By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

What Joseph Wilson said

I have to laugh at Josh Marshall for charging Charles Krauthammer with telling a “lie” about former ambassador Joseph Wilson — namely, that Wilson had claimed he was sent on his infamous mission to Niger by Vice President Dick Cheney.

Marshall approvingly reproduces an e-mail from someone who had seen Krauthammer make that accusation on a TV show. The reader points out, quite accurately, that Wilson never made such a claim in his celebrated New York Times op-ed piece. Marshall concludes: “Does someone know where one can find transcripts for this show. It doesn’t surprise me that Krauthammer is still peddling this lie.”

But wait. No, Wilson didn’t say it in his op-ed. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t say it. For instance, check out this Wilson statement, which he made on CNN in July 7, 2003 (thanks to Bob Somerby of the Daily Howler):

Well, I went in, actually in February of 2002 was my most recent trip there — at the request, I was told, of the office of the vice president, which had seen a report in intelligence channels about this purported memorandum of agreement on uranium sales from Niger to Iraq.

Yes, Wilson gave himself some wiggle room, but clearly he wanted viewers to believe he’d been sent to Niger by Cheney. I’m sure there are other examples out there, too. And yes, for some time now I’ve shared Somerby’s view that critics of the Bush administration have hurt themselves with their unquestioning embrace of the dubious Mr. Wilson.

It sounds like Krauthammer got it right.

Discover more from Media Nation

Subscribe to get the latest posts sent to your email.


Not our commander in chief


Hot to Trot


  1. Neil

    The quote you provide doesn’t support Krauthammer. If you are sure there are examples of Wilson actually making the claim, then by all means post them. Meanwhile simply being sure counts for nothing. Whether Wilson was sent by Cheney or not, all he claims in that quote is that someone, who might have had their own reasons for saying so, told him that was the case. Maybe you don’t believe him but until you or Somerby can show an actual example of Wilson making the claim directly (and God knows Somerby is trying), Marshall’s point stands, regardless of what you think Wilson “clearly wanted viewers to believe.”Somerby’s post is full of ad hominem:But right from Day One, Wilson has been pompous, grandiose and extremely unreliable…and even an ad hominem by proxy:Almost surely, Rove thought Wilson was a kook and an asshole. Unfortunately, it isn’t clear he was wrongSecond-hand passive voice as evidence: Deborah Orin says “So Joe Wilson’s credibility is seriously in question.” Somerby then quotes the sentence below in his own text.Somerby’s charge that Wilson’s “no such transaction took place” is not a logical response to Bush’s charge of “sought”, doesn’t follow. Wilson wasn’t responding to Bush’s claim in that sentence. He was responding to a claim made in an intelligence report of the existence of a memorandum of agreement that documented the sale of uranium yellowcake. Whether something was “sought” can be as trivial as a dropped hint in a conversation–too vague to disprove thus still “an open question” and still meaningless. Whatever remarks were made, if any, never amounted to anything. Instead Bush used a second-hand report (“The British government has learned…”) whose evidence consisted of documents later found to be forgeries, to scare the US public into supporting this war. This is a more obvious example of a person who “clearly wanted viewers to believe” something. And yes for some time now (fun with Dan’s sentence) I’ve shared Marshall’s view that supporters of the Bush administration have hurt themselves with their unquestioning focus on who Wilson claims sent him, while ignoring both his conclusion, that “some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat”, which surely no one now disputes, and the far greater harm done by Bush’s unprovable scare mongering remark.Somerby’s bold conclusion? That “liberals and Dems who want the truth must be careful about Wilson’s stories.” How about he let us know whose stories we needn’t be careful about. Shall we trust Dick Cheney’s stories? George Bush’s? Lest Wilson’s original op-ed get lost in all this smoke, reread it here, and judge for youself.

  2. Anonymous

    No, Dan.Two points. One, the Office of the Vice President includes a number of people in addition to the Vice President. (I’ve read that the Office of the Vice President directly includes some 200 people.) On the assumption that Wilson actually was sent to Africa at the request of someone from the Office of the Vice President, it may very well have been at the request of someone other than the Vice President himself. In other words, the request need not have come from Cheney himself for it to have come from the Office of the Vice President.Two, I’m amazed that you are unable to distinguish between the apparent assertion by Krauthammer that “Wilson had claimed he was sent on his infamous mission to Niger by Vice President Dick Cheney” (I generally ignore Krauthammer–I consider him to be an idiot with a megaphone via the Washington Post for other reasons–so I don’t know whether or not he had actually written those specific words) and Wilson’s statement, per Somerby, that Well, I went in, actually in February of 2002 was my most recent trip there — at the request, I was told, of the office of the vice president. It may very well be true that Wilson at some point was told that he had been commissioned to go to Niger at the request of someone from the Office of the Vice President. Whether or not he actually was commissioned to go to Niger at the request of someone from the Office of the Vice President is pretty much irrelevant to the issue, is it not?. And Krauthammer’s leap to the assertion that Wilson has claimed that he was commissioned to go to Niger by Cheney himself is very much off the wall. (Another reason why I don’t pay any attention to the idiot Krauthammer.) Actually, a third point, Dan. Somerby’s blog is usually amusing and sometimes useful, but recognize that Somerby is a humorist. I have never cited to Somerby specifically because he is a humorist. I don’t mean to suggest that I don’t read his blog entries, just that I don’t cite to him.–raj

