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PERMITTED TO DO AND SAY ANYTHING! Bush dissembled, and Raddatz took it. But then, it’s standard practice: // link // print // previous // next //

PERMITTED TO DO AND SAY ANYTHING: Facts plays amazingly little role in contemporary American public culture. How does the public get disinformed, even about elementary facts? Let’s visit President Bush’s table-pounding press conference of last Friday. Midway through, ABC’s Martha Raddatz asked a perfectly sensible question. She asked why Bush keeps saying that Saddam was in league with al Qaeda:
RADDATZ (9/15/06): Mr. President, you have said throughout the war in Iraq and building up to the war in Iraq that there was a relationship between Saddam Hussein and Zarqawi and al Qaeda. A Senate Intelligence Committee report a few weeks ago said there was no link, no relationship, and that the CIA knew this and issued a report last fall. And yet a month ago you were still saying there was a relationship.

BUSH: Hmm.

RADDATZ: Why did you keep saying that? Why do you continue to say that? And do you still believe that?
Raddatz referred to the Senate report released on September 8—a report we discussed for three days last week (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/13/06). Again, here’s the start of the Washington Post’s front-page report on this document:
WEISMAN (9/9/06): A declassified report released yesterday by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence revealed that U.S. intelligence analysts were strongly disputing the alleged links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda while senior Bush administration officials were publicly asserting those links to justify invading Iraq.

Far from aligning himself with al-Qaeda and Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Hussein repeatedly rebuffed al-Qaeda's overtures and tried to capture Zarqawi, the report said. Tariq Aziz, the detained former deputy prime minister, has told the FBI that Hussein "only expressed negative sentiments about [Osama] bin Laden.”
We highlight what the Senate report said about Saddam and Zarqawi. According to the Senate report, Saddam actually tried to capture Zarqawi while the Jordanian was in Iraq. According to the report, Zarqawi’s presence in Iraq was not a sign that Saddam was in league with al Qaeda.

Those are the facts, as the Senate found them. But so what? Here’s what our table-pounding, crackpot president said in response to Raddatz’s question. Remember—Raddatz asked Bush why he keeps saying that Saddam was in league with al Qaeda:
BUSH (answering Raddatz, above): The point I was making to Ken Herman's question was that Saddam Hussein was a state sponsor of terror and that Mr. Zarqawi was in Iraq. He had been wounded in Afghanistan, had come to Iraq for treatment. He had ordered the killing of a U.S. citizen in Jordan. I never said there was an operational relationship. I—I—I—I—I was making the point that Saddam Hussein had been declared a state sponsor of terror for a reason, and therefore, he was dangerous.

The broader point I was saying—reminding people is why we removed Saddam Hussein from power. He was dangerous. I—I—I would hope people aren't trying to rewrite the history of Saddam Hussein; all of a sudden he becomes kind of a benevolent fellow. He's a dangerous man, and one of the reasons he was declared a state sponsor of terror is because that's what he was. He harbored terrorists; he paid for families of suicide bombers. Never have I said that Saddam Hussein gave orders to attack 9/11. What I did say was after 9/11, when you see a threat, you got to take it seriously, and I saw a threat in Saddam Hussein, as did Congress, as did the United Nations. I firmly believe the world is better off without Saddam in power, Martha.
Raddatz asked Bush why he keeps alleging a tie between Saddam and al Qaeda. In response, Bush cited Zarqawi’s presence in Iraq, and said that Saddam had “harbored terrorists.” The Senate report had said that Saddam had actually been trying to capture Zarqawi. But so what? Bush’s response to Raddatz was simple. He seemed to restate the debunked facts once again!

In that answer, Bush shows himself as a weak and embarrassing public dissembler. But note what happened next. There was no follow-up from Raddatz. Nor was there any follow-up from any subsequent questioner. If your name is George W. Bush, you can say anything you want to this press corps. They will utter no protest.

What was the obvious follow-up question? Let’s try this:
OBVIOUS FOLLOW-UP: But Mr. President, the Senate Intelligence report specifically said that Zarqawi was in Iraq without Saddam’s permission. Indeed, the report said that Saddam was trying to capture Zarqawi during this period. Let me ask you again. Given that report, do you still allege that Saddam was harboring Zarqawi, or was in league with Zarqawi? Why do you keep saying this in the face of the Senate report?
There’s no real point in asking a question if a fake answer won’t be challenged. But Raddatz said nothing; no one else said a word; and no reporters have bothered reporting Bush’s apparently disingenuous answer. So let’s add Bush’s name to the list! In the wake of the Senate report, Cheney, Rice and Bond all went out and re-asserted or implied the debunked facts about Saddam, al Qaeda and Zarqawi. At his press conference, Bush made it four—and the press corps, to whom he can say any damn thing, just sat there and took it again.

WHAT BUSH SAID: Here’s the August statement to which Raddatz referred. Bush responds to a question by Ken Herman at his August 21 press conference:
HERMAN (8/21/06): A lot of the consequences you mentioned for pulling out seem like maybe they never would have been there if we hadn't gone in. How do you square all of that?

BUSH: I square it because—imagine a world in which you had Saddam Hussein, who had the capacity to make a weapon of mass destruction, who was paying suiciders to kill innocent life, who had relations with Zarqawi. Imagine what the world would be like with him in power. The idea is to try to help change the Middle East.
As of August 21, Bush was still flatly asserting that Saddam “had relations with Zarqawi.” Raddatz asked him why he said it—and Bush engaged in standard blather. This has gone on, for year after year, because the press corps sits there and takes it—as they did last Friday, when Bush dissembled in their faces without challenge again.

UPDATE: We’re still licking the Big B. Our posts may be intermittent.