by Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting –
Sunday morning talk shows like ABC’s This Week or Fox News Sunday often make news for days afterward. Since prominent government officials dominate the guest lists of the programs, it is not unusual for the Monday editions of major newspapers to report on interviews done by the Sunday chat shows.
But the June 15 edition of NBC’s Meet the Press was unusual for the buzz that it didn’t generate. Former General Wesley Clark told anchor Tim Russert that Bush administration officials had engaged in a campaign to implicate Saddam Hussein in the September 11 attacks — starting that very day. Clark said that he’d been called on September 11 and urged to link Baghdad to the terror attacks, but declined to do so because of a lack of evidence.
Here is a transcript of the exchange:
CLARK: “There was a concerted effort during the fall of 2001, starting immediately after 9/11, to pin 9/11 and the terrorism problem on Saddam Hussein.”
RUSSERT: “By who? Who did that?”
CLARK: “Well, it came from the White House, it came from people around the White House. It came from all over. I got a call on 9/11. I was on CNN, and I got a call at my home saying, ‘You got to say this is connected. This is state-sponsored terrorism. This has to be connected to Saddam Hussein.’ I said, ‘But — I’m willing to say it, but what’s your evidence?’ And I never got any evidence.”
Clark’s assertion corroborates a little-noted CBS Evening News story that aired on September 4, 2002. As correspondent David Martin reported: “Barely five hours after American Airlines Flight 77 plowed into the Pentagon, the secretary of defense was telling his aides to start thinking about striking Iraq, even though there was no evidence linking Saddam Hussein to the attacks.”
According to CBS, a Pentagon aide’s notes from that day quote Rumsfeld asking for the “best info fast” to “judge whether good enough to hit SH at the same time, not only UBL.” (The initials SH and UBL stand for Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.) The notes then quote Rumsfeld as demanding, ominously, that the administration’s response “go massive…sweep it all up, things related and not.”
Despite its implications, Martin’s report was greeted largely with silence when it aired. Now, nine months later, media are covering damaging revelations about the Bush administration’s intelligence on Iraq, yet still seem strangely reluctant to pursue stories suggesting that the flawed intelligence — and therefore the war — may have been a result of deliberate deception, rather than incompetence.
The public deserves a fuller accounting of this story.