Accuracy in Media

The PBS Frontline documentary, “The Dark Side,” about the events leading up to the war in Iraq, was guilty of some of the same charges it leveled against Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. These officials were accused of manipulating information in order to get us involved in Iraq. But PBS itself manipulated information to make the administration look bad, even dishonest.

The theme, which has been common in the media, is that the Bush administration was determined to go to war against Iraq almost from its first days in office. We’ve heard this from Richard Clarke, the counterterrorism expert who was on the White House National Security Council under both Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush. His book Against All Enemies, will soon be a TV miniseries. We also heard it from Ron Suskind in his book written with former Treasury secretary Paul O’Neill, The Price of Loyalty.

In fact, there was no rush to war. President Bush went to the Senate in 2002 for an authorization to use force. He then went to the United Nations, where he was successful in obtaining unanimous passage of Security Council Resolution 1441, providing Saddam Hussein one more chance?it was the 17th such resolution calling on him to fully cooperate in the destruction of his acknowledged weapons of mass destruction and the programs to produce more. As Bush was still considering his options, he was the skeptical one as he questioned then-CIA director Tenet on the evidence of WMD in Iraq. That’s when Tenet gave the famous answer, “It’s a slam-dunk.”

When Swedish diplomat Hans Blix returned to the U.N. after 60 days in Iraq, during which time he was to determine Saddam’s willingness to cooperate, he addressed the U.N. and the world with these comments: “Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance, not even today, of the disarmament which was demanded of it and which it needs to carry out to win the confidence of the world and to live in peace.”

At that point, 50 nations signed on with the U.S. and Britain, agreeing that military action was appropriate. But Iraq was given another ultimatum, another chance to avoid war, while at the same time an effort was made to pass yet another U.N. resolution authorizing war, though the U.S. and Britain didn’t believe it was necessary. France and Russia, which both had billions of dollars in contracts with Iraq, refused to cooperate. Their dirty laundry has been aired in the U.N.’s oil-for-food scandal.

Compare that to what happened in 1998 with Bill Clinton in office. In the spring of that year, the Clinton Justice Department handed down a sealed indictment of Osama bin Laden, indicating a belief that he was involved with WMD in cooperation with Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. The indictment read: “…Al Qaida reached an understanding with the government of Iraq that al Qaida would not work against that government and that on particular projects, specifically including weapons development, al Qaida would work cooperatively with the government of Iraq.”

That was the same year that the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed.

The Clinton administration argued that in fact Iraq did possess WMD. That is why only a couple months after then-President Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998 calling for regime change, with no dissenting votes in the Senate, he decided to bomb Iraq. On December 16, 1998, Clinton addressed the nation: “Earlier today, I ordered America’s armed forces to strike military and security targets in Iraq. They are joined by British forces. Their mission is to attack Iraq’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs and its military capacity to threaten its neighbors. Their purpose is to protect the national interest of the United States, and indeed the interests of people throughout the Middle East and around the world.”

Clinton added: “Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas or biological weapons.”

With no U.N. approval and no congressional approval, the U.S. began a four-day bombing attack against Iraq’s WMD infrastructure. It is not known what, if anything, was destroyed. President Bush, of course, had inherited the “Iraq Liberation Act” from the Clinton Administration. It was a problem that he could not ignore for long.

With the terrorist attacks on 9/11, and Saddam’s invasion of his neighbors and sponsorship of terrorism, among other factors, PBS could have made the case that war with Iraq was completely justified. Instead, it resorted to a tale of conspiracy theories, secret plots and sinister personalities. This was a big waste of our tax dollars. 

On the matter of what Saddam was doing in the nuclear weapons field, we have gone over the facts many times, and yet PBS continues to get it wrong.

Andrew McCarthy, the former federal prosecutor who was the lead prosecutor in the first World Trade Center bombing, made a strong case in National Review Online that Iraq was actually attempting to purchase uranium from Niger over a long period of time, something that the British Butler Report confirms to this day. In the Frontline special, however, this is basically dismissed without discussion, through the interview with the discredited former ambassador Joseph Wilson, about whom nothing is said that might question his charges. 

McCarthy’s piece also points to some of the evidence linking Saddam to al Qaeda, a subject that the media still want to distort beyond recognition. PBS purports to examine the issue of whether or not Mohammed Atta, one of the hijackers of 9/11, met with an Iraqi agent in Prague, and whether al-Libi, who ran al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, was credible. But the PBS treatment of these matters also comes up short because it is so determined to decide everything in terms unfavorable to the Bush Administration. Please read my previous commentary to better understand the important issues raised in these cases.  

Retired Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, a featured star in the PBS program, was Colin Powell’s chief of staff at the time he gave his speech to the U.N. in February 2003, just over a month before we began the liberation of Iraq. Wilkerson said that there was a “cabal” involving Cheney and Rumsfeld, making decisions contrary to the advice of the bureaucracy. Yet he believed at the time that “the consensus of the intelligence community was overwhelming” that Saddam Hussein was building illicit weapons.

Paul Pillar, a 28-year CIA agent, was another useful talking head for PBS. He spent the years 2000 ? 2005 as the national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia and has become a critic of how the administration went to war. In fact, however, he has been one of those accused of being wrong in his assessments of whether WMD existed in Iraq. Now he’s an “expert.”

In PBS’s attempt to tell the story of how and why we went to war in Iraq, it failed its audience with a story long on political charges and short on facts, balance and context.

It’s time to pull the plug on federal funding of this propaganda. Please, Congress, do your duty: cut off the money.




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