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ALL TOO HUMAN! Gigot cherry-picked a Fitzgerald quote. Ditto Biden with Cheney: // link // print // previous // next //

ALL TOO HUMAN: Did the Bush Admin cherry-pick intel? You can bet your sweet bippy they did—and they did a lot more. But then, the human mind is deeply inclined to cherry-pick—to produce those facts which support one’s own case, and not a single fact more. On Sunday, for example, Paul Gigot cherry-picked a quote from Patrick Fitzgerald while guesting on Fox News Sunday:
CHRIS WALLACE (11/20/05): Paul, what does this [the Bob Woodward matter] mean for the investigation in general, and what does it mean for the indictment in particular of Scooter Libby, the vice president's former chief of staff?

GIGOT: Well, I think it potentially helps Scooter Libby. I mean, here's a quote from Fitzgerald he made at his press conference about the Libby indictment. He said Libby was “at the beginning of the chain of phone calls, the first official to disclose this information outside the government to a reporter.”

Now, we know that now, from Woodward, that that wasn't true, so I think this casts doubt on the entire Fitzgerald time line...

Say what? Did Patrick Fitzgerald really say that Libby was “the first official to disclose this information...to a reporter?” Yes, he did, near the end of his press conference. Earlier, though, he had said something different. But the earlier statement didn’t suit Gigot’s needs, so Gigot simply left that one out:
FITZGERALD (10/28/05): Valerie Wilson's cover was blown in July, 2003. The first sign of that cover being blown was when Mr. Novak published a column on July 14th, 2003. But Mr. Novak was not the first reporter to be told that Wilson's wife, Valerie Wilson—Ambassador Wilson's wife, Valerie, worked at the CIA. Several other reporters were told. In fact, Mr. Libby was the first official known to have told a reporter when he talked to Judith Miller in June of 2003 about Valerie Wilson.
In this earlier statement, Fitzgerald said that Libby was the first official known to have told a reporter. But this earlier statement didn’t suit Gigot’s purpose. So he cherry-picked Fitzgerald’s later slip of the tongue, and left out the earlier, more definitive statement. We humans tend to do that.

Yes, humans luvv to cherry-pick facts. In fact, on that very same Fox News Sunday, Joe Biden cherry-picked a pleasing quote from his opponent, Dick Cheney:

WALLACE (11/20/05): Senator Biden, in your speech in 2002 authorizing the use of force in Iraq, you said that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons, that he was seeking nuclear weapons. Is the vice president right about you and other Democratic critics losing your memories?

BIDEN: He's absolutely wrong. He said that, quote, “They have reconstituted their nuclear weapons.” Simultaneously, I said—contemporaneously, I said there is absolutely no evidence of that. He said, and the president said, and implied, that there was an imminent threat from Saddam Hussein.

“They have reconstituted their nuclear weapons.” Yes, it’s true—Cheney did say it. But Biden was cherry-picking his quotes, just as Gigot would later do.

Biden refers to Cheney’s appearance on the March 16, 2003 Meet the Press. Here’s the exchange, midway through the hour-long session, which Biden cherry-picks—sorry, quotes:

RUSSERT (3/16/03): Even though the International Atomic Energy Agency said he [Saddam] does not have a nuclear program, we [sic] disagree?

CHENEY: I disagree, yes. And you'll find the CIA, for example, and other key parts of our intelligence community disagree. Let's talk about the nuclear proposition for a minute. We've got, again, a long record here. It's not as though this is a fresh issue. In the late '70s, Saddam Hussein acquired nuclear reactors from the French. 1981, the Israelis took out the Osirak reactor and stopped his nuclear weapons development at the time. Throughout the '80s, he mounted a new effort. I was told when I was defense secretary before the Gulf War that he was eight to 10 years away from a nuclear weapon. We found out after the Gulf War that he was within one or two years of having a nuclear weapon because he had a massive effort under way that involved four or five different technologies for enriching uranium to produce fissile material.

We know that based on intelligence that he has been very, very good at hiding these kinds of efforts. He's had years to get good at it and we know he has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons. And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons. I think Mr. ElBaradei frankly is wrong.

So there it is; clearly, he said it. But throughout this program, Cheney said something quite different. But his other statements didn’t suit Biden’s purpose. So Biden “fixed the intel” a bit—just as Gigot would soon do.

What did Cheney say throughout Meet the Press? He kept saying that Saddam was pursuing nukes—that he might have such weapons in coming years. For example, here is the Q-and-A which immediately precedes the one we have quoted:

RUSSERT (3/16/03): What do you think is the most important rationale for going to war with Iraq?

CHENEY: Well, I think I've just given it, Tim, in terms of the combination of his development and use of chemical weapons, his development of biological weapons, his pursuit of nuclear weapons.

RUSSERT: And even though the International Atomic Energy Agency said he does not have a nuclear program, we disagree?

Saddam was in pursuit of nukes. Moments later, Cheney again described Saddam in pursuit, not in possession:
CHENEY: We're now faced with a situation, especially in the aftermath of 9/11, where the threat to the United States is increasing. And over time, given Saddam's posture there, given the fact that he has a significant flow of cash as a result of the oil production of Iraq, it's only a matter of time until he acquires nuclear weapons. And in light of that, we have to be prepared, I think, to take the action that is being contemplated.
Not much later, he did it again. Cheney said Saddam might acquire nukes within a couple of years:
CHENEY: Now, I can't say with certainty that there will be no battle for Baghdad. We have to be prepared for that possibility. But, again, I don't want to convey to the American people the idea that this is a cost-free operation. Nobody can say that. I do think there's no doubt about the outcome. There's no question about who is going to prevail if there is military action. And there's no question but what it is going to be cheaper and less costly to do it now than it will be to wait a year or two years or three years until he's developed even more deadly weapons, perhaps nuclear weapons. And the consequences then of having to deal with him would be far more costly than will be the circumstances today. Delay does not help.
In two or three years, he might have nukes. It’s perfectly clear from the full transcript; Cheney wasn’t claiming that Saddam had nukes. He later said the “reconstituted” statement was a slip of the tongue, and the evidence supports this claim.

But so what? Gigot cherry-picked from Fitzgerald, and Biden did the same with Cheney. Sadly, it’s the way of the world—as readers will prove when they hotly insist that these cases are so plainly different.

MILBANK PICKS ONE TOO: The polls have turned against Cheney, so a Post scribe cherry-picks his quote too. You know what to do—just click here.

SADLY, YES: Meanwhile, did Cheney ever call the threat “imminent? We’ll guess that Biden was wrong on that too. (Note the way he includes the word “implied” as a hedge.) As we all know, it’s an article of faith among conservatives that Bush never said the threat was “imminent”—and many centrists understand this fact. In fact, Bush said just the opposite in his State of the Union; he said he didn’t want to wait until the threat became imminent. With all the misstatements and fixed intel to choose from, is this really the best Dems can do? Clear answer: Sadly, yes.

TOMORROW: We’re going out to clean the pasture spring! But first, we’ll take a look at this Brent Staples column about an achievement gap.