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Domestic Propaganda and the News Media

Media Complicity

Project: Domestic Propaganda and the News Media
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Authors Laurie Mylroie and Peter Bergen appear on a Canadian news broadcast to discuss the impending war with Iraq, and Iraq’s supposed connections to 9/11. Mylroie has long argued that Saddam Hussein was behind every terrorist attack on the US (see 1990) from the 1993 World Trade Center bombings (see October 2000) to 9/11 (see September 12, 2001); Bergen, like many in the journalistic and intelligence communities, believes Mylroie is a “crackpot” (see December 2003). According to Bergen, Mylroie opens the interview by “lecturing in a hectoring tone: ‘Listen, we’re going to war because President Bush believes Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11. Al-Qaeda is a front for Iraqi intelligence… [the US] bureaucracy made a tremendous blunder that refused to acknowledge these links… the people responsible for gathering this information, say in the CIA, are also the same people who contributed to the blunder on 9/11 and the deaths of 3,000 Americans, and so whenever this information emerges they move to discredit it.’” Bergen counters by noting that her theories defy all intelligence and “common sense, as they [imply] a conspiracy by literally thousands of American officials to suppress the truth of the links between Iraq and 9/11.” Mylroie does not like this. Bergen will later write that by “the end of the interview, Mylroie, who exudes a slightly frazzled, batty air, started getting visibly agitated, her finger jabbing at the camera and her voice rising to a yell as she outlined the following apocalyptic scenario: ‘Now I’m going to tell you something, OK, and I want all Canada to understand, I want you to understand the consequences of the cynicism of people like Peter. There is a very acute chance as we go to war that Saddam will use biological agents as revenge against Americans, that there will be anthrax in the United States and there will be smallpox in the United States. Are you in Canada prepared for Americans who have smallpox and do not know it crossing the border and bringing that into Canada?’” Bergen calls Mylroie’s outburst typical of her “hysterical hyperbole” and “emblematic of Mylroie’s method, which is to never let the facts get in the way of her monomaniacal certainties.” [Washington Monthly, 12/2003]

Entity Tags: Laurie Mylroie, Peter Bergen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Media Complicity, Conservative Media Pundits

New York Post cover labeling the United Nations ‘weasels.’New York Post cover labeling the United Nations ‘weasels.’ [Source: New York Post]When it becomes clear that France will oppose the US resolution at the UN for war with Iraq (see September 28, 2002 and October 26, 2002), Fox News anchor Bob Sellers sarcastically describes France as a member of the “axis of weasels.” The phrase first appeared in the New York Post (both Fox News and the Post are owned by media magnate Rupert Murdoch), and over the following days the phrase often appears in a banner at the bottom of the screen. Later in the year, Fox executive Roger Ailes will be asked if he approved of the banner; he answers: “We shouldn’t have done that, if we did. I would call that bad journalism.” The practice will continue. [New Yorker, 5/26/2003]

Entity Tags: Fox News, Bob Sellers, Rupert Murdoch, New York Post, Roger Ailes

Category Tags: Conservative Media Pundits, Media Complicity, Fox News

’Donahue’ show logo.’Donahue’ show logo. [Source: American Renaissance (.com)]MSNBC, the cable news channel owned by NBC, cancels Phil Donahue’s nightly talk show. MSNBC cites “disappointing ratings” for “Donahue.” The show, originally conceived as a more liberal alternative for Fox News’s overtly conservative “O’Reilly Factor,” started very slow and never came close to challenging either O’Reilly’s ratings or CNN’s Connie Chung, whose show is also in the same time slot. But in recent weeks, Donahue’s ratings have steadily increased to the point where it is the top-rated show on the network, even beating MSNBC’s flagship political show, “Hardball With Chris Matthews.”
'Tired Left-Wing Liberal' - An internal report commissioned by the network’s executives, later obtained by media analyst Rick Ellis, calls Phil Donahue “a tired, left-wing liberal out of touch with the current marketplace.” The report says that Donahue’s show presents a “difficult public face for NBC in a time of war.… He seems to delight in presenting guests who are anti-war, anti-Bush, and skeptical of the administration’s motives.” If the show continues on the air, the report warns that it could become “a home for the liberal anti-war agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity.” As Donahue exits the lineup, MSNBC brings aboard former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough as commentators, and radical right-wing talk show host Michael Savage and libertarian Jesse Ventura, the former governor of Minnesota, as hosts. Donahue’s time slot will be taken temporarily by the expansion of another show, “Countdown: Iraq,” to two hours. Nation columnist John Nichols writes: “Talk about adding insult to injury. Getting canceled is bad enough; getting canceled to make way for a program devoted to anticipating an unnecessary war is just plain awful.” [New York Times, 2/26/2003; AllYourTV (.com), 2/26/2003; Nation, 2/27/2003] In 2007, Donahue says he knew nothing of the internal memo at the time (see April 25, 2007). “I didn’t know about that till I read about it in the New York Times.” When asked: “What did you think? What does that say to you? That dissent is unpatriotic?” Donahue will reply, “Well, not only unpatriotic, but it’s not good for business.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
MSNBC 'Tak[ing] the Coward's Road' - A source close to Donahue says that Donahue’s cancellation is “no coincidence.” The MSNBC executives are “scared,” the source says, “and they decided to take the coward’s road and slant towards the conservative crowd that watch Fox News.” Ellis, a veteran media analyst with strong connections in the TV news industry, writes that MSNBC, “[r]ather than building a unique voice, the news channel has opted to become a lesser alternative to the Fox News Channel.” Interestingly, the NBC report recommended against such a course: “The temptation is to chase the audience that is already out there and play to what seems to be working at Fox. But there is another road, and if we build our unique voices from within, we have a chance to develop a loyal and valuable audience.” Nichols writes, “[I]t is a pretty good bet that, now that ‘Donahue’ is going off the air, we will not soon see another show like the one where he featured [consumer advocate] Ralph Nader and [progressive columnist] Molly Ivins in front of a crowd of laid-off Enron employees.” Nichols adds that while Donahue’s show may have been conceived as a liberal alternative to O’Reilly, it was never allowed to be such: “For every program that featured Ralph Nader and Molly Ivins, there were ten where Donahue was forced to ask polite questions of second-string conservative pundits. Where his conservative competitors never worry about fairness or balance, Donahue was under constant pressure to clog his show’s arteries with deadly dull apologists for all things Bush. And when that got too boring, he was pressured to steer the show away from politics and toward the glitzy and the maudlin.” Only in its last few weeks did MSNBC allow Donahue to do what he does best—interview interesting guests in front of a live audience. The show’s ratings began climbing rapidly. Whether the show could have challenged O’Reilly or other conservative shows’ ratings can never be known.
Never Trusted the American Viewing Audience - Nichols concludes: “Now that ‘Donahue’ has been ditched, conservative commentators and network executives will tell themselves that there is no audience for progressive voices on television. They will, of course, be wrong on the broad premise—some of O’Reilly’s best shows feature feisty progressives like US [Representatives] Jan Schakowsky and Bernie Sanders. And they will be wrong more specifically about Donahue. We will never know for sure whether Phil Donahue could have seriously competed with conservative hosts like Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity. What we do now, for sure, is that MSNBC executives were never willing to trust Phil Donahue—or the American television viewing audience.” [New York Times, 2/26/2003; AllYourTV (.com), 2/26/2003; Nation, 2/27/2003]

Entity Tags: Fox News, Sean Hannity, Enron Corporation, Connie Chung, CNN, Bill O’Reilly, Bernie Sanders, Rick Ellis, Ralph Nader, Phil Donahue, NBC, MSNBC, Jesse Ventura, John Nichols, Michael Savage, Joseph Scarborough, Molly Ivins, Jan Schakowsky, Dick Armey

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Fox News, Liberal Media Pundits

Jerry Bruckheimer.Jerry Bruckheimer. [Source: Thomas Robinson / Getty Images / Forbes]ABC airs the first of a six-episode reality series entitled Profiles from the Front Line, which purports to document the war in Afghanistan from the soldiers’ point of view. It was conceived and produced with the extensive help and oversight of the Pentagon. [Chicago Tribune, 2/26/2003] Filming for the show began in May 2002. [Los Angeles Times, 2/6/2003] ABC executives say that the show will tell the “compelling personal stories of the US military men and women who bear the burden of the fighting” in Afghanistan. The series was quickly approved by Victoria Clarke, the head of the Pentagon’s public relations office (see Early 2002 and Beyond), and by Rear Admiral Craig Quigley, the public relations commander of US Central Command. Clarke and Quigley granted the series producers unprecedented access to the troops, technical advice, and even the use of aircraft carriers for filming. In return, the Pentagon received the right to review and approve all footage before airing (in the interests of national security, Pentagon officials said). [Rich, 2006, pp. 32-33] The Pentagon denies that it asked for any changes in the series’ broadcast footage. [Washington Post, 3/9/2003]
Producers Insist Show Not Propaganda, No Censorship from Pentagon - Though the show is widely considered to be tied in to the Bush administration’s push for war with Iraq (some question the fact that the show was shelved for months before suddenly being approved just as news of the impending invasion began hitting the news), series producer Bertram van Munster says he came up with the idea after 9/11. “We were all kind of numb, I certainly was extremely numb for two or three weeks,” he will recall. “And I said I’ve got to do something.” Van Munster and his co-producer, famed movie and television producer Jerry Bruckheimer (an acknowledged Bush supporter best known for his action-film blockbusters such as Top Gun, Black Hawk Down, and Pearl Harbor, as well as the CSI television series), put together a proposal that van Munster says does not necessarily support President Bush’s war plans. Instead, he says, the show is intended to personalize America’s fighting forces. “There’s nothing flag-waving about death. We have people getting killed on the show,” he says. “In many ways, I see this thing as much anti-war as it is a portrait of what these people are doing out there.” Bruckheimer insists that the Defense Department did not exercise any censorship whatsoever except in minor instances, such as the withholding of a Special Forces soldier’s last name. “They didn’t use any censorship whatsoever,” Bruckheimer says. “They were very cooperative.… They were very receptive to the concept of showing what US forces were doing in Afghanistan.” The show’s own film, shot on location in Afghanistan, is bolstered by Defense Department footage. [Los Angeles Times, 2/6/2003; Chicago Tribune, 2/26/2003; Washington Post, 3/9/2003; Progressive, 4/1/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 32-33] The Progressive’s Andrea Lewis calls the show “reality television, war movie, documentary video, and military propaganda all rolled into one.” Other critics call it “a Pentagon infomercial.” Bruckheimer denies that the show is propaganda, but admits that he ensured the show would present the positive face of the military: “Put it this way. If I were to rent your apartment, I’m not going to trash it. It wouldn’t be right. So I’m not going to go and expose all their blemishes.” [Progressive, 4/1/2003; Television Week, 7/14/2003]
Documentary or Reality TV? - Chicago Tribune reviewer Allan Johnson writes of the first episode: “Stirring orchestral music and editing, framing and [quick] pacing… succeed in instilling enough patriotic feelings so that Bush should give the producers a cheer. Which raises the question of whether such advocacy is appropriate in these sensitive times.” The first episode provides what Johnson calls a reflection of standard reality-show characters: the serious-minded father figure (a captain who commands 150 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division); a gung-ho aircraft mechanic who tells the camera that the terrorists “had better be ready for some payback, and it’s going to continue until we end it;” a roguish Special Forces sergeant who says his job is to “find and kill all al-Qaeda;” the stockbroker-turned-soldier whose wife weeps uncontrollably as he leaves for Afghanistan; and others. One soldier says with a smile, “I couldn’t think of any place I’d rather be than right here doing my job, knowing I’m doing my part to keep America free.” Lewis calls the soldiers who are profiled for the series “good looking, articulate, and enthusiastic about what they’re doing… archetypes of characters you’d expect to see in a big-budget Bruckheimer film.” Answering the question of whether the show is reality television or straight documentary, Bruckheimer says, “I think it’s a little bit of both.” Van Munster adds: “I think documentary and reality are actually brother and sister. And it’s also cinema verite.” [Chicago Tribune, 2/26/2003; Progressive, 4/1/2003] Others disagree. “It raises all sorts of questions, which are exacerbated by the entertainment factor,” says Robert Lichter, president of the Center for Media and Public Affairs. “One check on war news becoming propaganda is the professionalism of journalists, which will be ostentatiously lacking.… Documentaries are inherently more informative than entertainment. ‘Reality’ programming turns the tables.” [Los Angeles Times, 2/6/2003]
Journalists Shocked at Wide Access Enjoyed by Show's Producers, Camera Teams - Many war correspondents are shocked at the level of access, and the amount of cooperation, between the Pentagon and ABC, especially considering the difficulties they routinely encounter in getting near any battlefields. Even a complaint from ABC News regarding the show’s broad access as contrasted to the restrictions forced upon their reporters is rejected by ABC’s parent company, Disney. “There’s a lot of other ways to convey information to the American people than through news organizations,” Quigley says. [Rich, 2006, pp. 32-33] Lewis writes: “During the months when Profiles was filmed, ‘real’ journalists weren’t allowed anywhere near the front lines, and news organizations had to survive on a limited diet of highly coordinated military briefings. Meanwhile, Profiles camera crews were given nearly unlimited access to US soldiers in Afghanistan.” CBS anchor Dan Rather says: “I’m outraged by the Hollywoodization of the military. The Pentagon would rather make troops available as props in gung-ho videos than explain how the commanders let Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda leaders escape or target the wrong villages.” [Progressive, 4/1/2003]
Show Used to 'Train' Pentagon for Embedding Journalists in Iraq - The Pentagon’s project officer for the series, Vince Ogilvie, later says that the interactions of the Profiles film crews and military personnel provided “a prelude to the process of embedding” media representatives in military units for war coverage in Iraq. The series had a number of different crews in different military units over its shooting schedule, Ogilvie will say: “Though they were not reporting on a daily basis, they were with the unit—living with the unit and reporting on what different individuals or units were involved in. With each passing day, week, month came a better understanding.” [Washington Post, 3/9/2003]
Show Not Renewed - The show will do extremely poorly in the ratings, and after its six-episode run is completed, it will not be renewed. [Rich, 2006, pp. 32-33] Van Munster will become involved in a shadowy Pentagon-driven project to document the Iraq occupation, of which little will be known. A Cato Institute official will say of that project: “This administration is fighting a PR battle over weapons of mass destruction and whether we’re getting bogged down in a quagmire. So maybe they want to frame their own message and own history about their time in Iraq.” [Television Week, 7/14/2003]

Entity Tags: American Broadcasting Corporation, Allan Johnson, Andrea Lewis, Cato Institute, Bush administration (43), Craig Quigley, Bertram van Munster, Robert Lichter, Jerry Bruckheimer, Dan Rather, Vince Ogilvie, Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, White House Involvement, Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War

Several journalists question a recent White House press conference that was entirely scripted and orchestrated by the White House with the knowing complicity of the reporters present (see March 6, 2003). Journalist Russell Mokhiber, who attends the conference, later says it “might have been the most controlled presidential news conference in recent memory.… The president had a list of 17 reporters who he was going to call on. He didn’t take any questions from reporters raising their hands.” White House communications director Dan Bartlett later retorts, “If you have a message you’re trying to deliver, a news conference can go in a different direction.” However, “In this case, we know what the questions are going to be, and those are the ones we want to answer.” [PRWatch, 4/2003]
'Deferential Reporters' - ABC political reporter and commentator Sam Donaldson, a fixture of the White House press corps during the Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton administrations, later recalls “wincing” as he watched “deferential reporters” questioning President Bush during the “scripted” conference. Donaldson will say: “People ask me, ‘Do you wish you were back at the White House?’ And I say, ‘No, not really.’ [But] there are moments like Thursday night when—yeah—I want to be there!” Veteran White House reporter Larry McQuillan of USA Today says Bush’s “call sheet” of preselected reporters “demeaned the reporters who were called on as much as those who weren’t.” Another correspondent at the conference later says: “They completely played us. What’s the point of having a press conference if you’re not going to answer questions? It was calculated on so many different levels.” New York Observer commentator Michael Crowley notes that the press corps itself must share some of the blame: “Although some asked reasonably pointed questions, most did with a tone of extreme deference… that suggested a skittishness, to which they will admit, about being seen as unpatriotic or disrespectful of a commander in chief on the eve of war. Few made any effort to follow up their questions after Mr. Bush’s recitation of arguments that were more speech-like than extemporaneous: Saddam Hussein is a threat to America, Iraq has not disarmed, Sept. 11 must never happen again.… The press corps seemed mainly to serve as a prop, providing Mr. Bush with an opportunity to deliver another pro-war speech while appearing to bravely face the music.” ABC’s Terry Moran reflects that he and the rest of the press corps shirked their duty: “The point is to get [the president] to answer questions, not just to stand up there and use all the majesty of the presidency to amplify his image.” [New York Observer, 3/16/2003]
'Kabuki' Conference - Salon’s Eric Boehlert will later write: “The entire press conference performance was a farce—the staging, the seating, the questions, the order, and the answers. Nothing about it was real or truly informative. It was, nonetheless, unintentionally revealing. Not revealing about the war, Bush’s rationale, or about the bloody, sustained conflict that was about to be unleashed inside Iraq. Reporters helped shed virtually no light on those key issues. Instead, the calculated kabuki press conference, stage-managed by the White House employing the nation’s most elite reporters as high-profile extras, did reveal what viewers needed to know about the mind-set of the [mainstream media] on the eve of war.” [Salon, 5/4/2006]

Entity Tags: Sam Donaldson, Eric Boehlert, Dan Bartlett, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Larry McQuillan, Terry Moran, Michael Crowley, Russell Mokhiber

Category Tags: White House Involvement, Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War

The Columbia Journalism Review reports on the procedures and constraints that so-called “embedded” reporters must agree to follow if they are to accompany US military units into Iraq (see February 2003). They can write about what they like, but must:
bullet Refrain from reporting “about ongoing mission (unless directed to do so by the on-site commander)”;
bullet Refrain from “reporting on the specific results of completed missions, or on future, postponed, or canceled missions”;
bullet Refrain from “breaking embargoes imposed on stories for ‘operational security’ reasons”;
bullet Refrain from “traveling in their own vehicles”;
There are also some other, more technical restrictions. [Unger, 2007, pp. 293]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Columbia Journalism Review

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Media Complicity, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns, Media Coverage of Iraq War

President Bush holds a press conference—only his eighth since taking office—in which he conflates Iraq and Saddam Hussein with the 9/11 attacks and the global war on terror at least 12 times. For instance, he says: “Iraq is a part of the war on terror. It’s a country that trains terrorists; it’s a country that could arm terrorists. Saddam Hussein and his weapons are a direct threat to this country.” Perhaps his most alarming statement is, “September the 11th should say to the American people that we’re now a battlefield.” [White House, 3/6/2003; Salon, 5/4/2006; PBS, 4/25/2007] Bush insists that he has not yet decided to take military action against Iraq (see March 6, 2003). [Salon, 5/4/2006]
Scripted and Orchestrated - Oddly, none of the 94 assembled journalists challenge Bush’s conflations, no one asks about Osama bin Laden, and no one asks follow-up questions to elicit information past the sound bites Bush delivers. There is a reason for that. In 2007, PBS’s Bill Moyers will report that “the White House press corps will ask no hard questions… about those claims,” because the entire press conference is scripted. “Sure enough, the president’s staff has given him a list of reporters to call on,” Moyers will report. Press Secretary Ari Fleischer later admits to giving Bush the list, which omits reporters from such media outlets as Time, Newsweek, USA Today, and the Washington Post. After calling on CNN reporter John King, Bush says, “This is a scripted—” and then breaks into laughter. King, like his colleagues, continues as if nothing untoward is happening. Author and media commentator Eric Boehlert will later say: “[Bush] sort of giggled and laughed. And, the reporters sort of laughed. And, I don’t know if it was out of embarrassment for him or embarrassment for them because they still continued to play along after his question was done. They all shot up their hands and pretended they had a chance of being called on.” Several questions later, Bush pretends to choose from the available reporters, saying: “Let’s see here… Elizabeth… Gregory… April.… Did you have a question or did I call upon you cold?” The reporter asks, “How is your faith guiding you?” Bush responds: “My faith sustains me because I pray daily. I pray for guidance.” Boehlert will later say: “I think it just crystallized what was wrong with the press coverage during the run up to the war. I think they felt like the war was gonna happen and the best thing for them to do was to get out of the way.” [White House, 3/6/2003; Salon, 5/4/2006; PBS, 4/25/2007]
Defending the Press's Complicity - New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller, a participant in the conference, will later defends the press corps’ “timid behavior,” in Boehlert’s characterization, by saying: “I think we were very deferential because… it’s live, it’s very intense, it’s frightening to stand up there. Think about it, you’re standing up on prime-time live TV asking the president of the United States a question when the country’s about to go to war. There was a very serious, somber tone that evening, and no one wanted to get into an argument with the president at this very serious time.” [Salon, 5/4/2006]
Compliant Media Coverage - The broadcast news media, transmitting the live feed of the conference, could not have been more accommodating, author and media critic Frank Rich will later note. “CNN flashed the White House’s chosen messages in repetitive rotation on the bottom of the screen while the event was still going on—‘People of good will are hoping for peace’ and ‘My job is to protect America.’” After the conference, Fox News commentator Greta van Susteren tells her audience, “What I liked tonight was that in prime time [Bush] said to the American people, my job is to protect the American people.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 70]
Follow-Up Coverage Equally Stage-Managed - Boehlert notes that the post-conference coverage is equally one-sided. On MSNBC’s flagship news commentary show, Hardball, host Chris Matthews spends an hour discussing the conference and the upcoming invasion. Matthews invites six guests on. Five are advocates of the war, and one, given a few moments for “balance,” questions some of the assumptions behind the rationale for war. The five pro-war guests include an “independent military analyst,” retired General Montgomery Meigs, who is one of around 75 retired military officers later exposed as participants in a Pentagon propaganda operation designed to promote the war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). [Salon, 5/4/2006]
Some Criticism Leveled - Several journalists later write harsh critiques of the conference and the media’s complicity (see March-April 2003).

