John Leo

Some critics think President Bush looked much worse in the 60 Minutes coverage of Bob Woodward?s book Plan of Attack than he did in the book itself. In selling books and setting a tone for media coverage, 60 Minutes is a powerful force. In this case, we had Mike Wallace wondering who gave Bush the right to decide which nations to liberate. The Wallace interview with Woodward reflected the conventional media view that Bush is strange and erratic.

In fact, Woodward?s portrait of Bush is generally positive. Which is why many Bushies are recommending the book. Take the issue of whether Bush massaged intelligence reports that Saddam Hussein still had weapons of mass destruction. At one point Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin comes up with a report on Iraqi WMDs, and Bush says he thinks the evidence is too thin: ?Nice try,? he says, but Joe Q. Public isn?t going to believe that. Woodward has Bush telling CIA chief George Tenet clearly and repeatedly not to massage the evidence that Saddam has WMDs. The direct quote is: ?Make sure no one stretches to make our case.? Readers will have no doubt that Bush believed the WMDs were there. He was hearing it from allegedly sound sources. Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to Washington, passes on to Bush this word from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak: ?Our intelligence has confirmed there are mobile labs for biological weapons.? The National Intelligence Estimate of October 2002, filled with ambiguous material, begins with the unambiguous declaration that Saddam has chemical and biological weapons.

Tenet was loudly sure about it, too. In December 2002, Tenet rises excitedly from a couch in the Oval Office, throws his arms in the air, and exclaims, ?It?s a slam-dunk case!? Bush presses Tenet: ?George, how confident are you?? Tenet throws up his arms once more: ?Don?t worry, it?s a slam dunk!? If you were president, how long would it take you to fire this man?

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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