The Ten Worst Media Distortions of Campaign 2004

Misrepresenting the 9/11 Commission on Iraq/al Qaeda links

On June 16, the networks pounced on one sentence on the fifth page of a 9/11 Commission report released earlier in the day, which declared: “We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al-Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States.” Of course, administration officials never claimed any Iraqi connection to the 9/11 attacks, just a mutually-advantageous relationship over the years, but all three broadcast networks twisted that sentence into an utter rejection of the administration’s case for war, only to be reprimanded by the 9/11 Commissioners the next day.

 roberts062204On the June 16 CBS Evening News, reporter John Roberts charged Bush had a credibility gap: “One of President Bush’s last surviving justifications for war in Iraq...took a devastating hit when the 9/11 Commission declared there was no ‘collaborative relationship’ between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden....The report is yet another blow to the President’s credibility.”


jennings062204Over on World News Tonight, ABC’s Peter Jennings said the finding was unequivocal: “One of the Bush administration’ most controversial assertions in its argument for war in Iraq was that Saddam Hussein had links to al-Qaeda. Today the 9/11 Commission said, unequivocally, not so.” Actually, the commission detailed several links between Saddam and al-Qaeda.

gregory062204And on NBC Nightly News, David Gregory seemed astonished that Bush was sticking to his story: “The White House isn’t backing down tonight, insisting there always was an Iraq/al-Qaeda link. But it’s clear this report is a blow to the President’s rationale for war.”

But the commission did not examine the case for war against Saddam, and on June 17, its Democratic Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton scolded the media: “I must say I have trouble understanding the flap over this. The Vice President is saying, I think, that there were connections between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s government. We don’t disagree with that.”

Hamilton added, “It seems to me that the sharp differences that the press has drawn, the media has drawn, are not that apparent to me.”

The Republican chairman, former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean, agreed. “Were there contacts between al-Qaeda and Iraq? Yes. Some of them are shadowy, but there’s no question they were there.”

Perhaps embarrassed, ABC and NBC buried that information deep inside their June 17 evening broadcasts — and the CBS Evening News ignored the commissioners’ rebuke altogether.