Entity Tags: Montgomery Meigs, USA Today, Washington Post, Time magazine, MSNBC, George W. Bush, Greta Van Susteren, Ari Fleischer, Bill Moyers, CNN, Chris Matthews, Elisabeth Bumiller, John King, Frank Rich, Eric Boehlert, Newsweek

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Media Complicity, White House Involvement, Media Coverage of Iraq War

Walter Pincus.Walter Pincus. [Source: Publicity photo]By mid-March 2003, Washington Post journalist Walter Pincus is skeptical of Colin Powell’s speech to the UN (see February 5, 2003) and develops material for an article questioning Powell’s evidence. However, his editors are not interested.
Page A17 - But thanks to pressure from his colleague Bob Woodward, the Post runs his story on March 16, but only on page A17. The article reads, “US intelligence agencies have been unable to give Congress or the Pentagon specific information about the amounts of banned weapons or where they are hidden….” It notes that senior US officials “repeatedly have failed to mention the considerable amount of documented weapons destruction that took place in Iraq between 1991 and 1998.” [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004] Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. will later say, “In retrospect, that probably should have been on Page 1 instead of A17, even though it wasn’t a definitive story and had to rely on unnamed sources. It was a very prescient story.” [Washington Post, 8/12/2004]
Follow-up - Two days later, the Post publishes another critical story by Pincus, this one co-written with Dana Milbank. It reads, “As the Bush administration prepares to attack Iraq this week, it is doing so on the basis of a number of allegations against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that have been challenged—and in some cases disproved—by the United Nations, European governments and even US intelligence reports.” However, this story only appears on page A13. [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004]
Third Story Held Until After Start of War - Around the same time, Post journalists Dana Priest and Karen DeYoung turn in a story that says CIA officials “communicated significant doubts to the administration” about evidence tying Iraq to attempted uranium purchases for nuclear weapons. But the story is held until March 22, three days after the Iraq war begins. [Washington Post, 8/12/2004]
Post's Editors Did Not Want to "Make a Difference" - Pincus will later comment, “The front pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times are very important in shaping what other people think. They’re like writing a memo to the White House.” But the Post’s editors “went through a whole phase in which they didn’t put things on the front page that would make a difference.” [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004] Downie will later say, “Not enough of those stories were put on the front page. That was a mistake on my part.” [Washington Post, 8/12/2004]

Entity Tags: Bob Woodward, Walter Pincus, Leonard Downie, Jr., Washington Post

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War

Former Marine colonel and convicted felon Oliver North (see May-June, 1989), now a conservative radio host, is embedded with a Marine unit by Fox News. North reports “rumors” that French officials at the Embassy in Baghdad are destroying documents proving French complicity in Iraq’s chemical—and biological—weapons programs. The report is quickly proven false. Fox spokeswoman Irena Steffen tells a newspaper that North is “a military contributor to Fox. He is neither a reporter nor a correspondent.” [New Yorker, 5/26/2003]

Entity Tags: Oliver North, Fox News, Irena Steffen

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Conservative Media Pundits, Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Fox News

Peter Jennings.Peter Jennings. [Source: ABC / Pop Stars Plus]While CBS and NBC begin covering the US strikes against Iraqi targets almost from the outset (see March 19, 2003), ABC News delays its coverage for 11 minutes after its broadcast competitors, leading Washington Post media correspondent Lisa de Moraes to mockingly declare ABC to be the “first victim” of the war. In a March 21 analysis, de Moraes will note that ABC waits while its show The Bachelor: Where Are They Now? completes its broadcast. ABC news anchor Peter Jennings shows up to lead the network’s coverage almost a half hour later than his colleagues at NBC and CBS, leading de Moraes to ask if Jennings was not aware of the “scheduled” 8 p.m. deadline laid down by President Bush. “[W]asn’t anyone at ABC News watching that MSNBC countdown clock?” she asks. It is NBC that officially breaks the news of the military strike, with correspondent Peter Arnett informing NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw of the attack at 9:32 p.m. Jennings, whom de Moraes speculates “was at a dinner party,” finally takes to the air at 10:05 p.m, just a few minutes before, de Moraes writes, “President Bush went on the air to formally cut the ribbon on the war.” An ABC News spokesman later confesses that when the war broke, “our correspondent was out of position.” De Moraes is equally bemused that Jennings left the news desk at 11:01 p.m, surprising some local affiliates who plan to continue running ABC’s national news transmission instead of their own local programming. One affiliate’s news director later says, “There was a sense that the coverage was going to continue for some time, and when it ended so abruptly it caught all of us off guard.” The next day, ABC officials Alex Wallau and David Westin issue a joint statement: “We decided around 10:55 p.m. ET last night to end Special Report coverage.… We felt that we had covered this story in Iraq to that point and that we should allow for your late local news broadcasts. We were not aware that there had been Network Alert System communications sent to your stations saying that there would not be a local news opportunity last night.” [Washington Post, 3/21/2003; New York Times, 3/30/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 73]

Entity Tags: MSNBC, Dan Rather, CBS News, Alex Wallau, ABC News, David Westin, Lisa de Moraes, Peter Arnett, Peter Jennings, NBC News, Tom Brokaw, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War

Neoconservative Michael Ledeen, in an op-ed entitled “One Battle in a Wider War,” echoes the thinking of other neoconservatives when he writes that other Middle Eastern countries, specifically Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, must also be invaded by the US. “Once upon a time, it might have been possible to deal with Iraq alone, without having to face the murderous forces of the other terror masters in Tehran, Damascus, and [Riyadh], but that time has passed,” he writes. “Iraq is a battle, not a war. We have to win the war, and the only way to do that is to bring down the terror masters, and spread freedom throughout the region.” [New York Sun, 3/19/2003]

Entity Tags: Michael Ledeen

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Media Complicity

US broadcast and cable news outlets begin covering the first US strikes against Iraqi targets (see March 19, 2003 and March 19-20, 2003), but, as author and media critic Frank Rich will later note, their coverage often lacks accuracy. News broadcasts report “a decapitation strike” (see March 20, 2003) that lead US viewers to believe for hours that Saddam Hussein has been killed. CNN’s title card for its strike coverage reads, “Zero Hour for Iraq Arrives”; during its initial coverage, CNN features New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who credits “a slew of information from defectors” and other “intelligence sources”—those who had provided the foundation for Secretary of State Colin Powell’s “impressive speech to the United Nations” (see February 5, 2003)—with the imminent discovery and destruction of Iraq’s WMD stockpiles. “One person in Washington told me that the list could total more than 1,400 of those sites,” Miller says. Pentagon PR chief Victoria Clarke, who had created both the Pentagon’s “embed program” of reporters going into battle with selected military units (see February 2003) and the “military analysts” program of sending carefully selected retired flag officers to the press and television news programs to give the administration’s views of the war (see Early 2002 and Beyond), has overseen the construction of a briefing room for press conferences from US CENTCOM headquarters in Qatar: the $200,000 facility was designed by a production designer who had worked for, among others, Disney, MGM, and illusionist David Blaine. Clarke and the Pentagon marketing officials succeed in having their term to describe the initial assault, “shock and awe,” promulgated throughout the broadcast and cable coverage. (Fox and MSNBC will soon oblige the Pentagon by changing the name of their Iraqi coverage programming to the official administration name for the invasion, “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”) During the assault, as Rich will later write, “the pyrotechnics of Shock and Awe looked like a distant fireworks display, or perhaps the cool computer graphics of a Matrix-inspired video game, rather than the bombing of a large city. None of Baghdad’s nearly six million people were visible.” Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon later says, “If you had hired actors [instead of the network news anchors], you could not have gotten better coverage.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 73-75]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, CNN, David Blaine, Frank Rich, Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke, Judith Miller, Kenneth Bacon

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns, Fox News

A photo of a slain US soldier as broadcast on Al Jazeera.A photo of a slain US soldier as broadcast on Al Jazeera. [Source: Al Jazeera / TheWE (.cc)]With the first broadcast of graphic, disturbing images from the Iraq war on Al Jazeera television news shows, the media coverage of the US strike begins turning away from what media critic Frank Rich will later call “cheerleading” (see March 19-20, 2003) to a more somber assessment of the events taking place in Iraq. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation, is embarrassed when host Bob Schieffer shows part of an Al Jazeera film clip of US troops being killed. (The Pentagon is also denying media reports that around ten US soldiers were either captured or missing. The juxtaposition is inopportune for Rumsfeld and the “shock and awe” story he and the Defense Department wish to tell.) The Pentagon will quickly decide that for the US media to show such images violates “the principles of the Geneva Conventions” and attempt to stop them from being shown in the American press. The Pentagon’s proscription of such images being published and broadcast is only partially successful. ABC news anchor Charles Gibson engages in an on-air discussion of the propriety of airing such images with reporter Ted Koppel. Gibson says to broadcast such disturbing images would be “simply disrespectful,” a point with which Koppel, embedded with the Third Infantry Division, disagrees. The news media is “ginning up patriotic feelings” in covering the war, Koppel says: “I feel that we do have an obligation to remind people in the most graphic way that war is a dreadful thing.… The fact of the matter is young Americans are dying. Young Iraqis are dying. And I think to turn our faces away from that is a mistake.… To sanitize it too much is a dreadful mistake.” However, Koppel’s is not a popular argument. CNN decided at the onset of the war to minimize its broadcast of graphic imagery in deference to “the sensibilities of our viewers.” The other US television news outlets make similar decisions, leaving it to the BBC and other non-American news organizations to show what Rich calls “the savagery and blood of warfare.” Ex-Marine Anthony Swofford, who wrote the bestseller Jarhead about his experiences during the 1991 Gulf War, later says the television coverage is so sanitized that he quickly shut off his TV “and stayed with the print.… [T]he actual experience of combat doesn’t make it to the other side of the screen.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 76]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Al Jazeera, Anthony Swofford, Bob Schieffer, Charles Gibson, US Department of Defense, Ted Koppel, Geneva Conventions, Frank Rich

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns

Photos of five US captives broadcast by Al Jazeera. The soldiers are, clockwise from the left: Spc. Shoshana Johnson, Spc. Edgar Hernandez, Spc. Joseph Hudson, Pfc. Patrick Miller, and Sgt. James Riley.Photos of five US captives broadcast by Al Jazeera. The soldiers are, clockwise from the left: Spc. Shoshana Johnson, Spc. Edgar Hernandez, Spc. Joseph Hudson, Pfc. Patrick Miller, and Sgt. James Riley. [Source: Al Jazeera / CNN]The Arab television network Al Jazeera broadcasts graphic close-up shots of dead US soldiers taken during the same ambush that saw the capture of Private Jessica Lynch (see March 23, 2003). The bodies are sprawled on a concrete floor; a smiling Iraqi fighter points out the individual bodies for the camera. At least two of the soldiers appear to have been shot, one between the eyes. In the same broadcast, four exhausted and shaken captured US soldiers, also members of Lynch’s unit, are shown giving short and uninformative answers to their captors. Still photos of five soldiers are shown by the network. [Washington Post, 6/17/2003] The still images of the prisoners are shown on at least one US news show, NBC’s “Dateline.” [New York Times, 3/28/2003] The parents of one of the captives, Shoshana Johnson, learned of their daughter’s capture from a Spanish-language news broadcast on Telemundo before they were informed by the Pentagon. Joseph Hudson’s mother learned of her son’s capture from a Filipino television broadcast. Johnson’s sister, Army Captain Nikki Johnson, says that it is not necessarily wrong for footage of American POWs to be broadcast because “[y]ou get to see the condition the soldiers are in now. It’ll be very hard for them to mistreat them and try and say, ‘Oh, we found them that way.’” Johnson’s father, Claude, who fought in the 1991 Gulf War as an Army sergeant, says, “The instant we found out they were prisoners, we should have been talking to the people in the Red Cross and ensuring that somebody got out there. We can’t turn the clock back. What is done is done. Now is the time to get the people from the Red Cross or whatever organization is available to go in and make a true assessment, and then we can go from there.” Miller’s half-brother Thomas Hershberger says, “We are glad he wasn’t killed. We hope he makes it back. We all love him, and we hope he is treated humanely.” Hudson’s mother Anecita says tearfully, “I just would like [to say] to the president of United States of America [to] do something about it—to save my son. And I want him to come home.” [CNN, 5/25/2003] Excluding Lynch, the US soldiers will be freed 22 days later; Lynch will be rescued from a Nasiriyah hospital nine days later (see June 17, 2003).

Entity Tags: Patrick Miller, Jessica Lynch, International Committee of the Red Cross, Claude Johnson, Anecita Hudson, Al Jazeera, Joseph Hudson, Nikki Johnson, Thomas Hershberger, Shoshana Johnson, NBC, Telemundo

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Lynch Disinfomation, Media Complicity, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns, Media Coverage of Iraq War

Jamal Mustafa Sultan Tikriti, photographed at Chalabi’s ANC headquarters on April 21, 2003.Jamal Mustafa Sultan Tikriti, photographed at Chalabi’s ANC headquarters on April 21, 2003. [Source: Reuters / Corbis]New York Times reporter Judith Miller is embedded with Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha (MET Alpha), a US Army unit charged with trying to find weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq. Miller had written a number of front-page Times stories before the war, strongly suggesting Iraq was pursuing WMD programs; all those stories will later be proven incorrect (see November 6-8, 2001, September 8, 2002, April 20, 2003, September 18, 2002, and July 25, 2003). Miller plays what the press will later call a “highly unusual role” with the unit. One US official will later claim that she turns the unit into a “rogue operation.” [Washington Post, 6/25/2003]
Accepting Military Restrictions - Miller accepted an unusual set of restrictions from the military in order to embed with MET Alpha. Most embedded journalists agreed not to report on forthcoming military tactics and to conceal sensitive information about troop movements and positions. Miller, on the other hand, agreed to allow the military to censor her work, and agreed not to publish items until they were approved by military officials. MET Alpha public affairs officer Eugene Pomeroy, who works closely with her, will later recall the agreement, saying that Miller helped negotiate the terms, and will recall the agreement being so sensitive that Defense Secretary Donal Rumsfeld signed off on it. According to the agreement, Pomeroy will recall: “Any articles going out had to be, well, censored. The mission contained some highly classified elements and people, what we dubbed the ‘Secret Squirrels,’ and their ‘sources and methods’ had to be protected and a war was about to start.” Miller’s copy is censored by a colonel, presumably MET Alpha commander Colonel Richard McPhee, who, according to Pomeroy, often reads her work in his sleeping bag, clutching a small flashlight between his teeth. Sometimes, while traveling with the unit, Miller wears a military uniform. [New York Magazine, 5/21/2005]
Threats and Connections - Miller, who has the reputation of being a “diva,” is friends with powerful neoconservatives such as Rumsfeld, his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, Pentagon adviser Richard Perle, and other figures in the Pentagon and the Bush administration. One military officer will later claim Miller sometimes “intimidated” Army soldiers by mentioning her relationship to Rumsfeld or Feith, saying, “Essentially, she threatened them,” to get the unit to do her bidding. Another officer says Miller “was always issuing threats of either going to the New York Times or to the secretary of defense. There was nothing veiled about that threat.” This officer adds that MET Alpha “was allowed to bend the rules.” [Washington Post, 6/25/2003; New York Magazine, 5/21/2005] In 2005, reporter Franklin Foer will write: “While Miller might not have intended to march in lockstep with these hawks, she was caught up in an almost irresistible cycle. Because she kept printing the neocon party line, the neocons kept coming to her with huge stories and great quotes, constantly expanding her access.” [New York Magazine, 5/21/2005]
Miller Influences Where the Unit Will Go - On April 21, MET Alpha is ordered to withdraw to the southern Iraqi town of Talil, but Miller objects in a handwritten note to two public affairs officers. Her note says: “I see no reason for me to waste time (or MET Alpha, for that matter) in Talil.… Request permission to stay on here with colleagues at the Palestine Hotel till MET Alpha returns or order to return is rescinded. I intend to write about this decision in the [New York] Times to send a successful team back home just as progress on WMD is being made.” Miller challenges the plan to go to Talil, and takes her concerns to Major General David Petraeus, commander of the 101st Airborne. Petraeus does not have direct authority over McPhee, the commander of the 75th Exploitation Task Force, which contains the MET Alpha unit. But McPhee rescinds the withdrawal order after Petraeus advises him to do so. [Washington Post, 6/25/2003; New York Magazine, 5/21/2005]
Redirecting the Unit's Mission - Miller is also friends with Iraqi National Congress (INC) leader Ahmed Chalabi, who gave her leads for many later-debunked stories. More than half a dozen military officers will later claim that Miller acts as a go-between between Chalabi and the unit. On one occasion in April she takes some unit leaders to Chalabi’s headquarters, where the unit takes custody of Jamal Mustafa Sultan Tikriti, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law, number 40 on the US’s most wanted list. She also sits in on his debriefing. None of the members of the unit have any experience in interrogation. Several US military officials will say they are upset that completely untrained officers led the debriefing of Tikriti. One Chalabi aide will explain why they turned Tikriti over to the MET Alpha unit instead of using the ANC’s usual contacts with the US miliary, saying, “We told Judy because we thought it was a good story.” When Miller later writes a story about Tikriti’s capture, she will claim that the handover was pure coincidence, as leaders of the unit “happened to be meeting” with Chalabi to “discuss nonproliferation issues.” One official will later complain that the unit became the “Judith Miller team” when she effectively redirected it from finding WMDs to holding and interrogating high-ranking prisoners. A military officer will later say: “This was totally out of their lane, getting involved with human intelligence.… [Miller] came in with a plan. She was leading them.… She ended up almost hijacking the mission.” A senior staff officer of the 75th Exploitation Task Force will similarly complain, “It’s impossible to exaggerate the impact she had on the mission of this unit, and not for the better.” [Washington Post, 6/25/2003]
Guarding Her Access - Pomeroy and another witness will recall Miller jealously guarding her access from other reporters. In one instance, when Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman travels with the unit for a day, Miller orders the unit’s troops not to speak to him. According to Pomeroy, “She told people that she had clearance to be there and Bart didn’t.” [New York Magazine, 5/21/2005]
Miller Has Unit Investigate Dubious Tips from Chalabi - In other cases, the unit apparently follows leads given to Miller by Chalabi or his aides. For instance, it discovers Iraqi intelligence documents and maps related to Israel, and Miller writes a story about this. Chalabi aide Zaab Sethna will later say: “We thought this was a great story for the New York Times.… That came from us.” While embedded with the unit, Miller writes stories for the Times strongly suggesting the unit has discovered WMDs. For instance, one of her headlines is “US Analysts Link Iraq Labs to Germ Arms,” and another is “US Experts Find Radioactive Material in Iraq.” But like her pre-war stories about WMDs in Iraq, these stories also will be completely discredited. It is unclear how long Miller hijacks the MET Alpha unit for, but the Washington Post will publish an expose about these connections in late June 2003. [Washington Post, 6/25/2003] In late 2003, Miller will say that her reliance on Chalabi’s information is “exaggerated.” [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004] In 2005, Foer will call Miller one of “Chalabi’s credulous allies” along with a number of Bush administration officials. The Times will not acknowledge the breadth of Chalabi’s influence on the reports it published by Miller until May 2005, but will refuse to connect Chalabi and Miller. Foer will note that although Miller had more access to MET Alpha than any other reporter, “she was the only major reporter on the WMD beat to miss the story so completely.” [New York Magazine, 5/21/2005]
A Mouthpiece for the Administration? - In 2004, Miller tells columnist and media expert Michael Massing that as an investigative reporter in the intelligence area, “my job isn’t to assess the government’s information and be an independent intelligence analyst myself. My job is to tell readers of the New York Times what the government thought about Iraq’s arsenal.” Massing will write, “Many journalists would disagree with this; instead, they would consider offering an independent evaluation of official claims one of their chief responsibilities.” [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004]
Admission of Error - In late 2005, Miller will admit that her reporting on Iraqi WMD issues was almost “entirely wrong” (see October 16, 2005).

Entity Tags: Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha, Richard McPhee, Michael Massing, Ahmed Chalabi, Jamal Mustafa Sultan Tikriti, Iraqi National Congress, David Petraeus, Donald Rumsfeld, Douglas Feith, Judith Miller, Franklin Foer

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War

General Vincent Brooks briefing reporters, with a photograph of Jessica Lynch displayed in the background.General Vincent Brooks briefing reporters, with a photograph of Jessica Lynch displayed in the background. [Source: Reuters / Corbis]Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, at US CENTCOM headquarters in Qatar, shows reporters a video clip of the rescue of Private Jessica Lynch (see April 1, 2003), filmed with night-vision lenses. The clip shows Lynch on a stretcher and being rushed to a helicopter. Brooks says that before the raid, the hospital was apparently doubling as a military command post for Iraqi forces. [Washington Post, 4/3/2003] “We were successful in that operation last night and did retrieve Pfc. Jessica Lynch, bringing her away from that location of danger, clearing the building of some of the military activity that was in there.” Brooks says. “There was not a fire-fight inside the building I will tell you, but there were fire-fights outside of the building getting in and getting out. There were no coalition casualties as a result of this and in the destruction that occurred inside of the building, particularly in the basement area where the operations centers had been, we found ammunition, mortars, maps, a terrain model, and other things that make it very clear that it was being used as a military command post. The nature of the operation was a coalition special operation that involved Army Rangers, Air Force pilots and combat controllers, US Marines and Navy Seals. It was a classical joint operation done by some of our nation’s finest warriors, who are dedicated to never leaving a comrade behind.” [Editor & Publisher, 7/14/2008]
Reporters Given Video - Within hours, reporters are given a slickly produced five-minute edited version of the video of Lynch’s rescue, edited by a Defense Department production crew. Author and media critic Frank Rich later calls it “an action-packed montage of the guns-blazing Special Operations raid to rescue Lynch, bathed in the iridescent green glow of night-vision photography.” The video vies with a still photo of a barely conscious Lynch lying on a stretcher, with an American flag on her chest, for the most-broadcast image of the day. [Rich, 2006, pp. 80-82] (In a tragic corollary to the video of Lynch’s rescue, the father of James Kiehl, a fellow soldier killed in the March 23 assault, was unable to find his son in the video footage. He will eventually find a shot of his son, dead and laid out behind the hospital, in a picture on the Al Jazeera Web site. The Defense Department videographers had left footage of Kiehl on the cutting room floor.) [Rich, 2006, pp. 80-82; Huffington Post, 3/19/2006]
Some Reporters Dubious - CNN’s veteran war correspondent, Tom Mintier, later says, “I was a bit upset that [the Pentagon] spent so much time giving us all the minute-by-minute, this happened, that happened, she said this, we said that… and on a day when you have forces going into Baghdad, it wasn’t part of the briefing. Seems like there is an effort to manage the news in an unmanageable situation. They tried it in the first Gulf War, this time it was supposed to be different.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 80-82]
Pentagon's Story Almost Entirely Fictitious - Subsequent interviews with Iraqi hospital staffers and nearby residents show that almost every aspect of the Pentagon’s story is fabrication (see May 4, 2003, May 23, 2003, May 25, 2003, and June 17, 2003).

Entity Tags: James Kiehl, US Central Command, Tom Mintier, Jessica Lynch, Vincent Brooks, Frank Rich, Al Jazeera, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Lynch Disinfomation, Media Complicity, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns

Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly says that those who oppose the Iraq war, such as actor Sean Penn and journalist Peter Arnett, are traitors. [Unger, 2007, pp. 290]

Entity Tags: Bill O’Reilly, Peter Arnett, Sean Penn, Fox News

Category Tags: Media Complicity, Conservative Media Pundits, Fox News

A barely conscious Lynch lies on a stretcher. An American flag is draped over her chest. This will become one of the iconic photos of the Lynch saga.A barely conscious Lynch lies on a stretcher. An American flag is draped over her chest. This will become one of the iconic photos of the Lynch saga. [Source: Reuters / Corbis]The Washington Post prints a story purporting to detail the trials and tribulations of Private Jessica Lynch, captured in a recent ambush by Iraqi fighters (see March 23, 2003). The Post headline: “She Was Fighting to the Death.” According to the story, Lynch fought valiantly to defend her injured and killed comrades, herself killing several of her attackers and suffering repeated gunshot and stab wounds. [Washington Post, 4/3/2003; Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003]
'Talk about Spunk!' - According to the tale, provided to Post reporters by unnamed US officials, Lynch continued firing until she ran out of ammunition, and even after suffering “multiple gunshot wounds.” An official says: “She was fighting to the death. She did not want to be taken alive.” One military official, senior military spokesman Captain Frank Thorp, tells reporters from the Military Times that Lynch “waged quite a battle prior to her capture. We do have very strong indications that Jessica Lynch was not captured very easily. Reports are that she fired her [M-16 rifle] until she had no more ammunition.” (This is not true, but Thorp will later deny that any deliberate deception occurred—see April 2007 and March 18, 2008.) Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) is fulsome with his praise of Lynch after being briefed by Pentagon officials: “Talk about spunk! She just persevered. It takes that and a tremendous faith that your country is going to come and get you.” Initial reports indicated that she had been stabbed to death at the scene, but those reports were incorrect. Officials warn that “the precise sequence of events is still being determined, and that further information will emerge as Lynch is debriefed.” Pentagon officials say they have heard “rumors” of Lynch’s heroism, but as yet have no confirmation from either Lynch or other survivors. Eleven bodies were found at the hospital during her rescue; at least some of those bodies are believed to be those of US servicemen. Seven soldiers from Lynch’s 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company are still listed as missing in action; five others were captured after the attack. Iraqi broadcasts have shown video footage of the five, along with pictures of at least four US soldiers killed during the attack. Because of debriefing and counseling, it may be some time before Lynch is reunited with her family in West Virginia. [Washington Post, 4/3/2003; US News and World Report, 3/18/2008; Editor & Publisher, 7/14/2008] Other media stories add to the Post’s account. The New York Daily News reports: “Jessica was being tortured. That was the urgent word from an Iraqi man who alerted American troops where to find Pfc. Jessica Lynch—and her injuries seem to bear out the allegation.… Her broken bones are a telltale sign of torture, said Amy Waters Yarsinske, a former Navy intelligence officer and an expert on POW and MIA treatment. ‘It’s awfully hard to break both legs and an arm in a truck accident,’ Yarsinske said.” The Daily News is almost certainly referring to Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, the Iraqi who told US forces about Lynch being at an Iraqi hospital (see June 17, 2003). The Los Angeles Times reports Lynch was “flown to a US military hospital at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, where she was reported to be in stable condition, recovering from injuries said to include broken legs, a broken arm and at least one gunshot wound.” [Project for Excellence in Journalism, 6/23/2003]
Discrepancies in Story - An Iraqi pharmacist who was at the hospital during Lynch’s captivity says as far as he knew, Lynch only suffered leg wounds. He recalls her crying about wanting to go home. “She said every time, about wanting to go home,” the pharmacist recalls. “She knew that the American Army and the British were on the other side of the [Euphrates] river in Nasiriyah city.… She said, ‘Maybe this minute the American Army [will] come and get me.’” [Washington Post, 4/3/2003]
Story Almost Pure Fiction - According to subsequent investigations by reporters, the Pentagon tale as reported by the Post is almost pure fiction (see May 4, 2003 and June 17, 2003). Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write that at this point in the narrative, “Jessica Lynch herself, unable to speak, was reduced to a mere pawn, an innocent bystander in the production of her own big-budget action-packed biopic.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 82]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, Pat Roberts, Frank Rich, Washington Post, US Department of Defense, Frank Thorp, Jessica Lynch, Amy Waters Yarsinske

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Lynch Disinfomation, Media Complicity, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns, Media Coverage of Iraq War

The Associated Press reports that questions remain about how Army Private Jessica Lynch was injured (see March 23, 2003 and April 1, 2003). While US military doctors are reporting that Lynch did not suffer from gunshot wounds as originally reported (see April 4, 2003), the Associated Press report reads in part: “Lynch’s family in West Virginia said doctors had determined she’d been shot. They found two entry and exit wounds ‘consistent with low-velocity, small-caliber rounds,’ said her mother, Deadra Lynch.” [Project for Excellence in Journalism, 6/23/2003]

Entity Tags: Jessica Lynch, Associated Press, Deadra Lynch

Category Tags: Lynch Disinfomation, Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War

Newsweek cover featuring Jessica Lynch.Newsweek cover featuring Jessica Lynch. [Source: Newsweek]The American US edition of Newsweek released this day features a cover story about US Army Private Jessica Lynch, recently rescued from captivity by US forces (see April 1, 2003). While the story mentions her doctors’ statements that she was not shot (see April 4, 2003), it focuses on the accounts of some of her family members (including members in West Virginia who have not seen Lynch). The Newsweek story repeats a cousin’s claim of gunshot wounds from “low-velocity small arms,” and goes on to say, “The unpleasant implication was that she might have been shot after she’d been captured, rather than wounded in combat.” The account also questions her treatment at the Iraqi hospital, alleging the possibility of mistreatment and quotes her father as saying “she survived for part of her time in the hospital on nothing but orange juice and crackers.” [Newsweek, 4/14/2003; Project for Excellence in Journalism, 6/23/2003] An unnamed senior administration official says, “The possibility of mistreatment has been very much on the mind of President Bush.” Author and media critic Frank Rich later writes that the Newsweek story is an illustration of the saying, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 81-82]

Entity Tags: Jessica Lynch, Frank Rich, Newsweek, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US Military

Category Tags: Lynch Disinfomation, Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War

The toppling of the Firdos Square statue (see April 9, 2003) is presented as an iconic moment in history by many US media outlets. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld cues the news analysts by saying of the “spontaneously” celebrating Iraqis, “Watching them, one cannot help but think of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Iron Curtain.” NBC analyst Tim Russert says shortly afterwards, “Not since the fall of the Berlin Wall have I seen anything quite like this.” CNN’s Bill Hemmer says, “You think about seminal moments in a nation’s history… indelible moments like the fall of the Berlin Wall, and that’s what we’re seeing right now.” David Asman of Fox News tells viewers, “My goose bumps have never been higher than they are right now.” Fox anchor Brit Hume says, “This transcends anything I’ve ever seen.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 83] Al-Jazeera news producer Samir Khader will later say: “The Americans played the media element intelligently.… It was a show. It was a media show.” Al-Jazeera producer Deema Khatib will agree. Referring to various elements shown on American news broadcasts, he will say: “I bet you they brought in those teenage guys who broke the statue, they brought them in with them, because if you notice, they are all sort of the same age, no women, and they all went in and it was the same people on the square. You couldn’t see more people gathering from the houses around. No one came down to the street to see what was happening, because people were scared. And those people who came in, how come one of them had the flag of Iraq before 1991 in his pocket? Has he been waiting there for 10 years with the flag on that square? I don’t think so. But this is not something the US media will talk about.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 84] Most US news outlets dramatically cut back on their war reporting after the fall of the statue (see April 9, 2003).

Entity Tags: Fox News, CNN, Brit Hume, Bill Hemmer, Al Jazeera, David Asman, Donald Rumsfeld, Samir Khader, Tim Russert, NBC News, Deema Khatib

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Fox News

While the iconic Firdos Square photo op dominates US news broadcasts (see April 9, 2003), the fighting throughout Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq goes almost unreported. CNN’s Paula Zahn makes a passing reference to “total anarchy” in Baghdad; CNN reporter Martin Savidge and CBS reporter Byron Pitts give brief oral reports on the fighting, but no film is shown to American viewers. The Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media will later note: “Despite the fact that fighting continued literally blocks from Firdos Square, apparently no camera crews were dispatched to capture those images. According to CNN and FNC [Fox News Channel], in other words, the war ended with the collapse of the statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square.” After that, the Journal will conclude, “the battlefield itself disappeared”; author and media critic Frank Rich will note that war coverage dropped “precipitously on every network, broadcast and cable alike.” War footage will drop 76 percent on Fox and 73 percent on CNN. [Rich, 2006, pp. 84]

Entity Tags: Paula Zahn, Byron Pitts, CBS News, Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, CNN, Frank Rich, Fox News, Martin Savidge

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Fox News

A US military vehicle pulls down a statue of Saddam Hussein in front of a small crowd.A US military vehicle pulls down a statue of Saddam Hussein in front of a small crowd. [Source: Fox News] (click image to enlarge)The government of Saddam Hussein collapses as US troops take control of Baghdad. To mark the occasion, a statue of the former dictator in downtown Baghdad’s Firdos Square is pulled down, seemingly by a group of average Iraqi citizens and US soldiers. [Associated Press, 4/9/2003] The celebration is later revealed by the Los Angeles Times to be a psychological operation managed by US forces and not Iraqi citizens. [Los Angeles Times, 7/3/2004] The entire event is a carefully staged photo op. The tightly cropped pictures sent out by the Pentagon, and subsequently broadcast and published around the world, show what appears to be a large crowd of celebrating Iraqis. However, aerial photos show that the square is nearly empty except for a small knot of people gathered in front of the statue. The square itself is surrounded by US tanks. And there is some question as to the authenticity of the celebrating Iraqis. Al-Jazeera producer Samir Khader later says that the Americans “brought with them some people—supposedly Iraqis cheering. These people were not Iraqis. I lived in Iraq, I was born there, I was raised there. I can recognize an Iraqi accent.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 302] Fox News anchors assure viewers that images of the toppling statue are sure to persuade the Arab world to see America as a liberator. Correspondent Simon Marks, reporting from Amman, Jordan, reports that “the Arab street” is angry, and it will take careful diplomacy to convince the majority of Arabs that this is not “an American war of occupation.” In response, Fox anchor David Asman, a former Wall Street Journal editorial writer, says, “There’s a certain ridiculousness to that point of view!” [New Yorker, 5/26/2003]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, David Asman, US Department of Defense, Fox News, Simon Marks

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Media Complicity, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Fox News

Some in the press, overtly admiring of Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz as the “architect” of the Iraq invasion, have given him an interesting nickname. During a press conference in Washington, Wolfowitz is asked: “And on a lighter note, sir, some people are calling you Wolfowitz of Arabia. How would you respond to that?” After the laughter subsides, and answers to more serious questions are given, Wolfowitz says, “Oh, and on your last question, I think it’s amusing but not very accurate.” [US Department of Defense, 4/11/2003] Apparently the sobriquet was first given to Wolfowitz by the New York Times, which published an article with that title in recent days. [National Public Radio, 5/3/2003]

Entity Tags: New York Times, Paul Wolfowitz

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, White House Involvement, Media Complicity

On CNN’s Larry King Live, CBS news anchor Dan Rather says: “Look, I’m an American. I never tried to kid anybody that I’m some internationalist or something. And when my country is at war, I want my country to win, whatever the definition of ‘win’ may be. Now, I can’t and don’t argue that that is coverage without a prejudice. About that I am prejudiced.” [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 5/2003] On September 17, 2001, Rather said he would “line up” with the president (see September 17-22, 2001). In May 2002, he said that fear of being seen as unpatriotic was affecting news coverage (see May 17, 2002). In 2007, Rather will admit to not staying objective after 9/11 (see April 25, 2007).

Entity Tags: Dan Rather, CBS News

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War

For the first time, a major American news organization runs an article on Army Private Jessica Lynch that questions the initial versions of her capture and rescue (see April 1, 2003), though it places the story towards the very back of its main section, on page A17. The Washington Post’s lede compares the US military’s version to “a Hollywood script” with “Hollywood dazzle” and “little need for real action.” The story is based on interviews with Iraqi doctors who treated Lynch. One, Haitham Gizzy, says of the US military: “They made a big show. It was just a drama. A big, dramatic show.” Gizzy and others at the hospital say that Iraqi soldiers and guerrilla fighters had fled the hospital the night before the US launched its rescue attempt. According to Mokhdad Abd Hassan, a hospital staffer, most of the fighters in the area, and the entire Ba’ath Party leadership, including the governor of the province, came to the hospital earlier that day, changed into civilian clothes, and fled. “They brought their civilian wear with them,” Hassan says. Pointing to green army uniforms still piled on the lawn, he says: “You can see their military suits. They all ran away, the same day.” Gizzy adds: “It was all the leadership. Even the governor and the director general of the Ba’ath Party.… They left walking, barefoot, in civilian wear.… [I]t look like an organized manner” of retreat. When the US rescue team arrived, Gizzy says: “there were no soldiers at our hospital, just the medical staff. There were just us doctors.” Like US doctors currently treating Lynch (see April 4, 2003), Gizzy says Lynch was neither shot nor stabbed, as initial accounts stated (see April 3, 2003). “It was a road traffic accident” that caused her wounds, Gizzy says. “There was not a drop of blood.… There were no bullets or shrapnel or anything like that.” At the hospital, he says, “She was given special care, more than the Iraqi patients.” [Washington Post, 4/15/2003] Subsequent media accounts will begin backing off of the claims of multiple gunshot wounds. [Project for Excellence in Journalism, 6/23/2003] Post ombudsman Michael Getler, who will write highly critical analyses of the newspaper’s coverage of the Lynch story (see May 25, 2003 and June 29, 2003), later notes that while the Post deserves recognition that it was one of the first media outlets to interview the Iraqi doctors and tell their side of the story, the newspaper chose to print this story “way back in the paper.” Since it “was based on Iraqi sources” and buried so deep in the paper, “it didn’t get the attention that it otherwise might have gotten.” He adds, “I think in general, the press was quite slow to try and go back on this story which seemed fishy, almost from the start.” [Democracy Now!, 7/23/2003]

Entity Tags: Mokhdad Abd Hassan, Jessica Lynch, Haitham Gizzy, Washington Post, Michael Getler

Timeline Tags: US Military

Category Tags: Lynch Disinfomation, Media Complicity, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Media Opposition

CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan reveals on the air that he had secured the Defense Department’s approval of which “independent military analysts” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) to give commentary on the invasion of Iraq. In 2000, Jordan vehemently denied that the Pentagon had any influence on the network’s choice of military analysts (see March 24, 2000). Jordan says: “I went to the Pentagon myself several times before the war started and met with important people there and said, for instance—‘At CNN, here are the generals we’re thinking of retaining to advise us on the air and off about the war’—and we got a big thumbs-up on all of them. That was important.” [CommonDreams (.org), 8/16/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, CNN, Eason Jordan

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Media Complicity, Military Analysts in the Media, Media Coverage of Iraq War

Barry McCaffrey.Barry McCaffrey. [Source: NBC]The Nation examines the use of so-called “military analysts” by the broadcast news media, retired generals and high-ranking officers brought on camera to share their knowledge and expertise regarding the invasion of Iraq. The report finds that, like Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and many other administration officials and supporters, the retired military analysts have consistently taken a pro-military, pro-administration slant that has led many of them to make consistently wrong judgments and analyzes. It will be five years before the New York Times exposes the Pentagon propaganda operation in which many of these analysts take part (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond).
Ideological and Financial Interests in Promoting the War - While many of them indeed have what one analyst, retired Lieutenant General Barry McCaffrey, calls “a lifetime of experience and objectivity,” many of them also have what the report terms as “ideological or financial stakes in the war. Many hold paid advisory board and executive positions at defense companies and serve as advisers for groups that promoted an invasion of Iraq.” As a result, the report says, these analysts’ objectivity must be questioned. McCaffrey and his colleague, retired Colonel Wayne Downing, both NBC analysts, are both on the advisory board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, a lobbying group formed to bolster public support for the invasion. Its mission is to “engage in educational advocacy efforts to mobilize US and international support for policies aimed at ending the aggression of Saddam Hussein,” and it deliberately reaches out to influence reporting in both the US and European media. Downing has also served as an unpaid adviser to Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, a prime source of the fraudulent propaganda and disinformation that provided a rationale for the war (see June 1992 and (1994)). NBC viewers are unaware of McCaffrey’s and Downing’s connections to these pro-war organizations.
McCaffrey and IDT - Neither are they aware of McCaffrey’s seat on the board of four defense firms—Mitretek, Veritas Capital, Raytheon Aerospace, and Integrated Defense Technologies (IDT)—all which have multimillion-dollar defense contracts. IDT is of particular interest, as stock analysts believe that its currently floundering financial state could be remedied by hefty government contracts. McCaffrey has been an outspoken critic of Rumsfeld and his war policies, but his primary objection is his repeated statement that “armor and artillery don’t count” enough in the offensive. He recently told an MSNBC audience, “Thank God for the Abrams tank and… the Bradley fighting vehicle,” and added that the “war isn’t over until we’ve got a tank sitting on top of Saddam’s bunker.” In March 2003, IDT received over $14 million in contracts relating to Abrams and Bradley machinery parts and support hardware.
Downing and Metal Storm - Downing is a board member of Metal Storm Ltd, a ballistics-technology company with both US and Australian defense contracts. According to its executive director, Metal Storm’s technologies will “provide some significant advantage” in the type of urban warfare being fought in Iraq.
Fox News and wvc3 - Fox News analysts Lieutenant Colonel William Cowan and Major Robert Bevelacqua are CEO and vice president, respectively, of the wvc3group, a defense consulting firm that serves as a liaison between arms companies and the US government. The firm recently signed a contract to promote military aviation equipment produced by a New Zealand firm. The firm promotes itself by advising potential customers of its inside contacts with the US military and the Defense Department. A message on its Web site, augmented by a sound file of loud gunfire, reads, “We use our credibility to promote your technology.” Another Fox analyst, Major General Paul Vallely, represents several information-technology firms. Vallely is most valuable, says Fox bureau chief Kim Hume, as a commentator on psychological operations.
Little Concern at the Networks - The networks are relatively uninterested in any potential conflicts of interest or possible promotions of ideological or financial agendas. Elena Nachmanoff, vice president of talent development at NBC News, dismisses any such concerns: “We are employing them for their military expertise, not their political views.” She says that the analysts play influential roles behind the cameras at NBC, helping producers decide on what to report and how to report it. But, she says, defense contracts are “not our interest.” Hume says that Fox “expect[s] the analysts to keep their other interests out of their commentary, or we stop using them.” Hume admits that Fox has never severed its connection with any analyst, though it is aware of Cowan’s, Bevelacqua’s, and Vallely’s ties to their respective defense firms. Interestingly, Vallely, the expert on so-called “psyops” warfare, developed a concept he called “MindWar,” a psychological propaganda strategy that uses, in his words, “electronic media—television and radio” in the “deliberate, aggressive convincing of all participants in a war that we will win that war.” Nation reporters Daniel Benaim, Priyanka Motaparthy, and Vishesh Kumar muse, “With the televised version of Operation Iraqi Freedom, we may be watching his theory at work—and at a tidy profit, too.” [Nation, 4/21/2003]

Entity Tags: The Nation, Raytheon, Priyanka Motaparthy, Veritas Capital, William Cowan, wvc3 Group, Vishesh Kumar, Wayne Downing, Robert Bevelacqua, NBC, Donald Rumsfeld, Daniel Benaim, Elena Nachmanoff, Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, Barry McCaffrey, Ahmed Chalabi, Bush administration (43), New York Times, Paul Vallely, Iraqi National Congress, Fox News, MSNBC, Metal Storm Ltd, Mitretek, Kim Hume, Integrated Defense Technologies

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Media Complicity, Military Analysts in the Media, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Fox News

As part of a story about media errors and exaggerations in Iraq, the St Louis Post-Dispatch cites fundamental problems in earlier coverage of the Jessica Lynch story (see April 1, 2003, April 3, 2003, and April 15, 2003). The story reads in part: “Key elements in the story appear to have been wrong. Lynch’s father and her Army doctor have both said there is no evidence that she was shot or stabbed. There is as yet no substantiation of any torture. Doctors at the hospital say that when the rescue team swooped in the building was undefended; militia forces had fled the day before.” [Project for Excellence in Journalism, 6/23/2003]

Entity Tags: St Louis Post-Dispatch, Jessica Lynch

Category Tags: Lynch Disinfomation, Media Complicity, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Media Opposition

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld lauds “the humanity” of US weapons pinpointing non-civilian targets in Iraq. ABC News anchor Peter Jennings, reporting Rumsfeld’s statement, observes, “No offense to the secretary, but at this moment we simply do not know if that is the case.” The New York Post calls Jennings’s comment “America-bashing, pessimism, and anti-war agitation.” [US Department of Defense, 4/28/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 79]

Entity Tags: ABC News, New York Post, Peter Jennings, Donald Rumsfeld

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Media Opposition

London Times reporter Richard Lloyd Perry, who has covered the Jessica Lynch story from the outset (see April 1, 2003 and June 17, 2003), explains why he believes the Pentagon seized upon inaccurate and false reports of Lynch’s actions during and after her convoy was ambushed and she was captured (see April 3, 2003). In a radio interview, Perry says that the fabricated story about Lynch “came at a stage in the war when [the US military was] a bit short of good news to put out. And I remember at the time that clearly a lot of thought and preparation had gone into this—this presentation. You know the story was told from the point of view of the rescuing forces. There was very little mention made of any—any of the Iraqis in the hospital or both on the Iraqi side. And it was portrayed as a—a very dangerous mission carried out to save this, you know, this young rather attractive young woman. And it was clearly a PR coup at the time. But [Lynch’s rescue] wasn’t like that. As far as I can remember, no one at the time really questioned the Pentagon account that had been put out. And because there was fighting still going on, it was difficult at that point to get to the other side. But it struck me as interesting and significant that these doctors had their own story to tell” (see April 15, 2003). [Democracy Now!, 7/23/2003]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Jessica Lynch, Richard Lloyd Perry

Category Tags: Lynch Disinfomation, Media Complicity, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Media Opposition

In May 2003, the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) reports the results of an analysis of media coverage of the start of the Iraq war. The study looked at the main news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and PBS between March 20, 2003, one day after the Iraq war began, through April 9, three weeks later. The study found that 1,617 on-camera sources appeared in stories about Iraq. Sixty-four percent of all sources were pro-war, while ten percent were anti-war. Current and former US or British officials made up 57 percent of all sources. Pro-war sources tended to be interviewed at length in the studio. Whereas, the study’s authors note: “Guests with anti-war viewpoints were almost universally allowed one-sentence soundbites taken from interviews conducted on the street. Not a single show in the study conducted a sit-down interview with a person identified as being against the war.” [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 5/2003]

Entity Tags: Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting

Timeline Tags: US Military, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Fox News

In an email to New York Times Baghdad bureau chief John Burns, reporter Judith Miller defends a story she filed on Ahmed Chalabi, which had scooped a major story being written by another Times reporter. In her email she reveals that Chalabi was the source of most of her reporting on Iraq’s alleged arsenal of WMD. She writes: “I’ve been covering Chalabi for about 10 years, and have done most of the stories about him for our paper, including the long takeout we recently did on him. He has provided most of the front page exclusives on WMD to our paper.” [Washington Post, 5/26/2003] Miller has long relied on Chalabi as a primary source for information about Iraq. She has also proven more than willing—“eager,” in author Craig Unger’s words—to pass along information and disinformation alike from Chalabi and the White House about Iraq and its supposed WMD program. However, she will later retract her admission. [Unger, 2007, pp. 252]

Entity Tags: John Burns, Craig Unger, Ahmed Chalabi, Judith Miller

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Iraqi Defectors and the INC, Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War

MSNBC’s Chris Matthews.MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. [Source: Broadcatching (.com)]The media response to President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” event (see May 1, 2003) is overwhelmingly positive. Of his entrance in a fighter jet, the Detroit Free Press writes that Bush brought his “daring mission to a manly end.” The Washington Post’s David Broder, the dean of the Washington press corps, says that the “president has learned to move in a way that just conveys a great sense of authority and command.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 304]
Matthews Lauds Bush's 'Guy' Status - One of the most effusive cheerleaders for Bush is MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. On an episode of his Hardball broadcast, Matthews gushes about Bush’s “amazing display of leadership” and his appearance as a “high-flying jet star.” Bush “deserves everything he’s doing tonight in terms of his leadership. He won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics. Do you think he is defining the office of the presidency, at least for this time, as basically that of commander in chief?” Matthews compares Bush, who sat out Vietnam in the Texas Air National Guard, with former president Dwight D. Eisenhower, who commanded US forces in Europe during World War II. But, Matthews observes: “He looks great in a military uniform. He looks great in that cowboy costume he wears when he goes West.” His “performance tonight [is] redolent of the best of Reagan.” Guest Ann Coulter, a staunch conservative, calls Bush’s performance “huge,” and adds: “It’s hard to imagine any Democrat being able to do that. And it doesn’t matter if Democrats try to ridicule it. It’s stunning, and it speaks for itself.” Democratic pollster Pat Caddell says when he first heard about it, he was “kind of annoyed” because “[i]t sounded like the kind of PR stunt that Bill Clinton would pull. But and then I saw it. And you know, there’s a real—there’s a real affection between him and the troops.… He looks like a fighter pilot.” Matthews continues, “[H]e didn’t fight in a war, but he looks like he does.” Later that night, on Keith Olbermann’s Countdown, Matthews waxes poetic about Bush’s manly qualities: “We’re proud of our president. Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who’s physical, who’s not a complicated guy like Clinton or even like [former Democratic presidential candidates Michael] Dukakis or [Walter] Mondale, all those guys, [George] McGovern [whom Matthews does not identify as a pilot during World War II]. They want a guy who’s president. Women like a guy who’s president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It’s simple. We’re not like the Brits. We don’t want an indoor prime minister type, or the Danes or the Dutch or the Italians, or a [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. Can you imagine Putin getting elected here? We want a guy as president.”
'Fighter Dog' - CNN’s Wolf Blitzer refers several times to Bush’s days as a fighter pilot in the Texas Air National Guard, without referring to the swirling controversy over whether he used the Guard to get out of serving in Vietnam, and calls Bush “a one-time fighter dog.” Other media pundits and journalists use Bush’s appearance and service record to laud his performance. NBC’s Brian Williams says: “And two immutable truths about the president that the Democrats can’t change: He’s a youthful guy. He looked terrific and full of energy in a flight suit. He is a former pilot, so it’s not a foreign art farm—art form to him. Not all presidents could have pulled this scene off today.” Fox News’s Jon Scott says that Bush “made just about as grand an entrance tonight as the White House could have asked for.… Now, of course, President Bush flew fighters in the Air National Guard, but no pilot, no matter how experienced, can land on an aircraft carrier first time out. The president did take the stick for a short time during his flight, but he let another pilot handle the landing.” Fox’s Wendell Goler continues the tale of Bush actually flying the fighter plane by saying that Bush “took a 20-minute flight to the ship during which he briefly called on his skills as a pilot in the National Guard.” Goler quotes Bush as saying “he flew the plane about a third of the way from North Island Naval Air Station to the carrier Lincoln. He says the pilot asked him if he wanted to do some maneuvers, but he flew it mostly in a straight line.” [Washington Post, 5/2/2003; Media Matters, 4/27/2006]
Dowd's Rhetorical Excesses - One of the more extreme reactions comes from New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. She writes of the jet landing and Bush’s exit from the plane: “The tail hook caught the last cable, jerking the fighter jet from 150 mph to zero in two seconds. Out bounded the cocky, rule-breaking, daredevil flyboy, a man navigating the Highway to the Danger Zone, out along the edges where he was born to be, the further on the edge, the hotter the intensity. He flashed that famous all-American grin as he swaggered around the deck of the aircraft carrier in his olive flight suit, ejection harness between his legs, helmet tucked under his arm, awestruck crew crowding around. Maverick [a reference to the iconic action film Top Gun] was back, cooler and hotter than ever, throttling to the max with joystick politics. Compared to Karl Rove’s ‘revvin’ up your engine’ myth-making cinematic style, Jerry Bruckheimer’s movies [Bruckheimer produced Top Gun] look like Lizzie McGuire (a Disney Channel show). This time Maverick didn’t just nail a few bogeys and do a 4G inverted dive with a MiG-28 at a range of two meters. This time the Top Gun wasted a couple of nasty regimes, and promised this was just the beginning.” [Editor & Publisher, 5/3/2008]
Press Coverage and Later Response - The next day’s press coverage is equally enthusiastic. PBS reporter Gwen Ifill says Bush was “part Tom Cruise [another Top Gun reference], part Ronald Reagan.” The New York Times’s Elisabeth Bumiller calls Bush’s speech “Reaganesque.” New York Times reporter David Sanger writes that Bush’s entrance echoed the movie Top Gun. The Washington Post also reports Bush’s claim of having actually flown the fighter for a period of time. On CBS’s Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer calls the image of Bush in the flight suit “one of the great pictures of all time,” and adds, “[I]f you’re a political consultant, you can just see campaign commercial written all over the pictures of George Bush.” Schieffer’s guest, Time columnist Joe Klein, adds: “[T]hat was probably the coolest presidential image since Bill Pullman played the jet fighter pilot in the movie Independence Day.… And it just shows you how high a mountain these Democrats are going to have to climb.” Fox News anchor Brit Hume says Bush was brave for risking the “grease and oil” on the flight deck while “[t]he wind’s blowing. All kinds of stuff could have gone wrong. It didn’t, he carried it off.” Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham tells CNN viewers: “Speaking as a woman… seeing President Bush get out of that plane, carrying his helmet, he is a real man. He stands by his word. That was a very powerful moment.” [Washington Post, 5/2/2003; Media Matters, 4/27/2006; Editor & Publisher, 5/3/2008]

IKONOS satellite image of Saddam Hussein Hospital in Nasiriyah.IKONOS satellite image of Saddam Hussein Hospital in Nasiriyah. [Source: GlobalSecurity.org]Toronto Star bureau chief Mitch Potter reports a very different version of events surrounding the capture and hospitalization of Army Private Jessica Lynch (see March 23, 2003). Whereas US military officials have claimed that Special Forces rescued her in a dramatic battle with Iraqi resistance forces (see April 1, 2003), Potter finds that Iraqi soldiers had actually left the hospital two days before the rescue. In fact, Iraqi doctors had attempted to return Lynch to US units once before, but were fired on by US forces and forced to return to the hospital. [Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003]
Shootout Never Happened - Potter calls the story of Lynch’s rescue a “flawless midnight rescue… in true Rambo style” that “rais[ed] America’s spirits when it needed it most. All Hollywood could ever hope to have in a movie was there in this extraordinary feat of rescue—except, perhaps, the truth.” Potter quotes three hospital doctors, two nurses, a hospital administrator, and several local residents, and presents a far different story than the one released by US officials. Dr. Harith al-Houssona says he came to consider Lynch a friend as he cared for her injuries. He says the story of the rescue is almost complete fiction: “The most important thing to know is that the Iraqi soldiers and commanders had left the hospital almost two days earlier. The night they left, a few of the senior medical staff tried to give Jessica back. We carefully moved her out of intensive care and into an ambulance and began to drive to the Americans, who were just one kilometer away. But when the ambulance got within 300 meters, they began to shoot. There wasn’t even a chance to tell them ‘We have Jessica. Take her.’”
Staged Rescue - On April 1, US Special Forces soldiers descended on the hospital. Hassam Hamoud, a waiter at a nearby restaurant, was approached by some of the soldiers. “They asked me if any troops were still in the hospital and I said, ‘No, they’re all gone,’” Hamoud recalls. “Then they asked about Uday Hussein, and again, I said ‘No.’ The translator seemed satisfied with my answers, but the soldiers were very nervous.” At midnight, the sound of helicopters circling the hospital’s upper floor prompted the staffers to take cover in the X-ray department, the only part of the hospital with no windows to the outside. The soldiers cut the power, then blew the locked doors and stormed inside. The staffers heard a male voice shout: “Go! Go! Go!” Seconds later, the door smashed open and a red laser targeting light found the forehead of the chief resident, Dr. Anmar Uday. “We were pretty frightened,” Uday recalls. “There were about 40 medical staff together in the X-ray department. Everyone expected the Americans to come that day because the city had fallen. But we didn’t expect them to blast through the doors like a Hollywood movie.” Another doctor, Mudhafer Raazk, noticed that two cameramen and a still photographer, all in uniform, accompanied the strike teams into the hospital. The tension quickly dropped after the soldiers realized no Iraqi fighters were in the building. A US medic was taken to Lynch’s room and the soldiers secured the hospital without incident. Several staffers and patients were immobilized with plastic handcuffs, including, al-Houssona recalls, one Iraqi civilian already motionless from abdominal wounds suffered in an earlier explosion. One group of soldiers ask about the bodies of missing US soldiers, and are led to a grave site opposite the hospital’s south wall. All were dead on arrival, the doctors say. After four hours, the soldiers departed, taking Lynch with them. Raazk says: “When they left, they turned to us and said ‘Thank you.’ That was it.” The staff went through the hospital to assess the damage: 12 doors were broken, a sterilized operating theater was contaminated, and Lynch’s bed, the hospital’s only specialized traction bed, was damaged beyond repair. “That was a special bed, the only one like it in the hospital, but we gave it to Jessica because she was developing a bed sore,” al-Houssona says.
'We All Became Friends' - Al-Houssona recalls that, far from ominous hints of torture and abuse, the hospital doctors and staff became friends with the injured American soldier. “We all became friends with her, we liked her so much,” he says. “Especially because we all speak a little English, we were able to assure her the whole time that there was no danger, that she would go home soon.” Though the hospital had an acute shortage of food, the staffers scrounged to find her extra juice and cookies. She was also assigned the most nurturing, motherly nurse on staff, Khalida Shinah. She has three daughters of her own, some close to Lynch’s age. Through a translator, Shinah recalls: “It was so scary for her. Not only was she badly hurt, but she was in a strange country. I felt more like a mother than a nurse. I told her again and again, Allah would watch over her. And many nights I sang her to sleep.” Houssana recalls Lynch being frightened in her first hours in the hospital. “Everybody was poking their head in the room to see her and she said ‘Do they want to hurt me?’ I told her, ‘Of course not. They’re just curious. They’ve never seen anyone like you before.’ But after a few days, she began to relax. And she really bonded with Khalida. She told me, ‘I’m going to take her back to America with me.”
No Gunshots or Stab Wounds - Far from suffering “multiple gunshot” and stab wounds detailed in previous Pentagon reports (see April 5, 2003), Lynch was suffering from injuries resulting from the wreck of her Humvee. Houssana believes she was hurt when she was thrown from the vehicle. “She was in pretty bad shape,” he recalls. “There was blunt trauma, resulting in compound fractures of the left femur and the right humerus. And also a deep laceration on her head. She took two pints of blood and we stabilized her. The cut required stitches to close. But the leg and arm injuries were more serious.” Lynch was only one casualty among many in the hospital, almost all suffered in the intense fighting around Nasiriyah. The hospital lists 400 dead and 2,000 wounded during the two weeks bracketing Lynch’s stay. Almost all were civilians, but Raazk does not blame the Americans alone for the carnage. “Many of those casualties were the fault of the fedayeen, who had been using people as shields and in some cases just shooting people who wouldn’t fight alongside them. It was horrible.” By March 30, Lynch had regained enough strength that the doctors were ready to operate on her badly broken left leg. She required a platinum plate on both ends of the compound fracture. The doctors were preparing similar surgery for her broken arm when the Americans rescued her. On April 4, an American military doctor visited the hospital. The doctors say he came to thank them for the superb surgery. “He was an older doctor with gray hair and he wore a military uniform,” Raazk recalls. “I told him he was very welcome, that it was our pleasure. And then I told him, ‘You do realize you could have just knocked on the door and we would have wheeled Jessica down to you, don’t you?’ He was shocked when I told him the real story. That’s when I realized this rescue probably didn’t happen for propaganda reasons. I think this American army is just such a huge machine, the left hand never knows what the right hand is doing.”
Angered at Reports of Abuse - The US media’s reports that Lynch was abused and perhaps even tortured sadden and anger the hospital staffers. When Shinah is told of the reports, her eyes fill with tears. She composes herself and answers: “This is a lie. But why ask me? Why don’t you ask Jessica what kind of treatment she received?” That is not currently possible; the Pentagon is restricting access to Lynch as she continues to recuperate at Washington’s Walter Reed Army Medical Center. A spokesman says, “Until such time as she wants to talk—and that’s going to be no time soon, and it may be never at all—the press is simply going to have to wait.” [Toronto Star, 5/4/2003]

Entity Tags: Mitch Potter, Hassam Hamoud, Harith al-Houssona, Anmar Uday, Mudhafer Raazk, Jessica Lynch, Khalida Shinah

Timeline Tags: US Military

Category Tags: Lynch Disinfomation, Media Complicity, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Media Opposition

Bush wearing his flight suit. The equipment below his belt is a portion of his parachute harness, which is normally removed upon landing.Bush wearing his flight suit. The equipment below his belt is a portion of his parachute harness, which is normally removed upon landing. [Source: Associated Press]Many in the media are still gushing over President Bush’s recent “Mission Accomplished” PR presentation from a week before (see May 1, 2003). One of Bush’s most enthusiastic supporters has been MSNBC host Chris Matthews (see May 1-4, 2003). Matthews and his guest G. Gordon Liddy, the convicted Watergate criminal (see March 23, 1973) and current right-wing radio host, discuss the event. Liddy calls the backlash against the stunt “envy,” and says that Bush’s 2000 Democratic opponent “Al Gore had to go get some woman to tell him how to be a man.” (It is not clear to what Liddy is referring.) Liddy goes on to extol Bush’s manly virtues, noting that the flight suit he wore “makes the best of his manly characteristic. You go run those—run that stuff again of him walking across there with the parachute. He has just won every woman’s vote in the United States of America. You know, all those women who say size doesn’t count—they’re all liars. Check that out. I hope the Democrats keep ratting on him and all of this stuff so that they keep showing that tape.” [Media Matters, 4/27/2006]

