Oct 10 2002

Connie Chung: Skeptical of Skepticism

On her October 7 broadcast, CNN‘s Connie Chung took a U.S. congressmember to task for doubting George W. Bush.

After Rep. Mike Thompson (D.-Calif.) told Chung that there seemed to be no evidence that Iraq posed an immediate danger to the people of the United States or its allies, the anchor responded, “Well, let’s listen to something that President Bush said tonight, and you tell me if this doesn’t provide you with the evidence that you want.”

She then aired a clip from the speech that Bush made in Cincinnati:

Some al Qaeda leaders who fled Afghanistan went to Iraq. These include one very senior al Qaeda leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year and who has been associated with planning for chemical and biological attacks.

We’ve learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making, in poisons and deadly gases. And we know that after September 11, Saddam Hussein’s regime gleefully celebrated the terrorist attacks on America.

After this soundbite, Chung continued: “Congressman, doesn’t that tell you that an invasion of Iraq is justified?”

Thompson began to respond: “Connie, we haven’t seen any proof that any of this has happened. I have sat through all the classified briefings on the Armed Services….”

But this questioning of what Bush said appeared to be too much for Chung. She interrupted Thompson’s answer, saying, “You mean you don’t believe what President Bush just said? With all due respect…you know… I mean, what…”

Faced with Chung’s obvious alarm that someone might not take Bush’s word as definitive proof, Thompson tried to reassure her: “No, no, that’s not what I said…. I said that there has been nothing in the committee hearing briefings that have substantiated this. If there is substantiation, we need to see that in Congress, not hear it over the television monitor.”

Later in the broadcast, Chung returned to the question of whether Thompson trusted Bush, suggesting that skepticism toward Bush was equivalent to an endorsement of Saddam Hussein:

Congressman Thompson, there are those who believe that you and your two colleagues who went to Iraq came back with the basic position of President Bush may be trying to tell you something that in his effort to get approval for an invasion in Iraq, that you shouldn’t believe. So it sounds almost as if you’re asking the American public, “Believe Saddam Hussein, don’t believe President Bush.”

Rather than insinuating that it’s unpatriotic to question a commander in chief, Chung might better have looked into the question of whether or not Bush’s statements on Iraq have been trustworthy. That was the approach taken by two reporters for the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain, Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay, who interviewed more than a dozen military, intelligence and diplomatic officials on this question (10/8/02):

These officials charge that administration hawks have exaggerated evidence of the threat that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein poses– including distorting his links to the Al Qaeda terrorist network– have overstated the amount of international support for attacking Iraq and have downplayed the potential repercussions of a new war in the Middle East. They charge that the administration squelches dissenting views and that intelligence analysts are under intense pressure to produce reports supporting the White House’s argument that Saddam poses such an immediate threat to the United States that pre-emptive military action is necessary.

According to Strobel and Landay, none of the officials they interviewed disagreed with this assessment.

The Knight-Ridder story addresses the very issue on which Chung chided Thompson for doubting Bush: “The officials said there’s no ironclad evidence that the Iraqi regime and the terrorist network are working together or that Saddam has ever contemplated giving chemical or biological weapons to Al Qaeda, with whom he has deep ideological differences.”

While it’s Chung’s job to ask tough questions of politicians like Thompson, asking him how he dares to contradict another government official is hardly the way to go about it. A skeptical response to official claims is something Chung would do well to emulate, not attack.

ACTION: Please encourage Connie Chung to show more skepticism of official pronouncements– rather than criticizing those who demonstrate such skepticism.



Connie Chung Tonight


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See the Strobel and Landay story at: