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NBC Nightly News Leads with Brush Back Against Rove on Rationale for Iraq War

The night before NBC's Today show on Friday had an "exclusive" with Karl Rove to plug his new book, 'Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight' in which he assured readers President George W. Bush did not "lie us into war," the NBC Nightly News led by giving him a brush back, regurgitating the arguments the Bush administration went to war in Iraq for illegitimate reasons. Anchor Brian Williams framed his top story:

It will go down in history among the events that shaped our times, the decision by President George W. Bush to go to war in Iraq after the United States had been attacked on 9/11 with no direct connection between the two. The United States has paid a heavy price for the war, which will be seven years old later this month. That's a year longer than all of World War II....The Iraq war is back in the news tonight because of new violence there, just like the old days, and because of a new take on the war from an old hand in the Bush operation, Karl Rove."

Andrea Mitchell recounted how Rove "says if not for the threat of weapons of mass destruction, there probably would have been no Iraq war," but "since no such weapons existed, Rove asks, 'So, then, did Bush lie us into war?' His answer: 'Absolutely not.."

But, she countered, "others say President Bush had decided to go to war long before the U.N. could evaluate the evidence. As early as July 2002, former State Department official Richard Haass writes, Condoleezza Rice 'brushed away' his 'concerns' about Iraq, 'saying the President had made up his mind,'" and then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair was told in a memo: "It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin."

Then, for an expert assessment, Mitchell went to....David Gergen.

The lead story on the Thursday, March 4 NBC Nightly News, transcript provided by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth:

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Good evening. It will go down in history among the events that shaped our times, the decision by President George W. Bush to go to war in Iraq after the United States had been attacked on 9/11 with no direct connection between the two. The United States has paid a heavy price for the war, which will be seven years old later this month. That's a year longer than all of World War II. 96,000 American service men and women are still stationed in Iraq. More than 4,300 Americans have died there. More than 31,000 have been wounded. The war's financial cost is estimated to be north of $700 billion and growing. The Iraq war is back in the news tonight because of new violence there, just like the old days, and because of a new take on the war from an old hand in the Bush operation, Karl Rove. We begin tonight with our chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell.

FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The architect, Karl Rove.

ANDREA MITCHELL: Now, Karl Rove, the architect of George W. Bush's elections, says if not for the threat of weapons of mass destruction, there probably would have been no Iraq war. In Courage and Consequence, which we bought at a Washington book store before its official release, Rove writes, quote, "Congress was very unlikely to have supported the use of force resolution without the threat of WMD." But since no such weapons existed, Rove asks, "So, then, did Bush lie us into war?" His answer, "Absolutely not." Some other Bush insiders back him up.

STEPHEN HADLEY, FORMER BUSH NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: I think it's not that we did it on a false pretense. We did it on the basis of intelligence that turned out not to be true.

MITCHELL: But others say President Bush had decided to go to war long before the U.N. could evaluate the evidence. As early as July 2002, former State Department official Richard Haass writes, Condoleezza Rice "brushed away" his "concerns" about Iraq, "saying the President had made up his mind." That same month, then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair was told in this memo from his advisors, "It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin."

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISOR: They wanted to take out the Saddam Hussein regime. The weapons of mass destruction only fueled that drive. I think what really changed things was 9/11, and it made them feel that they could not take the kind of risks after 9/11 that they might have been willing to live with before 9/11.

MITCHELL: Rove also answers critics of the President's infamous flyover of New Orleans on Air Force One after Hurricane Katrina, writing, "Our decision was right for the relief effort, but wrong for President Bush's public standing."

GERGEN: It was clear to, I think, everybody other than people who lived in the cocoon, that he still had to go, to bear witness, to understand the suffering that was going on there.

MITCHELL: In his book, Rove blames local and state officials for the disastrous response to Katrina, which most outside observers say as much as Iraq marked a turning point in the fortunes of the Bush presidency. Brian?

WILLIAMS: Replaying a little history here.

MITCHELL: Indeed.

WILLIAMS: Andrea Mitchell starting us off here in Washington. Andrea, thanks.

-Brent Baker is Vice President for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.