Media Blog

CNN’s Embarrassingly Inaccurate Report on Rumsfeld’s Memo

Tonight on The Situation Room, CNN correspondent John Roberts filed a report on the Rumsfeld memo that was so full of errors and disingenuous spin, it’s hard to believe it made it on the air. Click to watch, then scroll for the list of inaccuracies:

Wrong, dummy

ROBERTS: A week before the November election, President Bush put his characteristically rosy spin on the Iraq War:
BUSH: We’re winning, and we will win, unless we leave before the job is done.
ROBERTS: At almost the same time, his Defense Secretary had a much darker outlook, crafting a memo that reads: “It is time for a major adjustment. Clearly, what U.S. forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough.”
A stark contradiction, and evidence, says former presidential advisor David Gergen, that what the administration says in public isn’t what it’s thinking in private.

Let’s start with the screencap: Notice the date given for the press conference in question is “October 30.”
The press conference actually occurred on October 25th, and far from being Bush’s “characteristically rosy spin” on the war, it was characterized by caveats about the difficulty of our task in Iraq and an insistence that his administration was actively seeking ways to adjust tactics in order to win. For instance, here’s the context of the quote Roberts used:

People now understand the stakes. We’re winning, and we will win, unless we leave before the job is done. And the crucial battle right now is Iraq. And as I said in my statement, I understand how tough it is, really tough. It’s tough for a reason; because people understand the stakes of success in Iraq. And my point to the American people is, is that we’re constantly adjusting our tactics to achieve victory.

Let’s move to Roberts’s next statement, that Donald Rumsfeld was “crafting” this memo ”at almost the same time.” According to both the date on the memo and the accompanying article in the New York Times, the memo was submitted to the White House on November 6th — almost two full weeks after Bush’s press conference. When did he actually “craft” it? We have no idea if he wrote it the day before or two weeks before or two months before he submitted it. So Roberts not only gets an actual date wrong, he also uses vague language to advance his “Bush lied” thesis — the articulation of which he leaves to the ultimate fount of MSM conventional wisdom, David Gergen.
Gergen/Roberts argue that episodes like this are widening a credibility gap that began with Katrina when, according to official MSM mythology, statements from the White House on the relief efforts did not match the pictures on the ground. This view is at odds with a growing body of painstaking research indicating that in fact, the pictures on the ground did not match the relief efforts; and that in fact it was the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and not the Bush White House, whose catastrophic mistakes allowed New Orleans to drown. But who needs facts when you have a comforting myth in which you are the hero and the president you hate is the villain?
Finally, Roberts closes with: “So what’s the real danger for President Bush? Well, people might not like being spun, but they hate being deceived…”
That’s not always true. Sometimes, people enjoy being deceived, and the deception du jour among beltway media types is that Iraq is surely hopeless. It follows from this type of thinking that whenever Bush expresses his optimistic opinion that we will prevail, he is either lying, in denial or both. So the name of the game these days is to take classified memos, reports and other bits of leaked information about challenges in Iraq and match them with some snippet of optimism and sell it as evidence that Bush is a fraud and a loser. There’s such a demand for these pieces, they can’t even be bothered to get the dates right anymore.
Video here.