Major revision operations on the White House website (8/28)

By Ben Fritz

As we have noted many times on this site, the Bush administration has a disturbing penchant for revising history when it suits its political needs. Last year, for instance, the President repeatedly said that the federal budget deficit was justified because during the 2000 campaign he had said in Chicago he would run them in three situations -- war, recession, or national emergency. He said the nation had suffered from all three, and thus he had hit "the trifecta."

As The New Republic first showed (subscription required) and we later documented, Bush never made this statement during the campaign. Vice President Al Gore did, and a Bush aide said he would also abide by the exceptions at the time. But Bush and his aides repeated this tale over and over -- even after it had been debunked -- to justify running deficits when he had in fact pledged not to do so during the campaign.

In addition, as we first pointed out, when an Office of Management and Budget press release misstated the amount of the projected ten-year budget deficit attributable to Bush's tax cut, OMB posted an altered version (93K PDF file) of the release without disclosing that the offending bullet point had been excised.

Now the White House is once again attempting to revise history, albeit in a more subtle way -- by changing the title of a major address the President gave about the end of combat operations in Iraq. In the May 1 speech on the USS Abraham Lincoln off the coast of San Diego, the President said, "major combat operations in Iraq have ended." The transcript on the whitehouse.gov website and other references to it (here, here, and here, for instance) are now titled "President Bush Announces Major Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended." As several blogs such as the site Likely Story have noted along with Dana Milbank in the Washington Post, when originally published, the speech and references to it were titled "President Bush Announces Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended." The absence of the word "major" is a crucial difference given ongoing combat in Iraq since the President's speech.

A Washington Post story from last week confirms that the speech was originally titled as such, as does numerous copies of the speech on other sites that have not been changed, including Newspaper in Education, GlobalSecurity.org, and even the State Department. In addition, the "event backgrounder" on the White House website still has the old title.

There's no way to directly verify now when the page was altered, but the original title cited in the Post story indicates that it was on or after August 18, as does this screenshot of the White House website. It seems clear the White House no longer wanted to give the impression that Bush had said all combat operations were over on May 1.

Changing the title of a speech is certainly not as bad as lying about what the President actually said, but it's indicative of a disturbing habit of the current administration: when the past is inconvenient, simply fix it up a little bit and hope no one notices.

Update 8/28 4:27 PM EST: I neglected to state that after we pointed out OMB had posted an altered release without admitting the change, it added a note at the bottom of the release stating just that, as can be seen in the current version. A copy of the original altered version, without any note of a change, can still be seen here. We regret the error.

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8/27/2003 11:58:37 PM EST |