Entity Tags: Chris Matthews, George W. Bush, G. Gordon Liddy

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War

The BBC airs a documentary “Saving Private Lynch,” that attempts to present the facts behind the much-hyped story of Private Jessica Lynch’s capture and rescue (see April 1, 2003 and June 17, 2003). The documentary is as much about the Pentagon’s manipulation of the story, and the American media’s enthusiastic cooperation in that manipulation, as it is about the events of the capture and rescue. [BBC, 5/15/2003]
Interview with Iraqi Doctors - Prominently debunked is the story that Lynch was shot and stabbed while attempting to fight off her captors (see April 3, 2003). In an interview with Iraqi doctor Harith al-Houssona, who works at the Nasiriyah hospital that cared for Jessica Lynch (see May 4, 2003), al-Houssana says that no Iraqi troops had been at the hospital for two days when US forces raided the building to rescue Lynch. “There was no [sign of] shooting, no bullet inside her body, no stab wound—only road traffic accident,” al-Houssona says. “They want to distort the picture. I don’t know why they think there is some benefit in saying she has a bullet injury.” Hospital staffers add that Iraqi military and civilian leaders had fled the area before the raid occurred. Another doctor, Anmar Uday, even speculates that the rescue was staged. “We were surprised,” he recalls. “Why do this? There was no military, there were no soldiers in the hospital. It was like a Hollywood film. They cried ‘go, go, go,’ with guns and blanks without bullets, blanks and the sound of explosions. They made a show for the American attack on the hospital—action movies like Sylvester Stallone or Jackie Chan.” (The BBC correspondent who compiled the report, John Kampfner, will state that he does not believe the rescue was staged—see May 20, 2003). Al-Houssana says that two days before the rescue, on March 30, he put Lynch in an ambulance and attempted to return her to a US outpost. He was forced to return to the hospital when American soldiers fired at the ambulance. [BBC, 5/15/2003; Chicago Sun-Times, 6/18/2003; Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003]
Media Response and 'News Management' - The documentary shows how quickly American broadcast journalists and news anchors were to seize upon the story and sensationalize it even more. CBS anchor Dan Rather uses the phrase, “Saving Private Lynch,” in a comparison to the movie Saving Private Ryan, a fictional treatment based on the actual rescue of an American soldier during World War II. Another news correspondent even refers to Lynch as “Private Ryan” in a segment. Chicago Sun-Times movie critic Richard Roeper says of the documentary: “In the Meg Ryan movie Courage Under Fire, a (fictional) female American soldier in the heat of battle became either brave and heroic, or overmatched and frightened, depending upon which account you believed. Something tells me Jessica Lynch might have been all of the above. Her story is not the clean and simple movie it seemed to be two months ago. But the truth is undoubtedly a whole lot more real and a whole lot more interesting.” [Chicago Sun-Times, 6/18/2003] The BBC concludes that the Lynch story is “one of the most stunning pieces of news management ever conceived.” [BBC, 5/15/2003; Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003]

Entity Tags: Jessica Lynch, Harith al-Houssona, Anmar Uday, British Broadcasting Corporation, Dan Rather, John Kampfner, Richard Roeper

Category Tags: Lynch Disinfomation, Media Complicity, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Media Opposition

Andrew Sullivan.Andrew Sullivan. [Source: BBC]Right-wing journalist Andrew Sullivan attacks the BBC’s John Kampfner over Kampfner’s recent piece on the Jessica Lynch media coverage (see May 15, 2003). Without refuting the details of the story, Sullivan calls the BBC report a “smear” and writes: “I remember the reporter, John Kampfner, from my Oxford days. He was a unreconstructed far-lefty. No doubt these days he’s a reconstructed one.” [Project for Excellence in Journalism, 6/23/2003]

Entity Tags: John Kampfner, Andrew Sullivan, Jessica Lynch, British Broadcasting Corporation

Category Tags: Lynch Disinfomation, Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War

John Kampfner.John Kampfner. [Source: John Kampfner]BBC correspondent John Kampfner discusses his recent report disputing the original coverage of the capture and rescue of Army Private Jessica Lynch (see May 15, 2003). Kampfner’s report is the basis for a recent BBC documentary as well as a news article. An Iraqi doctor stated in Kampfner’s report that he believed the entire rescue had been staged; Kampfner does not believe that. “Credit where it is due,” Kampfner says. “The Americans had a legitimate right in getting Lynch out of the hospital in Nasiriya. They had no way of knowing what her fate was, whether she was being well or badly treated. So, it is entirely legitimate for any country to want to get its own out as quickly and as safely as possible. Where we took issue with the official version as put out by Central Command, in Doha [Qatar], to the world’s press, was the way the Americans did it. They went in, all guns blazing, helicopters, a great, heroic rescue mission.” Kampfner wants to know why the Pentagon will only allow the BBC and other news organizations to see its edited version of the film of the rescue instead of “the rushes,” which Kampfner explains is “the unedited film, the real-time film, as shot by the US military cameraman who was with the rescue mission.… They declined to do that.” Kampfner also notes that British government officials were worried from the outset “about the way the Americans conducted the whole media operation from Doha. [A] British military spokesman… told us on camera that he was deeply unhappy with the American media handling.” [CNN, 5/20/2003]

Entity Tags: US Central Command, British Broadcasting Corporation, John Kampfner, Jessica Lynch

Category Tags: Lynch Disinfomation, Media Complicity, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Media Opposition

Richard Cohen.Richard Cohen. [Source: Washington Post]Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen acknowledges that the Post published a largely fictional account of the capture and rescue of US soldier Jessica Lynch (see April 1, 2003): “This newspaper told its readers that she had been shot and stabbed, that she had fought off her Iraqi attackers—her gun blazing—until she went down and was taken prisoner, hospitalized, and then rescued eight days later. Trouble is, much of that may be false. Lynch apparently was not shot. Lynch was not stabbed. Lynch may not have put up much of a fight, maybe none at all. The lights may have gone out for her the moment her unit was attacked and her vehicle went off the road. It was then, probably, that she suffered several broken bones. This information, too, was in the Post—sort of.” The lurid, action-hero details were published on the front page, Cohen notes, while the subsequent updates that contradicted the original story were buried deep in the later pages of the newspaper. “You are forgiven, therefore, if you do not have the facts on Jessica Lynch,” he writes. “They were extremely hard to get.” He does not blame the Post for doing “anything unethical or wrong—or, for that matter, different from what is done elsewhere.” The two reporters who wrote the original story were likely “misled or misinformed by their sources in the military. They were only reporting what they had been told.” He is not sure whether the Pentagon deliberately reworked the story into more dramatic form, or whether Pentagon officials simply made a series of mistakes. Where the Post went awry, Cohen writes, was in refusing to acknowledge its errors. The Post sent a reporter to the hospital in Nasiriyah where Lynch had been cared for; that reporter learned from the doctors there that Lynch had neither been shot nor stabbed. That story was confirmed by the commander of the military hospital in Germany where Lynch was initially taken after being rescued and by Lynch’s father, Greg Lynch (see April 4, 2003). But the Post buried these contradictions and opposing versions in its back pages, instead merely “fold[ing] them into other stories. The reader, like a CIA analyst, had to read everything to understand what the Post was saying. It seemed to be backing off its original account, but not in a forthright way.” Why does this happen? Cohen asks. “Partly it’s a matter of pretense. Journalism is alchemy with words. We turn nuances, lies, denials, spin, and unreturned phone calls into something called The Truth. Often we succeed. When we don’t, we don’t want anyone to notice. We would like to appear omniscient.… But the public is on to us. Our aloofness, our defensiveness, our sheer inability to concede uncertainty (which goes beyond merely correcting factual mistakes) has cost us plenty. Instead and too often, we add invisible asterisks of doubt to stories and then commend ourselves for our exemplary professionalism.” [Washington Post, 5/23/2003]

Entity Tags: Jessica Lynch, Greg Lynch, Washington Post, Richard Cohen, US Department of Defense

Category Tags: Lynch Disinfomation, Media Complicity, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Media Opposition, Liberal Media Pundits

Michael Getler.Michael Getler. [Source: PBS]Washington Post ombudsman Michael Getler joins his Post colleague Richard Cohen in admitting that the Post published a largely fictional account of the capture and rescue of Army Private Jessica Lynch (see May 23, 2003). Getler writes that one of the biggest problems journalists face is their increasing reliance on anonymous sources, such as the unnamed Pentagon officials who provided the fabrications used by two Post reporters to create the original Lynch story. Additionally, Getler worries that “intelligence information is being politicized and that reporters aren’t probing hard enough against the defenses of an administration with an effective, disciplined, and restrictive attitude toward information control.” The problem goes far beyond the fictional story of a single US Army private, Getler writes. The justifications for the invasion of Iraq—weapons of mass destruction and connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda—have not yet been confirmed. Many of those came from unnamed government officials. New allegations by unnamed officials point to hostile acts by Iran and Syria, and even to unfriendly acts by the US’s European ally, France, which led the opposition to the Iraq invasion. Whether those stories cite “intelligence officials,” “senior administration officials,” or others of what Getler calls “useless descriptions,” the upshot is the same: lurid, alarming, and potentially baseless allegations and stories are regularly making their way into print without anyone taking responsibility for them, or advancing incontrovertible proof of their veracity. The Post continues to be the primary source of the largely fictional account of Lynch’s capture and rescue. Getler pleads, “If there is a different version, or a confirming version, of this that is authoritative, I hope somebody will write it, along with a more probing account of her rescue.” [Washington Post, 5/25/2003]

Entity Tags: Washington Post, Jessica Lynch, Michael Getler, Richard Cohen, US Department of Defense

Category Tags: Lynch Disinfomation, Media Complicity, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Media Opposition

The New Yorker reports the results of an Annenberg survey of 673 mainstream news owners, executives, editors, producers, and reporters. Among the survey’s findings is the strong belief that Fox News (see 1995, October 7, 1996, and October 13, 2009)) has had a strong influence on the way broadcasters cover the news, as well as how others present the news on network and cable television programs. In 2002, when the CEO of General Electric, Jeffrey Immelt, was asked how he wanted to improve his own cable news network, MSNBC, he said: “I think the standard right now is Fox. And I want to be as interesting and as edgy as you guys are.” [New Yorker, 5/26/2003; Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 52]

Entity Tags: Annenberg Public Policy Center, Jeffrey Immelt, Fox News, General Electric

Category Tags: Conservative Media Pundits, Media Complicity, Fox News

Fox News political pundit Bill O’Reilly savages the journalists and commentators who question the official story of Army Private Jessica Lynch (see April 3, 2003). O’Reilly characterizes the Los Angeles Times’s Robert Scheer (see April 10, 2003 and After and May 30, 2003) as a “radical columnist who [sic] many perceive to be a hater of [the] USA,” “despises President Bush,” and has “anti-American motives.” The Times itself is “extremely left-wing in its editorial presentation.” The BBC, which along with the Toronto Star was one of the first news organizations to question the official story (see May 4, 2003 and May 15, 2003), “was stridently against the war in Iraq and chastised by one of its own correspondents for slanting its reports.” O’Reilly says that while he “does not know the truth in this matter… we have no reason to doubt the mission’s original report. However, if it turns out that the US military is lying, it will be a terrible scandal.” [Fox News, 5/27/2003] As far as can be ascertained, when the more accurate chain of events is reported, essentially validating the reports by the BBC and Scheer (see June 17, 2003), O’Reilly will not respond to or investigate what he calls the potential “terrible scandal.”

Entity Tags: Fox News, Jessica Lynch, Robert Scheer, Bill O’Reilly

Category Tags: CIA Disinformation Campaigns, Media Complicity, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns, Conservative Media Pundits, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Fox News

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke lambasts Los Angeles Times columnist Robert Scheer for his reportage on the Jessica Lynch story (see April 3, 2003 and May 30, 2003). Scheer is frankly disbelieving of the sensational reporting surrounding Lynch’s capture and rescue, especially in light of recent reports that indicate the Pentagon’s version of events is anything but accurate (see May 4, 2003). In a letter to the Times, Clarke calls Scheer’s recent work a “tirade” and adds: “Scheer’s claims are outrageous, patently false and unsupported by the facts.… Official spokespeople in Qatar and in Washington, as well as the footage released, reflected the events accurately. To suggest otherwise is an insult and does a grave disservice to the brave men and women involved.” [Nation, 5/30/2007] It is later shown that Clarke, who heads the Pentagon’s military analyst (see Early 2002 and Beyond) and journalist embed (see February 2003) programs, is entirely wrong about her claims as to the accuracy of the Pentagon’s depiction of events (see June 17, 2003).

Entity Tags: Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke, Jessica Lynch, US Department of Defense, Robert Scheer

Category Tags: Lynch Disinfomation, Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns

Los Angeles Times columnist Robert Scheer, one of the first American political reporters to question the official Pentagon version of the capture and rescue of Private Jessica Lynch (see April 3, 2003), provides an overview of the personal and professional attacks launched against him by the Pentagon and by right-wing pundits (see May 27, 2003). Scheer, an unabashed liberal, notes that many of the attacks come from newspapers and news broadcasters owned by Rupert Murdoch, whose HarperCollins book publishing firm is preparing a book to be written by Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief. Al-Rehaief is the Iraqi lawyer who provided key information leading to Lynch’s rescue and was rewarded by being granted asylum in the US, given the book deal, and given a job with a Washington lobbying firm (see April 10, 2003 and After). Scheer is more discomfited by the attack from the Pentagon, whose public relations chief, Victoria Clarke, called Scheer’s reporting a “tirade… unsupported by the facts” (see May 29, 2003). Further reporting will show that the official story did not accurately reflect the events (see June 17, 2003). Scheer observes, “[W]hat is a grave disservice is manipulating a gullible media with leaked distortions from unnamed official sources about Lynch’s heroics in battle.” He notes that the Pentagon refused to allow the BBC or any other news organization to view the complete, unedited video footage of the April 1 rescue (see April 1, 2003), instead insisting that the media use only the edited footage provided by the Pentagon. Scheer adds that Clarke and other Pentagon officials continued to insist that the original reporting—Lynch had fought fiercely with her attackers and finally succumbed to multiple gunshot wounds—was accurate long after reports from US military doctors disputed those claims, and even after top US military officials began questioning that version of events. The Pentagon, Scheer writes, was intent on producing what “quickly became the main heroic propaganda myth of the US invasion of Iraq.” Scheer concludes: “What is particularly sad in all of this is that a wonderfully hopeful story was available to the Pentagon to sell to the eager media: one in which besieged Iraqi doctors and nurses bravely cared for—and supplied their own blood to—a similarly brave young American woman in a time of madness and violence. Instead, eager to turn the war into a morality play between good and evil, the military used—if not abused—Lynch to put a heroic spin on an otherwise sorry tale of unjustified invasion.” [Nation, 5/30/2007]

Entity Tags: Rupert Murdoch, US Department of Defense, British Broadcasting Corporation, HarperCollins, Jessica Lynch, Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, Robert Scheer, Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke

Category Tags: Lynch Disinfomation, Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns, Media Opposition

Destruction after the bombing of the UN building in Baghdad.Destruction after the bombing of the UN building in Baghdad. [Source: US Army]In the summer of 2003, Islamist militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi moves his operations to the Sunni areas of Iraq. Soon he is linked to a number of bombings of civilians.
bullet On August 7, his group al-Tawhid allegedly car bombs the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad, killing 17 people and wounding more than 60.
bullet On August 19, a car bomb hits United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, killing 24 people and wounding more than 100. UN envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello is one of those killed.
bullet On August 29, two suicide car bombs explode outside the Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf, one of the most sacred shrines for Shi’ites, killing 125 people. Ayatollah Mohammed Baqr al-Hakim, a revered Shia cleric, is one of those killed. [MSNBC, 5/4/2005; Atlantic Monthly, 6/8/2006]
A former Jordanian intelligence official who studied al-Zarqawi for a decade will say in 2006 of this time period, “Even then—and even more so now—al-Zarqawi was not the main force in the insurgency. To establish himself, he carried out the Muhammad al-Hakim operation, and the attack against the UN. Both of them gained a lot of support for him—with the tribes, with Saddam’s army and other remnants of his regime. They made al-Zarqawi the symbol of the resistance in Iraq, but not the leader. And he never has been.” [Atlantic Monthly, 6/8/2006] Over the next several years, the US government blames nearly every major bombing of civilians in Iraq on al-Zarqawi. For instance, an MSNBC article in early 2005 lists 35 attacks attributed to him. [MSNBC, 5/4/2005] But there is rarely any evidence definitively determining who was behind any given attack, and arrests or prosecutions of the bombers or their associates are even rarer. In late 2004, a Daily Telegraph article will claim that several US military intelligence sources complain that the importance of al-Zarqawi “has been exaggerated by flawed intelligence and the Bush administration’s desire to find ‘a villain’ for the post-invasion mayhem. US military intelligence agents in Iraq have revealed a series of botched and often tawdry dealings with unreliable sources who, in the words of one source, ‘told us what we wanted to hear.… We were basically paying up to $10,000 a time to opportunists, criminals, and chancers who passed off fiction and supposition about al-Zarqawi as cast-iron fact, making him out as the linchpin of just about every attack in Iraq’” (see October 4, 2004). [Daily Telegraph, 10/4/2004] But despite this, the blaming of nearly all attacks on al-Zarqawi will continue. The Jordanian intelligence expert on al-Zarqawi will complain in 2006, “The Americans have been patently stupid in all of this. They’ve blown Zarqawi so out of proportion that, of course, his prestige has grown. And as a result, sleeper cells from all over Europe are coming to join him now.… Your government is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.” [Atlantic Monthly, 6/8/2006] In April 2006, the Washington Post will report that the US military has been deliberately exaggerating the importance of al-Zarqawi in order to link the war in Iraq to al-Qaeda for the US public, due to al-Zarqawi’s alleged al-Qaeda ties (see April 10, 2006).

Entity Tags: Al-Tawhid, Sergio Vieira de Mello, Mohammed Baqr al-Hakim

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Media Complicity, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns

’Jeff Gannon’ taking part in a White House press briefing.’Jeff Gannon’ taking part in a White House press briefing. [Source: C-SPAN / Media Bistro]Gay prostitute James Guckert, who moonlights as conservative “journalist” Jeff Gannon (see January 26, 2005), writes a series of articles for the conservative Internet news site Talon News in an attempt to discredit the South Dakota Argus Leader and its veteran political writer, David Kranz. Gannon/Guckert writes a series of articles falsely alleging that Kranz, who had gone to college with Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD), was not only sympathetic to Daschle’s re-election campaign, but was actually working for Daschle. (The National Journal later writes that the blog assault “opened a new and potentially powerful front in the war over public opinion.”) The stories get a tremendous amount of play on right-wing blogs and conservative news Web sites, and the resulting barrage of complaints to the Argus Leader results in that newspaper altering its coverage to more strongly favor Daschle’s opponent, Republican John Thune. Thune’s campaign manager Dick Wadham is an old political crony of White House political guru Karl Rove. Several of the so-called “independent” bloggers decrying the Argus Leader’s coverage are actually working for Wadham. The bloggers and Gannon/Guckert continue their string of allegations, with Gannon/Guckert alleging that Daschle had claimed an improper tax exemption on his Washington home, a story instantly picked up on by Wadham’s cadre of “independent” bloggers. Thune uses the story as the basis of a political ad claiming Daschle is a resident of Washington, not South Dakota. Daschle aides call Gannon/Guckert “the dumping ground for opposition research.” Gannon/Guckert, who also hosts an Internet radio show called “Jeff Gannon’s Washington,” has Thune on as a guest; already having some experience as a member of the White House press corps (see February 18, 2005), he is touted as South Dakota’s “resident DC expert” by Wadham’s paid bloggers. Thune, who narrowly defeats Daschle, later gives interviews touting the impact of independent Internet bloggers and correspondents—without revealing the fact that neither Gannon/Guckert nor the bloggers were actually independent agents. [CBS News, 2/18/2005; Salon, 2/18/2005]

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, David Kranz, Dick Wadham, John Thune, National Journal, Tom Daschle, James Guckert, South Dakota Argus Leader, Talon News

Category Tags: White House Involvement, 'Jeff Gannon' Controversy, Media Complicity, Gender-Based Rhetoric, Conservative Media Pundits

Defense Department spokesman Lieutenant Colonel James Casella confirms that, contrary to previous reports (see April 1, 2003 and April 3, 2003), rescued POW Jessica Lynch was neither shot nor stabbed (see May 4, 2003 and June 17, 2003). “She wasn’t stabbed,” Casella says. “She wasn’t shot and she has some broken bones.” Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where Lynch is currently undergoing treatment, says only that Lynch has had surgery to repair a broken foot and otherwise “remains in satisfactory condition, undergoing occupational and physical therapy.” [New York Times, 6/13/2003] It is not explained why it took so long to confirm this.

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Jessica Lynch, James Casella

Timeline Tags: US Military

Category Tags: Lynch Disinfomation, Media Complicity, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns

The New York Times reports on the frenzy among news outlets to secure interviews with Army Private Jessica Lynch, currently recuperating from wounds suffered when her Humvee overturned and her unit was attacked by Iraqi forces (see April 1, 2003 and May 4, 2003). Such attempts at wooing a subject are called “the get.” NBC’s Katie Couric, the co-host of its flagship morning broadcast Today, sent Lynch a bundle of patriotic books. Diane Sawyer of ABC News sent Lynch a locket. CBS News sent her a letter promising a two-hour documentary, an offer from MTV for a possible news special, a music-video program or a concert in her honor with “a current star act such as Ashanti” in her hometown, and a potential book deal with Simon & Schuster. (CBS News president Leslie Moonves will later call that letter a mistake.) In May, CBS News correspondent Jane Clayson sent Lynch a birthday greeting noting that they shared the same astrological sign. [New York Times, 6/16/2003; Entertainment Weekly, 8/7/2003; Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003] Sawyer and ABC will eventually win out for Lynch’s first media interview (see November 11, 2003).

Entity Tags: Leslie Moonves, CBS News, ABC News, Diane Sawyer, Jane Clayson, Jessica Lynch, Katie Couric, NBC

Category Tags: Lynch Disinfomation, Media Complicity, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns, Media Coverage of Iraq War

The Washington Post reports that Jessica Lynch, the US Army private captured by Iraqi guerrillas and later rescued by American soldiers from an Iraqi hospital (see April 1, 2003 and June 17, 2003), is recuperating from her injuries in a guarded ward in Washington’s Walter Reed Army Medical Center. She receives daily physical therapy by herself, kept away from other patients. Reporters are not allowed near her. Her father, Greg Lynch, rarely leaves her bedside. For 67 days Lynch has remained hospitalized, and her days in Walter Reed will not soon end; her physical condition remains severe. Doctors at Walter Reed put her bones back together with an extensive and delicate network of rods and pins; it sometimes takes an hour for her to move from bed to wheelchair. She is still in severe pain. Her mother, Deadra Lynch, says, “It’s amazing she can walk at all—she is a body full of pins and screws.” She is psychologically traumatized, say people who have seen her, and she is sometimes disoriented. Her father says she remembers nothing of her capture. US military sources say she is either unable or unwilling to speak to any extent about her nine-day stay at a Nasiriyah hospital, nor does she talk about her rescue by a covert US Special Operations unit. “The doctors are reasonably sure,” Army spokesman Kiki Bryant says, “that she does not know what happened to her.” [Washington Post, 6/17/2003]

Entity Tags: Kiki Bryant, Deadra Lynch, Jessica Lynch, Greg Lynch

Category Tags: Lynch Disinfomation, Media Complicity, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns, Media Coverage of Iraq War

Washington Post reporter Dana Priest, one of the writers of the exhaustively researched and far more accurate account of Army Private Jessica Lynch’s ambush and capture in Iraq (see June 17, 2003), is interviewed on National Public Radio. Priest tries to explain why the original version of events as chronicled by the Post (see April 3, 2003) and other media outlets were so luridly incorrect: interviewer Neal Conan says that Priest and her colleagues now know “that were caused in the Humvee accident during the attack by Iraqi troops and the fact that probably Jessica Lynch was not the second coming of Audie Murphy, not that anybody should have expected her to be that. But nevertheless, The Washington Post and National Public Radio and many other news outlets reported a very heroic version of the story. How did that come to be?” Priest says that Lynch and her fellow soldiers indeed performed like heroes, fighting for their lives against an unsuspected and ferocious onslaught.
Relied on Presumably Credible Sources - According to Priest, she and two other Post reporters, relied on “people that we believe are credible and that have access to the sort of information that you would rely on in the very first instance to figure this out, which means intelligence information.… Three of us, in fact, gathered the information that made our story and which said she might have been shot and stabbed, and she fired off all her rounds. And these were people who we trusted over the months and years that we’ve dealt with them, and they were reading from classified, in most cases, intelligence reports. They were initial reports from the field that were both intercepted or eavesdropped conversations with Iraqi soldiers in which these soldiers were talking to one another through their cell phones or radio systems saying that there was a white female who was acting very brave and fighting them. And we went back several times to those sources and repeated—to find out the reliability of that. They thought it was pretty good, although still initial. Same with the stabbing and wounding. You were getting a lot of eyewitnesses on the ground as well. Some of them we quoted in our story, too, her bones had been so badly shattered in some cases that they were actually protruding out of the skin, and so there were some blood marks on her skin that you would have been able to see if you had gotten up close. And perhaps that’s why some people thought she was shot, but it could be other reasons as well.” Priest says “the fog of war and the fog of reporting during war” often causes inaccurate reporting. She does not believe that the initial reporting “was somehow staged and managed by the Pentagon… ”
Filming of Rescue Routine - As for the filming of the rescue by the covert commando unit, Task Force 20, that entered the hospital and took Lynch out, Priest says that all such units “carry cameras with them wherever they go, in part to learn lessons for themselves, but in this case they made some of that footage available. And as one public relations officer from Central Command told me, they were eager to get that film. It was edited when it came to them. When they saw it they thought it told a certain part of the story. And then, as he said, it was such an awesome story that we didn’t need to embellish it, which it was.”
Pentagon Allowed Inaccurate Media Stories to Spread - Priest says that she believes the Pentagon did not correct the story once it was reported because “it was such a positive story for them, and it was the media’s mistake, if you want to read it that way, for going with unreliable information, or information that turned out to be unreliable. So they may not have wanted to really correct the record in that regard. They did say some things that should have indicated to us that not everything was quite as we reported, but they usually said them on background. They never officially came out.” [National Public Radio, 6/17/2003]

Entity Tags: Washington Post, Task Force 20, US Central Command, US Department of Defense, Neal Conan, Jessica Lynch, Dana Priest, National Public Radio

Category Tags: Lynch Disinfomation, Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns, Media Opposition

Jessica Lynch being carried from a transport plane to a hospital in Ramstein, Germany, April 2, 2003.Jessica Lynch being carried from a transport plane to a hospital in Ramstein, Germany, April 2, 2003. [Source: Associated Press / Baltimore Sun]The Washington Post publishes a much more exhaustively researched attempt at telling the accurate story of US Army Private Jessica Lynch’s capture, rescue, and subsequent recovery. The Post printed a dramatic tale of Lynch’s guns-blazing capture, her abuse at the hands of her captors, and the firefight that resulted in her rescue (see April 1, 2003). That story turned out to be almost entirely fictional, most likely a product of Pentagon propaganda (see May 4, 2003, May 23, 2003, and May 25, 2003). In a very different front-page story, it now attempts to tell the story directly and without embellishment.
Brief Propaganda Victory - The original story, featuring Lynch emptying her M-16 into her assailants until finally succumbing to multiple gunshot wounds, quickly made Lynch into what the Post calls “the story of the war, boosting morale at home and among the troops. It was irresistible and cinematic, the maintenance clerk turned woman-warrior from the hollows of West Virginia who just wouldn’t quit. Hollywood promised to make a movie and the media, too, were hungry for heroes.” That story was quickly exposed as a fraud. This Post story, its reporters assert, is far more extensively researched: “The Post interviewed dozens of people, including associates of Lynch’s family in West Virginia; Iraqi doctors, nurses and civilian witnesses in Nasiriyah; and U.S. intelligence and military officials in Washington, three of whom have knowledge of a weeks-long Army investigation into the matter. The result is a second, more thorough but inconclusive cut at history.” At least one similarity with the original story remains, the reporters acknowledge: most of the US officials who spoke to the reporters insisted that their identities not be revealed.
The Real Story of the Capture - According to military officials, Lynch indeed tried to fight her assailants, but her weapon jammed. She did not kill any Iraqis. She was neither shot nor stabbed. Her unit, the 507th Maintenance Company, fell prey to an ambush outside Nasiriyah after getting lost. Army investigators believe that Lynch and her colleagues became lost because they were not informed that the column they had been following was rerouted. Lynch was riding in a Humvee when it crashed into a jackknified US truck. She was severely injured in the crash, including multiple broken bones and compression of the spine. The other four soldiers in the Humvee were killed or mortally wounded. She was captured by Iraqi guerrillas. In what may be a continuation of the government’s attempt to inflate the tale, two US officials familiar with the Army investigation say that Lynch was mistreated by her captors but refuse to give details.
Eyewitness Account - Sahib Khudher, an Iraqi farmer, saw a large US convoy of trucks, trailers, wreckers, and Humvees pass by his house before dawn on March 23. A few hours later, he saw trucks again pass his house, this time fighting off an ad hoc assault force of Iraqi irregulars in pickup trucks. The Iraqis were firing into the US vehicles and at their tires. “There was shooting, shooting everywhere,” Khudher recalls. “There were accidents, too. Crash sounds. You could see and hear the vehicles hitting each other. And yelling. Screaming. I could hear English.” Khudher was witnessing the tail end of the 507th Maintenance Company’s convoy, 18 Humvees, trailers, and tow trucks. Most of the soldiers were part of a Patriot missile maintenance crew.
Missed Route Change - The 507th missed a route change and quickly became separated from their larger 3rd Infantry unit. Because of truck breakdowns, 18 vehicles of the 507th split off from the rest of their convoy, and became entirely separated. Lynch was with these vehicles, which entered Nasiriyah around 6:30 a.m. Unfamiliar with the streets, the commander became lost, and eventually ordered the convoy to attempt to turn around and backtrack. By that point, around 7 a.m., the streets were filling with Iraqis, and the commander ordered the troops to lock and load their weapons.
Assault - As the convoy attempted to drive into central Nasiriyah, Iraqi forces launched an attack. The assailants were both uniformed soldiers and civilians, according to accounts by the American survivors of the assault. The attackers fired on the convoy with small arms, hand grenades, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortars. The situation worsened for the Americans when an Iraqi T-55 tank appeared, and the assailants positioned sandbags, debris, and cars to block the convoy’s path. The senior military officer later described the battle as “very harrowing, very intense.” Lynch may have been one of the soldiers returning fire, but she may not have gotten off a single round: “We don’t know how many rounds she got off,” says the official. “Her weapon jammed severely.” While details are unclear, it is believed that Lynch’s vehicle broke down, and she clambered into a soft-top Humvee driven by Private First Class Lori Piestewa, Lynch’s best friend in the unit. Another occupant, Master Sergeant Robert Dowdy, pulled two more soldiers into the Humvee. Lynch rode the transmission hump between the two seat. The senior military officer says that Dowdy was encouraging his four soldiers “to get into the fight” as well as “trying to get vehicles to move and getting soldiers out of one broken-down vehicle and into another.” The four soldiers in the Humvee “had their weapons at the ready and their seat belts off,” says the senior officer. “We assume they were firing back.” [Washington Post, 6/17/2003] (Lynch will later confirm that her weapon and others’ were jammed with sand and useless.) [Time, 11/9/2003]
Collision - During the firefight, a US tractor-trailer with a flatbed swerved around an Iraqi dump truck and jackknifed. As the Humvee sped towards the overturned tractor-trailer, it was struck on the driver’s side by a rocket-propelled grenade. Piestewa lost control of the Humvee and plowed into the trailer. The senior defense official calls the collision “catastrophic.” Dowdy was killed instantly, as were the two soldiers to either side of Lynch. Both she and Piestewa were severely injured. Lynch’s arm and both legs were crushed; bone fragments tore through her skin. Khudher recalls seeing a Humvee crash into a truck. Watching from a safe distance, he saw “two American women, one dark-skinned, one light-skinned, pulled from the Humvee. I think the light one was dead. The dark-skinned one was hurt.” The light-skinned woman was apparently Lynch. She and Piestewa, who was Native American, were both captured by Iraqi guerrillas.
Garbled, Contradictory Reports - Understandably, the reports of the ambush in the hours after the attack were garbled, contradictory, and confused. Arabic-speaking interpreters at the National Security Agency intercepted Iraqi transmissions referring to “an American female soldier with blond hair who was very brave and fought against them,” according to a senior military officer who read the top-secret intelligence report when it came in. Some of the Iraqis at the scene said she had emptied her weapon at her assailants. Over the next few days, numerous reports are received by the commanders at US CENTCOM in Doha, Qatar. Some of the reports are relayed Iraqi transmissions concerning a female soldier. The stories are contradictory. Some say she died in battle. Others say she was wounded by shrapnel. Others say she was shot and stabbed during the firefight. The only ones to receive these reports were generals, intelligence officers, and Washington policymakers, all of whom must be cleared to read the most sensitive information the US government possesses. The initial tale of Lynch’s “fight to the death” came from these high-level officials. [Washington Post, 6/17/2003] Another possible explanation later given forth was that the Army had intercepted Iraqi radio chatter about a yellow-haired soldier from Lynch’s unit who fought bravely before falling; that soldier was later identified as Sergeant Donald Walters. Interpreters had confused the Arabic pronouns for “he” and “she” and thought the radio transmissions were about Lynch. [New York Times, 12/14/2003]
Initial Treatment - Lynch and Piestewa were taken to a small military hospital in Nasiriyah, where both are initially treated for their wounds. That hospital is nothing more than a burned-out ruin today, but on the morning of Lynch’s captivity, it was the scene of frenzied activity, overwhelmed with Iraqi soldiers and irregulars fleeing, fighting, and bleeding from wounds. US soldiers were coming in from Kuwait in heavy numbers. The hospital’s director, Adnan Mushafafawi, remembers a policeman bringing in two female American soldiers about 10 a.m. Both were unconscious, he remembers, severely wounded and suffering from shock. According to their dog tags, they were Lynch and Piestewa. “Miss Lori had bruises all over her face,” he remembers. “She was bleeding from the eyes. A severe head wound.” Piestewa died soon after arriving at the hospital. Though Piestewa may have been shot, Mushafafawi says, Lynch had been neither shot nor stabbed. Mushafafawi and medical staffers cut away Lynch’s uniform, lay her on a gurney and began working on her. She had major fractures of her arm and both legs, and a minor head wound. They sutured the head wound, and gave her blood and intravenous fluids. After X-raying her fractures, they applied splints and plaster casts. “If we had left her without treatment, she would have died,” Mushafafawi says. Lynch briefly regained consciousness during the treatment, but was disoriented. “She was very scared,” he says. “We reassured her that she would be safe now.” She resisted having Mushafafawi reset her leg, he remembers. Two or three hours later, Lynch was sent to Nasirayah’s main civilian facility, Saddam Hussein General Hospital. Mushafafawi believed at the time that his hospital would be attacked by US military forces (it was overrun two days later). He had both Lynch and Piestewa’s body sent to the civilian hospital. Mushafafawi says he does not know what happened to either of the soldiers between the time they were captured and when they were brought to his hospital.
Hospitalized - Lynch arrived at Saddam Hussein hospital that afternoon in a military ambulance. The doctors there were shocked to find a severely injured, nearly naked American woman, wearing heavy casts, beneath a sheet. Hospital officials say that during her time there, she was given the best possible care they could provide. They do not believe it was possible for Iraqi agents to have abused her while at the hospital. A member of Iraq’s intelligence service was posted outside the door to her room, but the staff never saw anyone mistreat her, nor did they see evidence of any mistreatment. Her condition was grave, the doctors and nurses recall, unconscious and obviously in shock. The hospital was overloaded with casualties and barely staffed; only a dozen doctors from a staff of 60 were on duty. Many nurses had not come to work either. The roads were unsafe, the electricity came and went, medical supplies were stretched thin, and casualties kept pouring in. “It was substandard care, by American standards, we know this, okay?” says Dr. Harith al-Houssona. “But Jessica got the best we could offer.” Lynch began to improve after several days of treatment. She was moved from the emergency room to an empty cardiac care unit, where she had her own room, and was tended to by two female nurses. She was in terrible pain, and was given powerful drugs. Though she was hungry, she was leery of the food being offered her, insisting that the food containers be opened in front of her before she would eat. Her mental state fluctuated. Sometimes she joked and smiled with her doctors and nurses, sometimes she would weep. “She didn’t want to be left alone and she didn’t want strangers to care for her,” Dr. Anmar Uday recalls. “One time, she asked me, ‘Why are you standing in front of me? Are you gong to hurt me?’ We said no, we’re here to help you.” Her primary nurse, Khalida Shinah, weeps herself when describing Lynch’s misery. Shinah recalls singing her to sleep and rubbing talc into her shoulders. Dr. Mahdi Khafaji, an orthopedic surgeon, says that there was more than mere sympathy and camaraderie responsible for the decision to give Lynch the best care they could. Everyone knew that the Americans would soon come for Lynch, he says, and “we wanted to show the Americans that we are human beings.… She was more important at that moment than Saddam Hussein.” Besides, he adds, “You could not help but feeling sorry for her. A young girl. An American. A prisoner. We did our best. Believe me, she was the only orthopedic surgery I performed.” The hospital staff were not the only ones interested in ensuring the Americans would be happy with Lynch’s treatment. At the time, the hospital had between 50 and 100 Iraqi fighters in or around the site at any one time, though the number steadily dwindled as US forces came ever closer. Senior Iraqi officials worked and lived out of the basement, clinics, and the doctors’ residence halls and offices. They all knew the Americans were coming, al-Houssona recalls, “and toward the end, they were most worried about saving themselves.”
Suspicious Wounds - Khafaji was suspicious of Lynch’s wounds. He had trouble believing they came from an auto accident, no matter how severe. The fractures were on both sides of her body, and there was no glass embedded in her wounds. US military sources believe most if not all the fractures could have been caused by the accident. Khafaji says, “[M]aybe a car accident, or maybe [her captors] broke her bones with rifle butts or by stomping on her legs. I don’t know. They know and Jessica knows. I can only guess.”
Interrogation - Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, a lawyer, says he learned about Lynch’s capture on March 27, when he went to visit his wife Iman, a nurse at the hospital. Al-Rehaief saw numerous Fedayeen in the “traditional black ninja-style uniforms that covered everything but their eyes,” as well as “high army officials there.” Al-Rehaief says one of his friends, a doctor, told him of Lynch. Curious, he peered through a glass panel into her room and, he says, “saw a large man in black looming over a bed that contained a small bandaged woman with blond hair.” The man wore epaulets on his shirt, indicating that he was a Fedayeen officer. Al-Rehaief recalls, “He appeared to be questioning the woman through a translator. Then I saw him slap her—first with the palm of his hand, then with the back of his hand.” After the Fedayeen officer left, al-Rehaief slipped into Lynch’s room and told her he would help. He left the hospital and sought out US soldiers, soon finding a group of US Marines. He told them about Lynch. (The Marines corroborate what they know of al-Rehaief’s story.) They sent him back to the hospital several times to map it out and routes in and out of the hospital. He also counts the number of Iraqi troops there.
Fabrication? - While the hospital doctors and staffers believe al-Rehaief did tell the Marines about Lynch, they dispute other portions of his story. There is no nurse named Iman at the hospital, they say, and no nurse married to a lawyer. “This is something we would know,” says one nurse. Al-Houssona believes little of al-Rehaief’s story. “Never happened,” he says. As for the Fedayeen slapping Lynch in her hospital bed, “That’s some Hollywood crap you’d tell the Americans.” Al-Houssona believes al-Rehaief embellished his story for his listeners. Al-Rehaief and his wife were taken to a military camp in Kuwait, and later received political asylum. He now lives in northern Virginia, where he is working on a book for HarperCollins and a television movie for NBC about his version of events (see April 10, 2003 and After).
Task Force 20 - The Special Operations unit given the assignment of rescuing Lynch, Task Force 20, is a covert Special Ops unit assigned the highest priority tasks. There was a larger reason than Lynch for that unit to be interested in the hospital: pre-mission briefings indicated that the hospital had been repeatedly visited by Ali Hassan Majeed, the infamous “Chemical Ali,” in recent days. Ground sources and images from Predator drones indicate that the hospital might be a military command post. There was every reason for Task Force 20 to go into the hospital heavily armed and taking full precautions, or as one Special Ops officer puts it, “loaded for bear.” A force of Marines, with tanks and armored personnel carriers, was ordered to mount a feint into Nasiriyah to draw off Iraqi forces near the hospital.
Rescue - Around 1 a.m. on April 1, commandos in blacked-out Black Hawk helicopters, protected by AC-130 gunships, entered the hospital grounds. Marines established an exterior perimeter, and Army Rangers set up a second perimeter just outside the hospital walls. These forces were fired upon from adjacent buildings, military sources say, though the fire was light. Commandos burst into the hospital, set off explosives meant to disorient anyone inside, and made for Lynch’s room. Uday says that the doctors and staffers fled to the X-ray room, where they might be more secure. Though the soldiers quickly burst into the X-ray room, no shots were fired and no resistance was offered. “It was like a ‘Rambo’ movie,” Uday recalls. “But we were not Rambo. We just waited to be told what to do.” Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, who gave American reporters video footage of the rescue mission, says, “There was not a firefight inside of the building, I will tell you, but there were firefights outside of the building, getting in and out.” The commandos found Lynch in a private bed, lying on the hospital’s only bed used to ease bedsores. A male nurse in a white jacket was with her. One of the soldiers called out, “Jessica Lynch, we’re the United States soldiers and we’re here to protect you and take you home.” She answered, “I’m an American soldier, too.” The commandos find “ammunition, mortars, maps, a terrain model and other things that make it very clear that it was being used as a military command post,” Brooks says. It is unclear if the hospital had indeed been used as any sort of military headquarters, but it is certain that the last of the Iraqi soldiers had fled the day before.
Recovering the Dead - The commandos retrieve two American bodies from the morgue. Staff members lead soldiers outside, where seven other soldiers were buried in shallow graves. They tell the soldiers that they buried the seven because the morgue’s faltering refrigeration couldn’t slow their decomposition. All nine bodies are from Lynch’s unit. Navy SEALs dug up the bodies with their hands, military officials say.
Propaganda Opportunity - Within hours of the rescue, a second contingent of US tanks and trucks rolled up to the hospital. They were not there to attack anyone. Instead, CENTCOM’s public affairs office in Qatar had seen an opportunity. “We wanted to make sure we got whatever visuals were available,” a public affairs officer involved in the operation recalls. The rescue force had photographed the rescue, and Special Forces had provided video footage of Iraqi border posts being obliterated to the news media. That video footage had received extensive airplay in the US. This, the public affairs officers think, could be much bigger. Lieutenant Colonel John Robinson, a CENTCOM public affairs officer, says, “We let them know, if possible we wanted to get it, we’d like to have” the video. “We were hoping we would have good visuals. We knew it would be the hottest thing of the day. There was not an intent to talk it down or embellish it because we didn’t need to. It was an awesome story.” The Lynch story, if properly presented, could be a boon to the military’s public relations. Stories of US troops bogged down on the way to Baghdad and killed by the dozens in vicious firefights could be erased from the news broadcasts by a feel-good story of heroism and camaraderie. According to one colonel who dealt with the media in the days after the rescue, the story “took on a life of its own. Reporters seem to be reporting on each other’s information. The rescue turned into a Hollywood concept.” No one at CENTCOM ever explains how the details of Lynch’s “heroic resistance,” “emptying her gun” into her assailants, and finally “falling from multiple gunshot wounds” were given to reporters. [Washington Post, 6/17/2003]

