While co-host Ann Curry on Tuesday's NBC "Today" wondered if Ron Suskind's "Confidence Men" was "fact or fiction," on August 5, 2008, then-co-host Meredith Vieira touted Suskind's claim in "Way of the World" that the Bush administration's case for the Iraq war was "worse than Watergate."
Speaking of Suskind's latest work on Tuesday, Curry described how Obama administration "top officials are lining up to say they were either misquoted or taken out of context by the author." She then wondered: "Did he get the story right?"
In contrast, while Vieira noted the Bush White House labeling Suskind's book at that time "absurd and gutter journalism," she also stressed the reporter's credibility: "And now to that new bombshell book that claims the White House deliberately misled the American public about the case for war in Iraq. The author, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist."
On Tuesday, Curry set up a report by White House correspondent Chuck Todd by emphasizing skepticism of Suskind: "We're going to begin now with that controversial new book about President Obama and the questions over its accuracy." In the report that followed, Todd explained how Obama advisors quoted in the book "all contest the book's reporting, saying their words were taken out of context or never even spoken" and that "The White House is pushing back furiously at author Suskind, even suggesting he lifted part of the book directly from the internet."
A set up piece by David Gregory of Suskind's 2008 book went a bit differently:
This book pulls no punches, claiming that President Bush knew that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction but ordered the invasion anyway. It is a controversial look at administration decision making but the former director of Central Intelligence, George Tenet, telling NBC News, that the charge against the President, is quote, "Just wrong." It is the lingering question about the war. If the President knew then what he knows now, would he have ordered the invasion of Iraq in the first place?
While Curry grilled Suskind about "Confidence Men" and tried to refute charges made in the book, Vieira kept her questions to him about "Way of the World" more open-ended:
Your book is full of some very serious charges that the White House deliberately misled the American public....So how were you able to confirm all of these elements?...You know you say that this is worse than Watergate in, in large part because of this letter that you claim the White House ordered the CIA to forge, that would link Iraq with 9/11....but what has convinced you that the White House was behind it? What evidence do you have that the White House ordered it?
Vieira concluded by asking: "You stand by everything in the book Ron?" Suskind replied: "Well it's all on the record, it's not off the record. It's on the record, it's in the book. And people can read it for themselves."
Here is a full transcript of Curry's teases and Todd's September 20 report on "Confidence Men":
7:00AM ET TEASE:
ANN CURRY: Fact or fiction? A bombshell new book suggests the President was in over his head when it came to handling the economy, but now top officials are lining up to say they were either misquoted or taken out of context by the author. And the White House is pushing back hard as well. Did he get the story right? This morning, Ron Suskind defends his book in a live interview.
7:01AM ET TEASE:
LESTER HOLT: The struggling economy of course the biggest issue facing the country right now. It's pretty clear this is going to be the big issue in the next presidential election. So needless to say, the Obama administration not happy with Ron Suskind's new book.
ANN CURRY: You've got that right, he suggests the President suffers from a lack of leadership when it comes to the economic crisis. In fact, Suskind quotes one of the President's top advisers as saying, quote, "We're really home alone, there's no adult in charge." We'll get the latest from the White House and talk to the book's Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Ron Suskind, straight ahead this morning.
7:02AM ET SEGMENT:
ANN CURRY: We're going to begin now with that controversial new book about President Obama and the questions over its accuracy. Chuck Todd is now joining us, he's NBC's chief White House correspondent. And you've got details, Chuck, good morning.
CHUCK TODD: Well, good morning I think the President is waking up in New York City here this morning and is enjoying the brief respite he's going to get to focus on international issues because between this book and the new debt plan that he released, which is being met now by Republicans with a thud. Middle East peace may look more attainable to President Obama as he heads to the UN this morning than selling Republicans on his plans for the economy.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Budget Battle Lines; GOP Fights President on Tax Hikes For the Rich]
BARACK OBAMA: I'm ready to sign a bill, I've got the pens all ready.
TODD: The President on Monday laid out a $3 trillion deficit reduction package, including $1.5 trillion of new taxes on wealthier Americans.
OBAMA: I will not support any plan that puts all the burden for closing our deficit on ordinary Americans. This is not class warfare. It's math.
TODD: But Speaker of the House John Boehner wasn't buying it.
JOHN BOEHNER: I don't believe that class warfare is leadership and you know we can get into this 'tax the rich, tax the rich,' but that is not the basis for America and it's not going to get our economy going again and it's not going to put people back to work.
TODD: Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell was even more blunt, issuing a terse statement saying the President's plan, "is not a recipe for economic or job growth or even meaningful deficit reduction."
All of this comes as a new book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind paints an unflattering picture of the President's leadership on the economy and his team of economic advisors. Suskind quotes the President's former budget director Peter Orszag as saying his former colleague Larry Summers complained about President Obama's lack of leadership, telling Orszag, "You know, Peter, we're really home alone. There's no adult in charge. Clinton would never have made these mistakes."
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: "Confidence Men"; White House Blasts Book's Claims About President]
Suskind quotes another former advisor, Christina Roehmer, as saying Summers deliberately blocked here from a key meeting. Roehmer told Suskind, "I felt a piece of meat." Anita Dunn, former White House communications director is quoted as saying, "This place would be in court for a hostile workplace because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women."
But Summers, Roehmer and Dunn all contest the book's reporting, saying their words were taken out of context or never even spoken. And Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, described in the book as dragging his feet on some presidential orders, also was also asked about the book.
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: The reports I've read about this book bear no resemblance to the reality we live together, no resemblance.
TODD: The White House is pushing back furiously at author Suskind, even suggesting he lifted part of the book directly from the internet.
JAY CARNEY: One passage seems to be lifted almost entirely from Wikipedia in the book. I think based on that I would caution anyone to assume that if you can't get those things right that you suddenly get the broader analysis right. That analysis is wrong.
TODD: Well, so you can judge for yourself on that charge from the White House. Here is the comparison that they are making, it was a description of Fannie Mae in "Confidence Men," it read: "In 1968 it officially became a publicly held corporation to remove its debt and related activities from the federal balance sheet." The Wikipedia entry says this, "In 1968 it converted to a publicly held corporation to remove its activity and debt from the federal budget." Ann, there you go.
CURRY: Alright, Chuck Todd, thanks.