- Bill Moyers has put together an amazing 90-minute video
documenting the lies that the Bush administration told to sell the Iraq
war to the American public, with a special focus on how the media led the
- I've watched an advance copy and read a transcript, and
the most important thing I can say about it is: Watch PBS from 9:00 to
10:30 PM on Wednesday, April 25. Spending that 90 minutes will actually
save you time because you'll never watch television news again - not even
on PBS, which comes in for its own share of criticism.
- While a great many pundits, not to mention presidents,
look remarkably stupid or dishonest in the four-year-old clips included
in "Buying the War," it's hard to take any spiteful pleasure
in holding them to account, and not just because the killing and dying
they facilitated is ongoing, but also because of what this video reveals
about the mindset of members of the DC media. Moyers interviews media personalities,
including Dan Rather, who clearly both understand what the media did wrong
and are unable to really see it as having been wrong or avoidable.
- It's great to see an American media outlet tell this
story so well, but it leads one to ask: When will Congress tell it? While
the Democrats were in the minority, they clamored for hearings and investigations,
they pushed Resolutions of Inquiry into the White House Iraq Group and
the Downing Street Minutes. Now in the majority, they've gone largely silent.
The chief exception is the House Judiciary Committee's effort to question
Condoleezza Rice next week about the forged Niger documents.
- But what comes out of watching this show is a powerful
realization that no investigation is needed by Congress, just as no hidden
information was needed for the media to get the story right in the first
place. The claims that the White House made were not honest mistakes. But
neither were they deceptions. They were transparent and laughably absurd
falsehoods. And they were high crimes and misdemeanors.
- The program opens with video of President Bush saying
"Iraq is part of a war on terror. It's a country that trains terrorists.
It's a country that can arm terrorists. Saddam Hussein and his weapons
are a direct threat to this country."
- Was that believable or did the media play along? The
next shot is of a press conference at which Bush announces that he has
a script telling him which reporters to call on and in what order. Yet
the reporters play along, raising their hands after each comment, pretending
that they might be called on despite the script.
- Video shows Richard Perle claiming that Saddam Hussein
worked with al Qaeda and that Iraqis would greet American occupiers as
- Here are the Weekly Standard, The Wall Street Journal,
William Safire from The New York Times, Charles Krauthammer and Jim Hoagland
from The Washington Post, all demanding an overthrow of Iraq's government.
George Will is seen saying that Hussein "has anthrax, he loves biological
weapons, he has terrorist training camps, including 747s to practice on."
- But was that even plausible? Bob Simon of "60 Minutes"
tells Moyers he wasn't buying it. He says he saw the idea of a connection
between Hussein and al Qaeda as an absurdity: "Saddam, as most tyrants,
was a total control freak. He wanted total control of his regime. Total
control of the country. And to introduce a wild card like al Qaeda in any
sense was just something he would not do. So I just didn't believe it for
- Knight Ridder Bureau Chief John Walcott didn't buy it
either. He assigned Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay to do the reporting
and they found the Bush claims to be quite apparently false. For example,
when the Iraqi National Congress (INC) fed The New York Times's Judith
Miller a story through an Iraqi defector claiming that Hussein had chemical
and biological weapons labs under his house, Landay noticed that the source
was a Kurd, making it very unlikely he would have learned such secrets.
But Landay also noticed that it was absurd to imagine someone putting a
biological weapons lab under his house.
- But absurd announcements were the order of the day. A
video clip shows a Fox anchor saying, "A former top Iraqi nuclear
scientist tells Congress Iraq could build three nuclear bombs by 2005."
And the most fantastic stories of all were fed to David Rose at Vanity
Fair Magazine. We see a clip of him saying, "The last training exercise
was to blow up a full-size mock-up of a US destroyer in a lake in central
- Landay comments: "Or jumping into pits of fouled
water and having to kill a dog with your bare teeth. I mean, this was coming
from people who are appearing in all of these stories, and sometimes their
rank would change."
- Forged documents from Niger could not have gotten noticed
in this stew of lies. Had there been some real documents honestly showing
something, that might have stood out and caught more eyes. Walcott describes
the way the INC would feed the same information to the vice president and
secretary of defense that it fed to a reporter, and the reporter would
then get the claims confirmed by calling the White House or the Pentagon.
Landay adds: "And let's not forget how close these people were to
this administration, which raises the question, was there coordination?
I can't tell you that there was, but it sure looked like it."
- Simon from "60 Minutes" tells Moyers that when
the White House claimed a 9/11 hijacker had met with a representative of
the Iraqi government in Prague, "60 Minutes" was easily able
to make a few calls and find out that there was no evidence for the claim.
"If we had combed Prague," he says, "and found out that
there was absolutely no evidence for a meeting between Mohammad Atta and
the Iraqi intelligence figure. If we knew that, you had to figure the administration
knew it. And yet they were selling the connection between al Qaeda and
- Moyers questions a number of people about their awful
work, including Dan Rather, Peter Beinart and then Chairman and CEO of
CNN Walter Isaacson. And he questions Simon, who soft-pedaled the story
and avoided reporting that there was no evidence.
- Landay at Knight Ridder did report the facts when it
counted, but not enough people paid attention. He tells Moyers that all
he had to do was read the UN weapons inspectors' reports online to know
that the White House was lying to us. When Cheney said that Hussein was
close to acquiring nuclear weapons, Landay knew he was lying: "You
need tens of thousands of machines called 'centrifuges' to produce highly
enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon. You've got to house those in a fairly
big place, and you've got to provide a huge amount of power to this facility."
- Moyers also hits Tim Russert with a couple of tough questions.
Russert expressed regret for not having included any skeptical voices by
saying he wished his phone had rung. So Moyers begins the next segment
by saying, "Bob Simon didn't wait for the phone to ring," and
describing Simon's reporting. Simon says he knew the claims about aluminum
tubes were false because "60 Minutes" called up some scientists
and researchers and asked them. Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post says
that skeptical stories did not get placed on the front page because they
were not "definitive."
- Moyers shows brief segments of an "Oprah" show
in which she has on only pro-war guests and silences a caller who questions
some of the White House claims. Just in time for the eternal election season,
Moyers includes clips of Hillary Clinton and John Kerry backing the war
on the basis of Bush and Cheney's lies. But we also see clips of Robert
Byrd and Ted Kennedy getting it right.
- The Washington Post editorialized in favor of the war
27 times, and published in 2002 about 1,000 articles and columns on the
war. But the Post gave a huge anti-war march a total of 36 words. "What
got even less ink," Moyers says, "was the release of the National
Intelligence Estimate." Even the misleading partial version that the
media received failed to fool a careful eye.
- Landay recalls: "It said that the majority of analysts
believed that those tubes were for the nuclear weapons program. It turns
out though, that the majority of intelligence analysts had no background
in nuclear weapons." Was Landay the only one capable of noticing this
- Colin Powell's UN presentation comes in for similar quick
debunking. We watch a video clip of Powell complaining that
Iraq has covered a test-stand with a roof. But AP reporter Charles Hanley
comments, "What he neglected to mention was that the inspectors were
underneath watching what was going on."
- Powell cited a UK paper, but it very quickly came out
that the paper had been plagiarized from a college student's work found
online. The British press pointed that out. The US let it slide. But anyone
looking for the facts found it quickly.
- Moyers's wonderful movie is marred by a single line -
the next to the last sentence - in which he says, "The number of Iraqis
killed, over 35,000 last year alone, is hard to pin down." A far more
accurate figure could have been found very easily.