Accuracy in Media

The media campaign to play down some anticipated good military news from Iraq is heating up. The latest salvo came in a false August 16 front-page story in the Washington Post claiming that the White House was scheming to keep Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. military forces in Iraq, and Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, from openly testifying about the war when they visit Capitol Hill next month.

Meanwhile, it appears that the terrorists in Iraq have begun launching their own military offensive, hoping that the U.S. media will return to their gloom-and-doom reporting about the war.

The objective is to keep the American public thinking that the military situation is a lost cause, and that the only alternative left for the U.S. is a military withdrawal, as liberal Democrats are demanding.

But the White House is reacting more quickly these days to erroneous press accounts. It shot down the Post story. “General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker will testify to the Congress in both open as well as closed sessions prior to the September 15th report,” said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe. “That has always been our intention.”

The Post suggested that Petraeus and Crocker would testify secretly and that Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would report to Congress in open session, giving the White House view.

Reporters couldn’t believe that the Post could be wrong. The following exchanges occurred at the August 16 White House briefing with reporters, based entirely on the erroneous Washington Post account:

Q: So, Gordon, can you clarify―there was no effort by the White House or the State Department to put Secretaries Rice and Gates out before the public to testify, as opposed to Ambassador Crocker or General Petraeus, in their place?

Mr. Johndroe: That’s correct. General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker will testify, they will testify about the conditions on the ground in Iraq, what they see, what they think are some recommendations about the way forward. I expect that Secretary Rice and Secretary Gates will also testify during this time period. They often testify before various members of both―of various committees of both Houses. But it was never an either/or, because Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus will be testifying.

Q: And just to be absolutely clear, they’re going to be testifying publicly, before cameras, before these various committees?

Mr. Johndroe: Yes. They will―both Ambassador Crocker, as well as General Petraeus, will have public testimony prior to September 15th.

Not willing to wait for the true facts, NBC’s stable of Bush-bashers quickly exploited the Post account, assuming it was true.

MSNBC’s Chris Matthews jumped all over it, as did Keith Olbermann, who called the White House “sleazy.”

Trying to sound a sinister note, MSNBC reporter David Shuster said that “administration figures confirm that the Petraeus report will not actually be written by the general or his military staff, but will instead be written by the White House…the same team that declared ‘Mission accomplished’ early in the war.”

Shuster, Matthews and Olbermann all implied that this was a change of course from what had been planned and stated by President Bush.

In fact, Johndroe said that the rationale for the next report was the same that guided the release of the last one.

He noted, “General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, along with Admiral Fallon, Secretary Rice, Secretary Gates, will report in to the President on what they see as the conditions on the ground in Iraq. Then the President will submit that report to the Congress. So it is a report that comes from the President, exactly like the July 15th report, but it is with the input of all of these people.”

There is nothing mysterious or sinister in any of this. It is standard operating procedure.

Nevertheless, on cue, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid joined the fray. “The White House’s effort to prevent Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker from testifying openly and candidly before Congress about the situation in Iraq,” said Reid, “is unacceptable.”

Reid was wrong, in another example of how the Washington Post misleads politicians and prompts them to make embarrassing and mistaken comments. The only question is whether Reid even cares that he was wrong. He has already declared that the war is lost. It’s clear he doesn’t want to hear anything but bad news.

What we saw, in this case, was a coordinated effort by the Post and congressional Democrats to create the impression that the White House was being dishonest. The assault was designed to divert attention from what is likely to occurthat Petraeus will report significant military progress. This would put liberals in Congress in some trouble.

If there is consensus that military progress is being made, then the question becomes: how can we achieve military victory? This is the question many in the media don’t want to be asked or answered.

Some liberals seem to fear the prospect of the U.S. winning militarily. Democratic Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn was quoted as saying that a report that includes military progress could be “a real problem for us” because the Democratic Party has been agitating for a withdrawal no matter what happens on the ground. A positive report could convince many of the 47 so-called Blue Dog Democrats in the House to abandon their party leadership and support the White House.

Hence, the White House has to be discredited in advance. That is apparently why the Post published its erroneous account, and why liberal Democrats and their media allies on MSNBC jumped on it.

