Accuracy in Media

Accuracy in Media recently reported on a dispute between Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman and David Kay, the chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq. Gellman charged that Kay’s inspectors have failed to uncover any evidence that would support the Bush administration’s pre-war allegations about Iraq’s nuclear weapons programs. Gellman clearly implied that Kay, and his boss CIA Director George J. Tenet, have withheld judgments about the lack of such evidence from the public. Kay retorted in a letter to the Post that Gellman’s article was “wildly off the mark.”

Post ombudsman Michael Getler took up the controversy. He applauds the Post and Gellman for being among the “very few” news organizations trying to get to the bottom of the WMD story. He writes, however, that readers have challenged the Post’s decision to bury Kay’s rebuttal in the “Free for All” section of the paper that runs every Saturday. Getler writes that readers wondered why Kay’s response did not appear on the Letters to the Editor page.

He quotes Post Assistant Managing Editor Liz Spayd as saying that Kay’s letter, and another from Australian Brigadier General Stephen Meekin, “left the impression” that Gellman had made factual errors. She told Getler that “The charges don’t hold up and we stand by our reporting.” According to Getler, the Post’s Executive Editor Leonard Downie agreed.

One of the “factual errors” cited by Kay involved General Meekin’s role in the Iraqi inspections. Gellman identified Meekin as the commander of the Joint Captured Enemy Material Exploitation Center. That, according to Gellman, is the “largest of a half-dozen units that report to Kay.” But Kay categorically denied Gellman’s assertion. “Meekin does not report, nor has he ever reported, to me in any individual capacity or as commander of the exploitation center. Kay wrote that Meekin’s organization had no role in the search for WMD and lacked any relevant WMD-expertise.

Meekin seconded Kay by writing that his organization was concerned solely with Iraq’s conventional weapons programs. He says he stressed that to Gellman “on a number of occasions.” He also emphasized that he “did not provide assessments or views on Iraq’s nuclear program or the status of investigations” by Kay’s team. That is significant because Gellman’s characterization of Meekin’s statements seems to be a clear repudiation of a key element of the administration’s case against Iraq.

Gellman writes that Meekin told him aluminum tubes, cited by the Intelligence Community as intended for Iraq’s nuclear program, were in truth “used for rockets.” Gellman claims that Meekin told him the tubes are “innocuous.” Kay, Meekin, and an anonymous “U.S. government official” quoted by Gellman all agree that Meekin is unqualified to make such judgments. As for Meekin’s chain of command, Gellman writes, “Meekin works under Kay in any ordinary understanding of the words.” Getler does not resolve the contradiction, but congratulates the Post for at least publishing Kay and Meekin’s letters.

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