Thin Line

Tim McGivern
3 min read
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Truth-squading. Immediately following President Bush's State of the Union speech last week, Robert G. Kaiser, the Washington Post's associate editor, went online to offer instant analysis and take questions from readers. One of the questions came from a Cleveland, Ohio resident, asking: “Maybe I am hopelessly naive, but why aren't obvious lies in Bush's State of The Union called out immediately?”

Mr Kaiser answered: “The good newspapers will all do stories for tomorrow's editions on factual errors, misstatements or debatable assertions in the speech. We call this ’truth squading' at The Post. It's part of our job.”

Is it? Among Bush's whoppers was the claim that “The Kay Report identified dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations.”

With the exception of USA Today, nearly every major newspaper in the country ignored this misleading exaggeration, including the Albuquerque Journal.

On page 6A in the Wednesday, Jan. 21, edition of USA Today, a column called “Behind the Address” aimed at providing a reality check on what Bush said. The column noted Bush's claim back in March 2003 that there was “no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.” The article then reports: “A search effort led by CIA appointee David Kay has turned up no weapons and no evidence of advanced weapons program, raising questions about the quality of U.S. intelligence and the Bush administration's justification for war in Iraq.”

Baseball's steroid use a bigger problem than the federal defecit. As for Kaiser's “good newspaper” criteria, the Albuquerque Journal ran an Associated Press wrap up with a sparkly headline—“Bush Sees Strength in America”—but no analysis. The article, while failing to mention Bush's deceptive statements regarding the Kay Report, did note that the president urged major league athletes to stop using steroids.

Bush also said with help from Congress, the nation's half-trillion dollar deficit will be cut in half within five years, mostly by holding domestic spending increases below 4 percent. You might think this claim would be one of the biggest news items of the night, especially because it's totally ludicrous. But the Journal coverage didn't even mention it!

At least Mr Kaiser's Washington Post weblog did. “Neither the administration nor the Congress is being remotely honest about the budget figures,” wrote Kaiser. “Bush's promise to cut the deficit in half cuts a huge loophole for the costs of Iraq and defense spending generally. There is absolutely no prospect the deficit will be cut in half in five years.”

Which begs the question: What is more important—Getting Barry Bonds off the juice, or recognizing when our president is talking out of his ass?

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