees, the Patriot Act, all of those steps we took in the aftermath of 9-11, has had I think a remarkable impact in that there has not been another mass casualty attack on the United States since 9-11. That's a great achievement, and I think that's more important than getting any one individual man, although, obviously, I'd like very much to get Osama bin Laden. I'm sure the hunt will go on after we leave.

BLITZER: Let's go through some of the criticisms that have been leveled against you and the administration. The presidential daily briefing memo that the president received on August 6, 2001 -- that's before 9-11 -- it showed that bin Laden was determined to strike in the United States. The question -- the criticism has been: What did you do between August 6th and September 11th to try to stop bin Laden and Al Qaeda?

  • During his January 12 radio interview with Cheney, Hannity said of Bush: "And I'm frustrated as somebody who is a big supporter of his that he does not get the credit that I think he deserves in keeping this country safe -- and you're a big part of this as well -- after 9-11 and the worst attack on America soil." Hannity then asked Cheney: "Does that frustrate you like it does me at all?" Cheney replied, "Oh, to some extent. But if you've been around as long as I have in this line of work, you recognize that you rarely get credit for things that don't happen." Later in the interview, Hannity said to Cheney: "Mr. Vice President, you kept this country safe, along with the president, for all the years and the days after 9-11. For that we owe you a great debt of gratitude. I know you woke up every morning and that was your number one priority." From the interview:

HANNITY: I find the president -- I've had an opportunity to interview him a number of times, and just this past Friday, and part one will air tonight on the new show. But I find him very inspiring in this way: that he does not -- when he says principle guides him, it is -- when you're around him for any length of time, you see that is the truth. And he does not make decision based on polls. He believes he had an obligation to the American people especially after 9-11 to keep this country safe.

And I'm frustrated as somebody who is a big supporter of his that he does not get the credit that I think he deserves in keeping this country safe -- and you're a big part of this as well -- after 9-11 and the worst attack on America soil. Does that frustrate you like it does me at all?

CHENEY: Oh, to some extent. But if you've been around as long as I have in this line of work, you recognize that you rarely get credit for things that don't happen. And so you need a thick skin in this business, Sean. And I think the president has developed that. And I'd say what I admire most about him is his ability to make those tough decisions and never look back.

[...]

HANNITY: Mr. Vice President, you kept this country safe, along with the president, for all the years and the days after 9-11. For that we owe you a great debt of gratitude. I know you woke up every morning and that was your number one priority. For the better part of the presidency and vice presidency our economy has been strong, unemployment low, inflation low, interest rates low, and we have two great Supreme Court justices. I think it's a great legacy.

I don't think the media gives you enough credit for it. But on behalf of those of us that are conservatives, we know you were there fighting every day for us and kept this country safe for us. And for that we owe you a debt of gratitude, and wish you only the best in all your future endeavors. And we hope we get to hear from you once in a while. We really look forward to it.

CHENEY: Well, thank you very much, Sean. You and your shows have been enormously important, a vital place where a lot of the debate takes place. So I want to wish you well in your new endeavors, and we'll watch with interest.

  • During his January 12 interview with Fox News White House correspondent Mike Emanuel, Cheney said: "I think probably the most important thing we did was to keep the country safe for the last seven and a half years; to disrupt, interrupt, break up all the prospective attacks and plots that were developed to come launch another mass casualty attack inside the United States. That's been a remarkable achievement. It wasn't an accident, it didn't just happen." From the interview:

EMANUEL: As you look back on your eight years as vice president, what accomplishments are you proudest of? What do you think may be permanent changes that the Bush-Cheney team brought about? And what do you think may be reversed rather quickly by a team that has a very different philosophy than yours?

CHENEY: I think probably the most important thing we did was to keep the country safe for the last seven and a half years; to disrupt, interrupt, break up all the prospective attacks and plots that were developed to come launch another mass casualty attack inside the United States. That's been a remarkable achievement. It wasn't an accident, it didn't just happen. It happened because of some very good decisions the president made, and some great people out there to implement them in the military and intelligence and law enforcement.

So I point to that as our single, greatest success. Now, it's hard lots of times to give credit for something that doesn't happen, but I really believe there are thousands of Americans alive today because of what we did on things like terror surveillance and interrogation programs for high-value detainees, those steps, like the Patriot Act, that we took that gave the president and the executive branch, the Congress, the government in general, the authority and the tools that were necessary to prevent those attacks.

The challenge for the Obama administration is whether or not they can overcome their campaign rhetoric -- they obviously were very critical of all those policies during the course of the campaign -- can they overcome their commitment to that rhetoric and sit down instead and be objective and look at what we've done and how we've done it and what it's produced. Because I think if they do, if they're fair-minded about it, they'll recognize that it's important to continue those policies.

Now, whether or not they cancel them, obviously that's not a decision we get to make. But I would urge them to be very cautious and very careful here; that it's not just an accident that we haven't been struck for nearly eight years, it's a result of those policies.

EMANUEL: Do you worry they may roll back some of those policies? If so, which ones? And furthermore, do you worry that they may try to prosecute some people who worked for your team who believed they were doing what they needed to do to keep the country safe?

  • During his January 13 interview with Cheney, Bennett said: "I want to thank you for making tough decisions, taking a lot of heat for keeping us safe. We have been safe. And I know -- I have some sense, I don't know -- what that took. I just want to thank you." Cheney replied in part, "A lot of credit goes to ... the president, because he made the tough decisions." From the interview:

BENNETT: [B]efore I lose the opportunity, in front of 3.5 million people, I want to say -- I want to thank you for making tough decisions, taking a lot of heat for keeping us safe. We have been safe. And I know -- I have some sense, I don't know -- what that took. I just want to thank you.

