'False' rating on Trump Iraq stance should be at least 'half true'
© Getty Images

Question: Did Donald TrumpDonald TrumpDC goes to the dogs — Major and Champ, that is Biden on refugee cap: 'We couldn't do two things at once' Taylor Greene defends 'America First' effort, pushes back on critics MORE oppose or support the Iraq War?

Before answering, a quick note on why providing clarity around a relatively simple question: It's rare that cooler heads can prevail in this media world we live in. Lines in the sand have never been drawn between blue and red media as vividly as they are now. And as a result, simple logic and lucidity is supplied less and less to drawing a verdict on whether a story is true or not.

Exhibit A today is the aforementioned question: Did Trump — as he insists — oppose the Iraq War?

At first, given that Trump wasn't a politician in 2002 and therefore had no official vote on the war authorization (as is the case with Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPelosi on power in DC: 'You have to seize it' Cuba readies for life without Castro Chelsea Clinton: Pics of Trump getting vaccinated would help him 'claim credit' MORE's support of it), the press simply took him at his word on the matter with no evidence readily available to provide otherwise.

Except there was evidence, albeit flimsy at best, thanks to the dogged work of Buzzfeed's Andrew Kaczynski and Nathan McDermott in unearthing a 2002 interview Trump did with Howard Stern.

Here's what Trump said when asked by Stern during a typically long interview (Howard can go more than an hour without taking a break) if he was for going into Iraq.

“Yeah, I guess so,” Trump responded. “I wish the first time it was done correctly.”

So to review, Trump, a businessman at that time, didn't broach the topic. There are no other public statements by him on the matter in 2002.

"Yeah, I guess so" isn't what one would call someone absolutely advocating the invasion of another country.

Instead, a reasonable person listening could only conclude that Trump probably hadn't given the matter even a passing thought and answered matter-of-factly. Because if Trump was so pro-Iraq War at the time, as he's being portrayed of being by the media in 2016, one would think he — who seemingly shares every perspective that enters his head — would be mentioning it every chance he got in other interviews, which never happens.

Trump's next interview occurred with Fox's Neil Cavuto in February 2003, just weeks before the invasion occurred.

In the video, Cavuto asks Trump how much time President Bush should spend on the economy vs. Iraq.

“Well, I’m starting to think that people are much more focused now on the economy,” Trump said. “They’re getting a little bit tired of hearing ‘We’re going in, we’re not going in.’ Whatever happened to the days of Douglas MacArthur? Either do it or don’t do it.”

Trump continued: “Perhaps he shouldn’t be doing it yet. And perhaps we should be waiting for the United Nations.”

But during Monday night's debate, Lester Holt followed the lead of many in the media who had come to a definitive conclusion on Trump's (at first) apathetic-turned-ambiguous stance.

"The record shows it," Lester Holt pushed back on Trump after the candidate challenged the moderator's assertion that Trump absolutely was for the Iraq War. The record also shows Trump cautioning that the United Nations needs to be on board.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations at the time, Kofi Annan, said this when speaking on the invasion:

"I have indicated it was not in conformity with the U.N. Charter. From our point of view, from the charter point of view, it was illegal."

So if following Trump logic in his interview with Cavuto, if the U.S. and its allies had waited for U.N. approval, the war likely never happens.

But here's an important nugget few are speaking about: On March 26, 2003, just one week after the invasion began, Trump says at an Academy Awards after-party, "The war's a mess," according to The Washington Post. One day earlier, a Gallup poll showed public support for the war at 72 percent.

The "war's a mess" quote is even included in Politifact's verdict before coming to the conclusion that Trump is absolutely false in stating he opposed the war.

In the end, the solution here is simple: Politifact needs to change its "False" rating on Trump's claim. That isn't to say it should be not characterized as "True" or "Mostly True" either.

Instead, in a suggestion likely to send the usual suspects in our polarized media crazy, the rating of "Half True" needs to be applied here.

The Hill reached out to Politifact for comment but did not get a response. 

As for media organizations (and this applies to almost every one), who keep insisting that Trump supported the Iraq War so definitively, not every situation lives in absolutes. Not every question has an absolute "yes" or "no" as a final verdict.

In the case of businessman Donald Trump circa 2002 and 2003, chalk up his perspective on the Iraq War before it started as the following:

— At first — months before it began to get any real traction in the American mindset — Trump's thought process was one of ambivalence via having not given it almost any thought before being asked about it by Stern, which was nothing more than a quick tangent in an interview focusing on 20 other things.

— And then in January 2003, Trump's public "stance" was one of caution-before-proceeding by stating a need to wait for the United Nations before rushing in. Note: There weren't declarations around the threat of weapons of mass destruction, spreading democracy or the need to remove a brutal dictator. Trump never cites any of those common arguments for war even once, as Republicans and even some Democrats did.

In March of 2003, as the war just began, Trump declares "the war's a mess."

Bottom line: There's was nothing to indicate Trump supported the war, as the so-called record showed.

He didn't seem 100 percent against it either. 

"On the fence" would be another apt way to describe it.

Cooler heads need to prevail here.

But "sanity," "media," and "this year's election" are five words rarely seen in the same sentence anymore.

Concha is a media reporter for The Hill.


The views of Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill