Timothy Noah wonders:
But what makes the yellowcake lie so special? That it was a justification for going to war? Then what about Bush’s comic insistence in May that “We’ve found the weapons of mass destruction”? That lie was arguably worse than the yellowcake lie, because it was retrospective rather than speculative, and more demonstrably untrue. What about the cost of the war, which the Bush administration insisted couldn’t be estimated in advance? Larry Lindsey reportedly lost his job as chairman of the National Economic Council for blabbing to the Wall Street Journal that the war would cost between $100 billion and $200 billion. Mitch Daniels, then White House budget director, scoffed at Lindsey’s estimate and said the cost would be more like $50 billion or $60 billion. But now the Washington Post is estimating the cost of the war and its aftermath at … $100 billion.
Why was there no media frenzy when Bush lied about this year’s tax cut? “My jobs and growth plan would reduce tax rates for everyone who pays income tax,” Bush said before Congress passed it. Not so! The Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center found 8.1 million taxpayers who would receive no tax cuts. Or what about when Ari Fleischer said the prisoners of war at Guantanamo were “receiving far far better treatment than they received in the life that they were living previously”? This was difficult to square with the fact that there had, at that time, been 27 suicide attempts.
That’s part one, and you should go read the rest. In part two, he answers his own question:
The yellowcake lie landed on Page One solely because it occasioned a brief and fatal departure from the Bush White House’s press strategy of stonewalling. “Bush Claim on Iraq Had Flawed Origin, White House Says” read a New York Times headline on July 8. Glancing through the story, Chatterbox initially puzzled over its Page One placement. Didn’t we know already that Bush’s yellowcake line was a lie? Then Chatterbox realized that the novelty component wasn’t the lie, but the Bush administration’s admission that it had told a lie. In the Bush White House, this simply isn’t done. Observe, for instance, how the new Bush press secretary, Scott McClellan, handled a question yesterday about Bush’s weird statement that we went to war because Saddam refused to admit weapons inspectors into Iraq:
A: What he was referring to was the fact that Saddam Hussein was not complying with 1441, that he continued his past pattern and refused to comply with Resolution 1441 of the United Nations Security Council, which was his final opportunity to comply. And the fact that he was trying to thwart the inspectors every step of the way, and keep them from doing their job. So that’s what he’s referring to in that statement.
Q: But that isn’t what he said.
Ignoring this, McClellan moved on to another reporter’s question, about North Korea.
But on Yellowcakegate, short-timer Ari Fleischer after an obviously wearying exchange with reporters in which he conceded that the State of the Union line was based on the erroneous premise that we knew Saddam had sought yellowcake from Niger let down his guard further and conceded that yes, it had been a mistake to put the story about the yellowcake safari into the State of the Union speech. “Knowing all that we know now,” read a prepared statement he put out, “the reference to Iraq’s attempt to acquire uranium from Africa should not have been included in the State of the Union speech.” (Weirdly, Fleischer was identified only as a “senior Bush administration official,” even though this was the White House’s official pronouncement on the matter.) Joshua Micah Marshall has noted in his Talking Points Memo blog that Fleischer’s mea culpa would have been more honest had it begun, “Knowing what we knew then.” Still, it was honest enough to electrify the press.