Accuracy in Media

The reported discovery of Sarin gas in Iraq has shaken the media establishment, which has been highlighting the failure to find weapons of mass destruction (WMD) as proof that President Bush lied to get us into the war. The legitimate issue has always been what happened to the WMD, not whether the U.S. lied about their existence. Rather than look for the weapons, the media would rather blame the Bush administration?not Saddam?for their disappearance. The fact is that Bush, John Kerry, many in the media, and even the U.N. had agreed that Saddam had the weapons. It was his failure to account for them that was a major factor in the U.S. invasion.

The Sarin discovery was a setback to the anti-Bush press. But in a May 6 lecture on journalism “ethics,” John S. Carroll, editor of the Los Angeles Times, put an even larger foot in his mouth, not only attacking the rationale for the war but the people who believe it was justified. In an arrogant and self-righteous speech that ended up demonstrating his own ignorance of the facts, he denounced the rise of “pseudo journalism” and Fox News.

Carroll claimed there were several “misconceptions” about the conflict, including that “links had been proven between Iraq and al Qaeda.” Citing a study from last October, Carroll said false information about a proven Iraq-al Qaeda link had been accepted by an alarmingly high number of viewers of Fox News. By contrast, he said, those who watched CNN and public broadcasting did not buy into the claim. He said other “misconceptions” were that “Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction had been found” and that “world opinion favored the idea of the U.S. invading Iraq.”

Carroll said, “Among people who primarily watched Fox News, 80 percent believed one or more of those myths. That’s 25 percentage points higher than the figure for viewers of CNN?and 57 percentage points higher than that for people who got their news from public broadcasting.”

The lesson is that Fox News is misleading people. But CNN and public broadcasting are more reliable.

The trouble for Carroll is that his information is false, and the study he cited is itself misleading.

It was not Seymour Hersh but Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard who published a November 24, 2003, story that included excerpts from a classified Defense Department memo outlining an operational relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda from the early 1990s to 2003. Hayes reported that Under Secretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith sent the memo to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in October 2003.

There is no dispute that this memo exists. The only dispute is the reliability of the information cited in the memo. Carroll dealt with the memo by ignoring it.

Leaving this memo aside, CIA director George Tenet had sent an October 7, 2002, letter to Senator Bob Graham, providing evidence of the Iraq-al Qaeda connection. The press subsequently published the letter.

Tenet said, “We have solid reporting of senior level contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda going back a decade. Credible information indicates that Iraq and Al Qaeda have discussed safe haven and reciprocal nonaggression. Since Operation Enduring Freedom, we have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of al-Qaeda members, including some that have been in Baghdad. We have credible reporting that al-Qaeda leaders sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire W.M.D. capabilities. The reporting also stated that Iraq has provided training to al-Qaeda members in the areas of poisons and gases and making conventional bombs.”

Carroll’s source for his claim about public misunderstanding of an Iraq-al Qaeda link was a study issued by the Program on International Policy Attitudes, a project of the University of Maryland. It is dated October 2, 2003, a year after the contents of the Tenet letter were publicized.

Carroll apparently did not analyze the dubious claims in the study. Flatly contradicting the Tenet letter, it says that the “consensus view in the intelligence community” is that Saddam Hussein “was not even working closely with al Qaeda.” At another point, it makes the bold claim that “no evidence of any links” between them “has been found.” On this basis, the study depicts those who believe in an Iraq-al Qaeda link as uninformed.

It is Carroll who is in error and uninformed. He made serious mistakes of fact while delivering a lecture on ethics. In trying to diminish the importance of Fox News, he made a fool of himself and his paper. He emerges as the “pseudo journalist” he tried to expose.




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