The Washington Post has now virtually apologized for running stories before the war in Iraq that gave credence to allegations that Iraq was a threat, in part because it had weapons of mass destruction, or WMD. The story by Howard Kurtz got to the nub of the issue in the second to the last paragraph, when he said, “Whether a tougher approach by The Post and other news organizations would have slowed the rush to war is, at best, a matter of conjecture.” But that is what critics of the Iraq war want you to believe?that Bush was given too much of a free pass by the media to get us into Iraq, and that if only the coverage had been different and “tougher,” the war would never have taken place.
At the same time, however, former Post reporter Ronald Kessler was conducting an on-line chat on the Post website about the nomination of Porter Goss as CIA director. Kessler has written books on the CIA and FBI and has a new one out on Bush, titled, “A Matter of Character.” He was asked about the Kurtz story and responded, “The Washington Post story today I think overplayed the significance of what the paper did or did not know about WMDs at the time.”
Kessler went on to say, “The fact is we still don’t know the answers. Stockpiles still could be found and David Kay, the weapons inspector, reported finding dozens of additional weapons programs and activities?not stockpiles?since the war. In addition, Saddam’s generals said after the war that they thought that they were supposed to use chemical weapons during the war. So to say that The Post somehow knew many of the answers before the war is stretching things.”
The hero in the Kurtz piece is Post reporter Walter Pincus, who is said to have encountered resistance to front-page treatment of his stories questioning Saddam’s WMD capability. Kurtz claimed that Pincus “has long been an expert on nuclear weapons,” though he came under heavy fire in the 1970s for misrepresenting the so-called “neutron bomb” as a dangerous advance in weaponry that threatened the peace and might start a war. The Pincus stories played into the hands of the Soviets, who feared deployment of the weapon by the U.S. in Europe to counter the overwhelming advantage in Soviet tanks.
Kessler told us that the paper should consider apologizing for anti-Bush administration stories. He cited a story by Pincus and others that highlighted the claim that Vice President Cheney had pressured the CIA to produce certain information. He said the third paragraph of the same story acknowledged that some CIA analysts welcomed Cheney’s interest. If that part of the story had been the lead, Kessler said, “the story would never have run.” Kessler noted that the 9/11 commission did not find that the administration had pressured the CIA to come to certain conclusions.
Kessler called into question another Pincus story on the subject of Saddam Hussein’s ties to terrorists, which cited $25,000 payments to suicide bombers in Israel. Pincus said some experts disputed whether the money was a motivation for the bombings, thus trying to get Saddam off the hook for involvement in terrorism. Kessler called the Pincus story absurd.