CHENEY: Well, thank you, Bill. A lot of credit goes to, well, I guess to two directions -- one to the president, because he made the tough decisions; and secondly, that are just -- we are uniquely blessed to have a whole bunch of folks, not only in the military, but in our intelligence services and key places in law enforcement, who have done just a superb job in terms of carrying out these policies. They're really first-rate. Some of them put their lives on the line every day for us.

  • During an interview with Lehrer that aired on the January 14 broadcast of the NewsHour, Cheney said that "we were able to interrupt, block, defeat all further attempts by Al Qaeda to launch mass casualty attacks against the United States after 9-11." When Lehrer later asked, "And you feel it's actions that you took, the president took, the administration took, resulted in this happening -- in other words, prevented these further attacks?" Cheney responded, "Yes, sir." From the interview:

LEHRER: Thank you, sir. Yesterday, President Bush said that he will leave Washington next week with a great sense of accomplishment. Do you feel the same way?

CHENEY: I do.

LEHRER: Why? Explain.

CHENEY: Well, I think there are a number of areas where we've had a significant impact on events, or on the course of history, if you will. The one that stands out in my mind that I think is most important is something that didn't happen, and that's the fact that we were able to interrupt, block, defeat all further attempts by Al Qaeda to launch mass casualty attacks against the United States after 9-11. That's taken some very tough decisions by the president, some great work by a lot of folks in the intelligence services, in the military, and so forth, but I look at that and the lives that were saved, and the threats that were defeated as probably our greatest achievement.

LEHRER: And you feel it's actions that you took, the president took, the administration took, resulted in this happening -- in other words, prevented these further attacks? There would have been further attacks had you not been there and you'd not taken action?

CHENEY: Yes, sir. I can go back -- and a lot of the details are still obviously classified. But you -- what we did, in effect, was, in the aftermath of 9-11, and the '02-'03 timeframe, when we first began to capture high-value detainees, senior members of Al Qaeda, like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed or Abu Zubaydah, we then were able to interrogate them and collect intelligence from them, both about the Al Qaeda organization generally -- how they functioned, who they were, where they came from, how they were financed -- but then also to get specific intelligence on prospective attacks. And it allowed us to go out and wrap up, capture, arrest others, and that list is very impressive.

LEHRER: And if that had not happened, do you think there would have been further attacks?

CHENEY: There's no doubt in my mind there would have been.

LEHRER: Serious attacks of the level like 9-11?

Claim on Guantánamo Bay: "Remember, these are unlawful combatants"

Several interviewers have allowed Bush or Cheney to suggest that all of the prisoners held at the U.S. military-run detention facility at Guantánamo Bay are, in Cheney's terms, "people we believe are unlawful combatants, who were captured in the war on terror, many of them members of Al Qaeda." But the characterization is false with respect to, for example, a group of detainees belonging to the Uighur ethnic group from western China, who the Bush administration told the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia are "no longer" enemy combatants. Nevertheless, the Bush Justice Department has fought the Uighurs' release.

Examples of Bush and Cheney making such statements, unchallenged by their interviewers, include:

  • In his December 15 interview with Limbaugh, Cheney said of those imprisoned at Guantánamo: "[T]hese are unlawful combatants. These are people whose -- don't belong to any recognized military force. They don't obey the rules of warfare. You know, they're unlawful combatants." From the interview:

LIMBAUGH: Saw a story in the paper a couple of weeks ago -- it was either The Washington Post or The New York Times -- that got -- made me laugh; yet if I were you, it would have frustrated me. I was able to laugh at it. But this story was from -- in a newspaper that had continually been critical of the interrogation techniques at Guantánamo Bay, and had been supportive of Democrats who had wanted to shut the place down and perhaps bring the prisoners home and give them access to the U.S. court system, as though they were U.S. citizens.

This story happened to say that perhaps President-elect Obama will not close Guantánamo and will not have to do too much, just maybe write a new law to give him authority to keep the place open, because he wants the flexibility, and needs the flexibility, in order to deal with the problems presented by the prisoners there.

Now, I just -- sir, I had to laugh because the thing that you and President Bush have been tarred and feathered over for the last five or six years, they're now claiming, "Ooh, this is good for us. This is" -- is that an example of things that you've put in place to help defend the country, and they're going to be appreciative of once they get there and see it?

CHENEY: I think so. I think Guantánamo has been very well run. I think if you look at it from the perspective of the requirements we had, once you go out and capture a bunch of terrorists -- as we did in Afghanistan and elsewhere -- then you've got to have some place to put them. If you bring them here to the U.S. and put them in our local court system, then they are entitled to all kinds of rights that we extend only to American citizens.

Remember, these are unlawful combatants. These are people whose -- don't belong to any recognized military force. They don't obey the rules of warfare. You know, they're unlawful combatants. And you can't -- if you're not going to have a place to locate them like Guantánamo, then you either have to bring them here to the continental United States -- and I don't know any member of Congress who's volunteering to have Al Qaeda terrorists deposited in his district -- or you've got to turn them over to some foreign government. And we've found lots of times when you do that that a number of them have gone back into the -- on to the battlefield and tried to kill Americans again. So --

LIMBAUGH: If their country's --

CHENEY: -- Guantánamo has been very, very valuable. And I think they'll discover that trying to close it is a very hard proposition.

LIMBAUGH: Let me ask you about the economy and the future, where we're headed here.

  • During his interview on the January 4 edition of CBS' Face the Nation, Cheney said to host Bob Schieffer, "Guantánamo is there to hold people we believe are unlawful combatants, who were captured in the war on terror, many of them members of Al Qaeda." From the interview:

SCHIEFFER: Guantánamo: You've said it should remain open. But for how long, Mr. Vice President?