Entity Tags: Ali Hassan Majeed, Jessica Lynch, Adnan Mushafafawi, Anmar Uday, Harith al-Houssona, John Robinson, Donald Walters, Khalida Shinah, Al Jazeera, Vincent Brooks, Robert Dowdy, Washington Post, Lori Piestewa, Sahib Khudher, Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, US Central Command, US Department of Defense, Task Force 20

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Lynch Disinfomation, Media Complicity, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Media Opposition

Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman writes that the propagandizing of Jessica Lynch’s capture and rescue (see May 4, 2003 and June 17, 2003) has obscured Lynch’s real heroism—that of a survivor putting herself back together after severe physical and emotional trauma. “There is something terrible about the alchemy that tries to turn a human into a symbol,” Goodman writes, calling Lynch’s mythologized saga “fool’s gold.” The story went from what one reporter calls “the first feel-good story of the war” to a sobering examination of truth, lies, fiction, and legend. “[E]verything about this war seems to be up for revision,” Goodman writes, “from the way it began, with declarations of weapons of mass destruction, to the way it hasn’t ended. So Lynch has now become a redefining story of the war, with skeptics asking whether the Pentagon spun the media or the media hyped the story.” She says that the original presentation of Lynch was a “cartoon-like… warrior and prisoner of war… both Rambette and Damsel in Distress. For a military wrestling with women in its ranks, she was the woman fighting ferociously—‘She did not want to be taken alive’—and the slight, blond teenager who needed to be rescued. For the media, she was a human interest story in the world of tanks. She was news—the woman in combat fatigues—and the crossover star who might attract women viewers.” Lynch’s story was strong enough to stand on its own, Goodman says, without embellishment or mythologizing. “The not-so-secret is that media and military and citizens live in a world where war only interrupts our regular programming,” Goodman explains. “We are expected to digest simple story lines about both the reasons for conflict and its heroism. It’s also a world in which a Jessica Lynch is fit into an empty slot between [murder victim] Laci Peterson and [TV personality] Martha Stewart. But to turn a human into a symbol, you have to take away the humanity. In the pursuit of fool’s gold, you burn away the metal. By making Jessica into a cartoon hero, we may have missed the bravery of the young soldier now recovering in Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Pfc. Jessica Lynch didn’t empty an M-16 into the enemy. But she has learned how to take a hundred steps with a walker, one step at a time. That’s heroism enough for one lifetime.” [Boston Globe, 6/21/2003]

Entity Tags: Jessica Lynch, Ellen Goodman

Category Tags: Lynch Disinfomation, Media Complicity, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Liberal Media Pundits

Washington Post ombudsman Michael Getler writes another mea culpa admitting the Post’s central role in promoting the Pentagon’s propaganda story of the Jessica Lynch capture and rescue (see April 1, 2003 and May 25, 2003). Getler writes that the issue is not Lynch, whose courage is unquestionable, but how the Post and other news providers are systematically manipulated by outside sources with their own agendas, and how these news outlets sometimes enthusiastically cooperate with such manipulation. The Lynch story as originally reported in the Post has been supplanted by a second, more thorough piece (see June 17, 2003) that Getler calls “a corrective to the initial reporting.” Getler notes that the “corrective” account does not address the more fundamental questions of why that first story “remain[ed] unchallenged for so long,” who provided the false information that generated that story, and why reporters simply accepted that account as fact instead of doing their own investigations. “The story had an odor to it almost from the beginning,” Getler writes, “and other news organizations blew holes in it well before the Post did, though not as authoritatively,” apparently referring to articles such as a May 4 piece by the Toronto Star (see May 4, 2003). Was the first version a government attempt to manipulate the news media? Getler asks. He also wants to know why Lynch’s fellow soldiers, including those captured and held as POWs (see October 24, 2003), have not spoken about Lynch. “Certainly, Lynch’s privacy about her ordeal needs to be protected,” he writes. “But the official curtain of silence has extended to everything about the incident from the start. Why?” Getler concludes: “This was the single most memorable story of the war, and it had huge propaganda value. It was false, but it didn’t get knocked down until it didn’t matter quite so much.” [Washington Post, 6/29/2003]

Entity Tags: Washington Post, Jessica Lynch, Michael Getler

Category Tags: Lynch Disinfomation, Media Complicity, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Media Opposition

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer has a telephone conversation with conservative syndicated columnist Robert Novak. Neither Fleischer nor Novak will reveal the contents of that conversation, though the conversation takes place shortly after the publication of Joseph Wilson’s op-ed debunking the administration’s attempts to claim that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003) and a week before Novak, using White House sources, will reveal that Wilson’s wife is a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003). [New York Times, 7/19/2005] Fleischer will later testify (see January 29, 2007) that he learned that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, was a CIA agent from White House official Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see 12:00 p.m. July 7, 2003). Libby told Fleischer that the knowledge of Plame Wilson’s CIA status is not widely known. [MSNBC, 2/21/2007]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Ari Fleischer, Bush administration (43), Robert Novak

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Media Complicity, Plame-Niger Controversy, Conservative Media Pundits

Syndicated columnist Robert Novak discusses former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s journey to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see Late June 2003). Novak asks Armitage, “Why in the world did [the CIA] send Joe Wilson on this?” and Armitage answers by revealing what he has learned from a State Department intelligence memo (see June 10, 2003) that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is a CIA agent who works with the issue of weapons of mass destruction. “I don’t know,” Armitage says, “but his wife works out there.” Armitage also tells Novak that Plame Wilson “suggested” her husband for the Niger trip. [Fox News, 9/8/2006; Wilson, 2007, pp. 256; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007] Novak has already learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see July 7, 2003). Either later this day, or sometime during the next day, Novak also learns of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from White House political adviser Karl Rove (see July 8 or 9, 2003). Novak will publicly reveal Plame Wilson’s CIA status in his next column, apparently as part of an effort to discredit her husband (see July 6, 2003 and July 14, 2003). [New York Times, 7/15/2005; New York Times, 7/16/2005]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Karl C. Rove, Richard Armitage, Central Intelligence Agency, Joseph C. Wilson, Robert Novak

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Plame-Niger Controversy, Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Conservative Media Pundits

Two days after the New York Times publishes former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s op-ed debunking the Bush administration’s claims that Iraq attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003), a business acquaintance of Wilson’s tells him of an encounter he just had with conservative columnist Robert Novak. The acquaintance sees Novak in the street and, recognizing him from his frequent television appearances, asks if he can walk with him, as they are going in the same direction. The two men do not know one another. After asking Novak about the Iraq-Niger uranium claims, the acquaintance asks Novak what he thinks of Wilson. Novak responds by blurting out: “Wilson’s an assh_le. The CIA sent him. His wife, Valerie, works for the CIA. She’s a weapons of mass destruction specialist. She sent him.” Novak has just discussed Plame Wilson with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and is about to receive confirmation from White House political strategist Karl Rove (see July 8, 2003). The acquaintance is shocked by Novak’s outburst and, after parting company with Novak, goes to Wilson’s office to tell the former ambassador what Novak has said. Wilson immediately calls the head of CNN, Eason Jordan, and complains. (Novak is employed by CNN.) Jordan suggests that Wilson speak directly to Novak. After two days of missed phone calls, Novak finally speaks to Wilson, apologizes for the insult, and then, according to Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame Wilson, “brazenly asked Joe to confirm what he had already heard from an agency source: that I worked for the CIA” (see July 14, 2003). Wilson refuses, and contacts his wife. She will describe herself as “uneasy knowing that a journalist had my name and knew my true employer.” She immediately informs her superiors in the counterproliferation division, who assure her that “it would be taken care of.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 343-346; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 214; Wilson, 2007, pp. 140-141; MSNBC, 2/21/2007]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Robert Novak, CNN, Central Intelligence Agency, Eason Jordan, Valerie Plame Wilson, New York Times

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Plame-Niger Controversy, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Conservative Media Pundits, Media Complicity

Columnist Robert Novak, preparing to publish a column outing CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see 4:00 p.m. July 11, 2003 and July 14, 2003), speaks to Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney. Libby is not known to be a source for Novak’s column, but was part of an orchestrated effort to discredit Plame Wilson’s husband, war critic Joseph Wilson (see June 3, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, 12:00 p.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 10, 2003, (July 11, 2003), 7:00 a.m. July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, and July 14 or 15, 2003), and himself is involved in outing Plame Wilson to two other reporters (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). In subsequent testimony before the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson leak (see March 5, 2004), Libby will admit talking to Novak, but say the conversation hinged on Novak’s possession of the White House talking points distancing Cheney from the Wilson mission (see 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003). Libby will deny discussing Plame Wilson with Novak during their conversation. [US Department of Justice, 3/5/2004 pdf file; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007]

Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson, Robert Novak

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: White House Involvement, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Conservative Media Pundits, Media Complicity, Plame-Niger Controversy

The Army releases the results of its investigation into the events surrounding the ambush of the 507th Maintenance Company in Nasiriyah (see March 23, 2003) and the capture and eventual rescue of Private Jessica Lynch (see June 17, 2003). The report concludes that Lynch did not empty her weapons at her attackers, as reported by many media outlets, nor was she shot and stabbed during her capture (see April 3, 2003). Lynch and fellow soldier Private Lori Piestewa suffered “horrific injuries” when their Humvee crashed into a jackknifed truck. Piestewa was not killed by Iraqis at the scene, as some reports alleged, but died of her injuries at a Nasiriyah hospital. Lynch, the report says, “survived principally because of the medical attention she received from the Iraqis.” A Pentagon source says of the convoy’s reaction to being ambushed: “This was a fight. They got popped at different locations. There were battles. They were fighting back.” The report was written by the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, and is largely based on an extensive commander’s investigation, called a 15-6 for the Army regulation that authorizes investigations of major incidents. The 15-6 report itself will not be released to the public. [Washington Times, 7/10/2003]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Army, Jessica Lynch, Lori Piestewa

Category Tags: Lynch Disinfomation, Media Complicity, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns, Media Coverage of Iraq War

Shortly after he reveals to columnist Robert Novak that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA agent (see July 8, 2003), White House political strategist Karl Rove advises Lewis Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, of the conversation. According to the 2005 indictment filed against Libby (see October 28, 2005), “Libby spoke to a senior official in the White House (Official A) who advised Libby of a conversation Official A had earlier that week with… Novak, in which [Joseph] Wilson’s wife was discussed as a CIA employee involved in Wilson’s trip. Libby was advised by Official A that Novak would be writing a story about Wilson’s wife.” Attorneys involved in the case will later confirm that “Official A” is Rove. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 pdf file; National Journal, 11/12/2005]

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, Joseph C. Wilson, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: White House Involvement, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Conservative Media Pundits, Media Complicity, Plame-Niger Controversy

According to a November 2004 article in the Washington Post, a syndicated column by Robert Novak exposing Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA official (see July 14, 2003) may appear on the Associated Press wire as early as July 11, 2003, giving White House officials a chance to read the column and learn of Plame Wilson’s status three days before its appearance in print publications such as the Chicago Sun-Times. The Washington Post will say: “The timing [of the column’s appearance] could be a critical element in assessing whether classified information was illegally disclosed. If White House aides directed reporters to information that had already been published by Novak, they may not have disclosed classified information.” [Washington Post, 11/26/2004] Novak sends a draft copy of the column to at least one person on this day: conservative lobbyist Richard Hohlt (see 4:00 p.m. July 11, 2003). Many of the White House leaks of Plame Wilson’s identity come on or before this day (see June 13, 2003, June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, and 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). And on this day, Novak is still attempting to confirm that Plame Wilson is indeed a CIA official (see (July 11, 2003)).

Entity Tags: Richard Hohlt, Associated Press, Bush administration (43), Valerie Plame Wilson, Washington Post, Robert Novak

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Plame-Niger Controversy, Conservative Media Pundits, Media Complicity

According to author Craig Unger, the White House’s version of events concerning its recent admission of error concerning the Iraq-Niger claim (see July 8, 2003) is followed by most US mainstream print and broadcast news sources. Only “comedy news” shows like Comedy Central’s Daily Show and HBO’s Real Time, MSNBC’s political commentary show Countdown, and some liberal, progressive, and civil libertarian blogs attempt to tell a story not shaped by the White House (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). By and large, the mainstream media tells the story from the White House’s point of view. [Unger, 2007, pp. 312] In early 2007, author Eric Boehlert will add details to Unger’s statement (see February 6, 2007).

Entity Tags: Craig Unger, Bush administration (43), Eric Boehlert

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War

White House political adviser Karl Rove, leading the White House’s damage control operation to recoup the losses from Joseph Wilson’s recent op-ed about the fraudulent Iraq-Niger documents (see July 6, 2003), speaks to Time reporter Matthew Cooper. Rove has already discussed Wilson with columnist Robert Novak (see July 8, 2003).
Cooper Digging for White House Smear Details - According to Cooper’s notes, an e-mail from Cooper to his bureau chief, Michael Duffy, and Cooper’s later testimony (see July 13, 2005), Cooper is interested in the White House’s apparent smear attempts against Wilson (see March 9, 2003 and After and May 2003). “I’m writing about Wilson,” Cooper says, and Rove interjects, “Don’t get too far out on Wilson.” Rove insists that their conversation be on “deep background,” wherein Cooper cannot quote him directly, nor can he disclose his identity. Rove tells Cooper that neither CIA Director George Tenet nor Vice President Dick Cheney sent Wilson to Niger, and that, Cooper will later write, “material was going to be declassified in the coming days that would cast doubt on Wilson’s mission and his findings.”
Outing Plame Wilson - Rove says that it is Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame Wilson “who apparently works at the agency [CIA] on wmd issues who authorized the trip… not only [sic] the genesis of the trip is flawed an[d] suspect but so is the report. [Rove] implied strongly there’s still plenty to implicate iraqi interest in acquiring uranium fro[m] Niger.” Rove does not identify Plame Wilson, only calling her “Wilson’s wife,” but Cooper has no trouble learning her name. Rove ends the call with a cryptic teaser, saying, “I’ve already said too much.” Cooper will recall these words two years later when he testifies to the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak (see January 2004). [Cooper, 7/11/2003 pdf file; New York Times, 7/16/2005; Time, 7/17/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 311-312] Later, Cooper will write: “I have a distinct memory of Rove ending the call by saying, ‘I’ve already said too much.’ This could have meant he was worried about being indiscreet, or it could have meant he was late for a meeting or something else. I don’t know, but that sign-off has been in my memory for two years.” [Time, 7/17/2005] Cooper will later testify that Rove never told him about Plame Wilson’s covert status. [National Journal, 10/7/2005]
Call Not Logged - Rove asks his personal assistant, Susan Cooper, to ensure that Cooper’s call does not appear on the White House telephone logs. [CounterPunch, 12/9/2005]
Cooper E-mails Editor - After hanging up, Cooper sends an e-mail to his editors at Time about the conversation (see 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003).
Conversation with Deputy National Security Adviser - After the conversation with Cooper, Rove sends an e-mail to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, saying he “didn’t take the bait” when Cooper suggested that Wilson’s criticisms had been damaging to the administration (see After 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003).
White House Getting Message Across - Author Craig Unger later notes that while the conversation is on background, the White House is getting across its message that something about Wilson’s trip is questionable, and it has something to do with his wife. Unger writes, “And a White House press corps that relied heavily on access to high level administration officials was listening intently and was holding its fire.” [Cooper, 7/11/2003 pdf file; New York Times, 7/16/2005; Time, 7/17/2005; National Journal, 10/7/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 311-312] Rove later testifies that his references to “Niger,” “damaging,” and Bush being “hurt” all referred to the potential political fallout from Wilson’s allegations. As for the statement that “If I were him I wouldn’t get that far out in front of this,” Rove will say he merely wanted to urge Cooper to use caution in relying on Wilson as a potential source. [National Journal, 10/7/2005]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Stephen J. Hadley, Joseph C. Wilson, Matthew Cooper, Bush administration (43), Michael Duffy, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, Craig Unger, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Karl C. Rove

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: White House Involvement, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Plame-Niger Controversy, Media Complicity

Time reporter Matthew Cooper, after learning from White House political strategist Karl Rove that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA official (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), e-mails his editor, Michael Duffy, about the conversation. In the e-mail to Duffy entitled “Subject: Rove/P&C” (for personal and confidential), Cooper begins, “Spoke to Rove on double super secret background for about two mins before he went on vacation.” After noting some of the details above and making some recommendations as to how to handle the story, Cooper concludes, “please don’t source this to rove or even WH [White House].” He suggests that Duffy have another reporter check with CIA spokesman Bill Harlow. [Cooper, 7/11/2003 pdf file; Newsweek, 7/10/2005] Cooper will later explain the “double super secret background” reference as a joke, referring to the movie Animal House, in which the fraternity is placed on “double secret probation.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 223-224]

Entity Tags: Michael Duffy, Karl C. Rove, Valerie Plame Wilson, Matthew Cooper

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Plame-Niger Controversy, Media Complicity

Conservative columnist Robert Novak gives a draft of his upcoming column, which outs CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson in the process of criticizing her husband, war opponent Joseph Wilson (see July 14, 2003), to lobbyist Richard Hohlt. Hohlt, whom Novak describes as “a very good source of mine” whom he talks to “every day,” faxes a copy of the Novak column to White House political strategist Karl Rove, one of Novak’s sources for Plame Wilson’s identity (see July 8, 2003 and July 8 or 9, 2003). Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff will later learn that Hohlt facilitated the conversation between Rove and Novak. Hohlt will confirm his action to Isikoff, who will write that by faxing the copy of the column to Rove, Hohlt is “giving the White House a heads up on the bombshell to come.” Hohlt lobbies on behalf of clients such as Bristol Myers, Chevron, JPMorgan Chase, and the Nuclear Energy Association. He is also a powerful fundraiser for the Republican Party, and will bring in over $500,000 to the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. Hohlt is also the head of an influential group of Republicans called the “Off the Record Club,” whose membership includes other influential Republican lobbyists as well as White House officials such as Rove and Joshua Bolten. While Hohlt will minimize the group’s influence to Isikoff, Isikoff will describe it as “help[ing] the White House with damage control.” He will describe Hohlt as “[a]n accomplished information trader [who] serves as a background source for a select group of Washington journalists—Novak above all.” One club member will say that if you want information to appear in Novak’s column, the best way to make it happen is to work with Hohlt. Isikoff will write that Hohlt did not know that Rove told Novak of Plame Wilson’s identity. “I was just trying to be helpful,” Hohlt will say of the Rove fax. [Newsweek, 2/26/2007] Novak will later testify that he “assumed” that Hohlt would not share the column with anyone, though he will admit to a “vague recollection” that “he had told the WH [White House] that there was an interesting piece coming out.” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007]

Entity Tags: Off the Record Club, Joshua Bolten, Joseph C. Wilson, Karl C. Rove, Michael Isikoff, Richard Hohlt, Valerie Plame Wilson, Robert Novak, Republican Party

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: White House Involvement, Conservative Media Pundits, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Media Complicity, Plame-Niger Controversy

Government officials, most likely with the CIA, ask conservative columnist Robert Novak not to publish the name of covert agency official Valerie Plame Wilson in an upcoming column (see July 14, 2003). Two government officials will testify in February 2004 that they made the request (see February 2004). The officials warn Novak that by publishing her name and CIA affiliation, he risks jeopardizing her ability to engage in covert work, damaging ongoing intelligence operations, and risking sensitive overseas intelligence assets. According to the officials, Novak is told that Plame Wilson’s work for the CIA “went much further than her being an analyst,” and that publishing her name would be “hurtful,” could stymie ongoing intelligence operations, and jeopardize her overseas sources. [American Prospect, 2/12/2004] One of the officials will later be identified as CIA spokesman Bill Harlow. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 173-174] Plame Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson, will later write: “Lamely attempting to shirk responsibility, Novak [will claim] that the CIA no ‘was a soft no, not a hard no.’ On the wings of that ludicrous defense, he soared to new heights of journalistic irresponsibility.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 347]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Central Intelligence Agency, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson, Bill Harlow

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: White House Involvement, Conservative Media Pundits, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Plame-Niger Controversy, Media Complicity

