Record of Iraq War Lies to Air April 25, 2007 on PBS
By David Swanson
Bill Moyers has put together an amazing 90-minute video documenting the lies that the Bush administration told to sell
the Iraq War to the American public, with a special focus on how the media led the charge. I've watched an advance copy and
read a transcript, and the most important thing I can say about it is: Watch PBS from 9 to 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April
25. Spending that 90 minutes on this will actually save you time, because you'll never watch television news again –
not even on PBS, which comes in for its share of criticism.
While a great many pundits, not to mention presidents, look remarkably stupid or dishonest in the four-year-old clips included
in "Buying the War," it's hard to take any spiteful pleasure in holding them to account, and not just because the killing
and dying they facilitated is ongoing, but also because of what this video reveals about the mindset of members of the DC
media. Moyers interviews media personalities, including Dan Rather, who clearly both understand what the media did wrong and
are unable to really see it as having been wrong or avoidable.
It's great to see an American media outlet tell this story so well, but it leads one to ask: When will Congress tell it?
While the Democrats were in the minority, they clamored for hearings and investigations, they pushed Resolutions of Inquiry
into the White House Iraq Group and the Downing Street Minutes. Now, in the majority, they've gone largely silent. The chief
exception is the House Judiciary Committee's effort to question Condoleezza Rice next week about the forged Niger documents.
But what comes out of watching this show is a powerful realization that no investigation is needed by Congress, just as
no hidden information was needed for the media to get the story right in the first place. The claims that the White House
made were not honest mistakes. But neither were they deceptions. They were transparent and laughably absurd falsehoods. And
they were high crimes and misdemeanors.
The program opens with video of President Bush saying "Iraq is part of a war on terror. It's a country that trains terrorists,
it's a country that can arm terrorists. Saddam Hussein and his weapons are a direct threat to this country."
Was that believable or did the media play along? The next shot is of a press conference at which Bush announces that he
has a script telling him which reporters to call on in what order. Yet the reporters play along, raising their hands after
each comment, pretending that they might be called on despite the script.
Video shows Richard Perle claiming that Saddam Hussein worked with al Qaeda and that Iraqis would greet American occupiers
as liberators. Here are the Weekly Standard, the Wall Street Journal, William Safire at the New York Times, Charles Krauthammer
and Jim Hoagland at the Washington Post all demanding an overthrow of Iraq's government. George Will is seen saying that Hussein
"has anthrax, he loves biological weapons, he has terrorist training camps, including 747s to practice on."
But was that even plausible? Bob Simon of "60 Minutes" tells Moyers he wasn't buying it. He says he saw the idea of a connection
between Hussein and al Qaeda as an absurdity: "Saddam, as most tyrants, was a total control freak. He wanted total control
of his regime. Total control of the country. And to introduce a wild card like al Qaeda in any sense was just something he
would not do. So I just didn't believe it for an instant."
Knight Ridder Bureau Chief John Walcott didn't buy it either. He assigned Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay to do the
reporting, and they found the Bush claims to be quite apparently false. For example, when the Iraqi National Congress (INC)
fed the New York Times' Judith Miller a story through an Iraqi defector claiming that Hussein had chemical and biological
weapons labs under his house, Landay noticed that the source was a Kurd, making it very unlikely he would have learned such
secrets. But Landay also noticed that it was absurd to imagine someone putting a biological weapons lab under his house.
But absurd announcements were the order of the day. A video clip shows a Fox anchor saying "A former top Iraqi nuclear
scientist tells Congress Iraq could build three nuclear bombs by 2005." And the most fantastic stories of all were fed to
David Rose at Vanity Fair Magazine. We see a clip of him saying "The last training exercise was to blow up a full size mock
up of a US destroyer in a lake in central Iraq."
Landay comments: "Or jumping into pits of fouled water and having to kill a dog with your bare teeth. I mean, this was
coming from people, who are appearing in all of these stories, and sometimes their rank would change."
Forged documents from Niger could not have gotten noticed in this stew of lies. Had there been some real documents honestly
showing something, that might have stood out and caught more eyes. Walcott describes the way the INC would feed the same info
to the Vice President and Secretary of Defense that it fed to a reporter, and the reporter would then get the claims confirmed
by calling the White House or the Pentagon. Landay adds: "And let's not forget how close these people were to this administration,
which raises the question, was there coordination? I can't tell you that there was, but it sure looked like it."
