Notes: While Hurricane Isabel was slamming into North Carollina Thursday, a headline read, "Bush: No evidence Saddam was involved in 9/11 attacks." On the same date various news organizations had similar headlines. MSNBC: "Bush: Saddam not part of Sept. 11." FOXNews: "Bush: No link Between Iraq, Sept. 11 Attacks. Associated Press: "Bush: Saddam not involved in 9/11 attacks." Reuters: "Bush Distances from Cheney on Saddam-9/11 Link." (All headlines September 18, 2003)

The sequence of events giving rise to the headlines began with Dick Cheney on the preceding Sunday. According to an Associated Press report, "In an appearance on NBC's 'Meet the Press,' Cheney was asked whether he was surprised that more than two-thirds of Americans in a Washington Post Poll would express a belief that Iraq was behind the attacks.' " Cheney replied, "No, I think it's not surprising that people make that connection."

The same A.P. piece stated that President Bush said, " ' We have no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with the September 11' attacks." Donald Rumsfeld had said the same the day before.

Ironically, about 70 percent of Americans believe that Saddam Hussein was involved in the attacks. A CBS news program on Thursday, showed clips of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld making statements during the year that would lead an incautious listener to believe that Saddam Hussein was indeed involved in 9/11. Yet, even in the face of the poll data showing the widely-held incorrect belief by Americans, the Bush administration did nothing to correct the perception until now, seemingly using it to gain support for its Iraq policies.

So, why did Bush come out his statement that Saddam was not linked to 9/11now? Analyst and former presidential adviser David Gergin said in an interview on MSNBC this past week that the Bush team is "walking back the rhetoric" to put Bush in a defensible position now that he's being attacked by Democratic presidential candidates. That shows a benefit of the checks and balances of a two-party system that was absent much of 2002 when Democrats were afraid to criticize the Bush team. With the campaign getting under way, look for Bush to move some to the center to attract swing voters.