Flashback: Stephanopoulos Scolded Critic of Bonior and McDermott

The AP reported this afternoon: “Saddam Hussein's intelligence agency secretly financed a trip to Iraq for three U.S. lawmakers during the run-up to the U.S.-led invasion, federal prosecutors said Wednesday. An indictment unsealed in Detroit accuses Muthanna Al-Hanooti, a member of a Michigan nonprofit group, of arranging for three members of Congress to travel to Iraq in October 2002 at the behest of Saddam's regime.”

When two of those Congressmen, Democrats Jim McDermott of Washington and David Bonior of Michigan, appeared from Baghdad on the September 29, 2002 This Week on ABC, George Stephanopoulos -- the MRC's Rich Noyes reminded me -- chastised a critic, not McDermott and Bonior, for daring to condemn the loaded charges against the U.S propagated by the two left-wingers. After McDermott blasted U.S. foreign policy from Baghdad, a shocked George Will remarked, "Why Saddam Hussein doesn’t pay commercial time for that advertisement for his policy, I do not know." Turns out, he did.

From the MRC's Monday, September 30, 2002 CyberAlert:

George Stephanopoulos showed on Sunday that he’s more upset by anyone daring to criticize liberal Democrats than he is by what those liberals said in the first place, no matter how outrageous. He scolded Republican Senator Don Nickles for a “pretty harsh charge” against a liberal Democrat who said President Bush would “lie” to justify a war and charged that Bush himself had “basically” accused Democrats “of treason.”

On This Week, after Congressmen David Bonior (D-Mich.) in Baghdad claimed past U.S. bombing in Iraq had caused kids to get leukemia, “a horrendous, barbaric, horrific thing that’s happened,” and Congressman Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) confirmed that he thought President Bush would lie in order to justify going to war, Republican Senator Don Nickles of Oklahoma told Stephanopoulos: “I’m really troubled by what I just heard. Congressman McDermott said, well I think the President would mislead the American people and basically he’s taking Saddam Hussein’s lines, they both sound somewhat likes spokespersons for the Iraqi government.”

Stephanopoulos, who had not rebuked the Congressmen, retorted: “That’s a pretty harsh charge.”

Minutes later on the September 29 program, Stephanopoulos recalled how Bush had said “the Senate is not interested in the security of the American people.” Stephanopoulos acted appalled, telling Nickles: “That’s basically accusing them of treason.”

Bonior and McDermott appeared at the top of This Week from Baghdad in a pre-taped interview that displayed obvious editing by ABC. Every question from Stephanopoulos challenged their premises about Iraqi cooperation and how inspections had worked in the past and would in the future.

At one point, as viewers watched sweat spots grow by the second on his orange shirt, Bonior delivered this anti-U.S. diatribe:
The only nuclear piece that we’ve been able to detect here -- and we’re not looking as inspectors because we don’t know how to do that, that’s not our job -- but what we have seen is an incredible, unconscionable is leukemias and lymphomas for children who have been affected by this uranium that has been part of our weapon system that was dropped here during the last war. And that is a real tragedy. It needs to be addressed and we ought to take that issue up on its own because we’ve seen it not only here in Iraq, these weapons coated with uranium that atomize and cause these serious health problems, but we’ve also seen this happen in Kosovo and in Serbia and we need to look at that as a country to see if want to be using these types of weapons that cause these kinds of serious cancers. In Basra, when women have children they used to ask is it a boy or a girl after the birth, now they ask is it normal or is it abnormal. This is horrendous, barbaric, horrific thing that’s happened and the country needs to know about that. The world community needs to know about that.
Without any reaction to that, Stephanopoulos turned to McDermott: “Finally, Mr. McDermott, before you left for Baghdad, you said 'the President of the United States will lie to the American people in order to get us into this war.’ Do you really believe that?”
McDermott confirmed: “I believe that sometimes they give out misinformation. Lyndon Johnson did it in the Vietnam War. Both David and I were in that war and there was no Gulf of Tonkin incident. The President lied to Congress about how many people he was going to put into Vietnam or whether in Laos or whether in Cambodia. It would not surprise me if they came with some information that is not provable and they shifted. First they said it was al-Qaeda, then they said it was weapons of mass destruction. Now they’re going back and saying it’s al-Qaeda again. When will that stop? Why don’t they let the inspectors come so that we can disarm Saddam Hussein. Both David and I want to disarm him. That’s gotta be very clear. He’s not a very good guy.”

Stephanopoulos pressed: “But do you have any evidence the President has lied?”

McDermott repeated: “I think the President would mislead the American people.”

With that, Stephanopoulos thanked the two for appearing and switched to Senator Don Nickles in studio. Stephanopoulos began by asking him about the view of the liberal duo that the U.S. should wait for a report from UN inspectors who want to spend a couple of months doing inspections inside Iraq.

Instead, Nickles jumped on the two members of the United States House of Representatives for aiding the enemy while inside enemy territory: “I’m really troubled by what I just heard. Congressman McDermott said, well I think the President would mislead the American people and basically he’s taking Saddam Hussein’s lines, they both sound somewhat like spokespersons for the Iraqi government.”

Stephanopoulos scolded: “That’s a pretty harsh charge.”

Nickles defended himself: “Well, what they just said is pretty harsh...”

A bit later, without ever suggesting that Democrats had taken Bush’s comments out of context, Stephanopoulos asked Nickles to defend Bush’s charge that “'the Senate is not interested in the security of the American people.’ That’s basically accusing them of treason.”

Later, during the roundtable segment, George Will reacted with outrage to what hadn’t inflamed Stephanopoulos: “Let’s note, that in what I consider the most disgraceful performance abroad by an American official in my lifetime -- something not exampled since Jane Fonda sat on the anti-aircraft gun in Hanoi to be photographed -- Mr. McDermott said in effect, not in effect, he said it, we should take Saddam Hussein at his word and not take the President at his word. He said the United States is simply trying to provoke. I mean, why Saddam Hussein doesn’t pay commercial time for that advertisement for his policy, I do not know.”
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center