Thursday, January 24, 2008

Double Check Your Local Paper

A colleague showed me an item in the newspaper that I had read about in "Best of the Web" yesterday. The story ran in the local paper as that a report from two independent news organizations had proven that the Bush administration had lied 935 about Iraq in the run-up to the Iraq war. How does this stuff end up being reported as news?
Here is what the WSJ’s “Best of the Web” said about the story:

Just Some Center
"A study by two nonprofit journalism organizations found that President Bush and top administration officials issued hundreds of false statements about the national security threat from Iraq in the two years following the 2001 terrorist attacks," the Associated Press reports:
The study concluded that the statements "were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses."
The study was posted Tuesday on the Web site of the Center for Public Integrity, which worked with the Fund for Independence in Journalism. White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said he could not comment on the study because he had not seen it.
Nowhere in the entire dispatch does the AP tell us anything more about the two groups than that they are "nonprofit journalism organizations." In fact, the Center for Public Integrity is a liberal-left group that has taken money from George Soros, who has compared contemporary America to Nazi Germany. The Fund for Independence in Journalism seems to be but a spinoff; its Web site says its "primary purpose is providing legal defense and endowment support" for the center.
Certainly if the AP is going to report on this "study," it ought to disclose the political leanings of the groups that sponsored it. Though come to think of it, given those political leanings, it's hard to see why this is even newsworthy.”

So the two groups are really one group funded by George Soros, one of the primary financial supporters of anti-Bush 527 groups like moveon.org and any number of other organizations.
Here is the report with links to the database of “lies”:
The report begins like this: “President George W. Bush and seven of his administration's top officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, made at least 935 false statements in the two years following September 11, 2001, about the national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Nearly five years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, an exhaustive examination of the record shows that the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses.
On at least 532 separate occasions (in speeches, briefings, interviews, testimony, and the like), Bush and these three key officials, along with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan, stated unequivocally that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (or was trying to produce or obtain them), links to Al Qaeda, or both. This concerted effort was the underpinning of the Bush administration's case for war.
It is now beyond dispute that Iraq did not possess any weapons of mass destruction or have meaningful ties to Al Qaeda. This was the conclusion of numerous bipartisan government investigations, including those by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (2004 and 2006), the 9/11 Commission, and the multinational Iraq Survey Group, whose "Duelfer Report" established that Saddam Hussein had terminated Iraq's nuclear program in 1991 and made little effort to restart it.”

So the charge is not that they told 935 lies. The charge is that the Bush administration made 2 assertions, 935 times, on 532 occasions. The two assertions were 1) that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction at the start of the Iraq war and 2) Iraq did not have meaningful ties to Al Qaeda. #1 hardly qualifies as a “lie” by any standard of what lying is. We have no way of knowing exactly what happened to Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. We know that they had them in the past and had used them in the past. We know that they had some continuing programs. We know that they still wanted WMD. We also know that the Bush administration was receiving reports of continuing WMD programs. And we know that none of that matters since Iraq was not cooperating with UN sanctions or inspections at the time, giving the impression to a reasonable observer that they in fact had something to hide. Regardless, I am not sure how any reasonable interpretation of those items could be called a lie. #2 depends on what you count as “meaningful” and what counts as “ties.” The Bush administration never asserted that Saddam was behind 9/11 in any way. But Al Qaeda was operating in Iraq (still are); Iraq was funding terrorism against Israel and the United States; and members of Al Qaeda with planning knowledge of the 9/11 attacks were in Iraq (and eventually captured there) and Saddam had no interest in turning them over to the United States.

So the report was issued by two groups that are actually one group that is biased and there weren’t 935 lies, only two assertions, repeated on 532 occasions, that weren’t lies. And it still ends up in the paper.

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