  3. Ken Doran

    The report from Josh Marshall’s reader was that “Charles Krauthammer repeated the claim that Joe Wilson lied about Cheney sending him to Niger.” I haven’t seen the transcript, and it does not appear you have either, but you have nevertheless adopted this accusation as your own.But what in your killer quote from Wilson justifies your calling him a liar? The issue is whether Wilson believed what he said on that occasion. From what I know, he had good reason to believe that he had been sent “at the request, I was told, of the office of the vice president”; and his assuming his report had been passed on was a reasonable assumption overstated as fact. That is not a lie where I come from. It is clear that you really dislike Joe Wilson, and on some other particulars you and Somerby may be able to hit him harder. But on this one I think the Krauthammer/Kennedy positon is weak — not acceptable for such a harsh accusation.

  4. Anonymous

    It’s peripheral and a matter of semantics. You’re walking right into Krauthammer’s trap – seizing on an off-hand comment by Wilson in an interview.Who sent him or advocated that he go is unimportant. They outed his wife as a CIA operative because they didn’t like what he said.

  5. o-fish-l

    Anon 11:44 said: “I generally ignore Krauthammer–I consider him to be an idiot…” “…(Another reason why I don’t pay any attention to the idiot Krauthammer.)” Who’s the idiot? Charles Krauthammer is a Pulitzer Prize winner, a Commonwealth Scholar and a graduate of Harvard Medical School. Labeling him an “idiot” is childish at best.It’s quite telling when one cannot defend Joe Wilson without resorting to ridiculous, juvenile name calling aimed at those who have identified Wilson’s utter lack of integrity.

  6. Anonymous

    Fishy,Once again, we agree. Kraut is not an “idiot.” Far from. Rather, he is intellectually dishonest and -to be kind here- unfailingly ‘glib.’Dan, again, you master the conclusions and the aesthetics but neglect the basic facts and the original main issue in question.I am a big fan of yours Dan, but you never cover yourself with glory when you talk foreign policy. I like it best when you stay local, Dan. Just my two cents!N.

  7. Dan Kennedy

    N.: You like it when I agree with you. Unfortunately, for too many people foreign policy is like religion — you just can’t argue with them. Whatever depredations Cheney and Libby may have taken part in, we now know that the guy who leaked to Novak was Richard Armitage — sane, honest, antiwar — who exposed Plame’s identity just because he was gossiping. As for those who dismiss Somerby’s comprehensive research on Joseph Wilson, please keep in mind that most of it is based on Wilson’s own words. I was very excited about this story a few years ago, but unfortunately, most of it has turned to dust. (Not that Libby shouldn’t be held accountable.) I can admit it. Why can’t you?

  8. Anonymous

    To be candid, I am not even sure what exactly are we differing on here??Let me just say this: Aside for the disturbing fact that admin people were being casual wtih sensitive info about decent govt servants that jeopardizes their lives and missions, we seem to gloss over two facts that ARE true and to Wilson’s credit, which you label unfairly as “dubious.” For your credibility’s sake, why not stay away from labeling anyone involved unless you were previed to more detail.1- He certainly COULDN’T have taken on this trip without clearance or encouragement/hiring by the VP’s office who was de facto in charge of building the case. 2- He debunked the premise and proved the signature on the docs were forged: They were those of a dictature who was not in power during the corresponding dates. Big hole there. Whether the docs have merit or not, that is long past its relevance. The larger point here is not to go after every single person and spend years prosecuting or destroying them in the media. Lies are a lot more common than we’d like to admit or acnowledge. The point is to have civil servants be more careful about telling the truth for critical matters such as war and not be cavalier with the lives of its employees, covert or not.That seems to be not as clear or emboldened of a lesson, but brushed aside indirectly by posts like yours.N.

  9. Dan Kennedy

    N.: You have much homework to do. As has been widely reported, Wilson’s mission actually lent more, not less, credence to the notion that Saddam was trying to obtain uranium from Niger. And Wilson most certainly did not prove anything about forged documents. That’s just a complete misunderstanding of the chronology.

  10. Anonymous

    Any one arguing that that despot did not have AND seek those means and technologies.The real issue is or ought to be two fold, beyond dwelling on the technicalities like you have, Dan:1- What was the real threat to the nation from what the UN, the US and the rest of the World knew and did not know/contain, whether he had or did not have any. Geopolitically, how was the question really read, misread or exagerated. And how does that differ from other rogue morons thoughout present and past conflicts.2- Wilson’s trip is really irrelevant: you didn’t need any specific confirmation from it to know that the regime has always harbored such plans. You don’t need that trip to know that. Rather, they needed one specific proof and when it wasn’t solid enough, two Govt officers, his wife and him, were retaliated against.The discussion is not going on for the merits of the Niger trip; it is to drown Wilson’s credibility. THAT in my mind is the misplaced priority you are dwelling on.No US govt officer, REGARDLESS of political leaning, should be put through the same ordeal and threat to his anonymity and job safety and security.N.

