How else to explain his endless attempts to rewrite
history and reshape his own statements, a pattern on display again in
his New Year’s Day comments to reporters in San Antonio, Texas? In that
session, as Bush denied misleading the public, he twice again misled the
Bush launched into a defense of his honesty by
denying that he lied when he told a crowd in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2004 that
“by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking
about wiretap, it requires – a wiretap requires a court order.”
Two years earlier, Bush had approved rules that
freed the National Security Agency to use warrantless wiretaps on
communications originating in the United States without a court order.
But Bush still told the Buffalo audience, “Nothing has changed, by the
way. When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking
about getting a court order before we do so.”
On New Year’s Day 2006, Bush sought to explain
those misleading comments by contending. “I was talking about roving
wiretaps, I believe, involved in the Patriot Act. This is different from
the N.S.A. program.”
However, the context of Bush’s 2004 statement was
clear. He broke away from a discussion of the USA Patriot Act to note
“by the way” that “any time” a wiretap is needed a court order must be
obtained. He was not confining his remarks to “roving wiretaps” under
the Patriot Act. [For Bush’s 2004 speech, click
In his New Year's Day remarks, Bush further misled
the public, by insisting that his warrantless wiretaps only involved
communications from suspicious individuals abroad who were contacting
people in the United States, a policy that would be legal. Bush said the
eavesdropping was “limited to calls from outside the United States to
calls within the United States.”
But Bush’s explanation was at odds with what his
own administration had previously admitted to journalists – that the
wiretaps also covered calls originating in the United States, which
require warrants from a special court created by the Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978.
The White House soon “clarified” Bush’s remarks to
acknowledge that his warrantless wiretaps did, indeed, involve
communications originating in the United States. [NYT, Jan. 2, 2006]
Though occasionally the news media notes these
discrepancies in Bush’s claims, it rarely makes much of an issue out of
them and often averts its collective gaze from the deceptions
Lying & Enabling
For years now, there has been a troubling pattern
of Bush lying and U.S. news media enabling his deceptive behavior, a
problem especially acute around the War on Terror and the Iraq War,
which has now claimed the lives of nearly 2,200 U.S. soldiers and tens
of thousands of Iraqis.
Yet, even on something as well known as the pre-war
chronology, Bush has been allowed to revise the history. In one favorite
fictitious account, he became the victim of Hussein’s intransigence,
leaving Bush no choice but to invade on March 19, 2003, in search of
Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction.
Less than four months later – facing criticism
because no WMD was found and U.S. soldiers were dying – Bush began to
claim that Hussein had barred United Nations weapons inspectors from
Iraq and blocked a non-violent search for WMD. Bush unveiled this
rationale for the invasion on July 14, 2003.
“We gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in,
and he wouldn’t let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable request,
we decided to remove him from power,” Bush said. [See the
White House Web site.]
The reality, however, was that Hussein had declared
that Iraq no longer possessed WMD and let the U.N. inspectors into Iraq
in November 2002 to check. They were allowed to examine any site of
their choosing. It was Bush – not Hussein – who forced the U.N.
inspectors to pull out in March 2003, so the invasion could proceed.
But this historical revisionism – which Bush has
repeated in varying forms ever since – spared him the need to defend his
decisions forthrightly. By rewriting the history, he made it more
palatable to Americans who don’t like to see themselves as aggressors.
Even before the invasion, Bush pushed the fiction
that he went to war only as a “last resort,” rather than as part of a
long-held strategy that had a variety of goals including changing
regimes in Iraq, projecting U.S. power into the heart of the Middle
East, and securing control of Iraq’s vast oil reserves.
For instance, on March 8, 2003, 11 days before
Bush said he still considered military force “a last resort.” He
added, “we are doing everything we can to avoid war in Iraq. But if
Saddam Hussein does not disarm peacefully, he will be disarmed by
But former Bush administration insiders, such as
Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and counter-terrorism chief Richard
Clarke, have since disclosed that Bush long wanted to conquer Iraq, an
option that became more attainable amid the American fear and anger that
followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Those insider claims about Bush's Iraq War
premeditation – heatedly denied by the White House – were buttressed in
2005 by the release of the so-called “Downing
Street Memo,” which recounted a secret meeting on July 23, 2002,
involving British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his top national
At that meeting, Richard Dearlove, chief of the
British intelligence agency MI6, described his discussions about Iraq
with National Security Council officials in Washington.
