Progressives and those with a basic working knowledge of modern history alike were outraged on Monday afternoon when former TIME managing editor Richard Stengel claimed in an interview with MSNBC host Nicolle Wallace that former President George W. Bush did not politicize the 9/11 attacks which happened on the 43rd president's watch and defined his presidency.
"Truth isn't real," tweeted podcaster Livvy Fanon, "nothing matters."
This dude just said "I have no recollection of George Bush politicizing [9/11] in any way" pic.twitter.com/NB2zFTUjep— Andrew Lawrence (@ndrew_lawrence) March 30, 2020
Stengel made the remarks to Wallace—who worked in the Bush White House as communications director—during a conversation on President Donald Trump's handling and politicization of the coronavirus outbreak crisis that has paralyzed the world.
"I was thinking back to 9/11, Nicolle, and I have no recollection of George Bush politicizing it in any way," said Stengel. "I mean, he always talked to all Americans, he always said this was a challenge for all Americans, he didn't put it in terms of red and blue."
Progressives weighed in on social media, criticizing both Stengel's comments in particular and Wallace's role at MSNBC in general.
"If your memory is this bad maybe you shouldn't be on national television as an authority on anything," tweeted Right Wing Watch journalist Jared Holt.
Journalist Brendan James, host of the history podcast Blowback, noted the fact that Wallace "was Bush's comms director through the height of the Iraq War" and was nonetheless able to seamlessly transition into a role as a hero of the nominally liberal #Resistance.
"Criminals from past administrations get hired by the press and erase history of their crimes in real time," said James.
The claims from Stengel were met with skepticism by observers who remembered Bush's use of the post-9/11 era to push Congress to approve the PATRIOT Act's vast spying powers, made the attacks a central plank of a propaganda effort that resulted in the disastrous invasion of Iraq, said that the world was either "with us or against us" in a vaguely defined "war on terror," imprisoned hundreds without trial at Guantanamo Bay, oversaw a shadowy global torture regime, and manipulated Americans' fears of future attacks and Muslims for electoral gain for the remainder of his two terms in office.
"There is 9/11 whitewashing and memory-holing happening right now, and it's dangerous," tweeted Daily Beast national security reporter Spencer Ackerman.
Ackerman, whose forthcoming book Reign of Terror addresses the Bush response to 9/11 and the rise of nationalism in the U.S. that came with it, expounded in a series of tweets on the danger of misremembering the post-9/11 era in order to score political points against Trump.
"America was never prepared to actually remember 9/11 in its horror, trauma, and immediate cynical political manipulation," said Ackerman. "Now we're doing something worse: creating false nostalgia for an unmitigated disaster to use as a cudgel against Trump, though it's part of how Trump got here."
And, Ackerman added, the lack of acccountability for administration officials like Wallace compounds the problem.
"The people creating this nostalgia, like the MSNBC host who used to work for Bush and the [former] TIME managing editor who somehow has forgotten a defining event of recent American history, are those who experienced the fewest consequences from the generation-long nightmare 9/11 begat," Ackerman said.