  11. Neil

    Dan your original post isn’t a foreign policy issue, it’s about whether Krauthammer gets to call Wilson a liar for making a specific claim. And you saying well, he may not have made the claim in his op-ed, doesn’t mean he didn’t make the claim elsewhere. Here, for example. Then you provide an example that doesn’t demonstrate that Wilson made the claim that would justify calling him a liar.I followed the link to Somerby’s site to look at his comprehensive research, and the first thing I see is the title: “libs just want to be dumb”. Then “excitable liberals will rail and quake”, “today’s liberals want to be happy and dumb…he wants to be fed stupid tales”, “stampeding liberals munch the sweet hay”. And that’s just on the single page you linked to. I don’t label myself. Somerby doesn’t know me and shouldn’t label me either. His writing is vitiated by these gratuitous insults. I did try to parse his paragraph about Wilson’s supposed illogic in not refuting Bush’s “sought” claim, but it doesn’t follow, as I said.As for “lending credence”, this refers to Wilson speaking to Mayaki who said, in ’99 a businessman approached him, and, according to Schmidt the WaPo reporter, “insisting that he meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss ‘expanding commercial relations” between Niger and Iraq—which Mayaki interpreted to mean they wanted to discuss yellowcake sales.” And although this meeting took place, Malaki let the matter drop.Compelling stuff indeed. So, that amounts to lending credence to the notion…and a notion is exactly what it was.Somerby deletes this sentence from the same article from Schmidt:According to the former Niger mining minister, Wilson told his CIA contacts, Iraq tried to buy 400 tons of uranium in 1998.Because it was corrected in WaPo: In fact, it was Iran that was interested in making that purchase, but no contract was signed, according to the report.Oopsie! Heck, that’s more evidence than we had to invade Iraq. What are we waiting for–to Teheran!

  12. Anonymous

    Missing part from sentence:Any one arguing that that despot did not have AND seek those means and technologies IS A FOOL.SorryN.

  13. Anonymous

    Good work, Neil. Dan, don’t skip this – you owe Neil a response.

  14. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 11:31: There’s not that much to respond to.First of all, I was referring to the report of a bipartisan congressional committee, not to a Susan Schmidt story in the Washington Post.Second, I’m sorry that Neil doesn’t like Somerby’s writing style. Not sure what that’s got to do with anything. The man is one of the sharpest media critics alive.

  15. Dan Kennedy

    This October 2005 Washington Post story, by Dana Milbank and Walter Pincus (among the best in the business), is a very even-handed overview of how Wilson’s claims stack up against the truth. The forgery claim is particularly telling.

  16. Anonymous

    i-fish-l said 7:39 PM Who’s the idiot? Charles Krauthammer is a Pulitzer Prize winner, a Commonwealth Scholar and a graduate of Harvard Medical School. Labeling him an “idiot” is childish at best.Big deal. So Krauthammer is a psychiatrist. If and when he opines on issues of psychiatry, I might sit up and listen to him. (I probably would not, if he turns out to be a graduate of the now largely discredited psychoanalytic school of psychiatry). Until then, no. Let’s understand something. When someone opines outside of his area of training, he is open to criticism. I’ll give you an example. William Shockley, renowned physicist and Nobel Prize winner for participating in the discovery of the transistor effect, in his later years turned into a renowned racist, proposing all sorts of madcap biological theories as to why Negroes were inferior to Caucasians. Nobody sat up and listened to his opinions regarding biology. Why? Because his expertise was not in biology, it was in physics. So, by analogy, when Krauthammer wants to opine on psychiatry, I might sit up and listen. Otherwise, no.Two, I guess it’s cool that Krauthammer won a Pulitzer Prize. I have to tell you, though, that I don’t really pay much attention to awards that industry gives to its own members. Not even the Oscars. Why did Krauthammer’s industry give him an award? Maybe because his employer essentially bought it for him–perhaps not directly, but essentially. But that’s how many of these industry are determined.Three, a “Commonwealth Scholar”? I suppose that that’s supposed to mean something, but it doesn’t mean anything to me. I could find nothing on the Internet to describe what that is supposed to mean.Actually, I’ll take back what I said about Krauthammer being an idiot. Krauthammer has a gig with the Washington Post, apparently one that pays pretty well, irrespective of whether what he writes has anything to do with reality. Krauthammer is part of the entertainment industry, getting people to buy the papers and see the advertising. Nothing more, nothing less. The real idiots are the people who pay attention to what Krauthammer writes.

  17. Anonymous

    sorry, the last anonymous entry was mine–raj

  18. Anonymous

    raj, you rock.

  19. Anonymous

    Gotta agree with raj. And talk about focusing on the wrong issue. Dan – I hope you’re following the proceedings. This is not much ado re: little or nothing. It’s an orchestrated smear campaign, an illegal leak, and coverup at the very highest levels in the White House.

  20. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 8:20: It looks like Scooter’s going down, and I’m delighted. I can’t wait for Cheney to testify. But that doesn’t make Wilson trustworthy.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén