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Liar, Incompetent or Space Cadet? | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

Liar, Incompetent or Space Cadet?

Is he incompetent, clueless, lying? Why has President Bush--once again--asserted that he went to war because Iraq refused to allow weapons inspectors into the country? Last Wednesday, Bush went on about how "it was [Saddam's] choice to make, and he did not let us in."

Bush made the same false statement, last July, with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan at his side. "We gave [Saddam} a chance to allow the inspectors in," Bush declared, "and he wouldn't let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power."

These statements defy rational explanation. As Democrats.com observed last summer--after launching a website petition to declare Bush insane under the 25th amendment--"everyone in the world knows that Hussein allowed a fully-equipped team of UN inspectors to comb every inch of his country...The only conclusion we can draw is that Bush has lost touch with reality. In other words, he has gone mad."

Or is it that he prefers his news heavily filtered, aka censored? As Bush told Brit Hume on Fox News last September, "The best way to get the news is from objective sources. And the most objective sources I have are people on my staff who tell me what's happening in the world."

Objective sources? Like Dick Cheney, who just last week insisted that those mobile trailers were "conclusive evidence" that Hussein "did in fact have programs for weapons of mass destruction"? The former UN weapons inspector David Kay had earlier told the New York Times that the trailers may have been useful for blowing up balloons. So, maybe Bush really is what his former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill likened him to--"a blind man in a roomful of deaf people."

Then there's question of whether he's lying. My personal view is that Bush doesn't have the fullblown Nixonian character to blatantly lie on issues of war; Cheney does. But, whatever the case, as the esteemed former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee once explained, "Even the very best newspapers have never learned how to handle public figures who lie with a straight face."

The nation's media needs to find an effective way of reporting untruthful statements emanating from the White House. As Paul Waldman wrote last year in the Washington Post, "when politicians or government officials lie, reporters have an obligation not only to include the truth somewhere in the story or let opponents make a counter-charge, but to say forthrightly that the official has lied. When a politician gets away with a lie, he or she becomes more likely to lie again. If the lie is exposed by vigilant reporters, the official will think twice before repeating it."

With this President, it may be three strikes before the truth comes out. But, as Eric Alterman wrote months before the war in his Nation column, "Reporters and editors who "protect' their readers and viewers from the truth about Bush's lies are doing the nation--and ultimately George W. Bush--no favors."

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