Accuracy in Media

Criticism of President Bush by former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill was a big story. But O’Neill, who was famous for making gaffes, has made a few more. O’Neill says Bush was like a blind man in a roomful of deaf people. O’Neill seems to be deaf, dumb and blind on critical national security matters.

Perhaps the most sensational allegation is that Bush planned the invasion of Iraq within days of his inauguration. Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes interviewed Pulitzer prizewinning journalist Ron Suskind, whose new book, The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, The White House and the Education of Paul O’Neill, contains the allegations. O’Neill gave Suskind thousands of documents, one of them with a classified stamp on it that was shown on 60 Minutes. An investigation was launched into why O’Neill took the document from the department. O’Neill says that a Treasury Department lawyer cleared the release of these documents. But it’s not so clear that O’Neill was authorized to give them to Suskind for a book and to be shown on national TV.

The 60 Minutes show described one as a Pentagon document, dated March 5, 2001, and entitled “Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield contracts.” It turns out that it is not from the Pentagon. It’s from Vice-President Dick Cheney’s office and was written as part of the energy task force that he ran to develop a national energy policy. The document was part of a major study of global oil supplies. Judicial Watch obtained it in a lawsuit and posted it, along with related documents, on its own website. The document aside, it’s not surprising that the Administration would be targeting Saddam Hussein from the day it took office. The Iraq Liberation Act had been passed by Congress and signed by former President Clinton.

Following up on another allegation aired by 60 Minutes, O’Neill told Time magazine’s White House correspondent John Dickerson, “In the 23 months I was there, I never saw anything that I would characterize as evidence of weapons of mass destruction?I’ve been around a hell of a long time, and I know the difference between evidence and assertions and illusions or allusions and conclusions that one could draw from a set of assumptions?”

Discussing O’Neill’s charges on Fox News Sunday, Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman said that he had decided long before Bush became president, “more than a decade ago, that Saddam Hussein was a terrible tyrant, a brutal dictator [who] killed hundreds of thousands of his people [and] did have weapons of mass destruction because we know he used them against the Iranians and the Kurds?He was an enemy of the United States.”

The evidence of weapons of mass destruction was accepted by the Clinton administration and the United Nations. The failure so far to turn up the weapons may reflect an intelligence failure. On the other hand, Saddam worked hard to conceal his programs and they may yet be uncovered. A disgruntled former treasury secretary with no background in intelligence matters is hardly an authoritative source on a matter such as this. The media have displayed their liberal bias by taking him seriously and giving him a national platform.




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