Accuracy in Media

On the Don Imus radio show, where the host and his sidekicks make fun of people and insult them, John Bolton, President Bush’s nominee as Ambassador to the U.N., has been ridiculed as Captain Kangaroo. Bolton, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, has hair and a mustache that they think resemble those of Captain Kangaroo, who hosted a kid’s show. That kind of “humor” is expected from the Imus show. But the Washington Post is supposed to be a serious paper. Yet on April 15 it ran a silly “Style” section story by Robin Givhan on how Bolton needs a haircut, something done about his mustache, and better clothes.

“His hair was so poorly cut, it bordered on rude,” said the piece. It declared that,  “The fulsome silhouette of the mustache makes for a particularly dreary distraction and seems to pull his whole face downward.” Regarding his clothes, “His attire was not merely bland but careless.”

Stories like this help us understand why the American Journalism Review says that the Post has suffered a “troubling?and surprising?circulation slide.” The magazine reported, “During the six-month period ending September 30, the Post’s daily paid circulation dropped 2.9 percent from the previous year, to 699,929. Sunday circulation fell 1.8 percent, to 1,007,487. Over the past two years, sales slid 5.2 percent daily and 3.9 percent on Sunday.”

The AJR reported that Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. believes that one factor in some people’s decisions not to buy the paper “is sheer size.” In other words, the paper is too big. That’s downright insulting to potential readers. Another factor is liberal bias, of the kind directed at Bolton. The problem is not that the paper has too much news or advertising, but that too many stories have too much bias.

The anti-Bolton bias wasn’t just exhibited in making fun of his appearance. The bias was also apparent in “news” stories about him. Consider another story in the April 15 paper about an alleged incident in which Rexon Ryu, a State Department “expert on nonproliferation issues in the Middle East,” was transferred to another bureau “after he failed to produce a document requested by Bolton’s chief of staff.”

The story by Dafna Linzer reported that John Wolf, Ryu’s former boss, “said that Ryu was a brilliant and dedicated civil servant, and that the allegations were found to be baseless.” But near the end of the article, it said that the nonproliferation bureau at State “determined that Ryu’s actions were unintentional,” that “the omission was inadvertent and that there was no basis to the allegation.” It seems that in this case we have a failure to communicate. Either he withheld the document, as charged, or he didn’t. If the allegation is baseless, then how was it “inadvertent” or an “omission” not to provide it to Bolton’s chief of staff?

The story was as misleading as the headline, “Bolton Faces Allegations That He Tried to Fire Analysts.” The fifth paragraph said that Bolton was being accused of trying to “fire or transfer” two intelligence analysts. There was no evidence that he tried to fire anybody, and nobody was in fact fired. But the idea that people shouldn’t be fired or transferred is ridiculous on its face.

One issue in the Bolton hearings was what Bolton had said about Communist Cuba’s biowarfare capability. It was a critical matter because Ana Montes, the Defense Intelligence Agency’s senior analyst on Cuba, was arrested and convicted of charges of spying for communist Cuba. Montes was sentenced in October 2002 to 25 years in prison.

She had been the DIA’s senior analyst for Cuba for about 10 years. Insiders have compared her role as an agent of influence on behalf of Cuba to the service Alger Hiss gave to the Soviet Union. She peddled the line in an official report that the Castro regime was not a significant security threat to the U.S. It was a line that other analysts in other agencies had accepted. But Bolton did not.

If Montes had not been caught?and if she had been working under Bolton at the State Department?the liberal media and their allies on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee might be wondering today whether Bolton had also bullied or intimidated her. If she had been treated with less deference and more scrutiny during her career, the U.S. might have avoided some of the damage that she inflicted on our country. 

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