Stenographers at Work Again

The White House is again taking the fight to the enemy — in this case, critics of the war in Iraq and those who still want to know what was up with all that faulty intelligence. To that end, the president delivered a forceful speech today at the Tobyhanna Army Depot in Pennsylvania, taking on his critics and trying to reverse the dreadful public opinion numbers his administration has been dogged with of late.

One part of the speech directly tackled questions over the intelligence used as justification for the invasion of Iraq, and one quote in particular has shown up in most press reports about the speech. The New York Times ran the president’s quote in full in its early report this afternoon:

Some Democrats and antiwar critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war … These critics are fully aware that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community’s judgments related to Iraq’s weapons programs.

While it’s true that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence that the Bush administration pressured intelligence agents into altering their findings, the president still fudges the issue just a bit here. Yet neither the Times nor any of the major media outlets we looked at managed to pick up on his sleight of hand.

Fact is, as Harry Reid’s “Rule 21” gambit pointed out last week, the initial Senate investigation only looked at how the intelligence community handled the information it collected — and, as of yet, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has not investigated exactly what intelligence went to the president, whether all of it was taken into account and what the vetting process was at the executive branch.

Journalism isn’t stenography, as Maureen Dowd recently reminded Judy Miller, and pointing out the nuances of a carefully worded political speech should be one of the hallmarks of the craft. So far today, that hasn’t been the case.

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Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.