Simon from 60 Minutes tells Moyers that when the White House claimed a 9-11 hijacker had met with a representative of the
Iraqi government in Prague, 60 Minutes was easily able to make a few calls and find out that there was no evidence for the
claim. "If we had combed Prague," he says, "and found out that there was absolutely no evidence for a meeting between Mohammad
Atta and the Iraqi intelligence figure. If we knew that, you had to figure the administration knew it. And yet they were selling
the connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam."
Moyers questions a number of people about their awful work, including Dan Rather, Peter Beinart, and then Chairman and
CEO of CNN Walter Isaacson. And he questions Simon, who soft-pedaled the story and avoided reporting that there was no evidence.
Landay at Knight Ridder did report the facts when it counted, but not enough people paid attention. He tells Moyers that
all he had to do was read the UN weapons inspectors reports online to know the White House was lying to us. When Cheney said
that Hussein was close to acquiring nuclear weapons, Landay knew he was lying: "You need tens of thousands of machines called
'centrifuges' to produce highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon. You've got to house those in a fairly big place, and
you've got to provide a huge amount of power to this facility."
Moyers also hits Tim Russert with a couple of tough questions. Russert expressed regret for not having included any skeptical
voices by saying he wished his phone had rung. So, Moyers begins the next segment by saying "Bob Simon didn't wait for the
phone to ring," and describing Simon's reporting. Simon says he knew the claims about aluminum tubes were false because 60
Minutes called up some scientists and researchers and asked them. Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post says that skeptical
stories did not get placed on the front page because they are not "definitive."
Moyers shows brief segments of an Oprah show in which she has on only pro-war guests and silences a caller who questions
some of the White House claims. Just in time for the eternal election season, Moyers includes clips of Hillary Clinton and
John Kerry backing the war on the basis of Bush and Cheney's lies. But we also see clips of Robert Byrd and Ted Kennedy getting
The Washington Post editorialized in favor of the war 27 times, and published in 2002 about 1,000 articles and columns
on the war. But the Post gave a huge anti-war march a total of 36 words. "What got even less ink," Moyers says, "was the release
of the National Intelligence Estimate." Even the misleading partial version that the media received failed to fool a careful
Landay recalls: "It said that the majority of analysts believed that those tubes were for the nuclear weapons program.
It turns out, though, that the majority of intelligence analysts had no background in nuclear weapons." Was Landay the only
one capable of noticing this detail?
Colin Powell's UN presentation comes in for similar quick debunking. We watch a video clip of Powell complaining that Iraq
has covered a test stand with a roof. But AP reporter Charles Hanley comments: "What he neglected to mention was that the
inspectors were underneath watching what was going on."
Powell cited a UK paper, but it very quickly came out that the paper had been plagiarized from a college student's work
found online. The British press pointed that out. The US let it slide. But anyone looking for the facts found it quickly.
Moyers' wonderful movie is marred by a single line, the next to the last sentence, in which he says: "The number of Iraqis
killed, over 35,000 last year alone, is hard to pin down." A far more accurate figure could have been found very easily.
BILL MOYERS JOURNAL
Special premiere airdate: Wednesday, April 25 at 9 P.M. on PBS.
Airs weekly: Fridays, beginning April 27 at 9 P.M. on PBS. (60 minutes)
Four years ago on May 1, President Bush landed on the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln wearing a flight suit and
delivered a speech in front of a giant "Mission Accomplished" banner. He was hailed by media stars as a "breathtaking" example
of presidential leadership in toppling Saddam Hussein. Despite profound questions over the failure to locate weapons of mass
destruction and the increasing violence in Baghdad, many in the press confirmed the White House's claim that the war was won.
MSNBC's Chris Matthews declared, "We're all neo-cons now;" NPR's Bob Edwards said, "The war in Iraq is essentially over;"
and FORTUNE magazine's Jeff Birnbaum said, "It is amazing how thorough the victory in Iraq really was in the broadest context."