CHENEY: Guantánamo is there to hold people we believe are unlawful combatants, who were captured in the war on terror, many of them members of Al Qaeda. They're well treated. Their cases are reviewed annually by military commissions to see whether or not they should stay or go. We've released more than we've held. There have been hundreds who've been sent back to their home country. But the problem you've got is what do you do with the prisoners that are there?

Now, if you bring them onshore into the United States, they immediately fall heir to certain legal rights and privileges that will create problems. And then also, I don't know many congressional districts that are eager to have 200 Al Qaeda terrorists deposited on their soil.

SCHIEFFER: About 30 seconds left. What's next, Mr. Vice President? You're leaving government, for what, about the fifth time --

CHENEY: Something like that. Yeah.

SCHIEFFER: -- over the last 40 years. Will you --

CHENEY: Yeah.

SCHIEFFER: What now?

  • During his January 13 interview with Bennett, Cheney said of the prisoners held at Guantánamo, "They don't have the rights that an American citizen would have. They are unlawful combatants, terrorists, and by definition, their objective is to achieve their political goals by killing as many civilians as possible. They don't abide by the laws of war." From the interview:

BENNETT: Can we talk one specific before I get to philosophy -- Guantánamo. The papers are reporting this morning that President-elect Obama may, on the first day or first week, close Guantanamo. Good decision, bad decision?

[...]

CHENEY: And the thing I've noticed is there's never yet been a congressman come forward and volunteer to take 250 Al Qaeda members in his district. Nobody wants to do that. So then the question is, where are you going to put them? And you've got to sort that all out before you close Guantanamo.

But these are not American citizens. They don't have the rights that an American citizen would have. They are unlawful combatants, terrorists, and by definition, their objective is to achieve their political goals by killing as many civilians as possible. They don't abide by the laws of war.

So it's a good facility. There's a reason why it's there. I used to have the impression this is a classic case where they campaigned so hard against Guantanamo that now they don't have any choice but to try to close it. But that's too bad; they've got a lot of tough questions to answer first.

BENNETT: Yes. Well, as you say, when you close a door, you've got to open a door. And which door are they going to open? I remember when I was drug czar, we had this debate about releasing people, and I'd say well, in frustration -- have you ever been frustrated with the Congress, Mr. Cheney?

  • During an interview that aired on the January 13 edition of CNN's Larry King Live, Bush said that the "problem" with closing Guantánamo "is you've got a bunch of cold-blooded killers down there that, if they ever get out, they're going to come and kill Americans. And I'd hate to be the person that made that decision." From the interview:

LARRY KING (host): We're right back with President George W. Bush and Laura Bush.

Apparently, one of the first things the Obama administration is going to do, apparently, is close Guantánamo. It's not going to happen overnight, but they're going to issue the order. What do you think of that?

BUSH: I think they're going to have some very difficult choices to make.

KING: That's wrong choice?

BUSH: I didn't say it was wrong. I said -- I said we were going to try to close Guantánamo, too.

KING: And -- what's the problem?

BUSH: The problem is you've got a bunch of cold-blooded killers down there that, if they ever get out, they're going to come and kill Americans. And I'd hate to be the person that made that decision.

KING: But at one time you wanted to close it?

BUSH: Still want to. I still want to have a procedure where people, you know, have their day in court and -- but it's got to be done under the right circumstances. These are illegal combatants. These aren't people who wear a uniform. These are cold-blooded killers. And in order to convict some, we're going to have to -- you know, they're going to have to use some very sensitive intelligence. And it's very important that that intelligence be -- be safeguarded in a proper fashion. And, look, we don't want --

KING: Laura, how are --

BUSH: We don't the -- we don't want our intelligence secrets out there for everybody to look at it. There is still an enemy that wants to strike us, Larry, and, therefore, it's important to have the tools and the intelligence necessary to protect the American people.

KING: How much a part of all this decision-making were you, Laura?

Claim: "Abu Ghraib was not [administration] policy"

During the December 17 interview with The Washington Times' Solomon and Ward, Cheney said: "People take Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and interrogation of high-value detainees and sort of throw that all together and say, characterize it as torture policy. You've got to, I think, back off and recognize that something like Abu Ghraib was not policy." Solomon and Ward failed to challenge Cheney's claim that torture at Abu Ghraib "was not policy." As Media Matters noted, during the January 12 broadcasts of ABC's World News and the CBS Evening News, hosts Charles Gibson and Katie Couric, respectively, uncritically aired Bush's January 12 statement that "Abu Ghraib obviously was a huge disappointment. Not having weapons of mass destruction was a significant disappointment. I don't know if you want to call those mistakes or not, but they were -- things didn't go according to plan, let's put it that way." In fact, a 2008 Senate Armed Services Committee report released jointly by chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) and ranking member John McCain (R-AZ) found that the "abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own" and that "Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody."

From the December 17 interview:

Q: So much of the debate on the war on terror, particularly as Democrats have encapsulated in Congress, is focused on the legality of the tactics. Could you talk a little bit behind the scenes of some of the discussions that might have focused on the morality and the ethics of the tactics, and whether those things weighed into the discussions that went into --

CHENEY: What kind -- which tactics?

Q: Oh, anything from rendition to waterboarding to --

Q: Sleep deprivation.

Q: -- to deprivation, tactics that were used at Gitmo. Is there any -- I'm sure -- were there discussions that also focused just on American values and whether those can be preserved in the course of trying to protect the country from terror attacks?

CHENEY: Well, let me, before I respond to that, let me state a proposition. It's very important to discriminate between different elements of -- or issues that are often at times conflated and all joined together and balled up. People take Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and interrogation of high-value detainees and sort of throw that all together and say, characterize it as torture policy.

