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The Dishonesty Card

The Media Research Center and FrontPageMag bash a report on the Bush administration's false statements about war with Iraq by ignoring the evidence and attacking the messenger.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 3/6/2008

It's the oldest trick of deceptive rhetoric in the book: Attack the source of the information, not the information itself, aka the ad hominem attack.

That's what the Media Research Center in reaction to a report by the Center for Public Integrity, called "The War Card," stating that the Bush administration made hundreds of false statements during the buildup to the war in Iraq, which "juxtaposes what President Bush and these seven top officials were saying for public consumption against what was known, or should have been known, on a day-to-day basis."

Given that criticism of Republicans is which the MRC exists to counter, it's no surprise that MRC writers ran to the Bush administration's defense:

  • A Jan. 23 NewsBusters post (and TimesWatch item), Clay Waters described the Center for Public Integrity -- which issued a  -- as "left-wing" and complained that a New York Times article on the study "failed to pin an ideological label on the organization and made no mention of CPI's ties to the left-wing billionaire George Soros."
  • A Jan. 23 NewsBusters post by the ever-insightful Warner Todd Huston calls CPI "ultra-leftist" and "funded by extreme leftist George Soros" and others who are "exclusively leftist in political philosophy."
  • A Jan. 23 NewsBusters post by Matthew Balan noted "the Center’s funding by various left-wing individuals and foundations, most notably George Soros." 
  • A Jan. 24 NewsBusters post and CyberAlert item by Brent Baker stated that the report was issued by "a couple of affiliated far-left groups."  
  • A Jan. 24 NewsBusters post by Seton Motley, posted the next day at Human Events, asserted that CPI is funded by "left-wing mega-mogul George Soros."

There are two problems here. The first is that it appears not to be true. As CPI media manager Steve Carpinelli posted in a comment on Motley's Human Events article:

The Center is not funded by George Soros or the Soros-funded Open Society Institute foundation. Neither Mr. Soros nor OSI funded our latest project, “Iraq - The War Card: Orchestrated Deception on the Path to War.” The Center has received foundation support from the Open Society Institute in the past, most recently in 2004. The Open Society Institute, like most foundations, awards grants independently from their founders. The Center for Public Integrity accepts support from many different sources, but regardless of the source, all of the Center’s projects are editorially independent and strictly managed by in-house journalists and staff.

The second problem: If CPI is so far left, why was it trying to bring down Al Gore in 2000?

As ConWebWatch detailed, CPI underwrote much of the reporting for the multi-part series on Gore by Charles Thompson II and Tony Hays that WorldNetDaily published before the 2000 election. CPI then later disassociated itself from the series prior to publication; according to CPI senior fellow Knut Royce, "The biggest determinant was that the main focus to begin with in the project was Al Gore. And the bottom line, we just didn't have Al Gore." That series ultimately drew a lawsuit for CPI, WND and others from Gore supporter Clark Jones, who claimed libel and defamation regarding statements about him in one article. In February, the defendants settled the lawsuit on confidential terms, admitting that false claims about Jones were made.

Further, CPI also uncovered one of conservatives' favorite Clinton scandals, his alleged use of the Lincoln bedroom to reward his campaign contributors.

All of this went unmentioned by the MRC's writers. Which brings us to the second-oldest trick of deceptive rhetoric in the book: Base attacks on perceptions, not on facts.

Attacks in this vein were typified by Baker, who quoted Fox News' Brit Hume as saying it was "a concept nearly universally accepted by most of the world's intelligence services at the time" that Iraq under Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.

Huston asserted: "Finally, it is also interesting to note that the database of "Bush lies" does not notate the context of those 'lies.' How many of them were widely believed by Democrats and Republicans alike at the time, but were proven later to be less than true? A statement given that is thought to be true (even if it turns out untrue later) is not a lie. It is just mistaken!"

Motley wrote:

President Bush said there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq immediately prior to our invading Mesopotamia. Saddam Hussein indeed at one point had them -- we know this because he had used them, twice, on the Iranians and the Kurds. His every move right up to the moment we went in was calculated to foster the appearance that he had them still, lest his neighbors think him weak and vulnerable.

But in we went, and we found nothing. We had the wrong information. This is not a lie -- this is an error of fact.

But none of these posts address the specific evidence CPI cites to declare various Bush administration officials' statements about Iraq WMD as false.

Regarding Baker's and Motley's assertion that everyone thought Iraq had WMDs, the report states:

In a national radio address on September 28, 2002, President Bush flatly asserted: "The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons, is rebuilding the facilities to make more and, according to the British government, could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order is given. The regime has long-standing and continuing ties to terrorist groups, and there are al Qaeda terrorists inside Iraq. This regime is seeking a nuclear bomb, and with fissile material could build one within a year."

What the American people did not know at the time was that, just three weeks before Bush's radio address, in early September, Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet told the Senate Intelligence Committee that there was no National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Such an assessment had not been done in years because nobody within the intelligence community had deemed it necessary, and, remarkably, nobody at the White House had requested that it be done.

The CIA put the NIE together in less than three weeks. It proved to be false. As the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence later concluded, "Postwar findings do not support the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) judgment that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program.

Motley went on to quote Democratic politicians stating the alleged WMD threat of Iraq, but he offers no evidence that they had access to the same intelligence the administration had -- or, more specifically, knew of the administration's lack of intelligence on the subject.

Remember the standard the CPI used: comparing what Bush administration officials "were saying for public consumption against what was known, or should have been known." The lack of an NIE on Iraqi WMD, followed by one that was slapped together in a few weeks and made a false conclusion, is a case in which the CPI is arguing that the administration should have known the truth.

Motley also disingenuously raised a labeling issue, complaining that CPI and its sister organization was described by MSNBC's Keith Olbermann (whom he oddly described as the "Legacy Press") as "two non-profit groups," while Olbermann called the MRC a "rabid right-wing spin group." Motley ignored the fact that, as ConWebWatch has detailed, that other "Legacy Press" pillar, Fox News (founded the same year as MSNBC), rarely applies an ideological label to the MRC. (And is "right-wing spin group" really so far from the truth?)

The MRC wasn't alone in baselessly attacking the CPI study.

A Feb. 1 FrontPageMag article by John Perazzo used the same attack points -- and the same failure to address the actual evidence -- as the MRC.

Perazzo made blanket statements that "prior to the March, 2003, U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, there was not a single country whose intelligence agency doubted that Saddam was in the process of developing Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), and/or that he already possessed them," and that "the most prominent members of the Democratic Party were uniformly confident in that same assessment." He then stated that the study's conclusion that Bush lied about the Iraq threat "utterly unfounded."

Perazzo used a large chunk of the article to play guilt by association, asserting that CPI "received more than $1.62 million from George Soros in the last few years alone" and suggesting that, because CPI has received money from a Soros-related group that "donates millions of dollars to a host of leftist organizations," CPI is therefore "leftist" as well.

Nowhere does Perazzo cite any of the actual evidence cited in the report, nor does he note CPI's involvement in attacking Al Gore and exposing Clinton's Lincoln Bedroom scandal.

Such is the state of argument on the ConWeb, it seems -- attack the source, and never address the evidence.

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