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Saturday, November 05, 2005

Maguire on Tenet’s exposure of Wilson’s lies

Herbert Meyer, assistant to CIA director William Casey during the Reagan administration, put out a couple of questions for ex-CIA director George Tenet the other day. One of his questions was why Tenet did not come out at the time of Wilson’s 2003 NYT op-ed and rebut Wilson’s lies. This morning Powerline posted an email from me pointing out that Tenet did issue a statement at the time indicating that the CIA’s envoy to Niger (who Wilson had already let the world know was himself), actually found evidence in support of the President’s State of the Union claim that Saddam had tried to buy uranium in Africa.

Press coverage for Tenet’s exposure of Wilson as a liar was minimal (focusing instead on Tenet’s concession that the claim still wasn’t well supported enough to have appeared in the State of the Union), to the point where almost no one seems to know about it. The only commenter I have seen refer to it is Tom Maguire, at Just one Minute. Tom has covered the Wilson story extensively from the beginning and he sent some further information along to me, in particular regarding the press coverage of Tenet’s statement. Here is Tom’s NYT excerpt (from the Times archives):
Published: July 12, 2003

The director of central intelligence, George J. Tenet, accepted responsibility yesterday for letting President Bush use information that turned out to be unsubstantiated in his State of the Union address, accusing Iraq of trying to acquire uranium from Africa to make nuclear weapons.

Mr. Tenet issued a statement last night after both the president and his national security adviser placed blame on the C.I.A., which they said had reviewed the now discredited accusation and had approved its inclusion in the speech.

[Big Skip]

Ms. Rice said the administration did not learn until March that the documents that were the primary basis for the assertion about Niger had been forged. She also said she did not learn about the mission to Niger last year by a former American ambassador -- who found no evidence to back up the charge -- until a month ago, when she was asked about it during a television interview.

[Another Skip]

When the first rumors of a purchase effort in Niger surfaced, at the beginning of 2002, Vice President Dick Cheney's office asked the C.I.A. to assess the information. Apparently without the knowledge of Mr. Cheney or Mr. Tenet, the agency sent a former ambassador, Joseph C. Wilson IV, to investigate. He reported back that the government of Niger had denied the report, and that other indications were that it was bogus.
Wow. They gave lede coverage to Tenet’s concession, failed to note the revelation that Wilson’s evidence actually supported the claim that Saddam tried to buy uranium ore, and continued to elide the distinction between what Wilson DID debunk (the likelihood that Saddam had actually succeeded in purchasing uranium) and what he kept pretending to have debunked (the President’s claim that Saddam TRIED to buy uranium).

At the other end of the scale, Time Magazine's Matthew Cooper and his cohorts did notice Tenet’s exposure of Wilson, and made a big deal out of it. Tom’s Time Magazine excerpt:
..George Tenet, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, took a shot at Wilson last week as did ex-White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. Both contended that Wilson's report on an alleged Iraqi effort to purchase uranium from Niger, far from undermining the president's claim in his State of the Union address that Iraq sought uranium in Africa, as Wilson had said, actually strengthened it.

..When Tenet issued his I-take-the-blame statement on the alleged . Iraq-Niger uranium connection last week, he took a none-too-subtle jab at Wilson's report. "There was no mention in the report of forged documents — or any suggestion of the existence of documents at all," Tenet wrote. For his part Wilson says he did not deal with the forgeries explicitly in his report because he never saw them. However, Wilson says he refuted the forgeries' central allegation that Niger had been negotiating a sale of uranium to Iraq.
Which again, is not what President Bush claimed. He claimed that Saddam had TRIED to negotiate a purchase of uranium, not that he had actually gotten anyone to negotiate with him. Put a slippery liar together with people who don’t want to catch him, like the Timesmen, and he wriggles clean away. Faced with those who want to expose him, like Cooper et. al., and he just wriggles around on the gaff hook.

With the high profile Time Magazine coverage, Tom notes that a lot of people would have been aware, and his recollection is that a number of bloggers were writing about Tenet’s exposure of Wilson at the time (Pejman for one, though he didn’t have a link handy). Tom's reporting at the time Wilson was first telling his lies: here and here. I certainly did not mean to imply that no one was on the story, only that very few were, indicating that the press largely succeeded in burying the story.

Typical reporting described Tenet as admitting that that the President’s “sixteen words” were “false.” That meant they were following the NYT pattern, only reporting on Tenet’s concession that the words should not have been included in the State of the Union. Had the stories also reported that Wilson actually found evidence that the claim was true, they couldn’t have described it as false. See, for example the random “sixteen words” “false” story that I linked in my previous post. All Tenet concession. No Wilson exposure.