You've got to, I think, back off and recognize that something like Abu Ghraib was not policy. It was, in fact, uncovered and then exposed by the military. There were people involved in that activity who were not conducting themselves in accordance with the standards that we would have expected, and they've paid the price for it. Guantanamo I believe has been a first-rate facility. It's one we absolutely needed and found essential. It's been primarily a military facility. If you're going to evaluate how it's functioned, the policy that we adhere to at Guantanamo basically is the U.S. Army Field Manual.

[...]

Q: You would disagree that policy on detainee treatment was made opaque enough that these abuses at Abu Ghraib were -- obviously not directed from the top, but under pressure for more intelligence -- were allowed -- not allowed, but basically --

CHENEY: Abu Ghraib, like I say, I don't think had anything to do with policy, as I understand it. And the people that they were -- the people that were subjected to abusive practices there I don't think had any special intelligence understandings, or if you will, special intelligence information that we needed. I mean, this was not -- as I say, I don't think it was related to policy. I think it was, in fact, a case of individual personnel who were perhaps not properly supervised. And I think the military deserves a lot of credit for the way they handled it because they're the ones that cleaned it up.

Q: Foreign perception of the United States as we've had to fight these dual wars, can you talk -- what you think has happened? Why has America -- the perception of America changed so much in the last eight years? And what do you think will happen over the next few years?

Claim: Interrogation and surveillance policies were legal

Several interviewers failed to challenge claims by Bush and Cheney that the interrogation and warrantless surveillance policies undertaken by the Bush administration were legal. Those interviewers did not note that former members of the Bush administration's Justice Department have asserted that those policies were not, in fact, legal.

During a Fox News interview that aired on the January 11 edition of Fox News' Special Report, host Brit Hume asked Bush, "[H]ow badly would it hurt, in your view, if these enhanced interrogation techniques -- that some call torture -- were abandoned and were not used?" Bush replied in part: "Everything this administration did was -- had a -- you know -- a legal basis to it, otherwise we would not have done it." Hume did not note that the interrogation opinions issued by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) from August 2002 and March 2003 were subsequently withdrawn by Jack Goldsmith, who served as the head of OLC from 2003 to 2004. Indeed, Goldsmith wrote in his book, The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration (W.W. Norton & Co., June 2007) that "OLC's analysis of the law of torture in the August 1, 2002, opinion and the March 2003 opinion was legally flawed, tendentious in substance and tone, and overbroad and thus largely unnecessary" [Page 151].

From the interview:

HUME: Well, how badly would it hurt, in your view, if these enhanced interrogation techniques -- that some call torture -- were abandoned and were not used?

BUSH: Yes, well, obviously, I feel like it would be a problem because these are tools that we have in place. I do want to -- you know, I firmly reject the word "torture."

HUME: I understand that.

BUSH: Everything this administration did was -- had a -- you know -- a legal basis to it, otherwise we would not have done it.

Secondly, everything we did was in consultation with professionals in our government who understand, you know, how to use techniques in a way that gets information with, you know, within the law, necessary to protect the American people. And I just can't imagine what it'd be like to be president without these tools available, and we captured a known killer who might have had information about the next attack on America.

I -- I am -- see, what some don't understand, evidently, is that we're at war, and it's a different kind of war, where an enemy uses asymmetrical warfare, and they lie in wait and find a soft spot, ready to attack again. And they're willing to kill as many innocent people as they can to advance their agenda.

HUME: Right. Speaking of professionals, in the intelligence area, how do you view the selection of Leon Panetta to head the CIA?

Similarly, during the January 4 interview on CBS' Face the Nation, Cheney said of the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping program, "This was all done in accordance with the president's constitutional authority under Article II of the Constitution, as commander in chief." And during his December 15 interview with Fox News' Karl, Cheney said of the program: "It's a very, very important capability. It is legal. It was legal from the very beginning. It is constitutional, and to claim that it isn't I think is just wrong." But neither Schieffer nor Karl noted that then-Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey has said that he and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft both refused to reauthorize the program in March 2004 because, according to Comey's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, "We had concerns as to our ability to certify its legality, which was our obligation for the program to be renewed." Comey further testified: "The program was reauthorized without us and without a signature from the Department of Justice attesting as to its legality."

Additionally, as Media Matters has noted, according to a January 10, 2006, New York Times article, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the presiding judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), "raised objections in 2004 to aspects of the program and instructed for a time that no material obtained by the N.S.A. without warrants could be presented to the court in warrant applications." Further, according to media reports, Judge James Robertson resigned from the FISC in December 2005 in protest of the NSA's eavesdropping program.

From Schieffer's January 4 interview:

SCHIEFFER: Do you feel you went too far, Mr. Vice President, in your surveillance?

CHENEY: Absolutely not. I think what we did was one of the greatest success stories of the intelligence business in the last century. I think what the National Security Agency did under General Mike Hayden, working with the CIA and -- at the direction of the president, was masterfully done. I think it provided crucial intelligence for us. It's one of the main reasons we've been successful in defending the country against further attacks, and I don't believe we've violated anybody's civil liberties.

This was all done in accordance with the president's constitutional authority under Article II of the Constitution, as commander in chief. The resolution was passed by the Congress immediately after 9-11, and subsequently, we have gotten legislative authority signed up to last year when we passed a modified FISA statute.

SCHIEFFER: Do you believe that the president, in time of war, that anything he does is legal?

From Karl's January 15 interview:

KARL: But you've heard leaders, the incoming Congress saying that this policy has basically been torture and illegal wiretapping, and that they want to undo basically the central tenets of your anti-terrorist policy.

CHENEY: They're wrong. On the question of terrorist surveillance, this was always a policy to intercept communications between terrorists, or known terrorists, or so-called "dirty numbers," and folks inside the United States, to capture those international communications. It's worked. It's been successful. It's now embodied in the FISA statute that we passed last year, and that Barack Obama voted for, which I think was a good decision on his part. It's a very, very important capability. It is legal. It was legal from the very beginning. It is constitutional, and to claim that it isn't I think is just wrong.

[...]

KARL: Did you authorize the tactics that were used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?

Claim: "I never claimed, like some have said, that [Saddam Hussein] was directly involved in the attacks of 9-11"

In his December 14 interview with ABC News' Martha Raddatz, Bush repeated his assertion that he "never claimed, like some have said, that [Saddam Hussein] was directly involved in the attacks of 9-11," adding: "But he did support terrorists." Raddatz offered no challenge. As Media Matters has noted several times, however, President Bush and other administration officials frequently claimed a connection between Saddam and the September 11 attacks, including the specific assertion of such a link in a letter to Congress at the start of the war. Raddatz might have also noted in response to Bush's claim that Saddam "did support terrorists" that a bipartisan Senate report found that "[i]ntelligence assessments, including multiple CIA reports and the November 2002 NIE [National Intelligence Estimate], dismissed the claim that Iraq and al-Qa'ida were cooperating partners."

From the interview:

RADDATZ: Let me just go back because you brought this up. You said Saddam Hussein posed a threat in the post-9-11 world.

BUSH: He did.

RADDATZ: They didn't find weapons of mass destruction.

BUSH: That's true. They didn't. Everyone thought he had them.

RADDATZ: So what threat?

BUSH: Well, Saddam Hussein was a sworn enemy of the United States. He had been enriched by oil revenues; he was a sponsor of terror. I have never claimed, like some have said, that was directly involved in the attacks of 9-11. But he did support terrorists. Saddam Hussein had the capability of making weapons of mass destruction. I didn't have the luxury of knowing that he did not have them, neither did the rest of the world until after we had come and removed him.

RADDATZ: So would you have gone in anyway?

Claim: Saddam "did have a relationship with Al Qaeda"

In his January 14 interview with Lehrer, Cheney said of Saddam Hussein: "He'd had a nuclear program in the past. He killed hundreds of thousands of his own people and he did have a relationship with Al Qaeda." Lehrer did not challenge this assertion despite the fact, noted above, that a bipartisan Senate investigation found that "[i]ntelligence assessments ... dismissed the claim that Iraq and al-Qa'ida were cooperating partners."

From the interview:

LEHRER: Mr. Vice President, getting from there to here, 4,500 Americans have died, at least a hundred thousand Iraqis have died. Has it been worth that?

CHENEY: I think so.

LEHRER: Why?

CHENEY: Because I believed at the time that what Saddam Hussein represented was, especially in the aftermath of 9-11, was a terror-sponsoring state - so designated by the State Department. He was making payments to the families of suicide bombers; he provided a safe haven and sanctuary for Abu Nidal and other terrorist operations. He had produced and used weapons of mass destruction, chemical and biological agents.

He'd had a nuclear program in the past. He killed hundreds of thousands of his own people and he did have a relationship with Al Qaeda. Now, we've had this debate, keeps people trying to conflate those arguments.

That's not to say that Saddam was responsible for 9-11; it is to say -- as George Tenet, CIA director testified in open session in the Senate -- that there was a relationship there that went back 10 years.

So this was a terror-sponsoring state with access to weapons of mass destruction and that's the greatest threat we faced in the aftermath of 9-11: The next time we found terrorists in the middle of one of our cities, it wouldn't be 19 guys armed with airline tickets and box cutters, it would be terrorists armed with a biological agent or maybe even a nuclear device.

So I think, given the track record of Saddam Hussein, I think we did exactly the right thing, I think the country's better off for it today, I think it's been part of the effort alongside Afghanistan to liberate 50 million people and establish a vibrant democracy in the heart of the Middle East. I think those are major, major accomplishments.

I think the argument that this is a failed presidency is just dead wrong. I think we'll hear that from some of our critics, but when I look back at what we've been able to do - we dealt with big issues.

LEHRER: Speaking of Afghanistan and miscalculations, do you consider it a miscalculation to have gone into Iraq before Osama bin Laden had been found, arrested, killed? Before Al Qaeda had been completely destroyed, before the Taliban had been routed?

Claim: Saddam wouldn't allow weapons inspectors in

In separate interviews with ABC's Raddatz and Gibson, Bush justified the March 2003 invasion of Iraq by claming in part that Saddam Hussein "refused to allow for weapons inspectors," and was "unwilling to let the inspectors go in to determine whether or not the U.N. resolutions were being upheld." Neither Raddatz nor Gibson challenged these assertions, despite the fact that Saddam did allow International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors into Iraq before the invasion, and they "found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons programme in Iraq." Saddam also allowed the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission into Iraq before the invasion, and its inspectors "did not find evidence of the continuation or resumption of programmes of weapons of mass destruction."

From Raddatz's interview:

RADDATZ: So would you have gone in anyway?

BUSH: And finally, we gave Saddam Hussein a peaceful way out. It was his choice. And when he refused to allow for inspections. When he refused to disclose or disarm, then a large coalition of troops took him out. And now the question is are we going to stay in and help this young democracy thrive? What happened was after Saddam leaves Al Qaeda says this is the second front on the war on terror. And I take the words of a terrorist leader seriously. So we have worked with the Iraqis to try and help their democracy grow and thrive and at the same time eliminate Al Qaeda safe havens.

RADDATZ: During these years, did you imagine that the war would go the way it went, first of all, and that you'd be sitting here today with -- signing a Status of Forces Agreement?"

From Gibson's December 1 interview:

GIBSON: If the intelligence had been right, would there have been an Iraq war?

