Accuracy in Media


*By Roger Aronoff

Time magazine’s much-publicized July 17th cover story, “The End of Cowboy Diplomacy,” has been viewed as a seminal media effort to capture the transformation of the Bush Administration from a trigger-happy approach in foreign policy to reliance on other nations and the U.N. But a careful analysis shows that Time exaggerated and distorted the facts in order to produce a story that would entice and mislead its readers.

It would be foolish to insist that changes in the Bush foreign policy have not been made. Since Condoleezza Rice became Secretary of State, she has clearly been relying more on the bureaucracy, including such figures as Clinton holdover Nicholas Burns, the Undersecretary of State, to make policy.

But it has never been the case that the Bush Administration has been a tough-talking, unilaterally-acting power, short on diplomacy and long on bullying. The cowboy metaphor is designed to create the impression that the Bush Administration has been acting alone, pursuing preemptive wars and presenting non-negotiable demands. Such a charge is designed to hurt the President’s party at the polls this November.

A valid criticism, not made by Time, is that the Bush Administration has promoted democracy for a region of the world that has become so radicalized by propaganda from Arab TV channels such as Al-Jazeera that it doesn’t yet seem quite capable of accepting it. The effort, however, still has to be considered a noble cause that was a far better option than maintaining a status quo that produced al Qaeda and 9/11. This struggle will continue for years, if not decades, and holds the promise of making the region?and America?safer in the long run. Our media have no patience for such an approach.  

The other critical factor that has to be considered in evaluating the approach to Iran and North Korea is that failures or misguided policies by the Clinton Administration have constrained the Bush Administration’s ability to resolve these serious problems. 

The premise of the story was that Bush has used up his and the nation’s credibility because of a misbegotten war in Iraq, and that it has been forced by circumstances to pursue an alternative course. Mike Allen and Romesh Ratnesar of Time wrote that  “…the very fact that parts of Iraq remain on the edge of chaos after three years of fighting and the deaths of more than 2,500 Americans are incontrovertible evidence of how the Administration’s miscalculations have come back to haunt it.”

Media Onslaught

Miscalculations have been made, but these have included a failure to understand how anti-war propaganda?by the U.S. and European media and outlets like Al-Jazeera?would encourage the enemy and make victory more difficult.  

The Time reporters wrote that Bush came to office with goals to “pursue a ‘humble’ foreign policy that would avoid the entanglements of the Bill Clinton years.”

But then everything changed. “After Sept. 11, however, the Bush team embarked on a different path, outlining a muscular, idealistic and unilateralist vision of American power and how to use it. He aimed to lay the foundation for a grand strategy to fight Islamic terrorists and rogue states by spreading democracy around the world and pre-empting gathering threats before they materialize…”

What was left unsaid, of course, was that 9/11 could have possibly been avoided if the Clinton Administration had been able to accomplish something more in the war on terrorism than merely indicting Osama bin Laden and bombing one of his empty training camps in Afghanistan. 

However, the event that seemed to trigger Time’s conclusion that a major change had taken place in the Bush foreign policy was the reaction to the July 4th incident in which the Communist North Korean regime test-fired several missiles. President Bush had warned the week before that such action was “unacceptable.” Time said, “Under the old Bush Doctrine, defiance by a dictator like Kim Jong Il would have merited threats of punitive U.S. action?or at least a tongue lashing. Instead, the Administration has mainly been talking up multilateralism and downplaying Pyongyang’s provocation.” They added, “cowboy diplomacy, RIP.”

Others picked up on the Time theme. New York Newsday wrote that “The arrogant prerogative of go-it-alone preventive war to crush rogue nations was replaced by cautionary words urging patience with the slow and often frustrating work of diplomacy.”

It added, “This is not the same Bush who ignored all of his allies’ objections to invade Iraq.”


We have said this many times before, but it bears repeating. Bush went into Iraq after getting an authorization from Congress and a unanimous Security Council resolution, 1441. Though unable to pass a second Security Council resolution after Hans Blix had returned from Iraq to say that Saddam Hussein was still refusing to cooperate, Bush gained the support of 50 nations, more than 30 of which sent troops to Iraq. Some of the major nations which didn’t support the effort, such as France and Russia, had billions of dollars of contracts with Iraq and were implicated in the U.N.’s oil-for-food scandal.

Time referred to the “entanglements” of the Clinton years without explaining how the Clinton Administration itself engaged in “cowboy” diplomacy. First, Clinton bombed Iraq for several days in December of 1998 with no Congressional or United Nations approval. In the end, however, Clinton left the festering problem for Bush to deal with.

Clinton’s War On Serbia

Second, Clinton waged war against Serbia in violation of the War Powers Act, without the approval of Congress or the U.N., using NATO as an offensive rather than defensive force. That violated the NATO treaty. Today, because of the Clinton policy, a Muslim state is being constructed in the Serbian province of Kosovo, creating another foreign policy crisis for the Bush Administration that it must address immediately. 

Regarding Iran, which was taken over by fanatical Muslims when then-President Jimmy Carter made human rights a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy, Bush has faced another difficult problem that Clinton contributed to. Bush has pursued diplomatic options along with the European Union while insisting that the Iranians stop enriching uranium and give up their nuclear-weapons ambitions.

Clinton, by contrast, actually enlisted Iranian help in arming the Bosnian Muslims against the Christian Serbs and helped establish a militant Islamic base in Bosnia. In a scandal that the major media conveniently ignored, a Senate Republican report said that the Clinton Administration was unwilling “to come clean with the Congress and with the American people about its complicity in the delivery of weapons from Iran to the Muslim government in Sarajevo.”

Iran also expanded into other areas, such as southern Lebanon, leading to the current war between Hezbollah and Israel.

In regard to North Korea, Clinton was snookered by the North Korean communists, after providing them with massive amounts of aid, while they cheated on their promise to abandon their nuclear weapons program. With North Korea, Bush has insisted on working in the context of the six-party talks, and recently helped secure a Security Council resolution condemning the regime’s missile tests. At the same time, he has pursued a national missile defense for the U.S., designed to protect America against missile threats from North Korea and other enemies.  

In the Middle East, Clinton wasted eight years with the so-called Oslo process, during which Israel and the Palestinians were supposed to make peace, and he entertained Yasser Arafat repeatedly at the White House. In the end, Israel was under attack again and the region was ablaze in a second intifada. That is the situation that the Bush Administration inherited.

If Bush is indeed a cowboy, and there is a showdown with North Korea or Iran, the U.S. will probably have Britain, Australia, Japan, Israel and a few dozen more allies lined up with us. This “cowboy” has a posse. 

*Roger Aronoff is a Media Analyst with Accuracy in Media. He is the Writer/Director of “Confronting Iraq: Conflict and Hope.”



By Roger Aronoff

We wish Dan Rather had been willing to just let it go. But he won’t, so we can’t either. Angry and frustrated by his unceremonious departure from CBS News after more than 40 years, Rather is moving on to the cutting edge high-definition HD Net owned by the maverick billionaire Mark Cuban, who also happens to own this year’s NBA finalist, the Dallas Mavericks. There Rather is promised complete editorial and creative control of what is starting out as a one-hour-a-week show on whatever topics Dan wants. He is going to be freed from the corporate shackles that have bound him all these years. It will be Dan Rather Unplugged. We thought he’s been unplugged for a long time.

Rather chose the Larry King Live show as his platform to rail against this mythical figure who prevented him from really speaking out and doing the kind of journalism he always wanted to do. That’s a laugh, of course. He has been the subject of many of our AIM Reports over the years, as we initiated the campaign to “Can Dan” long before he used the phony Bush National Guard documents and embarrassed himself and CBS News. Rather stayed in the anchor chair far too long.

But we felt a twinge of sympathy for Rather when he spoke of the shabby way he was treated at the end of his CBS career by the top brass. Larry King asked him about CBS’s “unkept promises” to him:

Rather: “Well, I was told that I was going to be a regular correspondent on 60 Minutes. I wasn’t. That’s an example. There were unkept promises. And I asked several times that the promises be kept, and-”    

King: “What’d they tell you?”

Rather: “Well, I was told through third parties, we think we’re keeping them. That was part of it. In some cases it was demonstrably true that they weren’t keeping it. You know Larry, as I talk about this and I want to answer your questions as truthfully as I can, as candidly as I can, but compared to what news ought to be doing, concentrating on whatever happened to Dan Rather at CBS News, how he left, under what circumstances, and even the story in which I didn’t, we didn’t do as good a job as I thought we should have done. And I do want to make clear, you’ve played several times the clip of what I said on the air: That was, first of all, I was playing team. I meant every word of it. In that the, we had a lot, a lot of corroboration, of what we broadcast about President Bush’s military record. It wasn’t just the documents. But it’s a very old technique used, that when those who don’t like what you’re reporting believe it can be hurtful, then they look for the weakest spot and attack it, which is fair enough. It’s a diversionary technique.”     

King: “You’re saying that was a fair report, I mean that was you believe that report to this day?”

Rather: “Do I believe the truth of the story? Absolutely.”     

King: “Have you ever thought of entertaining a lawsuit?”

Rather: “Notice that I pause.”

King: “Pregnant pause.”

Rather: “I’m not going to talk about that.”

So Rather quickly went from victim of CBS to the fantasy world of still believing in the bogus Bush National Guard documents. King played a clip of an interview with Mike Wallace, also of 60 Minutes, who said that he thought Dan should have resigned when his producers on the segment were fired. If Rather really believes in the Bush National Guard story, that would have been the right thing to do. 