How did the mainstream press get it so wrong? How did the evidence disputing the existence of weapons of mass destruction
and the link between Saddam Hussein to 9-11 continue to go largely unreported? "What the conservative media did was easy to
fathom; they had been cheerleaders for the White House from the beginning and were simply continuing to rally the public behind
the President — no questions asked. How mainstream journalists suspended skepticism and scrutiny remains an issue of
significance that the media has not satisfactorily explored," says Moyers. "How the administration marketed the war to the
American people has been well covered, but critical questions remain: How and why did the press buy it, and what does it say
about the role of journalists in helping the public sort out fact from propaganda?"
On Wednesday, April 25 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings), a new PBS series BILL MOYERS JOURNAL premieres at a special
time with "Buying the War," a 90-minute documentary that explores the role of the press in the lead-up to the invasion of
Iraq. Two days later on April 27, BILL MOYERS JOURNAL airs in its regular timeslot on Fridays at 9 p.m. with interviews and
news analysis on a wide range of subjects, including politics, arts and culture, the media, the economy, and issues facing
democracy. "Buying the War" includes interviews with Dan Rather, formerly of CBS; Tim Russert of MEET THE PRESS; Bob Simon
of 60 MINUTES; Walter Isaacson, former president of CNN; and John Walcott, Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel of Knight Ridder
newspapers, which was acquired by The McClatchy Company in 2006.
In "Buying the War" Bill Moyers and producer Kathleen Hughes document the reporting of Walcott, Landay and Strobel, the
Knight Ridder team that burrowed deep into the intelligence agencies to try and determine whether there was any evidence for
the Bush Administration's case for war. "Many of the things that were said about Iraq didn't make sense," says Walcott. "And
that really prompts you to ask, 'Wait a minute. Is this true? Does everyone agree that this is true? Does anyone think this
is not true?'"
In the run-up to war, skepticism was a rarity among journalists inside the Beltway. Journalist Bob Simon of 60 Minutes,
who was based in the Middle East, questioned the reporting he was seeing and reading. "I mean we knew things or suspected
things that perhaps the Washington press corps could not suspect. For example, the absurdity of putting up a connection between
Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda," he tells Moyers. "Saddam…was a total control freak. To introduce a wild card like Al Qaeda
in any sense was just something he would not do. So I just didn't believe it for an instant." The program analyzes the stream
of unchecked information from administration sources and Iraqi defectors to the mainstream print and broadcast press, which
was then seized upon and amplified by an army of pundits. While almost all the claims would eventually prove to be false,
the drumbeat of misinformation about WMDs went virtually unchallenged by the media. THE NEW YORK TIMES reported on Iraq's
"worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb," but according to Landay, claims by the administration about the possibility
of nuclear weapons were highly questionable. Yet, his story citing the "lack of hard evidence of Iraqi weapons" got little
play. In fact, throughout the media landscape, stories challenging the official view were often pushed aside while the administration's
claims were given prominence. "From August 2002 until the war was launched in March of 2003 there were about 140 front page
pieces in THE WASHINGTON POST making the administration's case for war," says Howard Kurtz, the Post's media critic. "But
there was only a handful of stories that ran on the front page that made the opposite case. Or, if not making the opposite
case, raised questions."
"Buying the War" examines the press coverage in the lead-up to the war as evidence of a paradigm shift in the role of journalists
in democracy and asks, four years after the invasion, what's changed? "More and more the media become, I think, common carriers
of administration statements and critics of the administration," says The Washington Post's Walter Pincus. "We've sort of
given up being independent on our own."
BILL MOYERS JOURNAL is supported by an extensive companion Web site at pbs.org/moyers where visitors can interact, give
feedback and sign up for the Moyers podcast, which was listed in iTunes Best of 2006 People's Choice top 100 new podcasts.
After the broadcast, each episode will be available in its entirety for viewing online. The Web site is produced by Kristin
"Buying the War" is produced by Kathleen Hughes. Written by: Bill Moyers and Kathleen Hughes. Edited by: Alison Amron.
Executive Editors: Bill Moyers and Judith Davidson Moyers. Executive Producers: Felice Firestone and Judy Doctoroff O'Neill.
Funders for Bill Moyers Journal include: the Partridge Foundation, a John and Polly Guth Charitable Fund; the Park Foundation,
dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues; The Herb Alpert Foundation, the Public Welfare Foundation, the
Orfalea Family Foundation, and our sole corporate sponsor Mutual of America Life Insurance Company.
BILL MOYERS JOURNAL is a production of Public Affairs Television, Inc. and a national presentation of Thirteen/WNET New