BUSH: Yes, because Saddam Hussein was unwilling to let the inspectors go in to determine whether or not the U.N. resolutions were being upheld. In other words, if he had had weapons of mass destruction, would there have been a war? Absolutely.

GIBSON: No, if you had known he didn't.

BUSH: Oh, I see what you're saying. You know, that's an interesting question. That is a do-over that I can't do. It's hard for me to speculate.

GIBSON: Greatest accomplishment? The one thing you're proudest of?

Claim: Everyone believed Saddam had WMDs

In several interviews, Bush and Cheney further attempted to justify invading Iraq by claiming that, at the time of the invasion, it was universally believed that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. In fact, prior to the war the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) had disputed the claim -- advanced by the majority of intelligence agencies in an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) -- that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program. Further, the Senate Intelligence Committee's June 5, 2008, "Report on Whether Public Statements Regarding Iraq by U.S. Government Officials Were Substantiated by Intelligence Information" concluded, "Intelligence assessments, especially prior to the October 2002 NIE, clearly stated that analysts could not confirm that production [of chemical weapons] was ongoing."

Additionally, The Washington Post reported on March 16, 2003 -- three days before the start of the war -- that "U.S. intelligence agencies have been unable to give Congress or the Pentagon specific information about the amounts of banned weapons or where they are hidden," and that "some members of the intelligence community" had "concerns" "about whether administration officials have exaggerated intelligence."

Moreover, interviewers repeatedly failed to challenge the notion that the Bush administration was acting on intelligence at all in its decision to invade Iraq. As Media Matters has noted, there is strong evidence that Bush had decided to oust Saddam within weeks of the September 11, 2001, attacks, reportedly well before he ordered the intelligence community to produce a formal National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on the question of whether Iraq had WMD.

And yet, in numerous instances, interviewers failed to challenge either the claim that everyone thought Saddam had WMD or that the Bush administration went to war because of its conviction that Saddam had WMD. For example:

  • During his interview on the December 1 edition of World News, Bush asserted that "the biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq," adding: "A lot of people put their reputations on the line and said the weapons of mass destruction is a reason to remove Saddam Hussein." From the interview:

BUSH: I don't know -- the biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq. A lot of people put their reputations on the line and said the weapons of mass destruction is a reason to remove Saddam Hussein. It wasn't just people in my administration; a lot of members in Congress, prior to my arrival in Washington D.C., during the debate on Iraq, a lot of leaders of nations around the world were all looking at the same intelligence. And, you know, that's not a do-over, but I wish the intelligence had been different, I guess.

GIBSON: If the intelligence had been right, would there have been an Iraq war?

BUSH: Yes, because Saddam Hussein was unwilling to let the inspectors go in to determine whether or not the U.N. resolutions were being upheld. In other words, if he had had weapons of mass destruction, would there have been a war? Absolutely.

GIBSON: No, if you had known he didn't.

BUSH: Oh, I see what you're saying. You know, that's an interesting question. That is a do-over that I can't do. It's hard for me to speculate.

GIBSON: Greatest accomplishment? The one thing you're proudest of?

  • During his December 14 interview with Raddatz, Bush asserted: "Saddam Hussein had the capability of making weapons of mass destruction. I didn't have the luxury of knowing that he did not have them, neither did the rest of the world until after we had come and removed him." From the interview:

RADDATZ: Let me just go back because you brought this up. You said Saddam Hussein posed a threat in the post-9-11 world.

BUSH: He did.

RADDATZ: They didn't find weapons of mass destruction.

BUSH: That's true. They didn't. Everyone thought he had them.

RADDATZ: So what threat?

BUSH: Well, Saddam Hussein was a sworn enemy of the United States. He had been enriched by oil revenues; he was a sponsor of terror. I have never claimed, like some have said, that was directly involved in the attacks of 9-11. But he did support terrorists. Saddam Hussein had the capability of making weapons of mass destruction. I didn't have the luxury of knowing that he did not have them, neither did the rest of the world until after we had come and removed him.

RADDATZ: So would you have gone in anyway?

  • During his January 4 CBS interview, Schieffer asked Cheney, "Did you think that perhaps you looked at the intelligence and saw what you wanted to see, rather than make a real logical analysis of what you saw?" Cheney replied that "it wasn't a matter just of us looking and seeing what we wanted to see, everybody believed that intelligence." He continued: "Saddam Hussein had titled the notion that his senior officers and officials, they all believed he had weapons of mass destruction. The intelligence services of other countries, the Clinton administration that had been there for eight years before we had, had exactly the same conclusion that we had":

SCHIEFFER: Did you think that perhaps you looked at the intelligence and saw what you wanted to see, rather than make a real logical analysis of what you saw?

CHENEY: No, I don't, Bob. I think if you go back and you look at what we were receiving as intelligence from the intelligence community, going back to the very day we were sworn in -- I have seen a report, for example, it was one of the very first we received, and warned about Iraqis' weapons of mass destruction program. As a matter of fact, it was written by a guy who has been one of the public critics on what we did. And he was responsible for the first report. We had reporting like that all the time. We were there right up until we went into Iraq.

So the -- it wasn't a matter just of us looking and seeing what we wanted to see, everybody believed that intelligence. Saddam Hussein had titled the notion that his senior officers and officials, they all believed he had weapons of mass destruction. The intelligence services of other countries, the Clinton administration that had been there for eight years before we had, had exactly the same conclusion that we had. And we had numerous reports afterwards with all the studies that were done, the Robb-Silberman Commission, the Senate Intelligence Committee, that said that there was no manipulation of the data, no pressure brought to bear on the analyst. This is what they saw. And they got part of it wrong.

SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, let's take a break here, and we'll come back to talk about this and other things some more in just a second.

