There's a difference between lying and dissembling. Dan Bartlett lied on Wednesday. Brian Williams and David Gregory merely dissembled. Yet the statements of all three are discredited by the same smoking gun, the one that has been hiding in plain sight for more than five years, and has been subject to a virtual news blackout at NBC News. This White House is beyond redemption. But it's time for NBC and other major networks to come clean.
The White House Lie:
"The fact of the matter was the weapons of mass destruction weren't there. The intelligence was wrong. But that doesn't make people out to be liars or manipulators or propagandists. It makes them wrong." Dan Bartlett on CNN, May 28, 2008
The Smoking Gun: Anyone who read the newspapers with an ounce of common sense could figure out that the case for WMD was a sham. On March 7, 2003, 11 days before Bush invaded, the nuclear weapons inspectors reported that there was zero evidence that Saddam had ever done anything to develop nuclear weapons since losing the Gulf War in 1991. Muhamed ElBaradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency went far beyond offering an alternative analysis of the notorious aluminum tubes or those "documents" from Niger. He categorically said that they found no evidence. The Bush administration's response: Nothing, or at least nothing substantive. (ElBaradei's findings were subsequently validated by Bush's own inspections team, headed up by Charles Deufler.)
ElBaradei's report put the world on notice that the case for nuclear WMD was fatally flawed. When Dan Bartlett, John McCain, and everyone else at the White House refused to acknowledge that the U.N. inspectors had punctured their case for war, they became, to use Bartlett's words, "liars or manipulators or propagandists."
The Smoking Gun That Discredits NBC: Because ElBaradei's report struck at the heart of the case for war, any reputable news organization would consider its substance to be extremely important. That evening, NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw reported nothing about ElBaradei's findings. On CNBC, The News with Brian Williams also reported nothing. NBC's virtual blackout of the story persisted, and thereby skewed its coverage of almost everything relating to WMD and the decision to go to war. (The most notable pre-war exceptions to the blackout were Tim Russert's defamatory smears against the nuclear inspectors.)
There are countless examples where NBC's reporting and commentary sidestepped the full import of ElBaradei's pre-war disclosure. Chris Matthews' remarks are typical:
"I mean, that was a critical part of a lot of people who supported this war -- regular people, journalists, et cetera, said, I don't like the idea of going to war, but if they've got nuclear weapons, I guess we have to. And that was a successful trump card and it was a deal maker for a lot of people who supported the war, middle of the road people." Chris Matthews on Hardball, October 19, 2005
NBC's blackout continues to this day, thereby extending Dan Bartlett a veneer of plausibility, and enabling Brian Williams and David Gregory to dissemble so freely, as they did on Wednesday:
"I think he [Scott McClellan] is wrong...I think the questions were asked. I think we pushed. I think we prodded. I think we challenged the president. I think not only those of us in the White House press corps did that, but others in the rest of the landscape of the media did that. If there wasn't a debate in this country, then maybe the American people should think about, why not? Where was Congress? Where was the House? Where was the Senate? Where was public opinion about the war? What did the former president believe about the pre-war intelligence? He agreed that -- in fact, Bill Clinton agreed that Saddam had WMD.
"The right questions were asked. I think there's a lot of critics -- and I guess we can count Scott McClellan as one -- who thinks that, if we did not debate the president, debate the policy in our role as journalists, if we did not stand up and say, this is bogus, and you're a liar, and why are you doing this, that we didn't do our job. And I respectfully disagree" David Gregory on Hardball, May 28, 2008 .
(Gregory's allusion to Bill Clinton is a standard smoke-and-mirrors ploy used by the right wing. Bill Clinton never believed that the pre-war intelligence was sufficiently reliable to support military action. Both he and Senator Clinton advocated the use of continued inspections instead of military action.)
"I've always put it this way. In Katrina, the evidence was right next to us. Sadly, we saw fellow Americans, in some cases, floating past face down. We knew what had just happened. We weren't allowed that kind of proximity with the weapons inspectors. I was in Kuwait for the buildup of the war. And yes, we heard from the Pentagon on my cell phone the minute they heard us report something that they didn't like. The tone of that time was quite extraordinary". Brian Williams on The Today Show, May 28, 2008
Andrea Mitchell was in the room when El Baradei gave his report to the U.N. and to the world. "We weren't allowed that kind of proximity with the weapons inspectors," is Williams' way of throwing sand in the face of NBC's viewers.
Here's the bottom line: Anyone (e.g. Colin Powell, George Tenet, Dan Bartlett) who says, "We relied on flawed intelligence," is speaking in bad faith, because after March 7, 2003 he acted in bad faith. And any journalist who accepts that rationalization at face value is not doing his job.