What Rather and his team did, back in September of 2004, was inexcusable. On consecutive Wednesdays, on 60 Minutes II, just two months before the presidential election, they ran with a story challenging President Bush’s record in the Texas Air National Guard, in terms of attendance, performance and how he got in the Guard in the first place. After 12 days, Rather went on the air and apologized, and said they could no longer stand behind the authenticity of the documents used to make their case. They weren’t saying the documents were forgeries, but they would no longer claim they were authentic.

CBS appointed a commission headed by former Attorney General Richard Thornburgh and former Associated Press chief Lou Boccardi. The report was devastating, and resulted in four producers being either fired or forced to resign. Rather stayed, but he was ousted from his anchor chair after 24 years, one year less than he had assumed and desired. His main producer, Mary Mapes, had been trying to nail this story down for five years, unsuccessfully, but went on the air with it anyway. She wrote a book claiming the story is still true and that the bogus documents are in reality genuine copies of the originals. Nobody else except Rather seems to buy it.

Boccardi and Thornburgh said they couldn’t find evidence that the story was politically motivated, but one could draw no other conclusion. After all, the source of the phony documents was Bill Burkett, who carried a grudge against Bush.

Not only were the documents phony and the story politically motivated, it was a complete fraud in its main assertions. The claim, of course, was that Bush got special help to get into the Guard in order to avoid Vietnam. But the facts showed that Bush chose to go in as a pilot of an F-103, for which there was no waiting list. He didn’t need any connections. And he was one of the highest-rated pilots after more than a year of intense flight training. What’s more, the Boccardi/Thornburgh report showed that he volunteered to go as a pilot to Vietnam but wasn’t needed. 

If this kind of reporting is what Rather brings to Mark Cuban’s network, we have to admit it will make for some interesting programs. Who knows? Former CBS correspondent Daniel Schorr is about to celebrate his 90th birthday, and is still going strong as a correspondent for National Public Radio. Rather could be with us for years to come. We might have to get our “Rather Biased” paraphernalia out of the AIM attic. At Cuban’s HD Net channel, however, Rather will have a much smaller audience.



The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has won a laudatory story from the New York Times for contributing another quarter of a billion dollars “to speed the lagging development of an HIV vaccine.” In 1984, the Times noted, Margaret M. Heckler, President Ronald Reagan’s health and human services secretary, and Dr. Robert Gallo, a discoverer of the virus, “predicted an H.I.V. vaccine by 1986.” Why no success?

$200 Billion And Counting

Times medical reporter Lawrence K. Altman, the author of the story, exhibited no interest in answering that question. In total, the U.S. has spent about $200 billion on HIV/AIDS?and an AIDS vaccine?since 1981.

Can you imagine any other federal effort of this magnitude that would be spared from serious criticism? The explanation, of course, lies in the fact that spending on AIDS is politically protected. The more money spent, the better. That was the policy under Clinton and it has been continued under Bush. This “bridge to nowhere” gets more money, not less.

Altman, who used to work for the federal Centers for Disease Control, has been criticized in the past for failing to quote critics of federal health efforts. His recent story was no exception. In positive terms, it noted  that the new Gates commitment would bring to $528 million the amount of money invested by the Gates foundation in an AIDS vaccine, and that the federal National Institutes of Health has spent $3.4 billion on the idea.

Altman also said that “Although more than 30 experimental H.I.V. vaccines have been tested in people, only one has completed full-scale testing. That vaccine, Aidsvax, made by VaxGen, failed in a large trial that ended in 2003.” What has happened to the guinea pigs in those 30 HIV vaccine tests? Altman didn’t say.

The Danger

An HIV vaccine works on the principle that giving people a form of the virus that causes AIDS will help them develop immunity without developing the entire deadly disease.  But government vaccine programs have backfired in the past. Some believe that contaminated polio vaccines may have led to some cancers and AIDS in humans. And back in the 1970s, the government used a swine flu vaccine on millions of people, only to find out later that it was causing health problems and even death.

The evidence is still a subject of dispute, but vaccines with mercury have been linked in some studies to cases of autism in children.

UPI, one of the few news organizations to report extensively on the problems associated with vaccines, recently quoted Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fl.), a medical doctor, as saying, “Federal agencies charged with overseeing vaccine safety have failed.” 

While it is believed by some that an AIDS vaccine might be voluntary, since it is largely a sexually transmitted disease and people get it through lifestyle choices, the federal government currently requires that children receive  the Hepatitis B vaccine, which is supposed to guard against a mostly sexually transmitted disease. There are also calls to force young people to take a new vaccine, Gardasil, to combat the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV), which can lead to cervical cancer in women.

Barbara Loe Fisher of the National Vaccine Information Center, a group concerned about vaccine safety, warns, “HPV vaccine now. HIV vaccine next.”

An HIV/AIDS vaccine could be made mandatory, for children as well as adults, despite the fact that some experts still insist that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, and AIDS tests can be extremely unreliable.

What You Can Do

Send the enclosed postcards or cards and letters of your own choosing to members of the Senate and House on the Al-Jazeera matter and to Senator Rick Santorum.

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