Claim: The intelligence showed Saddam could produce WMDs

In his December 15 interview with Karl, Cheney disputed the suggestion that "if the intelligence had been correct, we probably would not have gone to war," claiming that "various special groups went and looked at the intelligence" following the 2003 invasion of Iraq and found that Saddam Hussein had the "capability" and "the technology" to produce WMDs, and that "he had every intention of resuming production once the international sanctions were lifted." In fact, the 2004 findings of the Iraq Survey Group, also known as the Duelfer report, stated that there was "no direct evidence that Iraq, after 1996, had plans for a new BW [biological weapons] program or was conducting BW-specific work for military purposes." The report also found that "Iraq did not possess a nuclear device, nor had it tried to reconstitute a capability to produce nuclear weapons after 1991," and that "Saddam Husayn ended the nuclear program in 1991 following the Gulf war. ISG found no evidence to suggest concerted efforts to restart the program." Karl did not point this out. Nor did he note in response to Cheney's assertion that Saddam intended to resume production that, in arguing for war, the Bush administration repeatedly warned of imminent attacks, not merely of Saddam's intention to resume his weapons program. From the interview:

KARL: You probably saw -- Karl Rove last week said that if the intelligence had been correct, we probably would not have gone to war.

CHENEY: I disagree with that. I think the -- as I look at the intelligence with respect to Iraq, what they got wrong was that there weren't any stockpiles. What we found in the after-action reports after the intelligence report was done and then various special groups went and looked at the intelligence and what its validity was, what they found was that Saddam Hussein still had the capability to produce weapons of mass destruction. He had the technology, he had the people, he had the basic feedstocks. They also found that he had every intention of resuming production once the international sanctions were lifted. He had a long reputation and record of having started two wars, of having brutalized and killed hundreds of thousands of people, some of them with weapons of mass destruction, in his own country. He had violated 16 National Security Council resolutions. He had an established relationship as a terror-sponsoring state, according to the State Department. He was making $25,000 payments to the families of suicide bombers.

This was a bad actor. And the country is better off, the world is better off with Saddam gone. And I think we made the right decision, in spite of the fact that the original NIE was off in some of its major judgments.

KARL: So your 30-some -- how many more days do you have left?

The federal deficit and Bush tax cuts

In several instances, interviewers sat by as Cheney made disputed claims about tax cuts and the deficit. With Wallace, Cheney claimed that the tax cuts were "how we recovered from the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks." With Schieffer, Cheney said the adminsitration's "tax policy" was "a series of policies and actions that were put in place that were significant progress." And with Knoller, Cheney said that the deficit was a function of post-9-11 exigencies: "I think we'd rather have not added significantly to the debt, but frankly, we were faced from September 11th, 2001, onward with a very, very difficult challenge. We had to spend money on the military; we had to spend money on homeland security." At no point did Wallace or Schieffer point out that lost revenue through tax cuts has been the greatest single contributor to the deficit during the Bush administration, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). And Knoller did not challenge Cheney's suggestion that 9-11 gave rise to the need for the massive military expenditures incurred in Iraq.

The exchanges recalled a January 12 Washington Post report:

As achievements, Bush and his advisers point to the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, which many analysts credit for keeping the last recession mild, even as the cuts contributed to the large deficits that followed. Bush and other administration officials play down the role of the tax cuts in feeding the deficits, arguing instead that increased spending on counterterrorism, national security and the military after the Sept. 11 attacks was the primary, and unavoidable, cause.

As Media Matters noted in faulting the Post, in purporting to represent the argument made by the Bush administration, the Post simply repeated without criticism the administration's assertion that "increased spending on counterterrorism, national security and the military after the Sept. 11 attacks" was an "unavoidable" cause of the large budget deficits the administration has run up since 2001. In fact, much of the military spending after September 11, 2001, was for the war in Iraq, which played no role in the 9-11 attacks. Additionally, while the Post noted that the Bush tax cuts "contributed to the large deficits," it also repeated the administration's claim that increased spending on national security and defense -- and not the tax cuts -- was the "primary" cause of these deficits, and cited no evidence to the contrary. In fact, according to a September 2008 analysis by the CBPP, notwithstanding the large expenditures on the war in Iraq, the Bush tax cuts have contributed even more to the administration's budget deficits since 2001 than has increased spending on the military and national security.

From Wallace's interview:

WALLACE: Does it strike you as --

CHENEY: I don't have any way of --

WALLACE: amount of money?

CHENEY: I'd want to see what they're going to spend it on. There usually are fairly significant differences between we Republicans and the Democrats on how you stimulate the economy. I'm a big advocate of tax cuts. That's what we did in '03. That's how we recovered from the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks.

[...]

WALLACE: According to the latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll -- I know how much you like polls -- you now have the lowest approval rating of the last eight years: 29 percent have a favorable opinion, 61 percent unfavorable. I know that you say that politicians shouldn't chase polls. But when people see all that you did as vice president in a kind of final report card, they'll be right here to say they still disapprove. Does that bother you?

From Knoller's interview:

KNOLLER: Did Republicans become big spenders on your watch? You've run up a debt, a national debt now that's in excess of $10.6 trillion, nearly $5 trillion of which was run up on your watch.

CHENEY: Right. I think we'd rather have not added significantly to the debt, but frankly, we were faced from September 11th, 2001, onward with a very, very difficult challenge. We had to spend money on the military; we had to spend money on homeland security. The one exception that we've almost always said we would recognize to trying to run a tight fiscal ship was if we had a national emergency, in particular, wartime. And we've had that. We've had two wars and the global war on terror, and it was necessary and I think the right thing to do, to spend whatever was required in order to be able to prosecute those strategies.

KNOLLER: So fiscal discipline took a backseat to these other, more important issues?

