Dan Froomkin’s deeply misleading “briefing”

The Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin serves up a deeply misleading column about the president’s attempt to defend himself from baseless and vicious attacks by the likes of, well, Froomkin. The liberal MSM knew that Bush wouldn’t take indefinitely the pounding it has been dishing out. So, when Bush finally responded the Post had its main talking point prepared — Bush is engaging in a political campaign. This allegation, in fact, was contained in the sub-title to its lead report on Bush’s speech. As I noted on Saturday, this flagrant bit of spin represents not just an attempt to denigrate the president without addressing his arguments, but also a reflection of the MSM’s greatest fear — that Bush will take his case to the public and deal the Post and like-minded partisan organs yet another defeat.

Froomkin parrots his paper’s talking point, calling his piece “Bush’s third campaign.” You have to admire the MSM’s arrogance and audacity. It gets to suggest day after day that the president misled the American people about matters of life and death, but if the president defends himself he’s engaging in the low-down activity known as campaigning.

But Froomkin goes beyond arrogance and audacity when he reaches the merits of the pre-war intelligence issue. First, he asserts “Far from being baseless, the charge that [Bush] intentionally misled the public in the run-up to war is built on a growing amount of evidence.” Froomkin points to no such evidence. Instead, he hides behind the story by Dana Milbank and Walter Pincus. But Froomkin knows that this story provides no evidence that Bush intentionally misled the public about WMD. In fact, Milbank and Pincus concluded that

The administration’s overarching point is true: Intelligence agencies overwhelmingly believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and very few members of Congress from either party were skeptical about this belief before the war began in 2003. Indeed, top lawmakers in both parties were emphatic and certain in their public statements.

Froomkin lacks the integrity to mention this dispositive admission. If the overwhelming intelligence consensus was that Saddam had WMD, then Bush did not mislead the American people in making that claim. On this crucial point, Froomkin shows himself to be more partisan and less honest than Milbank and Pincus.

Milbank and Pincus did quibble with Bush’s claims about what exactly the Democrats knew, and what exactly certain panels have concluded. But that’s very different than suggesting that Bush intentionally misled anyone about the underlying issue of WMD. Moreover, Froomkin’s discussion of the issue of the Democrats’ knowledge when they voted in favor of the war is also seriously flawed and highly misleading. He writes: “Many of those Democrats did so because they believed the information the president gave them. Now they are coming to the conclusion that they shouldn’t have.” Well, yes. But Froomkin’s suggestion that Bush fed them selective and misleading information is baseless. The main piece of information in question was the National Intelligence Estimate. This wasn’t some hand-picked piece of information that Bush spoon-fed the Democrats in order to dupe them. This was the core intelligence document that any legislator would want to see before deciding how to vote. Froomkin’s statement that the Democrats now wish they hadn’t believed the NIE is as sophomoric as it is irrelevant. President Bush too may wish he hadn’t believed the NIE. But Bush’s point stands — both he and the Democrats relied on the same intelligence.

Except that the President also had the President’s Daily Brief, which he did not share with Congress. It turns out, however, that (according to the Silverman-Robb commission) the PDB’s were more alarmist about Saddam having WMD than the NIE was. The best Froomkin can do with this inconvenient fact is to sniff, “an interesting defense.” A complete defense would be more like it. If the information that Bush “withheld” from Congress was more emphatic about Saddam possessing WMD than the information he shared with Congress, then Bush could not have been attempting to mislead Congress into over-estimating the strength of the case for believing that Saddam possessed WMD.

Froomkin, on the other hand, clearly is trying to mislead his readers.

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