On the eve of the dedication of George W. Bush's presidential library, NBC's Meet the Press moderator David Gregory appeared on Wednesday's Nightly News to tear down the former president's legacy, beginning the report by remarking that it was "difficult to remember" Bush's popularity after the September 11th attacks. [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
Gregory described how Iraq War intelligence failures "formed the backdrop to criticism that the President underestimated the challenges he faced....And grew stubborn in the face of mounting setbacks." Gregory further proclaimed: "What grew into a reputation for incompetence stained the administration and the GOP brand after Hurricane Katrina."
Historian Michael Beschloss followed by touting how "George W. Bush's name was barely mentioned" at the 2012 Republican National Convention as a result.
Gregory then promoted how successful the Obama White House and liberal press corps were at blaming Bush for the still struggling economy: "As the economy even now struggles to climb back from the near collapse of 2008, many Americans still blame President Bush, holding him even more accountable for the state of the economy than President Obama, according to last fall's election exit poll."
Gregory did briefly note: "These issues overshadow other accomplishments – the President's place in launching the school reform movement, his work to combat aids in Africa, even his willingness to tackle entitlement spending."
On Thursday's Today, Gregory began a similar report on the Bush legacy by announcing: "As he left Washington four years ago, the public sat in harsh judgment of George W. Bush, with roughly two thirds of the country disapproving of his job performance. The scars ran deep over multiple wars, the terror debate, and a collapsed economy."
Gregory also made sure to repeat the line about Bush's "incompetence" having "stained" the Republican Party.
However, unlike his Nightly News hit piece, Gregory did acknowledge Bush's rising approval rating: "Mr. Bush has made up ground in the public's mind and his record is viewed more charitably....As time passes and passions cool, Mr. Bush has grown more popular."
Here is a full transcript of Gregory's April 24 Nightly News report:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Back in this country, the George W. Bush Presidential Library set to open tomorrow. This is a live picture of the scene on the campus of SMU in Dallas tonight. Tomorrow's dedication ceremony will be attended by the five people alive who know what it's like to sit in the Oval Office. President Barack Obama, both Bushes, 41 and 43, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter. We get our report tonight from NBC's David Gregory, who was our White House correspondent during the Bush 43 years.
DAVID GREGORY: It's difficult to remember just how popular President Bush was in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.
GEORGE W. BUSH: I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.
[CHEERS AND APPLAUSE]
GREGORY: The fact that America was not attacked again during the Bush years is a lasting legacy. But so, too, is the bitter debate over whether the war on terror eroded civil liberties. Mr. Bush will always be viewed as a wartime leader. But it was the decision to invade Iraq that would prove the most divisive.
BUSH: It's a war of necessity. In my judgment we had no choice when we look at the intelligence I looked at that says the man was a threat.
GREGORY: The faulty intelligence, the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, formed the backdrop to criticism that the President underestimated the challenges he faced.
BUSH: In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.
GREGORY: And grew stubborn in the face of mounting setbacks.
BUSH: I hear the voices and I read the front page and I know the speculation, but I'm the decider.
GREGORY: What grew into a reputation for incompetence stained the administration and the GOP brand after Hurricane Katrina.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS [PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN]: This is a president who, in his own time, he would be the first to say is very unpopular. You look at the Republican convention last year. George W. Bush's name was barely mentioned.
GREGORY: As the economy even now struggles to climb back from the near collapse of 2008, many Americans still blame President Bush, holding him even more accountable for the state of the economy than President Obama, according to last fall's election exit poll. These issues overshadow other accomplishments – the President's place in launching the school reform movement, his work to combat aids in Africa, even his willingness to tackle entitlement spending.
MICHAEL GERSON [FORMER CHIEF BUSH SPEECHWRITER]: I think these are issues that over time will wear very well. They'll show that the President was forward-looking and knew where the country was headed.
GREGORY: And as I talked to advisers of President Bush's over the past several days, they think that's being borne out, that idea, with current events. Look, the Republican Party's moving back toward President Bush on immigration. And when it comes to the war on terrorism, they point out President Obama has continued many of President Bush's counter-terror policies. Brian.
WILLIAMS: Our former White House correspondent David Gregory, these days moderator of Meet the Press. David, we'll check back in with you tomorrow night.
We want to let you know tomorrow morning on Today Matt Lauer will have an exclusive live interview with former President Bush. And we'll get the first tour through the new Bush Presidential Library.