CHENEY: In my mind, yes. Fiscal discipline is important, but in a crisis, in an emergency, I think national security comes first. And that's consistent with the decisions we made.

KNOLLER: Are you worried about the future of the Republican Party?

From Schieffer's interview:

SCHIEFFER: All right, well let's talk -- and maybe we'll come back to this, but let's talk a little bit about the last eight years. You came here, you and President Bush were elected in 2000, so I guess I'd ask you the question that Ronald Reagan used to ask: Are we better off now than we were eight years ago?

CHENEY: Well, I think we've got -- I think we've done some very good things over the course of the last eight years -- defending the country against further terrorist attacks like 9-11 I think is a major accomplishment, for example. I think we made progress on education with No Child Left Behind, and prescription drug benefits for seniors, and so forth. I can point to the tax policy, a series of policies and actions that were put in place that were significant progress.

[...]

SCHIEFFER: The situation in Iraq, what do you see there now? What do you think the state of Iraq is right now?

Claim: The Bush administration liberated Afghanistan

ABC's Jonathan Karl did not challenge Cheney when he cited "liberating 50 million people in Iraq and Afghanistan" during a December 15 interview. Karl did not note in response that intelligence estimates have reportedly concluded that Afghanistan is in a "downward spiral" due to a resurgent Taliban.

The New York Times reported in an October 8, 2008, article that "[a] draft report by American intelligence agencies concludes that Afghanistan is in a 'downward spiral' and casts serious doubt on the ability of the Afghan government to stem the rise in the Taliban's influence there, according to American officials familiar with the document." Moreover, Center for Strategic and International Studies senior fellow Anthony Cordesman wrote in a November 22, 2008, New York Times op-ed: "Leaks of a new National Intelligence Estimate have shown that we are now losing the war for several reasons: a lack of Afghan competence; a half-hearted Pakistani commitment to the fight; a shortage of American, NATO and International Security Assistance Force troops; too few aid workers; and nation-building programs that were designed for peacetime and are rife with inefficiency and fraud."

Also, Lakhdar Brahimi, former special representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations for Afghanistan, wrote in a December 7 Washington Post op-ed: "Yet the challenges confronting Afghanistan could still reverse all this progress. In the face of widespread lawlessness, joblessness, poor governance, corruption, narco-trafficking and an escalating level of bombings, Afghan hopes have given way to despair, resignation and anger. ... The government is losing ground every day to insurgents and other outlaws who now control at least a third of the country.

From Karl's December 15 interview:

KARL: But when you were told during another interview that the America public was overwhelmingly against the war, you said, "So?" Do you regret saying that? Would you take that back?

CHENEY: No. And, in fact, what I did was the person that made the statement didn't ask a question; then after they'd made a statement, I said, "So?" -- you know, expecting a question. And I didn't get a question. And they took "so," to mean that I didn't have any concern for public opinion. I do. But I don't think, and the point I made then, is that we could not have done what we've done if we'd been reading the polls.

If we'd responded to the polls, I think the world would look very different today than it does. I think Saddam Hussein would still be in power. I think the progress that we've made in liberating 50 million people in Iraq and Afghanistan might well have not happened. You can't base public policy, or tough decisions in a presidency simply on what's happening in the polls. They change from week to week. You can take two polls on exactly the same day and get totally different results. It's just a bad way to make policy. And we didn't do that.

What we did was what we thought was right for the country. We stood once for reelection, and were reelected. And we've continued to pursue those policies throughout our time in office. Our objective has not been to see how high we could get our poll numbers by the time we left office; our objective has been to do other things such as defend the nation, pursue a successful counterinsurgency program, to prevail in Iraq and Afghanistan, to reform the education system, add prescription drug benefits to Medicare, cut taxes -- those are all things that I think we've succeeded on. They were not all popular. And especially what we did in the national security area I think has been controversial. But it was the right thing to do, and the President and I were elected to make decisions, not to read polls.

KARL: President Bush recently said that his greatest regret was that the intelligence was wrong on weapons of mass destruction. Was that your biggest regret?

Claim: Federal response to Katrina "was pretty darn quick"

During his January 13 interview with Bush, King failed to challenge Bush's statement about Hurricane Katrina that "the truth of the matter is the response was pretty darn quick, if you think about the fact that the Coast Guard and a lot of brave kids were pulling 30,000 people off of roofs as soon as the storm passed, as soon as they found people on those roofs." In fact, as Media Matters noted in faulting media for airing comments by Bush at his January 12 press conference, in a May 2006 bipartisan report, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs concluded that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) "failed to lead an effective federal response to Hurricane Katrina." The Senate report further stated that "the suffering that continued in the days and weeks after the storm passed did not happen in a vacuum; instead, it continued longer than it should have because of -- and was in some cases exacerbated by -- the failure of government at all levels to plan, prepare for, and respond aggressively to the storm. These failures were not just conspicuous; they were pervasive." And in a February 2006 report, the U.S. House of Representatives' Select Bipartisan Committee found that "DHS was not prepared to respond to the catastrophic effects of Hurricane Katrina."

From King's interview:

KING: Upon reflection, two more things: was Katrina the lowest point beyond foreign the entanglements and 9-11.

BUSH: I think being called a racist because of Katrina was a low point. I can remember people saying George Bush is a racist because of the response, when in fact, the truth of the matter is the response was pretty darn quick, if you think about the fact that the Coast Guard and a lot of brave kids were pulling 30,000 people off of roofs as soon as the storm passed, as soon as they found people on those roofs.

KING: But a lot of mistakes happened too.

BUSH: Well, yes, at all levels of government, absolutely.

KING: Do you think those mistakes, that we learned from them?

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National Security & Foreign Policy
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