Whopper of the Week: Howard Dean.

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Dec. 13 2003 10:08 PM

Whopper: Howard Dean

Oh, that bizarre and irresponsible remark!

Scott Spradling, WMUR-TV: Governor Dean, you had once stated that you thought it was possible that the president of the United States had been forewarned about the 9/11 terrorist attacks. You later said that you didn't really know.

A statement like that, don't you see the possibility of some Democrats being nervous about statements like that leading them to the conclusion that you are not right for being the next commander in chief?

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Howard Dean: Well, in all due respect, I did not exactly state that.

Exchange at the Democratic presidential debate in Durham, N.H., Dec. 9.

Julie from Traverse City, * Mich.: [O]nce we get you in the White House, would you please make sure that there is a thorough investigation of 9/11, and not

Dean: Yes.

Julie:stonewall it?

Dean: There is a report which the president is suppressing evidence for which is a thorough investigation of 9/11.

Diane Rehm, WAMU (public) radio: Why do you think he's suppressing that report?

Dean: I don't know. There are many theories about it. The most interesting theory that I've heard so far, which is nothing more than a theory, I can'tthink it can't be proved, is that he was warned ahead of time by the Saudis. Now, who knows what the real situation is, but the trouble is that by suppressing that kind of information, you lead to those kinds of theories, whether they have any truth to them or not, and then eventually they get repeated as fact. So I think the president is taking a great risk by suppressing the clear, the key information that needs to go to the Kean commission.

Exchange on The Diane Rehm Show, on WAMU in Washington, Dec. 1.

Discussion. In answering Spradling at the New Hampshire debate, Dean failed to acknowledge his Diane Rehm Show appearance, in which he introduced the bizarre and irresponsible accusation that Bush got advance warning about 9/11 (ostensibly as an example of the kind of speculation Bush lends credence to by not cooperating with the Kean commission). Dean's denial that he said what Spradling said he said is false and dishonest if you take the Diane Rehm appearance into account. Spradling's summary of Dean's remarks was more than adequate, with the trivial caveat that Dean said then and there (and not "later") that he didn't know whether the rumor was true.

Instead of talking about the Diane Rehm Show appearance, Dean pretended, at the New Hampshire debate, that the subject first came up when he appeared on Fox News Sunday six days later:

I was asked on Fox "fair and balanced" News that

[Audience laughter.]

I was asked why I thought the president was withholding information, I think it was, or 9/11 or something like that. And I said, well, the most interesting theory that I heard, which I did not believe [italics Chatterbox's], was that the Saudis had tipped him off. ... I did not believe [italics Chatterbox's], and I made it clear on the Fox News show that I didn't believe[italics Chatterbox's] that theory, but I had heard that. And there are going to be a lot of crazy theories that come out if the information is not given to the Kean commission as it should be.

By the time Dean appeared on Fox News Sunday, someone had obviously pointed out to him that his conspiracy-mongering on Diane Rehm made him sound like a nut. So, on Fox, Dean made sure to say what he most crucially had not said on Diane Rehm—i.e., that he did not believe this rumor that he was passing on.

Incidentally, on Fox News Sunday, Dean wasn't asked "why I thought the president was withholding information" or "something like that." He was asked (by Chris Wallace) why he'd made that embarrassing gaffe on Diane Rehm, and whether, in light of what he'd said, he was "up to being commander in chief." Wallace even played the Diane Rehm clip. Two days earlier, Charles Krauthammer had savagely attacked Dean for what he said on Diane Rehm and pointed out that when Cynthia McKinney made the same accusation in 2002 it ended her career in Congress. So, it's inconceivable that in his New Hampshire debate remarks Dean sincerely forgot, or misremembered, what he said on Diane Rehm.

Ironically, if Dean had answered Rehm's question more carefully, he could have stated truthfully and non-hysterically that the Bush administration did receive various hints prior to 9/11 that something was afoot. These have already been documented. (Remember National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice's description of pre-9/11 "chatter in the system," including a warning from the Federal Aviation Administration in July that terrorist groups might be planning hijackings?) Where Dean went astray was in failing to make clear that these advance warnings were not very specific.

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:
Dec. 3, 2003: Joseph Wilson
Oct. 31, 2003: G.W. Bush
Oct. 17, 2003: Grady Little
Sept. 16, 2003: John Ashcroft
Sept. 5, 2003: Christy Whitman
Aug. 29, 2003: Donald Rumsfeld
Aug. 22, 2003: Arianna Huffington
Aug. 8, 2003: Howard Dean
July 25, 2003: Condoleezza Rice
July 18, 2003: President Bush
July 10, 2003: Donald Rumsfeld
June 27, 2003: Remembering Strom
June 20, 2003: Billy Bulger
May 30, 2003: Ari Fleischer
May 23, 2003: Donald Rumsfeld
May 19, 2003: Un-Whopper: Ari Fleischer Tells Truth!
May 2, 2003: Peggy Cooper Cafritz
April 17, 2003: Eason Jordan
March 7, 2003: John Kerry
Feb. 28, 2003: Ari Fleischer
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.)

Correction, Dec. 15, 2003: An earlier version of this piece referred mistakenly to "Travis City, Mich." (Return to corrected sentence.)

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

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