CBS Distorts Bush, Pace Quotes to Support Charge of Iraq War "Mistakes"

On Thursday night's CBS Evening News, while filing a story about a "change in tone" by the Bush administration that is "an answer to critics who claim the President won't acknowledge errors or learn from them," correspondent John Roberts distorted soundbites by both President Bush and Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace to boost Roberts' story theme which implied that the administration is finally admitting to mistakes in conducting the war in Iraq. Remarks by both men were characterized by Roberts as part of a "campaign of contrition."

In Pace's remarks, made in a speech at the National Defense University on Thursday December 1, the Joint Chiefs Chairman, rather than admitting to any mistakes in conducting the war, merely lamented that military people like him "have not articulated well enough" positive developments "in Iraq and in Afghanistan" to the American public to combat negative portrayals by the media. Roberts, evidently desperate to find something in Pace's speech he could characterize as "admitting mistakes," ignored the overall positive theme of the speech that much progress has been made in Iraq, and zeroed in on the rare self-critical remark Pace made in the speech.

Roberts began his story by introducing Pace's comments as part of a "campaign of contrition to win back the public trust in Iraq," as if the Joint Chiefs Chairman were repenting for some grave misdeed. Roberts then asserted, "Today, it was the Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff who admitted mistakes have been made," followed by the below clip of General Pace:

General Peter Pace, Joint Chiefs Chairman: "We, guys like me, have not articulated well enough what is happening in Iraq and in Afghanistan."

After also citing a Bush speech from the day before, which is covered in more detail further down, Roberts maintained that, "The change in tone is an answer to critics who claim the President won't acknowledge errors or learn from them. The new candor won praise from some Democrats..." which gave the impression the administration was admitting to errors in the way the war has been conducted since Democrats have frequently made that criticism.

The quote from Pace was therefore misused to add credibility to charges that the Bush administration made mistakes in conducting the war, rather than conveying the full scope of the problem Pace's comments were actually referring to: the negative portrayal of the Iraq War's progress by the media. Notably, Pace, who was responding to a question from an audience member, chose not to frame his comments as an attack on the media, but instead referred to his own failure to be more proactive in conveying the message to the public. Pace also did not himself use the word "mistake," as this was Roberts' choice of words. Further down is a transcript of the relevant portion of the audience member's question and Pace's answer.

A complete transcript of Pace's December 1 speech should at some point appear on the Defense Department's Web site.

After misusing the Pace quote, Roberts then turned his attention to a speech Bush delivered at the U.S. Naval Academy on Wednesday November 30 in Annapolis, Maryland. Roberts declared, "Wednesday, it was President Bush, who for the first time went into detail about course corrections in the training of Iraqi forces." Next came the following clip of Bush:

George W. Bush: "The training of the Iraqi security forces is an enormous task, and it always hasn't gone smoothly."

If one had not already seen the Bush speech, one could have gotten the impression that the "course corrections" were only recent developments that were done in response to critics. The President did list several examples of training tactics that originally did not work, but he spent much more time enumerating the accomplishments in military training, and even made the point that a constant revision of tactics is already a part of the Iraq War strategy:

Bush: "If by ‘stay the course,' they mean that we're not learning from our experiences or adjusting our tactics to meet the challenges on the ground, then they're flat wrong. As our top commander in Iraq, General Casey, has said, ‘Our commanders on the ground are continuously adapting and adjusting not only to what the enemy does, but also to try to out-think the enemy and get ahead of him.' Our strategy in Iraq is clear. Our tactics are flexible and dynamic. We have changed them as conditions required, and they are bringing us victory against a brutal enemy."

Therefore, Roberts' characterization of Bush's speech as part of a "campaign of contrition" is also unfounded. Also unreported by Roberts, Bush sought to clarify the seemingly contradictory reports by some sources that only one Iraqi battalion is capable of independent operation while other sources have declared that the Iraqi military has made substantial progress:

Bush: "Some critics dismiss this progress and point to the fact that only one Iraqi battalion has achieved complete independence from the coalition. To achieve complete independence, an Iraqi battalion must do more than fight the enemy on its own, it must also have the ability to provide its own support elements, including logistics, airlift, intelligence and command and control through their ministries. Not every Iraqi unit has to meet this level of capability in order for the Iraqi security forces to take the lead in the fight against the enemy. Matter of fact, there are some battalions from NATO militaries that would not be able to meet this standard. The facts are that Iraqi units are growing more independent and more capable. They are defending their new democracy with courage and determination. They're in the fight today, and they will be in the fight for freedom tomorrow."

The complete transcript of Bush's November 30 speech can be found at the White House's Web site.

Below is a transcript of the exchange between General Pace and an audience member regarding the media's negative portrayal of the Iraq War, followed by a complete transcript of Roberts' story from the December 1 CBS Evening News:

Unidentified audience member: "Sir, it seems like the press and the media have one perception of how the war in Iraq and Afghanistan is being conducted. And on the other end of the spectrum, we have our government and the military's perception of how the war is being carried out in Iraq and Afghanistan. In my view, there's a gap. In other words, those perceptions do not match. What are we doing about it?

