Accuracy in Media

The CBS scandal gets worse every day. Now, in an amazing twist, Michael Isikoff of Newsweek was on Chris Matthews’ MSNBC “Hardball” show on Wednesday night claiming that CBS had been planning to air a story about the White House using forged documents to make the case for war against Iraq. CBS postponed the story so it could go on the air attacking President Bush on the National Guard issue. It backfired when 60 Minutes itself got caught using forged documents. Still, Isikoff indicates that 60 Minutes is planning to air the anti-Bush piece, perhaps as early as Sunday night, September 26.

There is only one big problem?the anti-Bush story, as described by Isikoff and eagerly embraced by Democrat partisan Matthews, is completely false. It’s as phony as those National Guard documents.

The Iraq-uranium link, the subject of much media misinformation, has been documented and confirmed by authoritative reports from Britain’s Lord Butler, who had been a cabinet secretary under five different Prime Ministers, and the Senate Intelligence Committee.   

In an article on the Newsweek website, Isikoff claims that 60 Minutes had originally planed to run a story about “how the U.S. government was snookered by forged documents purporting to show Iraqi efforts to purchase uranium from Niger.” Isikoff says the story, narrated by CBS correspondent Ed Bradley, “asked tough questions about how the White House came to embrace the fraudulent documents and why administration officials chose to include a 16-word reference to the questionable uranium purchase in President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union.” Isikoff says 60 Minutes has been working on the story for more than six months.

It is amazing that, 18 months after Bush uttered those 16 words, Isikoff, 60 Minutes, and Chris Matthews still can’t or won’t get the story straight. 

Bush’s famous 16 words were: “The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” Bush never said that Saddam “purchased” uranium.

While the Bush administration mishandled the controversy under a media assault and even backed away from what the President said, subsequent investigations confirm that Saddam Hussein was seeking uranium from Africa. Lord Butler’s July 14, 2004, report called Bush’s words “well-founded.” It reported that,

“a) It is accepted by all parties that Iraqi officials visited Niger in 1999.

“b) The British Government had intelligence from several different sources indicating that this visit was for the purpose of acquiring uranium. Since uranium constitutes almost three-quarters of Niger’s exports, the intelligence was credible.

“c) The evidence was not conclusive that Iraq purchased, as opposed to having sought, uranium and the British Government did not claim this.

“d) The forged documents were not available to the British Government at the time its assessment was made, and so the fact of the forgery does not undermine it.”, a group headed by former CNN and Wall Street Journal reporter Brooks Jackson, examined the controversy and declared, “Both the Butler report and the Senate Intelligence Committee report make clear that Bush’s 16 words weren’t based on the fake documents. The British didn’t even see them until after issuing the reports?based on other sources?that Bush quoted in his 16 words.”

Ironically, one of the pieces of evidence used by the CIA in making the case that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa was a confidential report brought back from Africa by former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. But Wilson changed his story publicly and became a media darling when he made the claim that Bush was lying about the matter. Wilson, who also became an adviser to John Kerry, got away with his dangerous deception for over a year until the Senate Intelligence Committee report issued a report confirming that Wilson’s report to the CIA actually provided evidence of Iraqi interest in uranium. This report is what led reporters for the Washington Post and other media to write stories finally setting the record straight about Wilson. 

If CBS News at this late date is going to broadcast a demonstrably false story about forgeries supposedly playing a role in the Bush speech, then it should face more charges of pursuing a partisan political agenda at the expense of the truth.

In a final irony, Isikoff says the 60 Minutes story will examine why the FBI apparently has not been able to determine the ultimate source of the Iraq document forgeries. But CBS itself has not been able to produce the ultimate source of the fake National Guard memos it used on the air. That’s one reason why a panel, including former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, has been named to investigate.

It may occur to some viewers, however, that the current Attorney General?or at least the FBI?might have an interest here. After all, forging government documents is a violation of federal and state law. If the FBI is investigating the fake Iraq documents, why not the CBS memos?

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