Newsmax was trying at the time to get the word out. They ran a LexisNexis search for how many stories combined “sixteen words” with “false” in the wake of Tenet’s statement and came up with over a thousand. That is an astounding feat of journalistic malfeasance: a whole professional class, supposedly dedicated to the truth, the vast majority whom have been engaged in a gigantic conspiracy of lying about lying.

The Newsmax link no longer works, but I found the original text on Free Republic. Am I allowed to repost here if I note that the story is Copyright © Newsmax 2003? Here goes:

Media Fraud: Press Still Misreporting Uranium Claim as False
Carl Limbacher and NewsMax.com staff, 7/15/2003. Copyright © Newsmax 2003

A week after British Prime Minister Tony Blair told Parliament that he had independent intelligence to back President Bush's claim that Iraq sought uranium from Niger, the overwhelming majority of American news outlets continue to pretend that the story has been conclusively determined as false - even though U.S. officials have repeatedly contradicted that assessment.

A LexisNexis search conducted on Tuesday turned up over 1,000 print and television reports containing the words "uranium" and "false" or "erroneous" in the nine days since the story was first misreported in the New York Times.

Typical was a front page report in Friday's Wall Street Journal, which got the story wrong twice in a single sentence.

"Powell, traveling with Bush in Africa, said the president shouldn't have to apologize for making an erroneous assertion of an Iraq uranium purchase," the paper insisted.

In fact, Bush never claimed that Iraq had actually purchased uranium from Niger, saying only in his January State of the Union address that Saddam Hussein had "sought" the nuclear fuel from an African country.

And far from calling the uranium story "erroneous," the same day Powell went out of his way to make it clear that he wasn't disputing the British claim.

"I would not dispute [British intelligence] or disagree with them or say they're wrong and we're right, because intelligence is of that nature," Powell told the Washington Post. "Some people have more sources ... on a particular issue. Some people have greater confidence in their analysis."

Still, even after Tuesday, July 8, when Prime Minister Blair made it amply clear that he stood by the British intelligence finding sourced by Bush in his State of the Union address, the American press repeatedly portrayed the claim as conclusively wrong.

On Thursday, July 10, CBS Evening News introduced its fraudulant story on the African uranium flap with the teaser "President Bush's false claim about Iraqi weapons; he made it despite a CIA warning the intelligence was bad."

The same day the Dallas Morning News misreported, "Bush brushed aside new questions about whether his administration had deliberately misled the public with his State of the Union assertion - since acknowledged to be false - that Iraq had tried to buy uranium in Africa to build nuclear weapons."

"This was followed on Friday by the admission by CIA Director George J. Tenet that it was his agency's fault that the erroneous information was included in the president's speech," the Columbus Dispatch fraudulently claimed on July 14.

Newspaper headlines ballyhooed the bogus notion that the uranium story was known to be false, like this front page blast in Sunday's Los Angeles Times: "'I've got confidence in George Tenet,' Bush says amid persistent questioning over the erroneous claim about Iraq's bid for uranium."

The same day, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer outdid even the L.A. Times with its bogus headline "Democrats Turn Up Heat Over Misuse of False Report."

Some press outlets went so far as to publish patently false claims that even Mr. Blair didn't believe his own intelligence service. That's what the New York Daily News did on Friday, July 10, in the midst of an editorial defending the Bush administration.

"Saddam was not trying to buy uranium from Niger. Downing Street and the White House have now admitted as much," the paper misreported.

Not surprisingly, the media's big-lie blitzkrieg was kicked off by the granddaddy of made-up news and fabricated stories, the New York Times.

Writing on the paper's op-ed page a week ago Sunday, former acting U.S. ambassador to Iraq Joseph Wilson said his one-man investigation showed that "it was highly doubtful that any such [uranium] transaction had ever taken place."

But again, President Bush never claimed that the transaction had "taken place," only that Iraq was seeking to make the buy.

Still, Wilson's inability to confirm something Bush hadn't claimed prompted him to write: "I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat."

The next day the Washington Post got into the act, misreporting that the White House had "effectively conceded that intelligence underlying the president's statement was wrong."

In fact, the quote the Post cited to back its claim was far more ambiguous, with an anonymous White House official stating only, "Knowing all that we know now, the reference to Iraq's attempt to acquire uranium from Africa should not have been included in the State of the Union speech."

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