ABC's 'GMA' And NBC's 'Today' Once Again Hype Woodward's Anti-War Ford Story

Both ABC’s "Good Morning America" and NBC’s "Today" picked up where they left off yesterday, and promoted a new "Washington Post" story detailing how former President Ford and ex-President Nixon were closer friends than previously believed. Both networks used the opportunity to once again highlight Gerald Ford’s dissatisfaction with the Iraq war, and both networks portrayed Mr. Ford as being more anti-war than he in fact was.

ABC and NBC for the most part played the same audio clips from both the Woodward tapes and a Nixon tape from 1973, including playing the exact same shortened audio clip of President Ford as evidence that the former Republican president strongly disagreed with the war in Iraq:

"I think Rumsfeld, Cheney, and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq."

NBC’s Andrea Mitchell claimed:

"Gerald Ford believed the Iraq war was a mistake...Gerald Ford told [Bob] Woodward that he strongly disagreed with the president’s decision to go to war..."

And ABC’s George Stephanopoulos noted:

"...And it comes on top of yesterday’s revelations that Gerald Ford, even though he was publicly defending the Iraq war, that may not have been what he really thought."

However, Mr. Ford’s full statement, as quoted in an AP story posted on Yahoo News, shows the former president thought the Bush administration made a mistake in putting the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction as the primary reason for going to war in Iraq, not that the administration was mistaken for going to war:

"Rumsfeld and Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction," Ford said. "And now, I've never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do."

The AP article further quotes Mr. Ford as calling Saddam Hussein an "evil person" and claiming "there was justification to get rid of him:"

"Saddam Hussein was an evil person and there was justification to get rid of him," he observed to the Daily News. "But we shouldn't have put the basis on weapons of destruction. That was a bad mistake. Where does (Bush) get his advice?"

Yet the networks ignored these statements. While NBC and ABC hyped the story, CBS’s "Early Show" ignored it.

Transcripts of the ABC and NBC stories follow:

ABC

Good Morning America

[7:13]

Kate Snow: "Now to those new revelations about Gerald Ford from 'Washington Post' reporter Bob Woodward. Mr. Ford once called himself Richard Nixon's only real friend, and now audiotapes are revealing that the friendship between the two former presidents was even closer than once thought. ABC Chief Washington Correspondent George Stephanopoulos is here with more again this morning. George.

George Stephanopoulos: "Kate, this is more fascinating stuff from Bob Woodward. It Gives real insight into why Nixon chose Ford as vice president and why Ford pardoned Nixon, and it comes on top of yesterday's revelations that Gerald ford, even though he was publicly defending the Iraq war that may not have been what he really thought.

Bob Woodward, Washington Post: "President Ford would not be the first public official to say one thing in public and really believe something quite the contrary privately."

George Stephanopoulos: "A day after Bob Woodward revealed Gerald Ford's private thoughts about the iraq war--"

Gerald Ford, Former President: "I think Rumsfeld, Cheney, and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq."

George Stephanopoulos: "New revelations this morning from his previously secret interviews with the former president about his relationship with Richard Nixon."

Bob Woodward: "It was a real friendship, a real relationship there."

George Stephanopoulos: "Woodward says he learned from Ford's private files and Nixon tapes that had not come to public attention that the two were extremely close friends for years."

<Audio from May 1, 1973 Conversation between Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon>

Gerlad Ford: "Hello."

Richard Nixon: "Just wanted to express my appreciation for your note--"

Gerald Ford: "Anytime you want me to do anything, under any circumstances--"

Richard Nixon: "Right."

Gerald Ford: "You give me a call."

<End Audio>

George Stephanopoulos: "As everything I had read and seen up to now suggested to me that when Nixon chose Ford it was in part because he didn't really know him all that well, he just chose Ford because he was a regular guy who was certain to get confirmed in Congress."

Bob Woodward: "That's exactly right. That's what's in the historyical record. That's what I thought, quite frankly. But then when you listen to these tapes there's one moment where Nixon is almost begging Ford to go get support from Congress during Watergate."

<Phone Conversation Between Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon, No Date Given>

Richard Nixon: "Tell the guys to get off their, <expletive deleted> and start fighting back."

Gerald Ford: "You've got a hell of a lot of friends up here both Republican and Democrat, and don't worry about anybody being sunshine soldiers or summer patriots."

<End audio>

Bob Woodward: "He literally says to Nixon we will support you morning, noon and night."

George Stephanopoulos: "Ford pardoned Nixon amid great controversy in 1974. He said it was to move the country forward. But Woodward says friendship played a role too."

Bob Woodward: "There was a personal element in pardoning Nixon. He felt he was lifting some sort of stigma."

George Stephanopoulos: "In fact, that's exactly what Woodward says Ford told him about the Nixon pardon. He said 'I looked upon him as my personal friend and I always treasured our relationship and I had no hesitancy about granting the pardon. I didn't want to see my real friend have the stigma.'"

Kate Snow: "But it does seem like this is more fodder for all those conspiracy theories. For so long people have wondered why the pardon was granted."

George Stephanopoulos: "Was there a deal? And it just creates--it adds some real texture to this. There's so many different motivations going on for Gerald Ford. He wanted to heal the country. There's no question about that. He also had a real friend in Richard Nixon. And, you know, one other thing about that, they were very concerned also at the time about Richard Nixon's health and even the possibility that he might commit suicide and that his taff had been talking about that as well. Lots of different motivations going on here."

Kate Snow: "And how's the White House reacting to all these revelations, notably what Ford said about Iraq and the war."

George Stephanopoulos: "Not saying much of anything at all, and you wouldn't expect them to at this point. What they're saying is that what we're going to focus on now is mourning former President Ford. We're not going to comment. Neither Vice President Cheney nor Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld have commented either. Of course, they both served as Chief of Staff under President Ford."

Kate Snow: "Right, and of course they're all going to be at the memorial service on Tuesday. Will that be awkward?"

George Stephanopoulos: "Oh, I don't think so. I think this is going to be a time for remembering President Ford, and Vice President Cheney is going to play a role across the various ceremonies from Saturday to Tuesday."

Kate Snow: "George Stephanopoulos, thanks again."

NBC

Today

[7:09]

Matt Lauer: Now to new revelations about President Gerald Ford, who'll be remembered today by his family at a private church service before his body is flown to the U.S. Capital tomorrow. NBC's Andrea Mitchell has more on the late president's thoughts about Iraq, Watergate, and Richard Nixon. Andrea, good morning to you.

Andrea Mitchell: "Good morning Matt. Gerald Ford believed the Iraq war was a mistake. Ford confided that and much more to Bob Woodard of the 'Washington Post' two years ago knowing it would all be revealed after his death." Gerald Ford told Woodard that he strongly disagreed with the president's decision to go to war, even though the war's architects were Ford's own closest former aids, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld."

Gerald Ford: I think Rumsfeld, Cheney, and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq."

Andrea Mitchell: "He remained very close to Dick Cheney and to Don Rumsfeld and defended their tenure publicly, but privately he was telling you he disagreed with those decisions regarding Iraq?"

Bob Woodward: "Yes, that he just said if he'd been in that position, with that information, he wouldn't have done it."

Andrea Mitchell: "Woodard also reports that Ford was much closer to Richard Nixon than people realized. He played tapes for Ford like this one. Ford is still House Republican Leader, Nixon at the height of Watergate is pleading with Ford for support."

<Audio of May 1, 1973 Conversation Between Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon>

Richard Nixon: "Just wanted to express my appreciation for your note, tell you to keep the faith and tell the guys, damn it to get off their <expletive deleted> and start fighting back."

Gerald Ford: "Well we're going to Mr. President and you did a hell of a job last night, and, uh. Isn't any other way I can express it this morning, but uh, you've got a hell of a lot of friends up here both Republican and Democrat and don't worry about anybody being sunshine soldiers or summer patriots."

<End Audio>

Andrea Mitchell: "Do you think in retrospect that Ford's innate decency somehow blinded him to everything that was going on in the Nixon end of the White House?"

Bob Woodward: "He thinks that Watergate was the fall of Nixon's aids, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Colson. You listen to the tapes, you study the tapes as I've had the opportunity to do, and it's clear it's a Nixon show."

Andrea Mitchell: "Those who worked for Ford will not be surprised that he held strong views. But to the best of anyone's knowledge he never shared his doubts about Iraq with President Bush but would have if the president had asked. Matt."