Dearlove said, “Bush wanted to remove Saddam,
through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and
WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”
The memo added, “It seemed clear that Bush had made
up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet
decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his
neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North
Korea or Iran.”
Despite the Downing Street Memo, Bush and his
spokesmen continued to deny that the White House was set on a course to
war in 2002. On May 16, 2005, White House spokesman Scott McClellan
rejected the memo’s implication that Bush’s pre-war diplomacy was just a
“The president of the United States, in a very
public way, reached out to people across the world, went to the United
Nations and tried to resolve this in a diplomatic manner,”
McClellan said. “Saddam Hussein was
the one, in the end, who chose continued defiance.” [For more on Bush's
pretexts for war, see Consortiumnews.com’s “President
Bush, With the Candlestick…”]
Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Bush’s
historical revisionism still has mesmerized even elite elements of the
U.S. news media.
During an interview in July 2004, for instance, ABC
News anchor Ted Koppel repeated the administration’s “defiance” spin
point in explaining why he thought the Iraq invasion was justified.
“It did not make logical sense that Saddam Hussein,
whose armies had been defeated once before by the United States and the
Coalition, would be prepared to lose control over his country if all he
had to do was say, ‘All right, U.N., come on in, check it out,” Koppel
told Amy Goodman, host of “Democracy Now.”
This media fear of questioning Bush’s honesty
seemed to have reached a point where journalists would rather put on
blinders to the facts than face the wrath of Bush’s defenders.
So, as Koppel showed, Bush had good reason to feel
confident about his ability to manipulate the Iraq War reality. He even
made his phony Hussein-defiance case during an important presidential
debate on Sept. 30, 2004.
“I went there [the United Nations] hoping that once
and for all the free world would act in concert to get Saddam Hussein to
listen to our demands,” Bush said. “They [the Security Council] passed a
resolution that said disclose, disarm or face serious consequences. I
believe when an international body speaks, it must mean what it says.
“But Saddam Hussein had no intention of disarming.
Why should he? He had 16 other resolutions and nothing took place. As a
matter of fact, my opponent talks about inspectors. The facts are that
he [Hussein] was systematically deceiving the inspectors. That wasn’t
going to work. That’s kind of a pre-Sept. 10 mentality, the hope that
somehow resolutions and failed inspections would make this world a more
Virtually every point in this war justification
from Bush was wrong. The reality was that Hussein had disarmed.
Rather than the U.N. resolutions having no consequence, they apparently
had achieved their goal of a WMD-free Iraq. Rather than clueless U.N.
inspectors duped by Hussein, the inspectors were not finding WMD because
the stockpiles weren’t there. Bush’s post-invasion inspection team
didn't find WMD either.
Despite the importance of this setting for Bush’s
rendition of these falsehoods – a presidential debate viewed by tens of
millions of Americans – most U.S. news outlets did little or no
fact-checking on the president’s bogus history.
One of the few exceptions was a story inside the
Washington Post that mentioned Bush’s claim that Hussein had “no
intention of disarming.” In the middle of a story on various factual
issues in the debate, the Post noted that “Iraq asserted in its filing
with the United Nations in December 2002 that it had no such weapons,
and none has been found.” [Washington Post, Oct. 1, 2004]
But there has been no media drum beat – either in
mid-2003 when Bush began revising the history of the U.N. inspections or
since then – that drove the point home to Americans that Bush was lying.
So his pattern has continued.
Snowing the Times
New revelations about Bush’s secret warrantless
wiretaps indicate that the Bush administration undertook another
disinformation campaign against the press during Campaign 2004 – to keep
the lid on his wiretapping program.
In December 2005, explaining why the New York Times
spiked its exclusive wiretap story for a year, executive editor Bill
Keller said U.S. officials “assured senior editors of the Times that a
variety of legal checks had been imposed that satisfied everyone
involved that the program raised no legal questions.”
But the Bush administration was concealing an
important fact – that a number of senior officials had protested the
legality of the operation.
