Published Monday, May 24, 2004
When will reporters call Bush a liar?
By Jason Sazman
With the war going badly in Iraq, more and more people are looking back at the statements made by President George W. Bush to sell the war to the American people. The anti-Bush crowd is saying the president used lies to justify the war. Supporters simply say he was misinformed or made statements based on what appeared to be true at the time.
What would you do if you were a reporter? Would you write that Bush "lied?"
Let's review some of the president's statements coupled with the truth. Would you call them lies? Would you, if you were trying to be fair and accurate as a reporter should be, call the president a liar?
Consider this statement by Mr. Bush on January 28, 2003: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought uranium from Africa." The truth: Before Bush made this statement, the CIA had told the White House that Hussein did not try to obtain uranium from Africa. This is undoubtedly the most well-known of the false statements. The administration now acknowledges it to be untrue.
Those who argue that this is not a lie say that Mr. Bush himself was not aware that the statement was false prior to saying it. If you don't know that what you are saying is false, then you are not lying, the argument goes.
And what about this statement on June 1, 2001: "Yes, we found a biological laboratory in Iraq, which the U.N. prohibited." Truth: It turned out that the so-called laboratories were designed to inflate weather balloons. Here again, everyone agrees that the president made a false statement, but it's not a lie -- Bush supporters say -- because he was misinformed.
What about this one:
On August 8, 2001, upon banning the creation of stem cell lines for scientific research on deadly diseases such as diabetes and Parkinson's, Mr. Bush said: "More than 60 stem cell lines already exist." The truth: Only 11 stem cell lines exist. Bush defenders make the same argument here. Bush was misinformed.
Well, what about this misstatement, used to justify the Iraq invasion?
On October 7, 2002, Mr. Bush said, "Iraq has trained al Qaida in bomb making, poisons, and deadly gas." The truth: There is no evidence of a link between al Qaida and Iraq -- and not a single weapon of mass destruction has been found in Iraq.
Once again, aides say Mr. Bush was misinformed. He was not lying, though it is clear that plenty of his underlings knew the truth -- and Bush actually uttered the false words.
America's news media, for the most part, accept the argument that the president did not lie -- and should not be called a liar for making repeated statements that later turn out to be false. The vast majority of reporters do not refer to Mr. Bush's false statement as lies. They don't deserve to be called lies, most reporters seem to think, because Bush acknowledges being misinformed.
I beg to differ. The president of the United States has an obligation to ensure that his statements are true -- and will remain true -- particularly if they involve sending our troops to war (as in the WMD lie) or stopping life-saving research (as in the stem cell lie). Bush would not have had to scratch too deeply into the bureaucracy at the CIA to have found huge uncertainty about Iraq's alleged WMDs. Ditto the Department of Health and Human Services with respect to stem cells.
Former President Bill Clinton lied about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. The media rightfully acknowledged this as a lie. Bush has been caught lying as well. Repeatedly. And the lies keep coming.
It's time for journalists to call Bush's false statements what they are: Lies.
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Jason Salzman, author of "Making the News: A Guide for Activists and Nonprofits," is board chair of Rocky Mountain Media Watch www.bigmedia.org, a media watchdog organization based in Denver.