Wednesday, July 14, 2004
Lying that Bush lied
.... As CIA director George Tenant put it in his July 11th 2003 statement on the Iraq-Niger intelligence: “[Joe Wilson] reported back to us that one of the former Nigerian officials he met stated that he was unaware of any contract being signed between Niger and rogue states for the sale of uranium during his tenure in office.” But what evidence he did find was supportive: “The same former official also said that in June 1999 a businessman approached him and insisted that the former official meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss ‘expanding commercial relations’ between Iraq and Niger,” adding that “the former official interpreted the overture as an attempt to discuss uranium sales.”
This qualified skepticism was taken by the national media as grounds for charging the Bush administration with lying. The administration hadn’t just been duped. They knew the intelligence was “false.” But by the time of Tenet’s speech, British Prime Minister Tony Blair had already stood by the intelligence estimate. In his July 8th 2003 testimony before the House of Commons, Blair asserted that: “The evidence that we had that the Iraqi Government had gone back to try to purchase further amounts of uranium from Niger did not come from these so-called "forged" documents, they came from separate intelligence.” Further, it had already been reported by the BBC on July 9th 2003 that: “The British Government also says that, when it drew up its dossier, it had not even seen the documents later shown to be forged.” Nothing in what Tenet claimed to know contradicted these British claims in any way.
In other words, the claim that the intelligence report had been known by the CIA to be false was clearly false. Neither was there any reportorial grounds for asserting that the intelligence itself was false. Yet the entire national media, having come so close to having grounds for accusations of lying, was not about to let the opportunity slip through its grasp. For the next full week, major media across the nation were in full roar, labeling the intelligence as “false” in hundreds of news stories while accusing the Bush administration of knowingly lying about it. On July 15th 2003, Newsmax ran a LexisNexis search that “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.”
The whole episode will go down as an unprecedented explosion of mass slander by a fully aware free press. The self-righteous evil here is gargantuan: the pretense of outrage at a lie, when one is starkly aware that it is oneself who is lying, perpetrated by an entire class of professionals who are paid to tell the truth. Yet even amidst this unprecedented evil, The San Jose Mercury News and The San Francisco Chronicle still warrant special condemnation.
Both ran above-the-fold news stories on July 12, four days after Tony Blair declared the British intelligence sound, that labeled the British intelligence “false.” * [Citations at bottom.] These stories were picked up from other sources, but not only did both papers choose to print them as they were, the Chronicle even repeated the false allegations in its choice of headline: “CIA director takes blame for false Iraq claim.” Tenet had not suggested that the British intelligence claim was false, and it had been front page news all across Europe for several days that the British were standing behind it.
Four days later, On July 16 2003, the Mercury News took slander to the next level. Where any moral editors would have felt some compunction to correct the false allegations it had published in wire stories, perhaps admitting that they themselves had been duped, the editors of the Mercury threw another late hit on the pig-pile, publishing a “timeline” about the controversy that listed every negative assessment of the British intelligence while omitting Blair’s by then eight day old rebuttal.** The timeline includes the discovery that some intelligence documents concerning the Iraq-Niger uranium link were forged, but omits the British government’s assertion that its intelligence assessment pre-dated any exposure to the forged documents.
Just for good measure, the timeline asserts that President Bush’s State of the Union claim that al-Qaida was running a training camp in Northeastern Iraq was “also not true.” This timeline was written months after intelligence discoveries in the Iraq war had proven beyond all doubt that Ansar al-Islam in Northeastern Iraq was linked to al-Qaida. In short, if the editors of the Mercury had a chance to tell a lie, either by omission or commission, they took it, with full confidence that California’s left-wing media monopoly would protect them from repercussions. What could expose them? A letter to the editor? Those go in the round file.
Incredibly, the Mercury still was not done. Yet another week later, on July 21st, ex-editorial page editor Rob Elder, who keeps his hand in at the Mercury, ran an entire high-toned opinion article taking the Bush Administration to task for its supposed lying.*** The editors who ran Elder’s article certainly knew by this time that the premises of Elder’s article were all false. In fact, I had sent them a Letter to the Editor on the 16th condemning these same lies when they appeared in the Mercury’s timeline on that date (unpublished, of course). Elder himself is guilty at least of an extraordinary failure of due diligence, but even this would be no accident. The truth is simply not a priority for these people. They are fully self-conscious about treating inconvenient truth as their enemy. Want proof?
When I sent a detailed letter exposing how every premise in Elder’s article was demonstrably false and opined that telling slanderous lies about the President in an effort to undermine our war effort is treasonous, the editors did not print my corrections. They did, however, remove Elder’s article from their on-line archive. At least Mr. Elder and his ex-underlings at the Mercury knew enough at that point to be embarrassed, but if they know enough to be embarrassed, they know that they should run an editorial clearing the President of the many slanders that the Mercury published about him. Essentially, they have acknowledged their lies privately, but refuse to rectify them publicly, proving the self-consciousness of their lack of integrity. (Ironically, Elder is a senior fellow at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.)
* On July 12th, the Mercury’s top news story was a Knight Ridder article, “CIA takes blame for error,” that refers to “President Bush’s false assertion in his State of the Union address that Iraq was trying to buy uranium in Africa.” Also on the 12th, the lead news story in the Chronicle, “CIA director takes blame for false Iraq claim,” mis-described the British Iraq-Niger intelligence as a “baseless allegation” and a “false allegation.” The article was picked up from The Boston Globe.
** “A timeline: who knew what and when? A tale of twisted ‘intelligence’,” Mercury News editorial page, 7/16/03.
*** “So few words, so many consequences,” by Rob Elder, The San Jose Mercury News, 7/21/03, editiorial page.