Accuracy in Media

Republican Party Chairman Ed Gillespie has released a blistering letter about how the media and the Democrats lapped up former Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s phony charge that President Bush lied about Iraq seeking uranium from Africa.

“For more than a year,” said Gillespie, “former Ambassador Joe Wilson led Democrats to make allegations against the President?that he lied about African uranium?that have now been proven false. Senator Kerry embraced and repeated these false charges.” Gillespie added that, “Every television network and all major newspapers played up the accusations?”

Was this just partisan political rhetoric from the GOP chairman? The liberals and the media would like you to think so. But Gillespie was correct. And if the pro-Wilson media had any honesty and integrity in them, they would acknowledge the facts and say to President Bush “We’re sorry.”

Anti-Bush Bias

The handling of the Wilson affair demonstrates that Newsweek Assistant Managing Editor Evan Thomas was correct when he said on the July 10 edition of the TV show Inside Washington that media bias in favor of the Kerry-Edwards ticket could be worth “maybe 15 points” to the Democrats. We have seen that bias in action over the last year as the media echoed Wilson’s charge?a charge that was disproved by a recent Senate Intelligence Committee report finding evidence that what the President said about Iraq seeking uranium from Africa was true.

A British report, directed by Lord Butler and entitled, Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction, also backed up the President.

The “scandal,” created by Wilson with the assistance of the media, was over the January 28, 2003, presidential statement that, “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”  

Journalists thought they had a Watergate-style scandal and that someone in the administration might have inserted a deliberately false statement in the President’s speech in order to justify the Iraq war. This convinced many that “Bush lied,” a charge that has severely damaged his prospects for re-election because it undermined the justification for the Iraq war. As a result, about half the country, according to various polls, thinks the U.S. was wrong to go to war in Iraq. Such sentiment has caused Bush’s poll ratings to drop as well.

Ironically, all of the misreporting about this phony scandal could mean that Bush might lose the election because he told the truth about Saddam’s nuclear weapons program and took decisive action to stop it.

The Washington Post was the first paper to run a story, back on page nine, on how the Senate Intelligence Committee had discredited Wilson. 

Senator Mitch McConnell commented, “Predictably, this bombshell appeared on page A9…After this story had previously enjoyed extensive coverage on page A1.”

In a July 18 USA Today column, Richard Benedetto said that, “?now that the Wilson case has been debunked, it is interesting to note that the news media, so eager to build him up, and tear Bush down, now seem reluctant to tell the rest of the story, or at least the next chapter. Wilson, who had been a fixture on television, now seems to have disappeared. Democrats are silent. Why were the media so willing to believe Wilson when he was an obvious Democratic partisan? He not only worked for the National Security Council in the Clinton White House, he also is a foreign policy adviser to the Democratic presidential campaign of John Kerry.”

In his book, The Politics of Truth, written when he was a media darling, Wilson names those who bought into his story. They included Chris Matthews of MSNBC, Walter Pincus and David Broder of the Washington Post, David Corn of The Nation magazine, Bill Moyers of the Public Broadcasting Service, and filmmaker Robert Greenwald. 

The first journalist to promote Wilson’s dubious charges was New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who used Wilson as a confidential source in a May 6, 2003, article.

USA Today, the most widely read paper in the U.S., had run a favorable story on April 29 of this year about Wilson’s book, featuring Wilson’s charge that Vice President Dick Cheney engaged in the “effective betrayal of our country” by allegedly playing a role in the release of the name of Wilson’s wife, a CIA employee named Valerie Plame. No evidence was provided for this claim and there was no indication that USA Today, which is owned by Gannett, had contacted Cheney’s office for comment. USA Today editor Ken Paulson has acknowledged to AIM that the failure to contact Cheney’s office was a mistake. But he didn’t apologize for running the charge that Cheney was a traitor.

