Accuracy in Media

On July 25, the Democratic National Committee placed a full-page ad in the New York Times with this message above a photo of President Bush delivering his State of the Union Address: “America took President Bush at his word. ‘…Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.’ But now we find out that it wasn’t true. The CIA knew it. The State Department knew it. [Washington Post, 7/23/03; Time 7/21/03] But he said it anyway. It’s time to tell the truth.”

Those three dots before Saddam indicate that these six words were omitted: “The British government has learned that.” It was necessary to omit them in order to justify the claim that what Bush said was not true. The truth is that the British government maintained then and still maintains that it had reliable information from sources that it could not share with the CIA that Iraq had recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

The New York Times used to check ads of this type for accuracy. If they found anything that they thought was inaccurate they insisted that it be corrected. Accuracy in Media has placed a number of ads in the Times over the years, and we have occasionally had to defend the accuracy of the copy we submitted or make a change that the Times demanded. Unless the Times has proof that the British government is lying, it should have required the Democratic National Committee to include the six omitted words and provide the evidence that proves that the British were lying and that the CIA, the State Department and the White House all knew it.

The DNC is sending out e-mail that conveys a message similar to that in the New York Times ad, but it omits the three dots that represent the omission of the attribution to the British government. We tried to find out if those dots were inserted in the ad at the insistence of the Times, but we couldn’t get an answer from the advertising department.

The claim that the President’s statement is known to be false is based on the fact that there is a crude forgery relating to an alleged Iraqi approach to Niger for the purchase of uranium. This, however, does not prove that there was no approach to Niger or another African country. Herbert Romerstein, an expert on Soviet disinformation techniques, had a column in the Washington Times on July 21 in which he says, “The crude forgeries were designed to be exposed to discredit the truth about Saddam’s nuclear program.” He says the Iraqi intelligence service was trained to use this trick by the Soviet KGB.

He cites another example of this trick, which is known as “poisoning the well.” A forgery was perpetrated to discredit the London Telegraph’s discovery of documents in the Iraqi Foreign Ministry building that revealed that George Galloway, an ultra-left Labor member of Parliament, had been on Saddam’s payroll big time. This was followed by a discovery by the Christian Science Monitor of documents confirming this, but they turned out to be forgeries and the Monitor had to apologize for its story about them. Romerstein says, “Mr. Galloway and his friends are now using the exposure of the Christian Science Monitor forgeries to try to discredit the authentic London Telegraph documents.”

The New York Times had published on its op-ed page an account by a former ambassador, Joseph C. Wilson, of a trip he had made to Niger find out if there was any valid evidence that there was an Iraqi effort to acquire uranium. Romerstein addresses this, noting that Wilson, who had worked for two Democrats, Senator Al Gore and Rep. Tom Foley, wrote that he spent eight days drinking sweet mint tea and meeting with dozens of people in Niger and it didn’t take him long to conclude that there had been no Niger uranium sale to Iraq. Romerstein comments, “Intelligence information comes in bits and pieces. Communication intercepts, photographs and agents on the scene are the most valuable sources. The least valuable is the diplomatic cocktail party chitchat that may add a snippet of information to the story.”

The DNC apparently didn’t clear its ad with Bill Clinton. He told Larry King the Democrats should quit harping on this matter. His advice evoked favorable comment from some Democrats on Capitol Hill, but he apparently didn’t clear it with Hillary. She repeated her call for an independent investigation of the matter.

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