Accuracy in Media

One of the most unintentionally funny programs on cable television is the so-called “Hardball” show of Chris Matthews, the former Democratic political operative who now poses as an objective news analyst. It is not meant to be funny, but it ends up that way because of Matthews’ determination to exploit anything remotely considered bad news for Bush or Cheney. Despite his obnoxious mannerisms and breathless delivery, which has been mocked on NBC’s Saturday Night Live, the program can sometimes be informative because of the people who appear on it. By going on a show like this, people show their true colors. That’s important in this partisan atmosphere.

On “Hardball” on May 2, Matthews spotlighted two former CIA officers who were critical of Bush, inadvertently confirming that the agency has been waging a war against the President. Then he brought on Post reporter Dana Priest, who is up to her neck in controversy over her unsubstantiated Pulitzer Prize-winning story about CIA “secret prisons” in Europe. “The White House really didn’t trust the CIA,” deadpanned Priest. No kidding. But Priest did. One of her sources was the fired CIA officer Mary O. McCarthy, a John Kerry campaign contributor.

Operatives in the CIA war against Bush were on “Hardball,” openly advertising their wares. They were Tyler Drumheller, the CIA’s recently retired chief of operations in Europe and fresh from a CBS 60 Minutes appearance, and Gary Berntsen, a former CIA field officer. They were willing fodder for the Matthews anti-Bush war machine.

The Priest appearance led us to the question we have asked so many times before: Why should we trust Dana Priest and her anonymous sources? Matthews didn’t play hardball with Priest, instead congratulating her on the Pulitzer for “reporting on the CIA’s secret prisons in Europe.”  If Matthews was a real journalist, he would subject the story to the scrutiny it deserves. But he let that pass, determined to use Priest to make various anti-Bush and anti-Cheney political points. Priest-and other Post reporters-dutifully play their roles and go along.

Another Dana, a man named Dana Milbank, also of the Washington Post, is another occasional guest on MSNBC. He got into some trouble for showing up on the Keith Olbermann show dressed in orange hunting garb, in order to make fun of the Dick Cheney hunting accident that left a man injured in the face and upper body. Post ombudsman Deborah Howell called that appearance “a mistake in judgment.” 

The biggest mistake in judgment is believing that the Post and Matthews have any interest in objective news reporting.

That is why MSNBC reporter David Shuster’s May 1 “Hardball” report on former CIA employee Valerie Plame allegedly spying on Iran-before she was “outed”-just cannot be believed.

Here’s what he reported: “?as prosecutor Fitzgerald considers whether to charge Karl Rove with perjury, obstruction of justice or worse, MSNBC has learned new information about the damage caused by the White House leaks. Intelligence sources say Valerie Wilson was part of an operation three years ago tracking the proliferation of nuclear weapons material into Iran. And the sources allege that when Mrs. Wilson’s cover was blown, the administration’s ability to track Iran’s nuclear ambitions was damaged as well. The White House considers Iran to be one of America’s biggest threats.”

The phrase, “MSNBC has learned,” is one of the oldest tricks in the book. And those “intelligence sources?” They have just come forward now, to David Shuster? What curious timing.

It turns out that Shuster recycled a story off a left-wing website. In the strange world of “confirming” something that somebody else reported first, had the item about Plame spying on Iran, and it reported that Shuster” confirmed” its report. The piece, in turn, was based on “current and former intelligence officials,” probably the same people who reported or “confirmed” the existence of the CIA’s “secret prisons.”

Then, to top it off, Editor & Publisher picked it up, under the headline, “Reports: Plame Was Monitoring Iran Nukes When Outed.” The “reports” were from Shuster and rawstory. This is how a dubious claim is made to be respectable.

It appears all of this nonsense was designed to lay the groundwork for Plame to sign a $2 million book deal.

If it was really true that Plame was monitoring Iran’s “nuclear ambitions,” then we are in worse shape than we know. Doesn’t everybody know that Iran is developing nuclear weapons? The issue is not whether Iran is developing nuclear weapons but what the United States and its allies are going to do about it. So far, the Bush Administration policy seems to be hoping for the U.N. to do something. But didn’t the world body drop the ball on Iraq?

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