Katie Couric Highlights 4th Anniversary of Powell's 'Embarrassment' at the UN

CBS's news judgment: Monday's CBS Evening News devoted a first segment story to, as anchor Katie Couric put it, the “irony” that the Senate debate over resolutions on the Iraqi surge occurred “four years to the day” after Colin Powell made his presentation at the UN which “became an embarrassment.” Couric asked and answered: “And how's this for irony? Today's Capitol Hill confrontation began four years to the day after then-Secretary of State Colin Powell made a dramatic speech at the UN to make the case that Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction. It was a brilliant performance, enough to sell the Congress and the nation on going to war. But before long, it became an embarrassment.”

Of course, at the time nearly everyone believed what Powell believed, as evidenced by former U.S. weapons inspector David Kay who told CBS News Pentagon reporter David Martin that he was impressed with Powell's presentation. Martin moved on to other misguided assumptions, asserting “the intelligence about Iraq was not all wrong. On the eve of the invasion, CIA analysts, including Paul Pillar, warned the aftermath could get ugly." Martin also, however, pointed out that “bad intelligence about WMD started the war, but it can't be blamed for all that has happened since." Former CIA analyst John Brennan explained: “We would still have the same bloodshed, instability and destruction even if we did uncover those treasure troves of purported weapons.” So, the fourth anniversary of Powell's presentation about WMDs really isn't relevant to the current situation, but that didn't deter CBS from bringing it up.

Neither ABC's Word News or the NBC Nightly News brought up the four-year-old Powell presentation.

The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the video against the closed-captioning for the February 5 CBS Evening News story:
Katie Couric: "And how's this for irony? Today's Capitol Hill confrontation began four years to the day after then-Secretary of State Colin Powell made a dramatic speech at the UN to make the case that Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction. It was a brilliant performance, enough to sell the Congress and the nation on going to war. But before long, it became an embarrassment. National security correspondent David Martin looks back four years later."

Colin Powell at the UN, February 5, 2003: "What we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence."

David Martin: "That statement about the evidence Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction was made by one of the most trusted men in America. Weapons inspector David Kay remembers being impressed."

David Kay, former Chief U.S. Weapons Inspector: "It was partly because it came with Powell's reputation as much as the individual facts."

Martin: "He assumed the intelligence Powell had unveiled was only the tip of the iceberg."

Powell, at UN: "We have firsthand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails."

Kay: "To have detailed diagrams of what those labs looked like seemed to me it meant that you had pretty detailed intelligence from inside the program."

Martin: "But after the invasion, Kay was put in charge of finding the WMD, and he found out where those diagrams came from."

Kay: "It was a single source, a source that the U.S. intelligence had never at that point talked to, didn't know his name-"

Kay clip #2: "And, in fact, he was a fabricator."

Martin: "The intelligence about Iraq was not all wrong. On the eve of the invasion, CIA analysts, including Paul Pillar, warned the aftermath could get ugly."

Paul Pillar, former CIA counterterrorism officer: "It would be long, it would be turbulent, it would be filled with conflict and probably violence."

Martin: "But, says former CIA officer and now CBS consultant John Brennan, the administration passed over that intelligence."

John Brennan, CBS News terrorism analyst: "And I don't think there was enough attention paid to those assessments that said after the war, after the invasion, there's going to be difficulty in the streets of Iraq and in Baghdad."

Martin: "Bad intelligence about WMD started the war, but it can't be blamed for all that has happened since."

Brennan: "We would still have the same bloodshed, instability and destruction even if we did uncover those treasure troves of purported weapons."

Martin: "Powell now says his UN speech will forever be a blot on his reputation. And George Tenet, who was director of Central Intelligence at the time, admits in a soon-to-be-published book he let Powell down."
The online CBSNews.com version of Martin's story, sans Couric's “embarrassment” spin.
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