CNN's King asked Cheney several leading questions, inviting him to hammer Obama

››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER & NATHAN TABAK

Interviewing former Vice President Dick Cheney, CNN's John King asked Cheney several leading questions, most premised on conservative or Republican talking points, that provided Cheney ample opportunities to attack President Obama. For instance, King asked Cheney whether he "believe[s] the president of the United States has made Americans less safe" by reversing several Bush administration's national security policies and whether he agrees with "the conservative weekly Human Events" that Obama is "trying to brazenly deceive the American people."

In an interview during the March 15 edition of CNN's State of the Union, host and CNN chief national correspondent John King asked former Vice President Dick Cheney several leading questions, most premised on conservative or Republican talking points, that provided Cheney ample opportunities to attack President Obama. For instance, King asked Cheney whether he "believe[s] the president of the United States has made Americans less safe" by reversing several Bush administration's national security policies -- echoing repeated claims by Cheney and former President Bush during their legacy tour that their administration's policies were responsible for "keep[ing] the nation safe." King also echoed dubious talking points by asking Cheney whether Obama's budget proposal is "consistent with what he promised in the campaign" and by claiming that "there is a debate in this town about whether the president is trying to do too much, too fast." One of King's leading questions to Cheney -- "[i]s the president of the United States trying to brazenly deceive the American people?" -- was even based on an article by "the conservative weekly Human Events."

Among the questions King asked Cheney were the following:

  • Teasing the portion of the interview in which he would ask Cheney about Obama's national security policies, King stated: "When we come back, President Obama has made some significant changes to the way the United States fights the war on terror. Will those changes put the country in more danger? We'll ask former Vice President Dick Cheney when our exclusive interview continues in just a moment." During the segment, King stated that Obama has "announced he will close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility" and "CIA black sites around the world," and that Obama "will make CIA interrogators abide by the Army Field Manual, defined waterboarding as torture and ban it, suspend trials for terrorists by military commission, and now eliminate the label of 'enemy combatants.' " King then asked Cheney: "I'd like to just simply ask you, yes or no: By taking those steps, do you believe the president of the United States has made Americans less safe?" On-screen text read during this portion of the interview read: "CHENEY ON TERROR THREAT: Obama's programs making Americans less safe."

As Media Matters for America has documented, Bush and Cheney have repeatedly asserted in recent months 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." However, an April 2008 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report 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]." And 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.

  • Earlier in the CNN interview, King said to Cheney: "You learn a lot about an administration, especially a new administration, when it puts forward its first budget. ... When you look at that budget -- $3.6 trillion, redirecting the government's resources in health care, in energy, in the environment; also, a pretty large $1.75 billion [sic: trillion] deficit the first year out -- do you think that is consistent with what he promised in the campaign, or do you think he's overreaching his mandate?"

As Media Matters has noted, many media conservatives have recently embraced and promoted the accusation that President Obama has "lied" or broken promises. In many cases, these accusations are based on distortions of comments he has made or misrepresentations of campaign pledges. For instance, many media figures have advanced the false claim that Obama promised during his campaign to stop earmark spending and broke that promise by signing the omnibus appropriations bill, when, in fact, Obama promised to reform the earmark process and cut wasteful spending, not eliminate earmarks altogether.

  • King also said to Cheney: "As you know, there is a debate in this town about whether the president is trying to do too much, too fast." King then asked Cheney: "I know you don't like a lot what he is trying to do, but if young Richard Cheney was in the chief of staff's office down the hall from President Obama, not Rahm Emanuel, would you be saying, Mr. President, you're trying to do too much, too fast? Or given that he wants to do so many things and at the moment he is quite popular, would you say, you know what, it's a little risky, but let's go?"

King's comments echoed other media that have highlighted claims Obama's "plate" is too "full," suggested he has "bit off more than he can chew," or otherwise given credence to the accusation that the president has loaded his agenda with unrelated items when he should be focusing on the economy. Many media figures, like King, have reinforced the idea without challenge. However, Obama and his aides have asserted that Obama's initiatives on health care, energy, and education reform are inextricably linked to the economy and have made the case that reforming health care, education, and energy will have economic benefits.

  • At one point, King even acknowledged he was basing a question on an article by a "conservative" newspaper. Holding up a copy of Human Events, King said to Cheney: "This is a newspaper many Americans might not recognize, but I read it and I know you read it." Cheney quickly replied: "Human Events." King then stated:

It's the conservative weekly Human Events. And in the lead article this week, they call it "Obama's brazen deception to sell agenda." Essentially the point you just made -- that they have, under the umbrella of an economic crisis, you must support us, there is urgency to act now, that they are putting, in this newspaper's view, a lot of items like health care, like the environment, other priorities and saying, we have to do this all now. Is the president of the United States trying to brazenly deceive the American people?

As Media Matters noted, during the March 13 edition of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360, King distorted a recent comment by Obama about the economy, and also misrepresented Obama's September 2008 criticism of Sen. John McCain for saying that "the fundamentals of our economy are strong."

