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Rumsfeld Offers Media Good Advice on How to Protect Viewers From Leaders' Lies
January 25, 2003
By Dennis Hans

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is deeply concerned that the American people may be taken in by smooth-talking Saddam Hussein, and he wants the news media to take pre-emptive action. On the January 19 edition of the ABC News show "This Week," Rumsfeld told George Stephanopoulos:

"Well, first, Saddam Hussein is a liar. He lies every single day. . . . He is still claiming that he won the war. His people are being told every day that they won. It was a great victory in 1991 when he was thrown out of Kuwait and chased back to Baghdad. Now, it seems to me that almost every time you quote something from him, you should preface it by saying 'here's a man who has lied all the time and consistently.'"

(The transcript of the interview is available on this page of the Defense Department's website.)

The media better act quickly, because the latest polls indicate that 81 percent of the American public believe Saddam kicked the senior Bush's booty and 93 percent believe Saddam's assertion that Iraq possesses no weapons of mass destruction.

I jest, of course. As Rumsfeld surely knows, few if any Americans believe that in 1991 Iraq won "the mother of all wars." As for Saddam's protestations of innocence regarding banned weapons, an actual poll, conducted a couple of weeks ago by the Knight-Ridder news organization, revealed that a whopping one percent "think Iraq is probably telling the truth and no longer has banned weapons." Thus, the public pays no heed to the Iraqi party line even when inspectors have yet to sniff a smoking gun.

(Click here for a January 12 Miami Herald report on the poll.)

Regarding the most dangerous of all WMDs, 41 percent of Americans believed that Iraq - right now - has nuclear weapons. Another 36 percent either didn't know whether Iraq has nukes or refused to answer the question. Only 24 percent shared the view of virtually all reputable experts: Iraq does not possess nuclear weapons.

Knight-Ridder also asked, "As far as you know, how many of the September 11 terrorist hijackers were Iraqi citizens?"

Twenty-one percent said that "most" were Iraqi citizens, 23 percent answered "some" were, 6 percent said only one was an Iraqi, and 33 percent didn't know or refused to answer. Only 17 percent knew the correct answer: "none."

Knight-Ridder essentially duplicated the findings of an October poll by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, which found that (as paraphrased by the Reuters newswire) "66 percent believed [Saddam] was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States."

Yes, the American people have a desperate need for news media that protect them from a flood of disinformation from an unscrupulous administration. But that administration is not headed by Saddam Hussein.

Whereas Americans have no trouble dismissing Saddam's lies, they are quite vulnerable to the lies of the Bush gang. Why would a factory worker in the heartland laugh at Saddam's claim to have won a stirring victory in 1991 yet believe the ludicrous lie that Iraq was involved in 9-11? Because for many months Bush administration officials, as well as quasi-officials such as Ken Adelman and Richard Perle, have given credence to the lie in countless speeches and interviews.

As for nuclear weapons, as far as I know no one in the administration has stated that Iraq possesses any. But the president and his aides have repeatedly and grossly exaggerated the imminence and magnitude of the threat Iraq poses to the United States, so that a majority of Americans now see Iraq as a far greater threat than do the administration's own intelligence experts.

Those experts, whose job is to honestly evaluate regimes such as Saddam's, should not be confused with the administration's big-name, big-time propagandists, whose job is to exploit the president's reputation as a straight shooter to pull the wool over the eyes of the very Americans most inclined to trust him. The word "cynical" doesn't begin to do justice to this sordid scam.

While our news media shoot down Saddam's lies the second they're launched, they beam the Bush team's lies as truth from coast to coast, keeping them airborne and believeable for the masses even after a lie has been exposed by the occasional enterprising reporter. (Click here to review lies exposed by the Washington Post's Dana Millbank.) The staying power of White House disinformation is so awesome that I coined an expression in tribute: "frequent liar miles".

Rather than present administration lies as truth, network news anchors and interviewers should show some backbone and preface the lies with a variation on Rumsfeld's proposed disclaimer for Saddam:

"Here is a president [or secretary of defense] who, when it comes to Iraq, repeatedly lies, exaggerates, misrepresents, deletes crucial context, or states actual facts in a manner cleverly designed to leave a false impression. Viewers beware."

For those not yet convinced of the need for such drastic measures, consider what David Wessel reported in the December 12 Wall Street Journal:

The Bush administration "seems particularly proud of its skill in misleading the press, the public and Congress, when convenient. . . . A White House aide who had told me one thing on the record a few weeks ago tried to persuade me over the weekend, not for attribution, that the opposite was true. I protested. His reply: 'Why would I lie? Because that's what I'm supposed to do. Lying to the press doesn't prick anyone's conscience.'"

That attitude starts at the top. It's high time the major media explained to viewers the difference between a real straight shooter and a president who plays one on TV.

Some Online Resources on Bush Administration Deceit:

Stories on how the Bush team is leaning on intelligence pros to "cook the books" on Iraq - to create the impression of smoking guns out of smoke and mirrors: (Houston Chronicle, Knight-Ridder) (The Guardian of London)

List of 18 administration "whoppers" on Iraq and other matters

Detailed, often devastating critique from a progressive perspective of Bush's mendacious national address on Iraq, delivered in Cincinnati on October 7, 2002:

Tracing the ups and downs of the bogus story of the mythical meeting in Prague between an Iraqi agent and al Qaeda's Mohamed Atta:

Joseph Curl's damning report in the conservative Washington Times on Bush's misrepresentation (or worse) of the IAEA, to inflate the Iraqi nuclear threat:

Allies Find No Links Between Iraq, Al Qaeda "Evidence isn't there, officials in Europe say, adding that an attack on Hussein would worsen the threat of terrorism by Islamic radicals." Los Angeles Times, by Sebastian Rotella,0,495700.story?null

On administration deceit, chicanery and bald-faced lying regarding taxes and other economic issues, see the writings of New York Times columnist and Princeton professor Paul Krugman:

On administration dishonesty on Colombia, often in the form of falsely certifying that the government has met human-rights and rule-of-law conditions attached to U.S. aid, see the reports of Amnesty International, the Washington Office on Latin America and Human Rights Watch. Here is a damning report the three groups wrote together (earlier, the same groups dissected the false certification by the Clinton administration):

David Corn, "CIA Report Refutes Bush's Rhetoric"

Joost R. Hiltermann of Human Rights Watch on how the Reagan administration encouraged and covered up Saddam's gassing of the Kurds in 1988 - relevant because many Reagan officials work today for Bush, and because Bush regularly invokes the gas attacks when making a moral case against Saddam. Hiltermann has analyzed "thousands of captured Iraqi secret police documents and declassified U.S. government documents" as part of a book he's writing on U.S. policy toward Iraq. Here's a piece he published in the January 17 International Herald Tribune: "America Didn't Seem to Mind Poison Gas"

Administration falsely accuses Cuba, on eve of Jimmy Carter's visit to island, of developing biological arms: November 2, 2002, Agence France Presse

For oodles of evidence on administration dissembling - and how mainstream-media bigshots aid and abet the dissemblers - see Bob Somerby's well-argued critiques:

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