Over the past two and a half years, researchers at the Fund for Independence in Journalism have sought to document every public statement made by eight top Bush administration officials from September 11, 2001, to September 11, 2003, regarding (1) Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction and (2) Iraq’s links to Al Qaeda. Although both had been frequently cited as rationales for the U.S. war in Iraq, by 2005 it was known that these assertions had not, in fact, been true.
The centerpiece of this project is an exhaustive, searchable, and robustly indexed database of all public statements on the two topics by President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and White House Press Secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan. These statements were painstakingly collected from the websites of the White House, State Department, and Defense Department as well as from transcripts of interviews and briefings, texts of speeches and testimony, prepared statements, and the like.
Also included are statements in the same two categories that appeared in major newspapers and on television programs, were part of public statements by other officials, or were contained in government studies or reports, books, and the like from September 11, 2001, to December 31, 2007. Secondary material from reports and books was included in the two-year database only in cases where specific dates were available. Other noteworthy material was included for context and completeness.
As a general rule, only the relevant excerpts of public statements have been included in the database; deleted material is marked “[text omitted].” (In a case of a lengthy press conference in which Iraq is mentioned only briefly, for example, only the relevant passage is included.) Where deleting text might have rendered the remaining material misleading or difficult to understand, longer passages were left intact. And in some cases public pronouncements of Bush administration officials that did not include direct statements were included if they provided useful context.
“False Statements” — Definitions
In press briefings, interviews, and other question-and-answer venues, each answer was categorized for purposes of this study as a distinct statement. In speeches or briefings, only when one statement clearly ends was the next statement considered, and then only if a “buffer” of at least 50 words separated the statements.
Direct false statements. False statements by the eight Bush administration officials were counted as “direct”—and included in the total count of false statements—when they specifically linked Iraq to Al Qaeda or referenced Iraq’s contemporaneous possession, possible possession, or efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction (chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons). In addition, any use of the verb “disarm” was categorized as a direct statement because of the literal meaning of the word. (Example: “Saddam Hussein has got a choice, and that is, he can disarm.”) These false statements can be found within the passages that are highlighted in yellow in the project database.
Indirect false statements. Statements were classified as “indirect” if they did not specifically link Iraq to Al Qaeda but alleged, for example, that Iraq supported or sponsored terrorism or terrorist organizations, or if they referred to Iraq’s former possession of weapons of mass destruction or used such general phrases, for example, as “dangerous weapons.” These indirect false statements are not included in the total count of 935.
In subsequent years following release of the project, the interactive database from which the false statements were coded ceased to function. A backup copy of the data allowed the Center to recreate the coding and make the database live once again in 2014, allowing users to search through all the false statements, read them in their context and track such statements from various Bush administration officials over time. An enhanced Iraq War timeline also was updated.
For the Fund for Independence in Journalism
Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, created and directed this project. He is the president of the Fund for Independence in Journalism in Washington, a distinguished journalist in residence at American University, and the coauthor of five books, including the bestseller, The Buying of the President 2004 (HarperCollins). He founded the Center for Public Integrity in 1989 and was its executive director for 15 years. From 1977 to 1988 he did investigative reporting at ABC News and at CBS News’s 60 Minutes. He was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 1998 and PEN USA’s First Amendment Award in 2004.
Mark Reading-Smith is the senior researcher/editor and writer at the Fund. In 2002 he was an intern at the Center for Public Integrity and conducted research for its best-selling book, The Buying of the President 2004. He is a graduate of Michigan State University.
Benjamin Turner was a researcher/editor at the Fund. He originally came to the organization as an intern. He helped to build the chronological database for this project and also was a researcher for the Fund’s “Truth Project.” He is a graduate of American University and is currently pursuing a law degree at the Syracuse University College of Law.
Matthew Lewis, a researcher/editor at the Fund, is a recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he founded and edited a popular website for college sportswriters, The Heptagon, and worked for publications including The Wisconsin State Journal, Scout.com, and Rotowire.
Jeanne Brooks, the managing director of the Fund, previously worked for the New Hampshire Commission on the Status Women, where, among other projects, she assisted with the Women’s Prison Project. She is a graduate of the University of New Hampshire.
Stephanie Carnes was a research intern at the Fund in the summer of 2007. She is an honors graduate of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and is currently working on a joint graduate degree in international law and international relations in Brussels, Belgium.
Jennifer Spector was a research intern at the Fund in the summer of 2006. She is currently a senior at the University of Pennsylvania.
Mike Holmes was a research intern at the Fund in 2005. He is a summa cum laude graduate of Howard University and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in international affairs at Georgetown University.
Julia Dahl was an editor for the project. She is a freelance journalist in Brooklyn, New York, who reports regularly for the New York Post and The Real Deal and teaches writing for MediaBistro. Her articles have appeared in Salon, Slate, Seventeen, and Marie Claire, among many others. She is a graduate of Yale University and has a master’s degree in journalism from American University.
Han Nguyen, a web development consultant for this project, was the Center for Public Integrity’s software architect from 2002 to 2006 and the lead web developer for more than 20 of its projects and reports. He is a graduate of the College of William and Mary in 1995.
For the Center for Public Integrity
Bill Buzenberg, the executive director of the Center for Public Integrity, has been a journalist and news executive at newspapers and in public radio for more than 35 years, most recently as the senior vice president of news at American Public Media/Minnesota Public Radio. From 1990 to 1997, he was the vice president of news and information at National Public Radio. He has won numerous awards, including the prestigious Edward R. Murrow Award, public radio’s highest honor.
Many other members of the Center for Public Integrity’s staff also worked on this project, including Helena Bengtsson, Sara Bularzik, Lisa Chiu, David Donald, Caitlin Ginley, Alan Green, C. Benjamin Haag, Bill Hogan, Josh Israel, Sarah Laskow, Tuan Le, Mattie Quinn, Peter Newbatt Smith, and Devin Varsalona.