Olbermann Distorts Bush's Words, Asks Who Does Bush Think He's 'F'-ing Kidding?

On his Monday March 20 Countdown show, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann disputed President Bush's recent contention that he had never claimed "that there was a direct connection between September the 11th and Saddam Hussein" by citing one awkward quote from the President, which stood in contrast to other public statements that more clearly communicated the point about the 9/11 attacks being a lesson that inspired a confrontation of Iraq, rather than Iraq actually being involved in the attacks. Olbermann rhetorically posed the question: "Who does the President think he's 'f'-ing kidding?" On the Tuesday March 21 show, Olbermann added that "any six-year-old would have recognized that his administration had deliberately left exactly that impression." Guest Craig Crawford labeled Bush's recent comments as "presidential prevarication" and compared it to Bill Clinton saying, "Depends on what the definition of 'is' is." Notably, as recounted by CyberAlert, the Countdown host once before used selectively edited statements by Dick Cheney to make it appear the Vice President had claimed a connection between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks, while omitting more of Cheney's words which clarified his meaning. (Transcripts follow.)

Olbermann teased the March 20 show: "The third anniversary be damned: The President commemorates three years of war in Iraq by today denying one of his primary reasons for going to war in Iraq." Just past 8:30pm EST, Olbermann began the segment by complaining that the U.S. military had "misled us again," arguing that its recent Operation Swarm offensive in Iraq was merely "an overgrown photo-op." He went on to attack President Bush for comments he recently made at a town hall meeting, in response to a question from an audience member, in which the President denied ever claiming a "direct connection" between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein as a reason for invading Iraq: "First, just if I might correct a misperception. I don't think we ever said, at least I know I didn't say, that there was a direct connection between the September 11th and Saddam Hussein. We did say that he was the state sponsor of terror."

A second Bush soundbite followed up the first clip: "I was very careful never to say that Saddam Hussein ordered the attacks on America."

Olbermann sarcastically commented, "Then that must have been a different George W. Bush who gave the State of the Union address on January 28, 2003."

Then a clip was played of the President from his 2003 State of the Union speech: "Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al-Qaeda. Secretly and without fingerprints, he could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists or help them develop their own. Before September the 11th, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained."

The clip does have an awkward wording that could give the wrong impression to a casual observer that September 11th was the result of not containing Iraq, but earlier statements by high-ranking administration members had more accurately relayed the point that the 9/11 attacks were more of a lesson of what could happen when a threat is not dealt with, rather than an attempt to claim Iraq was functionally involved in the attacks. Since there were reports of contacts between Iraq's government and al-Qaeda, the Iraq invasion was an attempt to prevent future terrorist attacks that might somehow be facilitated by Iraq. Therefore, the use of one awkward statement that seems to be at variance with other more clearly worded statements is a disingenuous portrayal of Bush's meaning.

Furthermore, right after Bush uttered the aforementioned words in his State of the Union speech, in a sentence not shown on Olbermann's show, the President asked the audience to "Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans, this time armed by Saddam Hussein." By using the words "this time," Bush seemed to imply that during the first attack, the one on September 11th, Saddam Hussein was not involved.

As an example of a past statement that more accurately stated the administration was not accusing Saddam Hussein of involvement in the 9/11 attacks, on the September 8, 2002 Meet the Press, Cheney stated: "I want to be very careful about how I say this. I'm not here today to make a specific allegation that Iraq was somehow responsible for 9/11. I can't say that. On the other hand, since we did that interview, new information has come to light. And we spent time looking at that relationship between Iraq, on the one hand, and the al-Qaeda organization on the other. And there has been reporting that suggests that there have been a number of contacts over the years."

While the Vice President was arguing that there were links between Iraq an al-Qaeda, he was not claiming that Iraq was actually involved in any paricular al-Qaeda operation. Similarly, in 1941, it would have been accurate to say there were links between Germany and Japan, but Germany was not involved in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Olbermann later brought aboard Congressional Quarterly's Craig Crawford and again wondered about Bush, "Who's he 'f'-ing kidding?" The Countdown host also asserted that "this is true as long as we're playing Simon Says, not living in the real world."

