STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Everybody who's followed the war in Iraq knows the Bush administration made statements about weapons of mass destruction. Many of those statements turned out to be unfounded.
Now, a Washington group has made a count of just how many statements were not true and when they were made. The group is the Center for Public Integrity, which is devoted to investigative journalism. Charles Lewis founded it.
Welcome to the program.
Mr. CHARLES LEWIS (Founder, Center for Public Integrity): Thanks.
INSKEEP: Okay. How many statements?
Mr. LEWIS: Nine hundred and thirty-five false statements from September 11th to September 11th, '03 - two years. And, of course, a good amount of that is in the 18-month lead-up to the invasion.
INSKEEP: You say from September 11th, that's when you started counting for...
Mr. LEWIS: Yeah. We decided to start then.
INSKEEP: And you're talking about senior administration officials, the president, secretary of state, on and on.
Mr. LEWIS: Right. The president, the vice president, secretary of state, secretary of defense, deputy secretary of defense, national security adviser and the two White House press secretaries.
INSKEEP: You also tried to plot when these statements were made, or clusters of statements were made. Why does the timing matter?
Mr. LEWIS: Well, I'm working on a book about truth and information and how facts disseminate through our society and things, and I was curious to see what that was. I mean, when - how's the selling of the word done exactly, how was this done. And, you know, as I sort of thought we'd find, but I don't know that anyone's done - we actually gridded it out over 24 months, and the spikes go up first, from August to November 2002, and then double that size of the spike right before the war, January to March.
INSKEEP: So August to November 2002, that's when there's a debate in Congress over approving the war, and the administration is saying more.
Mr. LEWIS: And midterm elections also. Yeah.
INSKEEP: And then - and the midterm elections, okay.
Mr. LEWIS: Right. October, November.
INSKEEP: And then right before the war itself, more statements.
Mr. LEWIS: Yeah. Exactly. Which is logical, but again, when you see how many occasions - over 500 events where they chose to say these things and they're all saying essentially the same thing.
INSKEEP: Just so we get an example of what we're talking about, let's play one statement, a rather famous statement in a speech by President Bush. This is from September 2002.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons, is rebuilding the facilities to make more, and according to the British government, could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order is given. The regime has longstanding and continuing ties to terrorists groups, and there are al-Qaida terrorists inside Iraq. This regime is seeking a nuclear bomb, and with fissile material could build one within a year.
INSKEEP: Charles Lewis, maybe this statement is worth looking at. This is one of your 900-and-some false statements...
Mr. LEWIS: Right.
INSKEEP: ...as you define them. This is a statement, though, that if you went to the White House, they would say, look, we did have. It said according to the British government. That's what the president said. We did have British intelligence information. We had our own intelligence information. We're passing on the best information we have.
Have you been able to establish that these were knowingly false statements?
Mr. LEWIS: We have established, because we've read and reviewed and gleaned 25 books, whistleblower accounts and government commission and inspector general-type reports. We know what was true at the time and what they knew at the time. And it was much more complex than people say. They were crosscurrents inside every agency and inside the White House. And there was not unanimity about this. But even more relevant, I think, policymakers have information all the time, but speaking about it is a decision and a judgment made by a president, for example. So saying things like this, in a flat, declarative way when, you know, there was mixed views of this in CIA, and inside State, and inside Defense, and even within 9/11, within 24 hours - there was a debate and people saying there's no evidence of this.
INSKEEP: Okay. Charles Lewis, thanks very much.
Mr. LEWIS: Thank you.
INSKEEP: He's the founder of the Center for Public Integrity. They've looked at pre-war statements about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And you can find a link to their report on Iraq at npr.org.
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