How Russert et al Planted the Seeds for War

I really don't have any interest in speaking ill of the dead. But what of the dead who never get talked about on our TV screens?

It's become liberal orthodoxy that George W. Bush promulgated lies about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and the media echoed those claims, building the case for war.

Were it that simple.

The survivors of those killed in the U.S.'s war in Iraq since the 2003 invasion cannot simply blame Bush. Under the guise of "tough journalism" Russert and others disseminated lies and built the case for invasion even before Bush got to the White House. A letter I sent to Russert tells a slice of the story:

Tim Russert Meet the Press NBC News Via Fax 202-966-4544

January 21, 2000

Dear Mr. Russert:

On Dec. 19, you asked Vice President Al Gore: "One year ago Saddam Hussein threw out all the inspectors who could find his chemical or nuclear capability -- one year. He now said just yesterday, 'You're not coming back.' When is the administration going to get in there and start inspecting?" However, Iraq did not throw out the weapons inspectors; Richard Butler, the head of UNSCOM withdrew them after submitting a contradictory report that, according the Washington Post, the U.S. government had a hand in drafting. You might recall that all this happened just before President Clinton's scheduled impeachment vote. The removal of the weapons inspectors paved the way for the bombing campaign, "Desert Fox," the following day. (As later became public knowledge, the U.S. had used the weapons inspectors for espionage, a subject that I recall you did some good work on.) 

Last month, I left a message on your voice mail with the above information and talked to two of your assistants, hoping that you would correct the error, or invite someone who is a serious critic of the administration's Iraq policy to come on "Meet the Press." So I was quite surprised, when doing a Nexis search recently, to find that you actually made the same mistake two weeks later, on Jan. 2, in an interview with Madeline Albright: "One year ago, the inspectors were told, 'Get out,' by Saddam Hussein," you said. (This was particularly ironic, since that very morning, as a guest on C-Span's "Washington Journal," I noted your error of Dec. 19.)

You now have a serious obligation to correct these errors. Iraq did not throw out the weapons inspectors. Butler did it, apparently at the administration's behest. This is important since it sets the terms of how the new inspections regime should be viewed.

It's noteworthy that a sophisticated, experienced journalist like yourself could get so sucked into the cliche of Iraq as aggressor/U.S. as victim that how the administration launched "Desert Fox" is forgotten. It's a case study in the conventional wisdom trumping the facts. I hope to hear from you shortly so that we can rectify this matter.


Sam Husseini
Communications Director
Institute for Public Accuracy

This lie, echoed through much of the political-media system around the time Russert told it, helped set the stage for the invasion after 9/11 -- and was a predecessor of the lie that Bush has repeatedly stated since 2003 that he invaded Iraq because Saddam Hussein did not allow the inspectors into Iraq.

Of course I never received a reply from Russert.

[originally published at on June 16, 2008]