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When presidential words don't line up

After half a term free of scandal, Bush's questionable statement joins a long compendium of famous fibs

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"Report: Presidents Washington through Bush may have lied about key matters." This story last year in The Onion newspaper works because, like all good satire, it plays on an element of truth. American presidents through the ages have lied to and misled the public about matters great and small, from secret involvement in war to issues of health and marital infidelity.

So where does George W. Bush's questionable statement in January's State of the Union address - that Saddam Hussein had "recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa" - fit in the pantheon of presidential prevarication? [The original version mischaracterized the story with a headline that referred to "Bush's lie," which implies conscious intent, something that has not been established and was not asserted in the story. Also, the story itself has been clarified by referring to Bush's "questionable statement" instead of his "false claim."]

Considered narrowly, the furor over President Bush's statement appears to some as a tempest in a teapot. The claim, now disavowed by the Bush administration, including its intelligence advisers, was only one point in a multifaceted case for going to war. Bush aides also note that the president can't personally fact-check everything that his army of aides includes in speeches, While wishing aloud they'd left that sentence out, they still point to the allegation's technical accuracy: that the information came from British intelligence. The British have yet to disavow it.

"It's a half-truth; it's not Joe McCarthy, who said he saw all those communists at the State Department," says Stephen Hess, a Brookings Institution scholar.


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