Crawford labeled Bush's comments as "presidential prevarication at its best" and compared Bush to Clinton: "When I heard the President say that, what flashed through my head was Bill Clinton saying, 'Depends on what the definition of 'is' is.'"

Olbermann then took exception with Bush's choice of words that he was "very careful" not to claim Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks, and looked for a "psychologist insight" in the President's words: "Does that lead you to the assumption that four years ago that people around him were saying to him: Make it sound as close to this as possible, but whatever you do, be very careful not to say Saddam Hussein ordered the attacks on America'?" Crawford agreed with Olbermann's assessment: "It makes it obvious he was being careful about what he did say."

The next night, on the March 21 show, while introducing a segment on Bush's press conference defending the war in Iraq, Olbermann characterized Bush as taking "perverse pride in having split semantics" and argued that "any six-year-old would have recognized that this administration had deliberately" left the impression Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks. Olbermann also hearkened back to the Vietnam War by cautioning that "any similarity to President Lyndon Johnson circa 1967 is purely coincidental."

Below are transcripts of relevant portions of the March 20 and March 21 Countdown shows:

March 20 Countdown:

Keith Olbermann, in opening teaser: "The third anniversary be damned: The President commemorates three years of war in Iraq by today denying one of his primary reasons for going to war in Iraq."

George W. Bush: "I don't think we ever said, at least I know I didn't say, that there was a direct connection between September the 11th and Saddam Hussein."

Olbermann: "So that line in the State of the Union three years ago:"

Bush clip #1: "Before September the 11th, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained."

Bush clip #2: "Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al-Qaeda."

Olbermann: "September 11th to Saddam Hussein, Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda, so that direct connection, once removed, was what? A dream?"

Olbermann, before a commercial break at 8:11pm EST: "On the third anniversary of a decreasingly popular war, did the President let a cat out of a bag in Cleveland today? He says he never said, he never said there was a direct connection between September 11th and Saddam Hussein. Must have been some other president."

Olbermann, before a commercial break at 8:27pm EST: "Well, this is an unintended segue. The President commemorating three years of war by denying he ever tried to link Saddam and 9/11."

Olbermann, beginning the segment at 8:32pm EST: "As if to celebrate the anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq, the U.S. military misled us again, transforming an overgrown photo-op into Operation Swarmer. It sent every media outlet spinning into breaking news mode, dubbing the so-called operation the largest air assault since 'shock and awe.' In short, we all fell for it. Our third story on the Countdown, just when you thought the administration might have gone for subtlety instead of audacity, the President himself came back today, and in the questions and answers that followed a speech in Cleveland, he insisted he never linked Iraq and Saddam Hussein to 9/11."

Unidentified man: "You said there were three main reasons for going to war in Iraq: Weapons of mass destruction, the claim that Iraq was sponsoring terrorists who had attacked us on 9/11, and that Iraq had purchased nuclear materials from Niger. All three of those turned out to be false."

George W. Bush: "First, just if I might correct a misperception. I don't think we ever said, at least I know I didn't say, that there was a direct connection between the September 11th and Saddam Hussein. We did say that he was the state sponsor of terror."

Bush clip #2: "I was very careful never to say that Saddam Hussein ordered the attacks on America."

Olbermann: "Then that must have been a different George W. Bush who gave the State of the Union address on January 28, 2003."

Bush: "Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al-Qaeda. Secretly and without fingerprints, he could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists or help them develop their own. Before September the 11th, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained."

Olbermann: "Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda in the same sentence separated by seven words, September the 11th and Saddam Hussein two sentences later separated by six words. In a moment, Craig Crawford joins me to discuss the fundamental remaining question: Who does the President think he's 'f'-ing kidding?"

