All leaders lie, and so do all human beings. It seems to be a constant of the human condition. However, what they lie about makes a great deal of difference. The prior president lied about his sexual escapades, which for the Republican base was an unforgivable moral flaw (even while, polling shows, for the average European, it was an endearing trait). Now the Center for Public Integrity and the Fund for Independence in Journalism have attempted to quantify and present the lies of the Bush Administration on one vital issue. They present a question: Did the Bush Administration lie its way to war in Iraq? And they give us a very convincing answer: yes. Now for the mainstream media, lying your way to a war is no big deal–after all, most wannabe totalitarian dictators do it. It certainly is not as important as, say, lying about a sexcapade with an intern in a blue dress. What has it cost, after all?
Surely no more than 110,000 people killed, 300,000 casualties and $2.5 trillion in direct costs and likely long-term debt incurred. A pittance. Of course, it will mean a recession—probably a very nasty one. But look at the wonderful things the Bush Administration has achieved? When Clinton left office, gasoline was $1.39/gallon, and today it’s more than doubled, to $3.10, as oil company profits skyrocket. Clinton reduced the national deficit by running up $431 billion in surpluses in his last three years. Bush has run up the deficit by $734 billion in his last three years, and the national debt has swollen under his presidency by $3.5 trillion (it’s much more than that when we tally up the indirect costs incurred, by the way, such as healthcare for the returning veterans. . . but then the Bush Team isn’t so wild about furnishing them with healthcare, as we see from the developments out at Walter Reed). But why should we worry? That will all be left for future generations to cope with, just like the consequences of his misadventures in warfare. Under President Bush the median income in the United States fell by roughly 2%, while the allocation of the nation’s wealth shifted much more dramatically: the poor got much poorer, while the wealthiest 1% of the population got exponentially richer. (Call them the base.) When Clinton left office, the United States was admired and respected by nations around the world, and particularly by our key allies. And after seven years of Bush, the United States is loathed by most of the world and viewed with closely guarded suspicion in the alliances that three generations of Americans sacrificed to forge. This is quite a tally. And it shows the only a part of the costs associated with those 935 lies.
So you, like the mainstream media, think that lying about a war makes no difference? Think again.
Now, about those lies. Here’s the core of the report:
The study counted 935 false statements in the two-year period. It found that in speeches, briefings, interviews and other venues, Mr. Bush and administration officials stated unequivocally on at least 532 occasions that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or was trying to produce or obtain them or had links to al Qaeda or both. “It is now beyond dispute that Iraq did not possess any weapons of mass destruction or have meaningful ties to al Qaeda,” according to Charles Lewis and Mark Reading-Smith of the Fund for Independence in Journalism staff members, writing an overview of the study. “In short, the Bush administration led the nation to war on the basis of erroneous information that it methodically propagated and that culminated in military action against Iraq on March 19, 2003.”
Named in the study along with Mr. Bush were top officials of the administration during the period studied: Vice President Dick Cheney, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan. Mr. Bush led with 259 false statements, 231 about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and 28 about Iraq’s links to al Qaeda, the study found. That was second only to Powell’s 244 false statements about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and 10 about Iraq and al Qaeda.
The center said the study was based on a database created with public statements over the two years beginning on Sept. 11, 2001, and information from more than 25 government reports, books, articles, speeches and interviews. “The cumulative effect of these false statements – amplified by thousands of news stories and broadcasts – was massive, with the media coverage creating an almost impenetrable din for several critical months in the run-up to war,” the study concluded. “Some journalists – indeed, even some entire news organizations – have since acknowledged that their coverage during those prewar months was far too deferential and uncritical. These mea culpas notwithstanding, much of the wall-to-wall media coverage provided additional, ‘independent’ validation of the Bush administration’s false statements about Iraq,” it said.
Those last lines are particularly important, because they help us understand why the media doesn’t want to expose the lies. There is a key distinction between the mainstream media’s coverage of the Clinton lies and the Bush lies. The difference is that the media was fully complicit in the dissemination of the Bush lies. It transmitted them uncritically, repeatedly, with dramatic amplification, over a period of years. Therefore, in the minds of many if not most of the media moguls, highlighting these lies is an exercise in self-criticism. Now there’s nothing the American mainstream media views with greater distaste than self-criticism. And there’s nothing more needed.
So what about Congress? Isn’t it supposed to be a check on the audacious falsehoods spread by the Executive Branch? That’s what the Founding Fathers had in mind, of course. Moreover, many of them–especially James Madison and Thomas Jefferson–were focused on the risk that an Executive would push the country into an unnecessary war simply to aggrandize his powers through the commander-in-chief clause. Congress was supposed to act as a check against this. But the current Congress, under its white-flag-Democrat leadership, has failed miserably. Here’s what Dan Froomkin has to say about this in yesterday’s Washington Post:
So what, you may well ask, ever happened to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s promised inquiry into whether the White House intentionally deceived the public in the run-up to war? That, presumably, would provide an accountability moment of sorts. You may recall that more than two years ago, in November 2005, Democrats were so upset about Republican foot-dragging on the inquiry that they brought the Senate to a halt with a rare closed session to demand that work resume.
The Republicans, not surprisingly, continued to stall anyway. But the Democrats have controlled the Senate for more than a year now. Where is the report? Wendy Morigi, spokeswoman for Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, told me this morning that it will be out before the end of spring. Why the delay? Due to the “lack of comity on the committee” when Rockefeller took over the chairmanship, he decided that pushing ahead with the inquiry right away “would again create tension,” Morigi said.
They just don’t seem to think that it’s terribly important when an Executive lies the country into a war. They have more important things to do. . . like securing retroactive immunity for criminal law offenses by telecommunications companies that finance their election campaigns.