On July 21, however, USA Today ran a story by John Diamond admitting that Wilson’s credibility had taken a big hit. He noted that, “Critics have also accused the media, including USA Today, of trumpeting Wilson’s original charges, not doing enough to check his credibility and underreporting the new concerns about the accuracy of some of his statements.” Those critics included AIM’s editor, Cliff Kincaid, who had attended the Gannett annual meeting on May 4 to complain about the glorification of Wilson and the trashing of Cheney. 

The media bias was considerable. Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post cites data showing that NBC carried 40 stories about Wilson, CBS 30 stories, ABC 18, the Washington Post 96, the New York Times 70, and the Los Angeles times 48.

Senator McConnell noted that the networks didn’t rush to correct the story when Wilson’s lies were exposed. He asked, “Will NBC correct the 40 times it ran Wilson’s claims? Will CBS correct the 30 times it ran Wilson’s claims? Will ABC correct the 18 times it ran Wilson’s claims?”

Intimidated By The Press

Some of this media onslaught could have been blunted if the Bush administration had decided to fight back. We knew then??and we know now with even more certainty?that the evidence on the Iraq-uranium link had been solidly behind the President from the beginning. Yet, three days after Wilson’s article appeared in the New York Times disputing the President, Secretary of State Colin Powell declared that Bush should not have made the Iraq-Niger assertion. Soon, other Bush officials were saying that the President made an error and they blamed it on low-level officials or the CIA. And the CIA then said the “16 words” should not have been in the State of the Union address.

In a July 11, 2003, statement in which he said the President’s remarks “did not rise to the level of certainty which should be required for Presidential speeches,” CIA Director George Tenet had also acknowledged that the President’s statement was “factually correct.”

The apparent contradiction could be found in the fact that the CIA did not have the resources to confirm or deny what the British and other sources were saying. This reflected poorly on the CIA. Tenet also acknowledged that an October, 2002 National Intelligence Estimate had cited “reports” that Iraq began “vigorously trying to procure” uranium from Niger and other African countries. This backed up what the President said, and was not based on the forged documents that surfaced later. 

To this day, the report on the Wilson mission is still classified, but both the British and the CIA said at the time of the controversy that it included information about Iraqi efforts to get uranium. Contrary to what the media implied or stated, this information had nothing to do with the forged documents about an Iraq uranium deal. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said, “Ambassador Wilson’s report also noted that in 1999 an Iraqi delegation sought the expansion of trade links with Niger?and that former Niger government officials believed that this was in connection with the procurement of yellowcake. Uranium is Niger?s main export. In other words, this element of Ambassador Wilson?s report supports the statement in the [British] government’s dossier.” Tenet’s statement, referring to what was in the Wilson report, noted that a former Nigerian official “said that in June 1999 a businessman approached him and insisted that the former official meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss ‘expanding commercial relations’ between Iraq and Niger. The former official interpreted the overture as an attempt to discuss uranium sales.”

Wilson’s Curious Omission

But Wilson, in his July 6, 2003, New York Times column, “What I Didn’t Find in Africa,” didn’t discuss that overture. Instead, he emphasized that he couldn’t confirm a uranium deal was made. As AIM noted at the time, it was difficult to see how Wilson came to this striking conclusion based on the limited results of his own mission, which consisted of talking to a few officials. Whether Iraq concluded such a deal or not, the President’s statement in the State of the Union was still true.

The CIA had kept Wilson’s name a secret. Wilson figured he could go public with his column in the New York Times bashing the administration and that his wife’s role in his mission would remain a secret. 

Plame’s name was eventually disclosed to columnist Robert Novak because some official or officials knew she was involved in the Wilson mission and found this objectionable. However, Novak said that he was not the recipient of a planned leak and they “asked me not to use her name.” An investigator doing basic research on corporate databases could easily expose her CIA front company and “cover” as an energy consultant.

