Whopper of the Week: Ari Fleischer.

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Feb. 28 2003 4:30 PM

Whopper of the Week: Ari Fleischer

Gaslighting the press about nation-building … again.

"Q: [T]he candidate, then-Governor Bush, promised a humble U.S. foreign policy and voiced his disdain for nation-building. … And you had a speech last night in which the president talked about using American military power to remove Saddam Hussein, and then to stay in place for quite some time while a new Iraq is built up. Is it fair to say that his experience as president has changed his views from his experience as a candidate?

"A: [D]uring the campaign the president did not express, as you put it, disdain for nation-building [italics Chatterbox's]. What the president has said is, the military should be used for the purpose of fighting and winning wars, exactly as we did in Afghanistan. And then, there are other areas of the government that actively are involved, should be involved, and will be involved in nation-building to help nations have a recovery either from war or in the case of Afghanistan, 25 years of occupation."

Ari Fleischer, answering a reporter's question at the Feb. 27 White House press briefing

"Q: There's been—some people are now suggesting that if you don't want to use the military[italics Chatterbox's] to maintain the peace, to do the civil thing, is it time to consider a civil force [italics Chatterbox's]of some kind, that comes in after the military, that builds nations or all of that? Is that—is that on your radar screen?

 "A: Well—I don't think so. I think what we need to do is convince people who live in the lands they live in to build the nations. Maybe I'm missing something here. I mean, we're going to have kind of a nation-building corps from America? Absolutely not."

Candidate George W. Bush in the second presidential debate, Oct. 11, 2000

Discussion. Ari Fleischer's ability to repeat a lie even after it's been shown, repeatedly, to be false is what separates him from the amateurs. Jonathan Chait called Fleischer on his nation-building lie in the June 10 New Republic. Chatterbox subsequently wrote it up as a Whopper on May 31. (Chait's piece had appeared online May 30.) As Chatterbox explained at the time, Bush's emphatically negative response to the question about whether a "civil force" should help build foreign nations makes mincemeat of Fleischer's scholarly sounding distinction between nation-building by the military and nation-building by government civilians. But Fleischer insisted on repeating the lie again this week. Al Kamen called him on it in his Feb. 28 Washington Post column, and now Chatterbox is Whoppering him once more. It won't make any difference. Fleischer can't be shamed. He'll just keep saying it, because he likes the way it sounds.

Got a whopper? Send it to chatterbox@slate.com. To be considered, an entry must be an unambiguously false statement paired with an unambiguous refutation, and both must be derived from some appropriately reliable public source. Preference will be given to newspapers and other documents that Chatterbox can link to online.

Whopper Archive:
Feb. 14, 2003: Bill O'Reilly
Feb. 7, 2003: Saddam Hussein
Jan. 31, 2003: Karl Rove
Jan. 23, 2003: Bill Frist
Jan. 17, 2003: Naji Sabri
Jan. 10, 2003: Rod Paige

(Click here to access the Whopper Archive for 2002 and here to access the Whopper Archive for 2001.) 

Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His  book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.