"And specifically in the victory outline, I noticed there could be a lot more reference to informational use as an instrument of power. And I'd like your comments please, sir."

Peter Pace, Joint Chiefs Chairman: "Yes, thanks. I think you are correct that we have not, we, guys like me have not articulated well enough what is happening in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

"We made a conscious decision in June of '04, when the Iraqi government took over sovereignty, that we would step back a little bit in the press to do the proper thing, which was to let the Iraqi government speak for itself publicly. And that was a good idea.

"But as a result of stepping back, I think we may have stepped back a little too far inside of our own country with regard to explaining to our own people what we were doing. And I think you can do both. I think you can have the Iraqi government, properly so, speaking about what they are doing for their own country and their own people and still have U.S. military leaders, in our case, talk about what the U.S. military was doing in a way that explains to the American public the progress that's being made.

"So it's incumbent not only on folks like me in Washington, but also on lieutenant colonels and colonels and captains and lieutenants and lance corporals and corporals -- when they come home, we should be encouraging them inside their local communities to take the opportunity to talk to the local newspapers, to the local chamber of commerce; just to be able to answer our fellow citizens' questions as openly and honestly as we can, understanding that PFC Pace's view of the battlefield is different than General Pace's view of the battlefield.

"But if enough of us are making ourselves available to answer questions publicly, then the American people will have a large enough buffet, so to speak, that they can pick and choose and read and listen and determine for themselves what's really going on.

"If you remember back when the war first began, it was 24/7 coverage. You could watch TV all day long, you could read magazines, you could read newspapers. If you cared to, you could have all the information you wanted to determine for yourself what was really going on. Understandably, we don't have 24/7 coverage anymore. Therefore, the amount of information out there for the general public is less than it used to be. Those of us who have the opportunity to put more on the table for more people to look at and turn around and decide for themselves what's right and what's not need to take those opportunities. That's a reason why I mentioned up front how appreciative I am of the press being here today.

"But it's also an answer to your question, which is not just the senior leaders of our organizations, whether they be civilian or military, need to be out talking, but all of us need to think through what do we know that we'd like our fellow citizens to know, and how might we have the opportunity to just sit with groups and talk and have a dialogue in a way that would help them understand what their military is doing."

Below is a complete transcript of the story from the December 1 CBS Evening News, anchored by Bob Schieffer:

Bob Schieffer: "And in his speech at the Naval Academy yesterday, President Bush suggested that his strategy in Iraq will change as Iraqis take over more of the fighting. Well, for sure, the public relations strategy is already changing, and we get more on that now from John Roberts at the White House."

John Roberts: "Call it a 'campaign of contrition' to win back the public trust on Iraq. Today, it was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who admitted mistakes have been made."

General Peter Pace, Joint Chiefs Chairman: "We, guys like me, have not articulated well enough what is happening in Iraq and in Afghanistan."

Roberts: "Wednesday, it was President Bush, who for the first time went into detail about course corrections in the training of Iraqi forces."

George W. Bush: "The training of the Iraqi security forces is an enormous task, and it always hasn't gone smoothly."

Roberts: "The change in tone is an answer to critics who claim the President won't acknowledge errors or learn from them. The new candor won praise from some Democrats, but others still insist what's really needed is a timetable for withdrawal."

Rep. John Murtha (D-PA): "It's not going to end until the Iraqis take over themselves. And I was disappointed that he didn't give any kind of a definite plan which would have reassured the American public, which they want. They're crying out for reassurance."

Roberts: "Even as the White House tries to boost its credibility on Iraq, it took another hit with the discovery that under a Pentagon contract, the Lincoln Communications Group has been paying Iraqi journalists and newspapers to write and run stories favorable to America -- by one count, about 100 of them. The White House, already stung by other embarrassing episodes of buying media influence, said it was 'very concerned about the reports.' The head of rival Edelman Public Relations calls the practice 'a perversion that destroys trust.'"

Richard Edelman, Edelman Public Relations: "It's not only unacceptable, it's also ineffective because as soon as it comes out that we're paying for the space, the credibility of the content diminishes substantially."

Roberts: "White House officials aren't the only ones worried about the planted stories. The powerful chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee today ordered Pentagon officials to come up and see him at Capitol Hill tomorrow and explain what's going on. Bob?"

Schieffer: "Well, John, the Congress has been at home over the Thanksgiving holidays. Is the White House getting any feedback yet about, from these Republicans, especially, what they're hearing from their constituents about these demands from Democrats?"

Roberts: "Well, a lot of these congressional members are going back to their home districts, they're hearing from their constituents, you know, 'What's the real story in Iraq? We're not hearing enough about it.' So they've exacted a lot of pressure on this White House to engage in further and clearer dialogue with the American people. They know that this election year is coming up. They know that Iraq is going to be a big issue, and they're just leaning on the White House to say you've got to say something more about this than you have been before. Inform people, tell them what's going on, Bob."

Iraq CBS Evening News