The State of the Union That Got Away

George W. Bush | <a href="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9d/George_Bush_-_March_27%2C_2008_%282%29.jpg">Wikimedia Commons</a>.

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President Barack Obama is due to give his annual State of the Union address on Tuesday night. Politico‘s Roger Simon had an interesting column on Friday arguing that no one remembers these speeches, and that ultimately they don’t really matter. “Ask yourself if you can remember a single memorable line from a State of the Union address,” Simon writes, before pointing out that many of the lines that echo down through history are from inaugural addresses, not SOTU speeches. But as a friend points out in an email, Simon makes one glaring (and recent) omission, from George W. Bush’s SOTU in 2003. They’re called the “16 words,” and you almost certainly remember them:

The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

FactCheck.org has a good explainer on the history of that line. In July 2003, several months after the speech, former ambassador Joe Wilson published his famous New York Times column explaining why he thought the line was bogus. The day after Wilson published his article, Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer told the media that the information on “yellow cake” had turned out to be “incorrect.” CIA Director George Tenet took the blame for the line later that day: “These 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the President.” (Later, of course, someone told columnist Bob Novak that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, was a CIA officer, and Novak printed it.) This all seems like pretty important recent history, and should serve as a reminder that as cynical as the press corps sometimes gets about these speeches, they really do matter. You should watch.

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THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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