From the March 15 edition of CNN's State of the Union:

KING: You learn a lot about an administration, especially a new administration, when it puts forward its first budget: $3.6 trillion, that's a lot of money. And as you know, it would redirect a lot of the government's priorities -- essentially, President Obama has said almost every day, what he has said is a repudiation of many of the priorities you have.

When you look at that budget -- $3.6 trillion, redirecting the government's resources in health care, in energy, in the environment; also, a pretty large $1.75 billion [sic] deficit the first year out -- do you think that is consistent with what he promised in the campaign, or do you think he's overreaching his mandate?

CHENEY: Well, I didn't like what he promised in the campaign. I frankly disagreed with it. And obviously, they won the election. He's the president of the United States. He gets to put forward the program he wants. But those of us who are of the other political faith, obviously, get to comment on it and try to improve on it and suggest alternatives.

And, frankly, I think the programs that he's recommended and pursuing in health care, in energy, and so forth, constitute probably the biggest or one of the biggest expansions of federal authority over the private economy in the history of the republic.

[...]

KING: As you know, there's a debate in this town about whether the president is trying to do too much, too fast. This is The Sunday Ledger-Enquirer in Columbus, Georgia, and a Knight Ridder story here about, "Is Obama trying to do too much too fast?"

You have a unique perspective. You have been the White House chief of staff. You served in the Congress in the minority party. You were in the cabinet in the first Bush administration and then vice president for eight years. I know you don't like a lot what he is trying to do, but if young Richard Cheney was in the chief of staff's office down the hall from President Obama, not Rahm Emanuel, would you be saying, Mr. President, you're trying to do too much, too fast? Or, given that he wants to do so many things -- and at the moment he is quite popular -- would you say, you know what, it's a little risky, but let's go?

CHENEY: Well, that's somewhat analogous to the situation we had. We came in after probably the closest election in history, a five-week recount of the Florida vote. And we got a lot of advice at the time that we should change our program because the election had been so close. The president, rightfully, I thought, rejected that and said, "Look, this is what I ran on. We're going to improve our military capabilities, we're going to cut taxes, we're going to do No Child Left Behind," and we did it. We did not allow the critics to diminish what we were trying to accomplish. So from the standpoint of what the Obama administration is trying to do, I can't argue that they should pace it or anything like that. I think that's -- those are all tactical calls they've got to make. What's much more important is the substance of what they recommend, and that's what I disagree with.

KING: You disagree with it. I want to show you one more newspaper headline in this segment. This is a newspaper many Americans might not recognize, but I read it, and I know you read it.

CHENEY: Human Events.

KING: It's the conservative weekly Human Events. And in the lead article this week, they call it "Obama's brazen deception to sell agenda." Essentially the point you just made -- that they have, under the umbrella of an economic crisis -- you must support us, there is urgency to act now -- that they are putting, in this newspaper's view, a lot of items like health care, like the environment, other priorities and saying, we have to do this all now. Is the president of the United States trying to brazenly deceive the American people?

CHENEY: Well, I think they've taken liberties, if you will, with the arguments. Given the importance to the country and to all of us of having a healthy economy and getting the economy back on track, it seems to me an administration does have an obligation to set priorities and go after that first. It also occurs to me that one of the tools that's most important to doing that is tax policy and cutting taxes, especially for those who invest and create wealth and create jobs. That's not what we're seeing.

[...]

KING: Well, since taking office, President Obama has done these things to change the policies you helped put in place. He has announced he will close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility. He has announced he will close CIA black sites around the world, where they interrogate terror suspects. Says he will make CIA interrogators abide by the Army Field Manual, defined waterboarding as torture and ban it, suspend trials for terrorists by military commission, and now eliminate the label of "enemy combatants."

I'd like to just simply ask you, yes or no: By taking those steps, do you believe the president of the United States has made Americans less safe?

CHENEY: I do. I think those programs were absolutely essential to the success we enjoyed of being able to collect the intelligence that let us defeat all further attempts to launch attacks against the United States since 9-11. I think that's a great success story. It was done legally. It was done in accordance with our constitutional practices and principles. President Obama campaigned against it all across the country. And now he is making some choices that, in my mind, will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack.

KING: That's a pretty serious thing to say about the president of the United States --

CHENEY: Well --

KING: -- and commander in chief of the military. So I want to give you a chance, because many people will say, Vice President Cheney just said Barack Obama, President Obama is making us less safe, more at risk, which you just said. I want to give you a chance -- and take as much time as you want -- to prove it. Because you put that list up there, and I know you say there have been three cases, I believe, of waterboarding in the past, and you say that specific things have been prevented. I know some of this is classified intelligence, but now that you're out of government, to the degree that you can, tell the American people, because of those tactics, because of those, yes, sometimes extreme tactics, we stopped this.

CHENEY: Well, I would say that the key to what we did was to collect intelligence against the enemy. That's what the terrorist surveillance program was all about, that's what the enhanced interrogation program was all about.

KING: But another 9-11, because of a tactic like waterboarding or a black site, can you say with certainty you stopped another attempt to do something on that level?

CHENEY: John, I've seen a report that was written based upon the intelligence that we collected then that itemizes the specific attacks that were stopped by virtue of what we learned through those programs. It's still classified. I can't give you the details of it without violating classification, but I can say there were a great many of them.

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