But some of the good news is even starting to appear in foreign media. Der Spiegel, a German newspaper that has been critical of the war, concluded in a recent story that “The US military is more successful in Iraq than the world wants to believe.”

The terrorists understand this. That is why they are gearing up.

In a column published on the AIM website, Dr. Peter C. Rollins, a former Marine and producer/director of “Television’s Vietnam,” had predicted a new enemy military offensive before the Petraeus testimony. It started coming on August 14, when terrorists killed more than 400 people in the Northern Iraqi city of Kahtaniya. We can anticipate more such carnage resulting from sensational suicide bombings. The terrorists are playing to―and using―our own media.

The same strategy, as Rollins pointed out, worked in Vietnam.

Meanwhile, the media’s favorite punching bag, Vice President Dick Cheney, surfaced as a convenient target again, when an interview he gave in1994 surfaced on YouTube. It showed him explaining why the U.S. didn’t go to Baghdad and remove Saddam after the first Gulf War because “we would have been all alone” and “what would be put in their place?”

This was presented as a stark contrast to the Iraq invasion in 2003. In fact, however, the 2003 invasion was launched with the support of 50 nations, 30 of which sent troops or other personnel into the country. The invasion was based on many factors, including Saddam’s failure to comply with U.N. disarmament resolutions and his connections to terrorist groups.

Indeed, the Clinton administration’s indictment of Osama bin Laden for the bombings of our embassies in Africa stated that “…Al Qaeda reached an understanding with the government of Iraq that al Qaeda would not work against that government and that on particular projects, specifically including weapons development, al Qaeda would work cooperatively with the government of Iraq.”

This does not mean Iraq was behind 9/11. But it does mean that Saddam had a connection to the bin Laden organization.

And while quantities of weapons of mass destruction were not found in Iraq, it was widely believed that Saddam was pursuing them. President Clinton, who signed the Iraq Liberation Act and bombed Iraq in 1998, declared that “Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas or biological weapons.”

Before the U.S. invaded in 2003, the U.N. Security Council was told by Hans Blix that “Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance, not even today, of the disarmament which was demanded of it and which it needs to carry out to win the confidence of the world and to live in peace.”

While the liberation was successful, the matter of “what would be put” in the place of the regime, as Cheney talked about in the YouTube comments, has been extremely difficult. One reason for this has been the failure to deal with blatant and sustained interference from Iran. By all accounts, the Iranians have far too much influence over the current Iraqi government, making a political solution with the Sunnis difficult, if not impossible.

In a long overdue step, the Bush administration has decided to declare Iran’s Revolutionary Guard to be a terrorist organization. But there is still no indication that the administration is prepared to strike Iran militarily. Such a move would send a powerful message not only to Iran but to the Iraqi government. It would provide a powerful incentive for the al-Maliki government to make peace with the Sunnis.

But rather than strike Iran and make the regime pay the price for killing our troops and undermining a political settlement in Iraq, the administration is asking the United Nations for help and trying to build up an anti-Iranian alliance among Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan through the sale of advanced weaponry. Congress, with good reason, may not approve those weapons sales.

The real issue Congress should debate and discuss when Petraeus delivers his testimony is that, whatever the military progress on the ground, what is the United States going to do about Iran? Even conservatives are balking at support for a policy of military assistance for an Iraqi government that seems to be acting in some ways as a client of Tehran.

A U.S. military withdrawal, as liberals propose, would not solve the problem. It would simply give Iran complete control of the situation on the ground. The alternative, which needs more serious coverage from the media, is building upon the military progress in Iraq by taking the war to Iran.

Presidential candidates from both parties should be asked about Iran. What do they intend to do about its military interference in Iraq? And its nuclear weapons program?

If we had media organizations that were interested in solving vexing foreign policy problems, rather than constantly trying to make the White House look bad, the American people would be better served.

Let’s have an open and honest debate about Iraq. And let’s insist that media organs like the Post and NBC and MSNBC quit playing political games with the war and the heroic sacrifices that have already been made by our troops.

There is no substitute for a military victory. This is the “bias” that should drive our media and our politicians, in the Congress and the White House.

Let’s make sure they all get the message.




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