Accuracy in Media

New York Times reporter John F. Burns has made headlines by claiming that correspondents for major news organizations paid the Saddam Hussein regime thousands of dollars for interviews and access. Barbara Slavin of USA Today has something to top that. She says that, in exchange for newsworthy comments from Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, female reporters went to bed with him. “There were some female journalists who succumbed to his charms in hopes of getting interviews and great access,” she says.

Like Burns, however, Slavin declines to name names.

Her extraordinary comments came during a March 31 Capitol Hill conference on Libya and democracy, where she slammed Gadhafi as a dangerous lunatic running a “thugocracy.” She suggested that Western efforts to bring him back into the international community were seriously misguided and that he can’t be trusted.

On the news-for-sex matter, she said that she went to Libya in the 1980s with her husband, who was also a journalist. She said, “Some of Gadhafi’s minders complained. They said, ‘Why did you bring your husband?’ So we have an idea of how he used to operate.”

Slavin’s remarks, which she later described as only a “suspicion,” add to the perception that reporters will do anything for a story, even from a terrorist dictator.

Gadhafi, of course, has now emerged as a favorite of the Bush administration because he is supposedly renouncing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs. Gadhafi wants U.S. investment in his country in return. At his recent news conference, Bush declared Libya a “success” in the war on terrorism, saying, “Libya was?a nation that sponsored terror, a nation that was dangerous because of weapons. And Colonel Gadhafi made the decision, and rightly so, to disclose and disarm, for the good of the world.”

The problem, Slavin said, is that Gadhafi, a dictator for 35 years, is erratic and can change his mind almost overnight. One day, she said, he can declare himself the leader of the Arab bloc of nations. The next day, he wants to head the Organization of African Unity. She said Gadhafi, author of the “Green Book,” setting forth his personal and political philosophy, even ordered that television sets in Libya be altered so there would be a greenish tint on all programs. His maps of the Middle East omitted Israel, and when South Africa was ruled by whites, the country didn’t show up on Gadhafi’s maps of Africa.  

John Koehler, the veteran Associated Press correspondent who served as assistant to the president and director of communications under Ronald Reagan, came into contact with many Arab leaders who regarded Gadhafi as crazy and wanted the U.S. to get rid of him.

During a dinner hosted by a prominent Arab official, Koehler said that, “One of the cabinet members sat next to me and said, ‘I just listened to Gadhafi this afternoon. He’s sitting in his tent. I saw it on television. That man is crazy. He’s nuts. You ought to kill him.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘The Americans ought to kill him.’ All of them?the Saudi Ambassador was there. They all said that Gadhafi is off his rocker. It was amazing to me.”   

Years ago, Bob Woodward of the Washington Post reported that Gadhafi was using “excessive amounts of sleeping pills and stimulants” and may even be using hallucinogens.

Koehler wrote the book, Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police (Westview Press, 1999), which documents the Libyan role, with East German support, in the La Belle bombing in Berlin in April of 1986 that killed two Americans and a Turkish woman and injured well over 200 persons, including 41 Americans. President Reagan retaliated by ordering the bombing of Libya. That was followed by Gadhafi’s bombing in 1988 of Pan Am 103, killing 270 people, including 189 Americans.

To generate sympathy for Gadhafi, the media have widely reported that the bombing of Libya killed his “adopted daughter.” A bio of Gadhafi on the ABC News website maintains that his “infant daughter” was killed. Slavin, who was in Libya at the time, set the record straight. “His adopted daughter was not killed,” she said. “An infant girl was killed. I actually saw her body. She was adopted posthumously by Gadhafi. She was not related to Gadhafi.”

Let’s hope and pray that the U.S. Government won’t be so easily fooled on the matter of Gadhafi’s WMD. We don’t need another intelligence failure.

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