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Context of 'September 21, 2001: US Denies Plans for Afghanistan Regime Change'

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In the aftermath of the General Services Administration’s report that the Clinton “vandal scandal” never happened (see May 18, 2001), some wonder how involved the Bush administration was in pushing the falsehoods onto the press—and how willing the press was to run with the juicy, but baseless, allegations. Former Clinton press secretary Jake Siewert says: “The media left a very damaging and false impression. I’d hope the reporters [would] go back and try to figure out what went wrong.” Siewert is less critical of the Bush administration’s role in the scandal, saying that “it’s hard to put any blame on the administration.” Siewert also declines to lay blame on Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer, “especially,” Siewert says, “if the guidance he got on the story was wrong” (see May 22, 2001). Washington Post reporter Lloyd Grove, whose short report sparked the entire controversy (see January 23, 2001), says Fleischer is at the heart of the story. “The person who really needs to explain what he was doing was Ari, why he let the story percolate, and why he juiced it with his coy responses,” Grove says. “I think it’s a fair point to ask to what extent Mr. Fleischer’s credibility has been damaged by this.” Washington Post reporter Mike Allen, who contributed much of the Post’s reporting of the alleged vandalism (see January 26, 2001), says Fleischer’s allegation that Clinton staffers “cut [the] wires” of telephones and computers sparked so much coverage (see January 25, 2001). “That seems tough to ignore,” Allen says. Journalism professor Geneva Overholser pins much of the blame on the press: “We wouldn’t have had to go through all this if we had done our job right in the first place.” The media should have pressed harder for documentation and should not have allowed White House sources to remain anonymous, she says. “It’s just amazing what we let people get away with saying.” One White House reporter says that Fleischer did not have to do much more than start the story rolling. “We’re often such willing co-conspirators,” the reporter says. “They don’t have to hatch anything.” [Salon, 5/23/2001; American Journalism Review, 7/2001]

Entity Tags: Geneva Overholser, Ari Fleischer, Bush administration (43), General Services Administration, Jake Siewert, Lloyd Grove, Mike Allen, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

A secret report to NATO allies says the US privately wants to hear allied views on “post-Taliban Afghanistan after the liberation of the country.” However, the US is publicly claiming it has no intentions to overthrow the Taliban. [Guardian, 9/21/2001] For instance, four days later, Press Secretary Ari Fleischer denies that military actions there are “designed to replace one regime with another.” [US Department of State, 12/26/2001]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Bush administration (43), Ari Fleischer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

After a meeting between President Bush and Saudi ambassador Bandar bin Sultan, Ari Fleischer tells the press, “The president stressed that he has made no decisions, that he will continue to engage in consultations with Saudi Arabia and other nations about steps in the Middle East, steps in Iraq.” [CNN, 8/27/2002]

Entity Tags: Bandar bin Sultan, Ari Fleischer, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer says during his daily press briefing, “Well, there is no question that we have evidence and information that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical particularly. This was the reason that the president felt so strongly that we needed to take military action to disarm Saddam Hussein, since he would not do it himself.” [White House, 3/21/2003]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Ari Fleischer

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation

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