On Tuesday's Countdown, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann branded White House press secretary Tony Snow "Worst Person in the World," accusing him of "bald-faced lying" about President Bush's so-called "Mission Accomplished" speech about which so much of the media has obsessed. During the January 9 White House Press Briefing, Snow responded to a question in which he took exception to this media obsession over the President's May 1, 2003 speech on the USS Abraham Lincoln declaring an "end to major combat operations" in Iraq. While Snow slightly mis-stated the back story of how the "Mission Accomplished" sign was placed on the ship, Olbermann ignored Snow's overall point that even during that speech, the President had acknowledged that more work lay ahead to stabilize Iraq, and himself deceptively tried to prove that Snow was a "liar." (Transcript follows)
After Olbermann contended that "honesty is not part of this job" of White House press secretary "no matter the party," he admonished Snow: "But to fully BS a question about the President's infamous dressup day as Commander Flies-A-Lot, May 1, 2003." Olbermann then quoted one line of Snow's remarks that were only slightly off factually, while ignoring the more valid general point. Olbermann, quoting Snow: "'You know that the Mission Accomplished banner was put up by members of the USS Abraham Lincoln, and the President in that very speech said just the opposite, didn't he?'"
The press secretary had erroneously claimed that the banner was "put up by members of the USS Abraham Lincoln" when more accurately they had the idea of displaying the banner but left it to the White House to actually do it, which could easily have been a mistaken recollection or flub on Snow's part. But as Olbermann sought to prove Snow was lying, he made no mention of the Navy's support for the banner as he made it sound as though the White House was totally responsible for its display, citing former White House press secretary Scott McClellan. Olbermann: "Tony, my God, you're just bald-faced lying. Even your predecessor Scott McClellan said the White House made the banner and sent it to the Lincoln to be put up."
Snow's contention that in the speech the President had "said just the opposite" was a reference to Bush's statement that there was still "difficult work" ahead and that it would "take time" to establish a democracy. In words not conveyed by Olbermann, Snow had continued, referring to the President: "Instead, he cautioned people at the time that there would be considerable continued violence in Iraq, and that there would be continued operations for a long period of time. That single episode has been more widely mischaracterized than just about any aspect of the war."
And as Olbermann quoted Bush's radio speech at the time as saying that the "mission is complete" and that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended," Olbermann did not quote the President's warning from the same speech: "Our coalition still has much work to do in Iraq. We are bringing order to parts of that country that remain dangerous. We are pursuing and finding leaders of the old regime who will be held to account for their crimes. ... The transition from dictatorship to democracy is hard, and will take time, but it is worth every effort."
And as Olbermann quoted Bush's declaration of the end of "major combat operations," he did not quote Snow's acknowledgement that those words were used as the press secretary had argued there was a distinction between "major" operations and all operations. Snow: "He said it was the end of major combat operations, but he did not say it was the end of operations."
Below is a complete transcript of Olbermann's comments about Snow from the "Worst Person" segment from the January 9 Countdown show, followed by relevant portions of Snow's comments from the January 9 press briefing, as shown on the White House Web site:
From the January 9 Countdown show:
Keith Olbermann: "But our winner tonight, White House press secretary Tony Snow. Look, obviously, honesty is not part of this job -- no matter the President, no matter the party, I'm giving you that. But to fully BS a question about the President's infamous dressup day as Commander Flies-A-Lot, May 1, 2003. Quoting Mr. Snow, 'You know that the Mission Accomplished banner was put up by members of the USS Abraham Lincoln, and the President in that very speech said just the opposite, didn't he?' Tony, my God, you're just bald-faced lying. Even your predecessor Scott McClellan said the White House made the banner and sent it to the Lincoln to be put up. Even Donald Rumsfeld said he talked the President out of saying Mission Accomplished, but he couldn't get the banner pulled down in time. Even the President himself said in his next radio speech that on the Lincoln, quote, 'I delivered good news to the men and women who fought in the cause of freedom. Their mission is complete, and major combat operations in Iraq have ended.' I mean, you were hired to lie. At least do it well; we're not all third-graders out here. White House press secretary Tony Snow, today's 'Worst Person in the World.'"
From the January 9 White House Daily Press Briefing:
Q Tony, this goes to your previous acknowledgment that the President is aware of public anxiety about the situation in Iraq. What would your guidance be to a public that has seen the President stand under a "Mission Accomplished" banner, proclaim an end to major combat operations, the Vice President talking about the "last throes" -- how should the public go into viewing this speech tomorrow?
MR. SNOW: I think the public ought to just listen to what the President has to say. You know that the "Mission Accomplished" banner was put up by members of the USS Abraham Lincoln. And the President, on that very speech, said just the opposite, didn't he? He said it was the end of major combat operations, but he did not say it was the end of operations. Instead, he cautioned people at the time that there would be considerable continued violence in Iraq, and that there would be continued operations for a long period of time. That single episode has been more widely mischaracterized than just about any aspect of the war.
Q We can debate whether the sign should have been there, whether the White House should have not had it there, but the fact is he stood under it and made the speech.
MR. SNOW: You're right, after people had been on a 17-month deployment, and had said "Mission Accomplished" when they're finally able to get back to their loved ones, the President didn't say, take down the sign, it will be bad. Instead what he did is he talked about the mission. And I would direct you back to the speech he gave then, Peter, because the President --
Q No, I know --
MR. SNOW: Well, then, you know that the President has made it clear that in a time of war you are going to have different phases and you're going to have different responsibilities.