Olbermann: "The third anniversary commemorations continued with the Vice President, Dick Cheney, also making an appearance during a fundraising luncheon for a GOP congressional candidate. The luncheon was held at the Spread Eagle Tavern and Inn. And there must have been a political satirist in the kitchen. The ninth item on the menu, oven roasted with an apple and mushroom stuffing, served with garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus, fresh, farm-raised quail. Mr. Whittington?"  

Olbermann: "More comedic ammunition, as if it were needed, that the administration seems to be out of ordinance after three full years of making a case for an ever decreasingly acceptable war, underscored tonight by the Iraq numbers out of the latest Newsweek poll. Only 29 percent of respondents approved of the President's handling of the situation. Sixty five percent disapproving, and only a clear minority, 44 percent, approving now of the way he's handling terrorism and homeland security."

Olbermann: "Time now as promised to call in our own Craig Crawford, columnist for Congressional Quarterly, author of Attack the Messenger, How Politicians Turn You Against the Media. Craig, good evening."

Craig Crawford: "Now, don't forget the Vice President never actually shot the quail."

Olbermann: "No, he just ate it. Let me start with that question and answer in Cleveland today. I know I didn't say there was a direct connection between September 11th and Saddam Hussein and later that he had been very careful never to say that Saddam Hussein ordered the attacks on America. Let me repeat that rhetorical question of a few moments ago. Who does he think he's 'f'-ing kidding? I mean, this is true as long as we're playing 'Simon Says,' not living in the real world, right?"

Crawford: "This is presidential prevarication at its best. It actually, when I heard the President say that, what flashed through my head was Bill Clinton saying, 'Depends on what the definition of is is.' One thing about that period when the President was making those claims associating al-Qaeda and Saddam, I didn't hear any complaints from the administration when polls at the time showed that people were buying the argument that there was a connection. I didn't hear them complaining about that. So somebody gave them the idea because the polls showed they believed it."

Olbermann: "And the Vice President obviously has repeatedly and fairly recently made an even stronger connection there, but do you think we were afforded some sort of psychological insight today by accident, that quote that 'We've been very careful not to say Saddam Hussein ordered the attacks on America.'
Does that lead you to the assumption that four years ago that people around him were saying to him: Make it sound as close to this as possible but whatever you do, be very careful not to say Saddam Hussein ordered the attacks on America'?"

Crawford: "I want to give the President credit for finally doing some town halls and taking questions from the audience that aren't scripted, aren't choreographed."

Olbermann: "Agreed."

Crawford: "But this is the downside of doing that because he starts Lone Rangering. He's off script. And I think maybe the way he worded it there is not the way that his speech writers would have put it. 'I was being careful not to say.' It makes it obvious he was being careful about what he did say."

March 21 Countdown:

Keith Olbermann, in opening teaser: "Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? Uh, here we go."

George W. Bush clip #1: "Every war plan looks good on paper until you meet the enemy."

Bush clip #2: "-Iraqis took a look and decided not to go to civil war-"

Bush clip #3: "Excuse me, excuse me. No president wants war."

Bush clip #4: "-telling me what's on my mind-"

Olbermann: "Don't hurt yourself. President versus media again. Any credibility left? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?"

Olbermann: "Our pre-war intelligence gets less intelligent still. Our man in Iraq: He was Saddam's foreign minister.  We were paying him 100 grand a year. He told us there was no biological weapons program. And we ignored him."

Olbermann opened the show: "Good evening. Yesterday it was unscreened questions from unconvinced voters and his almost perverse pride in having split the semantics the way Rutherford split the atom about how he had been, quote, 'very careful never to say Saddam Hussein ordered the attacks on America,' while any six-year-old would have recognized that his administration had deliberately left exactly that impression. Today it was unscreened questions from previously unrecognized reporters -- in partcular, Helen Thomas -- in answer to which the President insisted there is no civil war in Iraq, American troops will be there so long that a complete withdrawal will be an issue for future presidents, and that he was confident of victory there, and if he were not, 'I'd pull our troops out.' Our fifth story on the Countdown, any similar to President Lyndon Johnson circa 1967 is purely coincindental."