Whopper of the Week: Donald Rumsfeld

“Within recent days—in fact, I think while I was in Pakistan—at his request, he was extracted from Afghanistan with a small number of his senior supporters and fighters, I believe for consultation in Pakistan, and undoubtedly will be going back in there at that point where those consultations are completed. … [H]e requested to be extracted for a period, and we cooperated to extract him.” —Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, describing the U.S. rescue of Afghan opposition leader Hamid Karzai, leader of a prominent Pashtun tribe, at a Nov. 6 news briefing“In a satellite telephone interview with the BBC World Service today, Karzai not only repeated his assertion that he had not left Afghanistan, but disputed statements by U.S. officials that American aircraft had attacked Taliban forces in support of him. U.S. planes that were in the area when he was at risk of being captured by the Taliban last week appeared to be attacking targets that were ‘not close to us,’ he said. … Karzai said he and his supporters escaped on foot, with only bread and green tea for sustenance—and without help from the U.S. military. ‘We walked for three days from village to village after the attack, and we reached a safe position,’ Karzai told the BBC.” —Molly Moore, “Opposition Leader Denies U.S. Chopper Rescued Him in Afghanistan,” Washington Post, Nov. 9.


[Update, 3:30 p.m.: Many readers have pointed out that it’s possible that Karzai is lying, either because he doesn’t want it known that he’s in Pakistan or because he doesn’t want it known that he’s fraternizing with the U.S. military. If that’s the case, Rumsfeld is at worst guilty of being indiscreet. But why would Karzai make a secret of his trip to Pakistan? If he were lying low, surely he wouldn’t give an interview to the BBC in the first place. And wouldn’t anyone who considered following Karzai into battle with the Taliban have to understand the U.S. to be an inevitable ally? Chatterbox will, however, keep track of future developments and file whatever updates or corrections that circumstances warrant.]


[Update, Nov. 14: There still doesn’t appear to be clear evidence demonstrating that Karzai is lying, but Chatterbox is now less inclined to snicker at Karzai’s motive to lie. It seems his family in the United States has indeed been very jumpy about having him be seen as a U.S. pawn, and in recent days Karzai has been in talks with the Taliban urging it to surrender. In deference to that, and to the fact that many news organizations are now embracing Rumsfeld’s version as being the true one, Chatterbox retracts the whopper and apologizes to Donald Rumsfeld. Chalk it up to the fog of journalism.]


Got a whopper? Send it to 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:

Nov. 2, 2001: Dick Armey  

Oct. 26, 2001:  Gale Norton

Oct. 19, 2001: State Department Deputy Spokesman Philip Reeker

Oct. 12, 2001: Clarence Thomas

Oct. 5, 2001: Abdul Salam Zaeef

Sept. 27, 2001: Karl Rove, Ari Fleischer, and Dick Cheney

Sept. 20, 2001: Larry C. Johnson

Sept. 13, 2001: Yasser Arafat

Sept. 7, 2001: Tommy Thompson

Aug. 30, 2001: HHS Spokesman Bill Pierce

Aug. 23, 2001: Variety Editor Peter Bart

Aug. 17, 2001: Tom Daschle

Aug 10, 2001: Robert Mueller

Aug. 3, 2001: Barbara Olson

July 27, 2001: Jeffrey Archer

July 20, 2001: George W. Bush

July 13, 2001: George W. Bush

July 6, 2001: Sumner Redstone

June 29, 2001: David Brock

June 22, 2001: Edmund Morris

June 15, 2001: George W. Bush

June 8, 2001: Nepali Prince Regent (subsequently, King) Gyanendra

June 1, 2001: Mary McGrory

May 25, 2001: Ari Fleischer

May 18, 2001: York, Pa., Mayor Charles Robertson

May 11, 2001: Ted Olson

May 4, 2001: Rear Adm. Craig Quigley

April 27, 2001: Ben Affleck

April 20, 2001: South Carolina state legislator Chip Limehouse

April 13, 2001: Gray Davis

April 6, 2001: Sumner Redstone

March 30, 2001: Spencer Abraham

March 23, 2001: George W. Bush, Rep. Jennifer Dunn, and/or the Treasury Department

March 16, 2001: George W. Bush

March 9, 2001: Russ Freyman, spokesman, National Association of Manufacturers

March 2, 2001: Paul O’Neill

Feb. 23, 2001: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton

Feb. 16, 2001: Oscar spokesman John Pavlik

Feb. 9, 2001: Lynne Cheney

Feb. 2, 2001: Bobby Thomson

Jan. 26, 2001: Denise Rich