In the months after the Times agreed to hold the
story, the newspaper “developed a fuller picture of the concerns and
misgivings that had been expressed during the life of the program,”
Keller said. “It became clear those questions loomed larger within the
government than we had previously understood.”
In March 2004, Deputy Attorney General James B.
Comey refused to sign a recertification of the wiretap program, the
Times learned. Comey’s objection caused White House chief of staff
Andrew Card and Bush’s counsel Alberto Gonzales to pay a hospital visit
on then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, who was hospitalized for
gallbladder surgery. But Ashcroft also balked at the continuation of the
program, which was temporarily suspended while new arrangements were
made. [NYT, Jan. 1, 2006]
After disclosure of Comey’s objection on New Year's
Day, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., called for a congressional
examination of the “significant concern about the legality of the
program even at the very highest levels of the Department of Justice.” [NYT,
Jan. 2, 2006]
But at a crucial political juncture – before the
Nov. 2, 2004, election – the Bush administration kept its secret
wiretapping operation under wraps by misleading senior editors of the
New York Times. The Times, which had been fooled about Iraq’s WMD, was
This tendency to always give George W. Bush the
benefit of every doubt raises serious questions about the health of
American democracy, which holds that no man is above the law. It’s also
hard to imagine any other recent president getting away with so much
deception and paying so little price.
Yet, the lack of accountability has been a hallmark
of Bush’s charmed life, from young adulthood through his political
career. [For details, see Robert Parry’s
Secrecy & Privilege.]
When Bush ran for president in 2000, American
political reporters – both conservative and mainstream – tilted that
pivotal U.S. election toward him by applying starkly different standards
when evaluating the honesty of Democrat Al Gore in comparison with Bush
and Dick Cheney.
Reporters went over Gore’s comments with a
fine-toothed comb searching for perceived “exaggerations.” Some of
Gore’s supposed “lies” actually resulted from erroneous reporting by
over-eager journalists, such as misquotes about Gore allegedly claiming
credit for discovering the Love Canal toxic waste problem. [For details,
see Consortiumnews.com’s “Al
Gore vs. the Media.”]
By contrast, Bush and Cheney were rarely challenged
over falsehoods and misstatements, even in the context of their attacks
on Gore’s honesty. Cheney, for instance, was given almost a free pass
when he falsely portrayed himself as a self-made multimillionaire from
his years as chairman of Halliburton Co.
Commenting on his success in the private sector
during the vice-presidential debate in 2000, Cheney said “the government
had absolutely nothing to do with it.” However, the reality was that
Halliburton was a major recipient of government contracts and other
largesse, including federal loan guarantees from the Export-Import Bank.
But Cheney was allowed to get away his own resumé
-polishing even as he went out on the campaign trail to denounce Gore
for supposedly puffing up his resumé. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Protecting
This pattern of “protecting Bush-Cheney”
intensified after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks when the U.S. news media
rallied around the embattled president and concealed evidence of Bush’s
shaky reaction to the crisis.
Though pool reporters witnessed Bush sitting frozen
for seven minutes in a Florida classroom after being told “the nation is
under attack,” the national news media shielded that nearly
disqualifying behavior from the public for more than two years, until
just before the release of Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11,” a 2004
documentary that featured the footage.
Major news organizations were equally solicitous of
Bush and Cheney during the run-up to war in Iraq. While Fox News and
other right-wing outlets were unabashed cheerleaders for the Iraq War,
the mainstream media often picked up the pom-poms, too.
It took more than a year after the invasion and the
failure to find WMD caches for the New York Times and the Washington
Post to run self-critical articles about their lack of skepticism over
Bush's war claims.
Nevertheless, the Times’ top editors were still
willing to give Bush the benefit of the doubt in fall 2004 when his
aides offered more false assurances about the legal certainty
surrounding Bush’s warrantless wiretap program.
Now Bush's latest comments in San Antonio suggest
that he still feels he has the magic, that he still can convince the
U.S. press corps and the American people that whatever he says is true
no matter how much it diverges from the well-known facts.
One might also presume – given the continued
deceptions in his San Antonio remarks – that Bush did not make a New
Year’s resolution to stop lying.