Accuracy in Media

If you come forward to make bizarre charges against the Bush Administration, you are almost guaranteed to get heavy media coverage. Cindy Sheehan, who calls Bush a terrorist, was made into a star. Michael Moore made a fortune spinning his conspiracy theories. And recently, retired Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, who was Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff, made headlines by making the absurd and easily disproved charge that a secret “cabal” runs the U.S. Government.

Wilkerson charged that there was a “cabal” involving Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and that they “made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made.” This charge led to many media appearances, as if he had discovered something conspiratorial or sinister. But Wilkerson was only lacking one thing—the facts.

Wilkerson seemed to have forgotten that Cheney is the elected vice-president and Rumsfeld is a presidential appointee.

Sounding like Michael Moore on the trail of a deep and dark conspiracy, Wilkerson said the cabal’s “insular and secret workings were efficient and swift—not unlike the decision-making one would associate more with a dictatorship than a democracy. This furtive process was camouflaged by the dysfunction and inefficiency of the formal decision-making process?” Strangely, however, he still argues that U.S. forces must remain in Iraq and describes President Bush as “one of the finest presidents we’ve ever had.”

In another strange performance, Wilkerson confirmed that “the consensus of the intelligence community was overwhelming” that Saddam Hussein was building illicit weapons but he told the Jim Lehrer NewsHour that he is “coming to believe that the intelligence was politicized.” Getting conspiratorial again, he said he was “coming to believe that there was a band centered in the Pentagon that went about politicizing that intelligence.” Perhaps that was a cabal within a cabal.

Regarding Colin Powell’s speech before the U.N. in February 2003, in which he made the case for war, and later expressed regret, Wilkerson, who worked for Powell for much of the past 16 years in both private and governmental capacities, approved every bit of intelligence that went into the speech.

Randy Scheunemann, the former president of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, and a former Iraq consultant to the Secretary of Defense, made this point on the Lehrer NewsHour. He also faulted Wilkerson for saying that the “bureaucracy,” rather than elected officials, are the ones worth listening to.

Scheunemann described Wilkerson as “an unelected bureaucrat” who was “frustrated that his principal lost out in policy debates and he is complaining about the process, but his complaints have no basis in fact.”

So why didn’t Wilkerson quit or speak out when he came to these conclusions? “Looking back on it now,” Wilkerson told the NewsHour, “there is a part of me that regrets I didn’t resign.”

He’s right. Wilkerson is a decorated war veteran who served his country well. But he went off the deep end with his comments about conspiracies and cabals. He’s entitled to his opinion, but the media also had an obligation to point out that his wild charges about the functioning of our democratic form of government simply made no rational sense.

Nevertheless, Bush-basher Maureen Dowd of The New York Times has picked up the use of the term, “cabal,” meaning that Wilkerson has touched the right nerve in the liberal media elite. And for that, they are grateful to him.

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