Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them

A few weeks ago, Instapundit pointed me to this Patterico post about a lie in an L.A. Times editorial. The L.A. Times accused President Bush of having called the Iraq threat "imminent" in his 2003 State of the Union address. In fact, Bush made it clear in that speech that the threat was not imminent:

Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late.
I wrote to the L.A. Times editors and readers' rep, requesting a correction. The response, weeks later, from an Assistant Readers Representative, Kent Zelas, shows that the Times editors still have no idea what they are talking about:

Thanks for your note, and for letting us know again what you think of the Times. The editorial-page editors are aware that the president didn't use the word "imminent," but the editorial did not quote him. They did read the State of the
Union address, and they believe that their interpretation of his words was as they expressed in their editorial. I'm sorry you disagree in your interpretation of what President Bush's speech meant, but I thank you for taking the time to write and let us know your opinion of editors at the Times.

My response:

Dear Kent,

Thanks for your response. However, you are incorrect. You state that the President didn't use the word "imminent." In fact, he did.

The President said, "Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late."

It is clear in this statement that Mr. Bush was specifically acknowledging that the threat was not yet imminent. Your editors are being extremely dishonest in writing that he meant the exact opposite of what he said.

I still believe a correction is in order and badly overdue.


W.C. Varones

Not only does the L.A. Times lie about what the President said, they refuse to acknowledge it when challenged and use demostrably false statements in their weak explanations.

UPDATE: An acknowledgment by Kent:

I'm sorry, I was wrong in my wording -- yes, he did say "imminent," and editors who wrote that editorial know that he used the word (that was my mistake in writing too fast). Though editors do take seriously the point that you and others have made, they don't believe that this warrants correction. As editors put it, there are few articles or editorials that couldn't have found a better or perfect word to express a point, and this may be such a case. But the editorial did not quote the president.

I can send you the entire text of his speech if you want to see what else he said besides that one reference that led them to write what they did. The key here is that it's an essay, and that is a matter of opinion -- the editorial board's opinion. The opinion pages are allowed to present many viewpoints whose interpretation you might question. That doesn't make them wrong, it means only that you don't agree. Had it been a news story I would have responded differently in this request for correction.

Thank you again for writing to us about this.

I have read the entire text of the speech, and nothing in it can be reasonably interpreted to suggest that President Bush was calling the threat imminent, especially in light of his clearly talking about the threat not being imminent. The Times' argument seems to be that as long as they didn't quote the President in an opinion piece, they can distort what he said as much as they want, and no one can challenge them because it's just a difference of opinion .


Billy Hollis said...

This is fairly standard post-modernist thought. There are no hard facts about anything, just opinions.

I've seldom seen a newspaper representative say it this explicitly, but it appears to be what all of them believe. It's why they are so slow to respond to real facts that they happen not to like ("the memos are forged") - they just regard them as someone's opinion.

John Salmon said...

You should write them again.

I'm reminded of the Daniel Patrick Moynihan line that "Everybody is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts."

The Times, in its arrogance, is saying, "It's our opinion that Bush was suggesting the threat was imminent, and we don't have to bother proving the point to low-life scum such as you. After all, we are professional journalists."

Small wonder the old media is declining daily in credibility and public esteem.

Steve J. said...

The LA Times was correct to use the word "imminent" to describe how Bush talked about the threat from Iraq.

"The Iraqi regime is a threat of unique urgency." President Bush, 10/2/02

"Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud." Cincinnati OH, 10/7/02 GW BUSH

"There are many dangers in the world, the threat from Iraq stands alone because it gathers the most serious dangers of our age in one place. Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists."
• President Bush, 10/7/02

"No terror state poses a greater or more immediate threat to the security of our people and the stability of the world than the regime of Saddam Hussein." RUMSFELD, 9/18/02

Q Well, we went to war, didn't we, to find these -- because we said that these weapons were a direct and imminent threat to the United States? Isn't that true?
MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely. 5/7/03

John Salmon said...

This is Orwellian-Bush, the ultimate spokesperson for his own Administration (!), specifically said in his State of the Union Address that the threat was not imminent.

The quotes used by Steve J (how do you like working at the Times?) prove nothing. They describe possibilities, not likelihoods or certainties, and the arguments made were entirely plausible when the US, like the rest of the world, believed Saddam had WMD's at the ready.

MEC2 said...

Good grief, the handwringing that can occur as we parse language...

Bush CLEARLY stated that the threat was not imminent - this is utterly apparent from the situation. Iraqi troops were not at the US border with sarin gas.

His argument was that the threat from Iraq required immediate action. Bush felt the time to act was now - not that the threat was greatest now, simply that the time to act was before the threat became imminent.

Those who argue the imminent threat line are attempting to rephrase the debate in order to create a falsehood to exploit, rather than do the heavy lifting of supporting their position that always comes back to leaving Hussein in power.

MF said...

Hmmmm. This sounds cool, actually.

From now on when I listen to the SOTUs I'm gonna use my opinions to make the president say exactly what I want him to.

Like when he talks about the scourge of steroids in baseball, I'll use my opinions, and then have him actually say/mean that my favorite team, the Anaheim Angels, will get an automatic slot in the next World Series.

Willful delusion, how sweet it is.

W.C. Varones said...

John Salmon- thanks for your comments. I did respond to the Times, essentially saying what I said in the last paragraph of my post. They did not respond.

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