The dictionary1 tells us that a credibility gap is:
Public skepticism about the truth of statements, especially official claims and pronouncements.
In American political discourse the term was coined during the Vietnam War and popularized by Washington Post reporter Murray Marder. It symbolized the contrast between Lyndon Johnson's rosy statements about the progress of the war with the more realistic and gloomy news dispatches from Vietnam.
Two differing versions of the war began to emerge, with journalists on one side and the president and military commanders on the other. The press held such little regard for the military's truthfulness that the daily afternoon press briefings were referred to as the five o'clock follies. A gap had been created between what the administration admitted or professed and what the press and the American people believed to be true. Ultimately, Lyndon Johnson lost the Presidency - not even bothering to run for re-election - due to the loss of trust that ensued over his administration's dissembling on Vietnam.
More than three decades later with American soldiers again dying halfway around the world another American President faces a crisis of confidence as he tries to bridge a large and ever-growing credibility gap. President George Bush's credibility gap stems from his administration's exaggerated rhetoric that led the United States to attack Iraq.
The Bush administration, through countless speeches and official pronouncements, made Iraq out to be a formidable and imminent threat to the United States, Europe, and all of the 'free' world. Saddam Hussein was said to have innumerable weapons of mass destruction - and the ability and willingness to use them. But in the aftermath of war, with thousands of US forces deployed to specifically find and dispose of these weapons, none have been found. And though the official line in Washington remains that weapons of mass destruction are still being looked for, there is no sign of the 38,000 litres of deadly botulin toxin or the 25,000 litres of anthrax or the 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent claimed by President Bush in his State of the Union speech as a justification for going to war in Iraq.
Increasingly the American people are asking the questions after the war that should have been answered before: Why? For how long? And at what cost?
These are difficult questions to answer - or rather the answers are probably not what the public wants to hear. Thousands of Iraqi and American lives lost, American taxpayers footing the bill for hundreds of billions of dollars and an occupation with no end in sight. And now, the administration's previous statements come back to haunt them - as the American people take everything they say with a grain of salt.
In England, Bush's staunchest ally, Tony Blair, watches as his government crumbles around him. Blair's credibility with the public has been destroyed by the very same case for war against Iraq. Bush is finding out the hard way what Abraham Lincoln so eloquently stated: "You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time."
Year after year, Saddam Hussein has gone to elaborate lengths, spent enormous sums, taken great risks to build and keep weapons of mass destruction. - President George Bush, State of the Union, Jan. 28, 2003
Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. -- Vice President Dick Cheney, Aug. 26, 2002.
Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons. -- President Bush, Sept. 12, 2002.
The Iraqi regime possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons.
-- President Bush, Oct. 7, 2002.
We've also discovered through intelligence that Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that would be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas. We're concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using the UAVs for missions targeting the United States. -- President Bush, Oct. 7, 2002.
The evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. Saddam Hussein has held numerous meetings with Iraqi nuclear scientists, a group he calls his 'nuclear mujahideen' -- his nuclear holy warriors. Satellite photographs reveal that Iraq is rebuilding facilities at sites that have been part of its nuclear program in the past. -- President Bush, Oct. 7, 2002.
We know for a fact there are weapons there. -- White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, Jan. 9, 2003.
Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of Sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent. -- President Bush, Jan. 28, 2003.
We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more. -- Secretary of State Colin Powell, Feb. 5, 2003.
Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised. -- President Bush, March 17, 2003.
Well, there is no question that we have evidence and information that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical particularly. -- Ari Fleischer, March 21, 2003.
I have no doubt we're going to find big stores of weapons of mass destruction. -- Kenneth Adelman, Defense Policy Board, March 23, 2003.
We know where they are. They are in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad. -- Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, March 30, 2003.
We'll find them. It'll be a matter of time to do so. -- President Bush, May 3, 2003.
The Credibility Gap was also a satirical comedy troupe that had its beginnings with daily newscasts on Pasadena rock station KRLA-AM in the late 1960s. The Credibility Gap included comedian Harry Shearer of Simpsons and Spinal Tap fame.
1: The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.