The “Scandal” Explodes

Nevertheless, the media bought Wilson’s line that his wife was outed in retaliation for him disputing the President. The “outing” led to a federal investigation of whether the disclosure violated a law against releasing the names of covert CIA operatives.

Wilson had adamantly claimed she had nothing to do with his CIA Africa mission. That, too, was a lie, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee report. But once again, the administration panicked, authorizing the federal probe into the outing of Wilson’s wife, when the real investigation should have been conducted into Wilson, his wife and their motives, and whether their arrangement violated federal nepotism laws. On page 346 of his book, Wilson himself notes that the law against nepotism would forbid his wife from recommending him for the job, which may be why he says she had nothing to do with it. The evidence, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee, includes a memo from Plame to the CIA recommending her husband’s involvement.

As a Wall Street journal editorial put it at the time, the real story was whether a faction in the CIA was “hoping to defeat” Bush by undermining his foreign policy and whether the Wilson mission was part of that effort. The only valid criticism of the President could have been that he relied on the British government, rather than the CIA. But the CIA’s intelligence failures undoubtedly led him to do this, and the White House may have been reluctant for obvious reasons to publicly explain why it didn’t have full confidence in the CIA.

The Wilson affair stands as solid proof that the liberals in the media and the Democratic Party work in collusion to bring down a Republican president.

As Senator McConnell noted, “It’s a small wonder the Democrat candidates for president and their supporters aggressively picked up the Wilson claim. After all, the media [were] driving the train, so why not hitch a ride?”

White House Blows It

The Wall Street Journal has commented that the White House “has been all too silent about this entire episode, in large part because it prematurely apologized last year for the ’16 words’ in a State of the Union address that have now been declared ‘well-founded’ by Lord Butler’s inquiry in Britain. If Mr. Bush ends up losing the election over Iraq, it won’t be because he oversold the case for war but because he’s sometimes appeared to have lost confidence in the cause.”

If this was the case for top officials, how can some of our soldiers be blamed for getting demoralized about the war?

The Sunday Times newspaper of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, recently ran a heart-wrenching story about Christopher D. Johnson, a 20-year-old Marine lance corporal who was wounded, lost half of his right arm, and is now at Walter Reed Army Medical Center where he faces weeks of rehabilitation. He told the reporter that the war in Iraq was “bull—-.” He added, “You go over there looking for weapons of mass destruction. You get Marines getting blown up by pipe bombs.” The paper reported, “He said he wishes his sacrifice could have been for a better cause.”

Such stories are disheartening, but they reveal how some of our soldiers are reacting to media coverage of the war in Iraq. It’s a safe bet that Johnson soured on the mission not only because of his injuries but because of the invective directed at his Commander-in-Chief over the last year or so.

Like the rest of us, Johnson was told repeatedly that President Bush lied to get us into the war by falsely claiming that Iraq was seeking uranium for nuclear bombs. Wilson made that charge repeatedly on national television and in countless stories in the print press. The discrediting of Wilson has made it clear, once again, that Saddam did have a nuclear weapons program and was seeking uranium from Africa. This made his regime into a national security threat to the U.S. that had to be eliminated.  

Our troops have to be reassured that not only did they liberate a country from a cruel tyrant, they eliminated a regime headed by a dangerous madman who wanted the nuclear bomb.

But one key question remains?who forged the Iraqi documents? As AIM noted at the time, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh says that retired CIA clandestine officers may have forged the documents as part of a “sting operation” to embarrass “Iraqi hawks at the top of the Bush administration.” These officers calculated that the “hawks” couldn’t resist using the forgeries to make their case and would then look foolish when the hoax was revealed. But, Hersh writes, the tactic backfired. If true, Hersh has uncovered a scandal that could easily eclipse the Wilson affair. But so far, the media have ignored Hersh’s allegations. Is that because the White House was the intended victim of the hoax? Were Plame and Wilson part of the “sting?”

The Wilson mission grew out of questions from Vice President Cheney to the CIA about Iraq seeking uranium from Africa. There was good reason for Cheney to ask.

Cheney’s Role

In an August 10, 2003, story that tried to make the case that the Bush administration exaggerated aspects of the Iraqi threat, Washington Post reporters Barton Gellman and Walter Pincus nevertheless noted that:

“By many accounts, including those of career officials who did not support the war, there were good reasons for concern that the Iraqi president might revive a program to enrich uranium to weapons grade and fabricate a working bomb. He had a well-demonstrated aspiration for nuclear weapons, a proficient scientific and engineering cadre, a history of covert development and a domestic supply of unrefined uranium ore. Iraq was generally believed to have kept the technical documentation for two advanced German centrifuge designs and the assembly diagrams for at least one type of “implosion device,” which detonates a nuclear core.

“What Hussein did not have was the principal requirement for a nuclear weapon, a sufficient quantity of highly enriched uranium or plutonium. And the U.S. government, authoritative intelligence officials said, had only circumstantial evidence that Iraq was trying to obtain those materials.

“But the Bush administration had reasons to imagine the worst. The CIA had faced searing criticism for its failures to foresee India’s resumption of nuclear testing in 1998 and to ‘connect the dots’ pointing to al Qaeda’s attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Cheney, the administration’s most influential advocate of a worst-case analysis, had been powerfully influenced by his experience as defense secretary just after the Persian Gulf War of 1991.

“Former National Security Council official Richard A. Clarke recalled how information from freshly seized Iraqi documents disclosed the existence of a ‘crash program’ to build a bomb in 1991. The CIA had known nothing of it.”

Clarke, who would later become a Bush administration critic on many issues, told the Post that he could understand Cheney’s frustration and desire for solid information.

Today, the media have concluded there was an intelligence failure about finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq when it’s equally “obvious” that the WMD could be hidden somewhere.

The failure to find the stockpiles of weapons does not mean they don’t exist. If U.S. intelligence couldn’t find the weapons in Iraq, could they find them in neighboring states where they may have been transferred? This question seems obvious to an inquiring journalist and yet it is being left off the table for discussion.

It should be noted that Saddam buried huge warplanes in the desert that have been discovered by U.S. forces.

The search is being led by the Iraq Survey Group. The first Special Advisor to the Group was David Kay, who reported after just 3 months that “dozens of WMD program activities and significant amounts of equipment” had been concealed by Iraq. The clearest violations involved efforts to circumvent U.N.-imposed restrictions on ballistic missiles. Kay also spoke about mysterious shipments and trucks headed out of Iraq into Syria.

Charles Duelfer, who succeeded Kay, testified in March that the investigation is not over and that “we regularly receive reports, some quite intriguing and credible, about concealed caches. We continue to investigate these reports about WMD materials and weapons being buried or hidden across Iraq.” He confirmed that Iraq had prohibited WMD programs that were in violation of U.N. resolutions. In the nuclear field in particular, Duelfer said that, “the ISG has developed information that suggests Iraqi interest in preserving and expanding the knowledge needed to design and develop nuclear weapons.”

The burden of proof was on Saddam to prove that stockpiles of WMD had been destroyed. He did not do so and the U.S. invaded. It’s the stockpiles of weapons that haven’t been found. The weapons programs, including a nuclear weapons program,  have been confirmed. 

Kenneth Timmerman of Insight magazine has been telling the public and the media for some time that the search for WMD is not over. But he’s been almost alone in the media calling for further investigation.

What You Can Do

Send cards and letters of your own choosing to Evan Thomas of Newsweek and Daniel Okrent of the New York Times. Also be sure to order gift subscriptions to the AIM Report.

Mr. Evan Thomas
Newsweek
1750 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Suite 1220
Washington, D.C. 20006

Mr. Daniel Okrent
Public Editor
The New York Times
229 W. 43rd Street
New York, NY  10036




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