Chatterbox writes a regular feature called “Whopper of the Week,” in which he refutes a well-publicized untruth (preferably a deliberate lie) with documentary evidence. This morning, Chatterbox received two Whopper nominations concerning President Bush’s statement last week about the Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Action Report 2002, which says (approximately) that human activity causes global warming and the only thing to do now is slather yourself with cocoa butter. “I read the report put out by the bureaucracy,” Dubya sneered when a reporter asked him about it.
Now we learn that Bush didn’t read the EPA report at all. To Chatterbox, this revelation lacks sufficient force or novelty to make for a really good Whopper. More significant, Chatterbox believes, is that the source of the refutation is world-class dissembler Ari Fleischer, press secretary to President Bush. Reviewing the archives, Chatterbox discovers that Fleischer has been garlanded with the Whopper designation only twice (click here and here), though it should be noted that the first of these was a rare doubleheader. Fleischer sells more Whoppers than Burger King, and if Chatterbox ticketed him every time he uttered an untruth, Fleischer’s appearances in this column would outnumber Henry Kissinger’s appearances on Nightline. How to explain, then, the following exchange in the June 10 White House press briefing?
Q: Ari, I just would like to set the record straight on something the president said last week, when he was up at the NSA, when he was asked about the report on global warming by the EPA. He said he read the report. I believe the report is 260-some pages—he meant he read the full report? Fleischer: I think the president—whenever presidents say they read it, you can read that to be he was briefed. (Laughter.) Q: Frankness. (Laughter.) Q: Refreshing. (Laughter.) Fleischer: I’ve enjoyed working here, thank you. (Laughter.)
Putting this exchange together with Chief of Staff Andy Card’s recent babblings to Esquire, it’s hard to resist speculating that terrorists have slipped sodium pentathol into the White House water supply. A more likely explanation, though, is that it’s easier for Fleischer to distance the White House from the EPA report if he admits that Bush didn’t read it. Slate’s Michael Kinsley has observed that Bush administration lies are “often so laughably obvious that you wonder why they bother. Until you realize: They haven’t bothered. If telling the truth was less bother, they’d try that too.” Maybe this was a rare instance where telling the truth was less bother.