Robert Novak.Robert Novak. [Source: MediaBistro (.com)]Conservative columnist Robert Novak, after being told by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and White House political guru Karl Rove that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA officer (see July 8, 2003), writes a syndicated op-ed column that publicly names her as a CIA officer. The column is an attempt to defend the administration from charges that it deliberately cited forged documents as “evidence” that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003). It is also an attempt to discredit Joseph Wilson, Plame Wilson’s husband, who had gone to Niger at the behest of the CIA to find out whether the Iraq-Niger story was true (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Novak characterizes Wilson’s findings—that an Iraqi deal for Nigerien uranium was highly unlikely—as “less than definitive,” and writes that neither CIA Director George Tenet nor President Bush were aware of Wilson’s report before the president’s 2003 State of the Union address where he stated that Iraq had indeed tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Novak writes: “Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials [Armitage and Rove, though Novak does not name them] told me that Wilson’s wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counterproliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him. ‘I will not answer any question about my wife,’ Wilson told me.” Wilson’s July 6 op-ed challenging the administration’s claims (see July 6, 2003) “ignite[d] the firestorm,” Novak writes. [Town Hall (.com), 7/14/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 312-313] Novak also uses the intelligence term “agency operative,” identifying her as a covert agent and indicating that he is aware of her covert status. Later, though, Novak will claim that he came up with the identifying phrase independently, and did not know of her covert status. [American Prospect, 7/19/2005]
Asked Not to Print Plame Wilson's Name - Novak will later acknowledge being asked by a CIA official not to print Plame Wilson’s name “for security reasons.” Intelligence officials will say they thought Novak understood there were larger reasons than Plame Wilson’s personal security not to publish her name. Novak will say that he did not consider the request strong enough to follow (see September 27, 2003 and October 1, 2003). [Washington Post, 9/28/2003] He will later reveal the CIA official as being agency spokesman Bill Harlow, who asked him not to reveal Plame’s identity because while “she probably never again will be given a foreign assignment… exposure of her agency identity might cause ‘difficulties’ if she travels abroad.” In 2008, current White House press secretary Scott McClellan will write: “This struck Novak as an inadequate reason to withhold relevant information from the public. Novak defended his actions by asserting that Harlow had not suggested that Plame or anybody else would be endangered, and that he learned Plame’s name (though not her undercover identity) from her husband’s entry in the well-known reference book Who’s Who in America.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 173-174] McClellan will note, “Whether war, smear job, or PR offensive gone haywire, the CIA took the leak of Plame’s name very seriously.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 174]
Plame Wilson Stricken - According to Wilson’s book The Politics of Truth, his wife’s first reaction is disbelief at Novak’s casual destruction of her CIA career. “Twenty years of loyal service down the drain, and for what?” she asks. She then makes a checklist to begin assessing and controlling the damage done to her work. She is even more appalled after totalling up the damage. Not only are the lives of herself and her family now endangered, but so are those of the people with whom she has worked for 20 years (see July 14, 2003). [New York Times, 5/12/2004] In 2005, Joseph Wilson will tell a reporter: “[Y]ou can assume that even if 150 people read the Novak article when it appeared, 148 of them would have been the heads of intelligence sections at embassies here in Washington and by noon that day they would have faxing her name or telexing her name back to their home offices and running checks on her: whether she had ever been in the country, who she may have been in contact with, etc.” [Raw Story, 7/13/2005]
Intimidation of Other Whistle-Blowers? - In 2007, author Craig Unger will write: “The implication from the administration was that the CIA’s selection of Wilson was somehow twisted because his wife was at the CIA. But, more importantly, the administration had put out a message to any and all potential whistle-blowers: if you dare speak out, we will strike back. To that end, the cover of Valerie Plame Wilson, a CIA operative specializing in WMD, had been blown by a White House that was supposedly orchestrating a worldwide war against terror.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 312-313]
Outing about Iraq, Not Niger, Author Says - In 2006, author and media critic Frank Rich will write: “The leak case was about Iraq, not Niger. The political stakes were high only because the scandal was about the unmasking of an ill-conceived war, not the unmasking of a CIA operative who posed for Vanity Fair. The real victims were the American people, not the Wilsons. The real culprits—the big enchilada, in John Ehrlichman’s Nixon White House lingo—were not the leakers but those who provoked a war in Iraq for their own motives and in so doing diverted finite resources, human and otherwise, from the fight against those who did attack America on 9/11, and had since regrouped to deadly effect.… Without Iraq, there never would have been a smear campaign against an obscure diplomat or the bungled cover-up [that followed]. While the Bush White House’s dirty tricks, like [former President] Nixon’s, were prompted in part by a ruthless desire to crush the political competition at any cost, this administration had upped the ante by playing dirty tricks with war.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 184]
Elevating Profile of Controversy - In 2008, McClellan will write, “By revealing Plame’s status, Novak inadvertently elevated the Niger controversy into a full-blown scandal.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 173]

Entity Tags: Scott McClellan, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard Armitage, George J. Tenet, Joseph C. Wilson, Bill Harlow, Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Central Intelligence Agency, Frank Rich, George W. Bush, Craig Unger

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: White House Involvement, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Conservative Media Pundits, Media Complicity, Plame-Niger Controversy

After Robert Novak outs Joseph Wilson’s wife in his column (see July 14, 2003), Wilson, upon reading the column, realizes that in his conversation with Novak four days before, Novak had told him he learned of his wife’s CIA identity from a CIA source (see July 8-10, 2003). But in his column, Novak cited two senior administration officials as his sources for Wilson’s wife’s CIA identity. Wilson calls Novak to ask about the discrepancy. Novak asks Wilson if he is “very displeased” with the column, and Wilson replies that while he can’t see how blowing his wife’s CIA cover had helped Novak’s argument, he wants to know about the discrepancy between Novak’s attribution of sources four days before and in his column. Novak says he “misspoke” in their earlier conversation. In his 2004 book The Politics of Truth, Wilson asks: “What was Novak trying to say? What did blowing her cover have to do with the story? It was nothing but a hatchet job.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 345] Novak may have been referring to his conversations with former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow (see (July 11, 2003) and Before July 14, 2003).

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson, Robert Novak

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Conservative Media Pundits, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Media Complicity, Plame-Niger Controversy

Vice President Dick Cheney and his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, discuss leaking portions of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (see October 1, 2002) to the Wall Street Journal. Either Cheney and Libby together, or Libby alone, convinces Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz to make the leak. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 5/12/2006 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 2/2007 pdf file] The Journal will write an article based on the leaked information two or three days later (see July 17, 2003).

Entity Tags: Paul Wolfowitz, Wall Street Journal, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: White House Involvement, Media Complicity

Matt Drudge.Matt Drudge. [Source: Brian K. Diggs / Associated Press]ABC News correspondent Jeffrey Kofman, embedded with the 3rd Infantry Division in Fallujah, interviews US soldiers angry that their tours of duty have been extended just a week after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld promised they would be going home. One soldier says he would like to ask Rumsfeld “why we’re still here, ‘cause I don’t, I don’t have any clue as to why we’re still in Iraq.” Another soldier says, “I’d ask for his resignation.” Within hours after Kofman’s report is broadcast, conservative news and gossip monger Matt Drudge attempts to damage Kofman’s credibility by printing a story under the headline, “ABC News Reporter Who Filed Troops Complaint Story—Openly Gay Canadian.” (Eight minutes later, he changes the headline to read, “ABC News Reporter Who Filed Troops Complaint Story is Canadian.”) Drudge credits the information about Kofman, who is both openly gay and Canadian, to “someone from the White House communications shop.” [New York Times, 7/20/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 101] Drudge later identifies White House press secretary Scott McClellan as his source; the White House denies having anything to do with the story. McClellan himself says that for him to have made such a leak to Drudge would have been “totally inappropriate, [and if] anyone on my staff did it, they would no longer be working for me.” Four days later, Toronto Star columnist Antonia Zerbisias writes that the White House, via Drudge, tried to besmirch Kofman because the reporter “gave voice to American troops stationed in Iraq who spoke out against the war—or rather the ‘peace’—while calling for… Rumsfeld’s resignation.” Drudge himself blames the controversy over his story on what he calls “the cultural wars-slash-liberal bias in the media.” [Toronto Star, 7/19/2003; New York Times, 7/20/2003] New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd will observe: “Bush loyalists regularly plant information they want known in the Drudge Report. Whoever [did so] was appealing to the baser nature of President Bush’s base, seeking to discredit the ABC report by smearing the reporter for what he or she considers sins of private life (not straight) and passport (not American).” [New York Times, 7/20/2003] Pamela Strother of the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association later says: “While the facts behind this reported smear are unclear, the news coverage itself and the implications are very serious for all journalists and equally troubling for the American public.… Whenever the coverage of a lesbian or gay journalist or the nationality of a reporter is criticized and discredited simply because of the individual’s birthright or sexual orientation, that is a form of dangerous intimidation and a potential professional libel.” [Washington Blade, 7/25/2003]

Entity Tags: Pamela Strother, Scott McClellan, Matt Drudge, Bush administration (43), Jeffrey Kofman, Donald Rumsfeld, ABC News, US Department of the Army, Antonia Zerbisias, Maureen Dowd

Category Tags: White House Involvement, Conservative Media Pundits, Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Gender-Based Rhetoric

White House communications director Dan Bartlett holds a staff meeting to coordinate officials’ responses to controversial news items, particularly to the recent White House admission that the Iraq-Niger uranium claim had been “erroneous” (see July 8, 2003). Among the participants is new White House press secretary Scott McClellan. Although the next presidential election is not until November 2004, McClellan will later write that the White House exists in a permanent “campaign mode,” and Bartlett’s prime focus is to ensure the White House “win[s] every news cycle” and contributes to the “broader [re-election] strategic plan.”
Turning Debate Away from Iraq-Niger, onto War on Terror - As McClellan later observes, “We needed to refocus the debate [away from the Iraq-Niger uranium claim and onto] the larger strategic framework—the big picture of national security that the president would relentlessly push during the re-election campaign against his eventual opponent, [Senator] John Kerry.” The message Bartlett outlines is simple: the president’s obligation is to protect America from terrorists and outlaw regimes. This is done by staying “on the offensive,” as McClellan will later write, “ending threats by confronting them. And a peaceful, freer, and more stable Middle East is key to our own safety and security. Our job was all about keeping the focus on national security and specifically the war on terrorism, which would become the central theme of the president’s re-election campaign. In this context, the war in Iraq was not only justifiable but essential… we were fighting a broad war on terror in both Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Coordinating 'Message Push' with Congressional Republicans, Media Conservatives - The “message push” is coordinated with “Republicans in Congress and allies in the media, such as conservative columnists and talk radio personalities [who are] enlisted in the effort and given communications packets with comprehensive talking points aimed at helping them pivot to the message whenever they could. Daily talking points and regular briefings for members and staff would be provided, and rapid, same-news cycle response to any attacks or negative press would be a top priority—an effort Bartlett had spearheaded during the 2000 campaign. It was a determined campaign to seize the media offensive and shape or manipulate the narrative to our advantage.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 174-175]

Entity Tags: John Kerry, Bush administration (43), Scott McClellan, Dan Bartlett

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: 2004 Elections, White House Involvement, Conservative Media Pundits, Media Complicity

Author and liberal political columnist David Corn writes that he believes conservative columnist Robert Novak deliberately blew “the cover of a US intelligence officer working covertly in a field of vital importance to national security.” It seems as if Novak broke the law as well, Corn observes, all to “strike at a Bush administration critic and intimidate others.” Corn calls it a “smear” against Wilson and “a thuggish act” by “Bush and his crew [who] abused and misused intelligence to make their case for war. Now there is evidence Bushies used classified information and put the nation’s counterproliferation efforts at risk merely to settle a score. It is a sign that with this gang politics trumps national security.” Corn is referring to a recent column by Novak in which he outed Valerie Plame Wilson, the husband of former ambassador Joseph Wilson, as a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003). Corn believes the Novak column came about as part of a White House attempt to besmirch the reputation of Wilson, who recently wrote a column challenging the Bush administration’s claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003). Corn cites Wilson’s qualifications for such a task, and notes that ever since the June 12, 2003 revelation that “an unnamed ambassador” had gone to Niger to investigate the claims and reported that the uranium deal likely never happened, the questions over the veracity of the claims as touted by the Bush administration have grown far louder. Administration explanations that the claims were based on “faulty evidence” were not going over well. Corn believes that Novak’s revelation of Plame Wilson’s identity, and his supposition that she “sent” her husband to Niger, was triggered by a White House effort to impugn Wilson’s reliability and integrity. Corn also notes that Wilson refuses to answer questions about his wife’s career, saying only: “I will not answer questions about my wife. This is not about me and less so about my wife. It has always been about the facts underpinning the president’s statement in the State of the Union speech.”
Deliberately Damaging a Covert Operative to Punish a Critic? - If Plame Wilson is indeed a CIA agent, Corn writes, then “the Bush administration has screwed one of its own top-secret operatives in order to punish Wilson or to send a message to others who might challenge it.” Not only has Plame Wilson’s undercover status been compromised, Corn notes, but “her career has been destroyed by the Bush administration.” Her husband notes: “Naming her this way would have compromised every operation, every relationship, every network with which she had been associated in her entire career. This is the stuff of Kim Philby and Aldrich Ames.” Philby and Ames were notorious traitors.
Violation of Federal Law - As for the “two senior administration officials” whom Novak claims as his sources, if Novak is accurate, then “a pair of top Bush officials told a reporter the name of a CIA operative who apparently has worked under what’s known as ‘nonofficial cover’ and who has had the dicey and difficult mission of tracking parties trying to buy or sell weapons of mass destruction or WMD material.… This is not only a possible breach of national security; it is a potential violation of law. Under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, it is a crime for anyone who has access to classified information to disclose intentionally information identifying a covert agent. The punishment for such an offense is a fine of up to $50,000 and/or up to 10 years in prison.” Novak is not liable for an offense because journalists are protected from prosecution unless they engage in a “pattern of activities” to name agents in order to impair US intelligence activities. But it is possible Novak’s sources are so liable.
Intimidation Tactics - “Stories like this,” Wilson says, “are not intended to intimidate me, since I’ve already told my story. But it’s pretty clear it is intended to intimidate others who might come forward. You need only look at the stories of intelligence analysts who say they have been pressured. They may have kids in college, they may be vulnerable to these types of smears.” Corn writes that the silence of the White House on the matter tends to give credence to Wilson’s view of the matter, since the Bush administration has heretofore been a jealous guardian of government secrets. “[O]ne might (theoretically) expect them to be appalled by the prospect that classified information was disclosed and national security harmed for the purposes of mounting a political hit job,” he writes. “Yet two days after the Novak column’s appearance, there has not been any public comment from the White House or any other public reverberation.” [Nation, 7/16/2003]

Entity Tags: Intelligence Identities Protection Act, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Aldrich Ames, David Corn, Valerie Plame Wilson, Robert Novak, Kim Philby, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: White House Involvement, Conservative Media Pundits, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Media Complicity, Plame-Niger Controversy

One of the first media-based attacks on Joseph Wilson and his wife Valerie Plame Wilson after her outing as a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003) comes from former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, who writes a scathing op-ed for the Wall Street Journal. Weinberger accuses the opponents of the Iraq invasion of mounting a baseless smear campaign against the Bush administration by “using bits and pieces of non-evidence to contend that we did not have to replace the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein.” He asserts that President Bush was correct to say that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), using the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (see October 1, 2002) and a review by a British investigative commission (see September 24, 2002) as support for his argument. He insists that WMD will be found in Iraq. Weinberger then writes that “the CIA committed a major blunder [by asking] a very minor former ambassador named Joseph Wilson IV to go to Niger to investigate” (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Weinberger correctly characterizes Wilson as “an outspoken opponent” of the invasion, but then falsely asserts that “Mr. Wilson’s ‘investigation’ is a classic case of a man whose mind had been made up using any opportunity to refute the justifications for our ever going to war.” He asserts that Wilson spent eight days in Niger drinking tea and hobnobbing with ambassadors and foreign service types. Weinberger continues, “Because Mr. Wilson, by his own admission, never wrote a report, we only have his self-serving op-ed article in the New York Times to go by” (see July 6, 2003). He is apparently unaware that Wilson was thoroughly debriefed on his return from Niger (see March 4-5, 2002). He writes, “If we are to rely on this kind of sloppy tea-drinking ‘investigation’ from a CIA-chosen investigator—a retired ambassador with a less than stellar record—then I would say that the CIA deserves some of the criticism it normally receives.” Weinberger concludes that the US had a choice of “either… letting [Saddam Hussein] continue his ways, such as spraying poison on his own people, and breaking every promise he made to us and to the UN; or… removing him before he used nuclear weapons on his neighbors, or on us.” [Wall Street Journal, 7/18/2003]
Wilsons: Weinberger's Credibility Lacking because of Iran-Contra Connection - In 2007, Plame Wilson will write: “That’s rich, I thought. Weinberger had been indicted on charges stemming from the Iran-Contra affair (see December 25, 1992) and likely only avoided prison time because of a presidential pardon.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 146-147] Wilson himself will note that “Weinberger was not the most credible person to launch that particular counterattack, since, but for the grace of a pardon… he might have well had to do jail time for how poorly he had served his president, Ronald Reagan, in the Iran-Contra affair.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 338]
Attempt to Intimidate Others - Wilson will note in 2004 that Weinberger deliberately focused on a minor detail of his report—drinking mint tea with the various people he met during his trip—and used it to “suggest… that supposedly I’d been excessively casual and dilatory in my approach to the mission.” He will add: “It seemed that the motive for the attacks on me was to discourage anyone else from coming forward who had a critical story to tell.… In essence, the message was, ‘If you pull a “Wilson” on us, we will do worse to you.’ However offensive, there was a certain logic to it. If you have something to hide, one way to keep it secret is to threaten anyone who might expose it. But it was too late to silence me; I had already said all I had to say. Presumably, though, they thought they could still silence others by attacking me.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 338-339]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, George W. Bush, Caspar Weinberger, Bush administration (43), Joseph C. Wilson, Wall Street Journal

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: White House Involvement, Media Complicity, Plame-Niger Controversy

The New York Times’s Judith Miller, an outlet for information planted in the media by the Bush administration in he run-up to the Iraq war (see December 20, 2001, August 2002, September 8, 2002, and September 18, 2002), now reports the number of suspected WMD sites in Iraq as 578—a figure far lower than the 1,400 she had reported during the first hours of the war (see March 19-20, 2003). Miller blames the US failure to find any WMD on Pentagon ineptitude: “chaos, disorganization, interagency feuds, disputes within and among various military units, and shortages of everything from gasoline to soap.” Deeper in the story, she writes, “To this day, whether Saddam Hussein possessed such weapons when the war began is unknown.” [New York Times, 7/20/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 101]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Judith Miller, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Media Coverage of Iraq War, Media Complicity

Michael Ramirez’s cartoon depicting President Bush being ‘shot’ due to politicization of his State of the Union address.Michael Ramirez’s cartoon depicting President Bush being ‘shot’ due to politicization of his State of the Union address. [Source: Wikimedia]Conservative cartoonist Michael Ramirez publishes a cartoon in the Los Angeles Times depicting a man, labeled “Politics,” pointing a gun at President Bush’s head. The background is labeled “Iraq.” The cartoon is a takeoff on the 1969 award-winning photograph of a Vietnamese general executing a Viet Cong prisoner. Ramirez will later explain, “I thought it was appropriate, because I was drawing a parallel between the politicization of the Vietnam war and the current politicization that’s surrounding the Iraq war related to the Niger uranium story.” He will claim not to be advocating violence against Bush, saying, “In fact, it’s the opposite.” Ramirez will explain that he tried to show the damage Bush suffered through the criticism of his January 2003 State of the Union address, in which he falsely claimed that Iraq had tried to acquire uranium from Niger (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). “President Bush is the target, metaphorically speaking,” Ramirez will explain, “of a political assassination because of 16 words that he uttered in the State of the Union. The image, from the Vietnam era, is a very disturbing image. The political attack on the president, based strictly on sheer political motivations, also is very disturbing.” Two days after the cartoon’s publication, Ramirez is visited by Secret Service agent Peter Damos to ensure he has no violent intent towards Bush, in a visit the Secret Service will characterize as “routine.” Ramirez will note that conservative Internet reporter Matt Drudge reported that he was being investigated by the Secret Service a day before he was visited. Asked if the Secret Service should take the cartoon as a threat to Bush’s safety, Ramirez will respond, “No, I think that this [the Vietnam photo] is a pretty famous image, and I think the use of the metaphor [is justified] especially in light of the fact that it really is a cartoon that favors him and his administration.” [Los Angeles Times, 7/22/2003; New York Press, 11/11/2003]

Entity Tags: Matt Drudge, George W. Bush, Michael Ramirez, Peter Damos, US Secret Service

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Plame-Niger Controversy, Media Complicity, Conservative Media Pundits

Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, whose wife Valerie Plame Wilson was recently outed as a CIA agent in an apparent attempt to discredit his debunking of the Iraq-Niger allegations (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002, July 6, 2003 and July 14, 2003), is interviewed by NBC’s Andrea Mitchell about the outing. Wilson is careful to hedge in his answers about his wife, saying, “If she were [a CIA agent] as [columnist Robert] Novak alleged, then…” and other such caveats. When the interview airs this evening, Wilson is dismayed to see that NBC has edited out all of his careful qualifiers, giving the false impression that he is verifying his wife’s CIA status. He asks Mitchell to provide an unedited transcript of the interview so he can prove he did not confirm his wife’s CIA employment; she says the network does not provide such transcripts, but agrees to preserve the unedited interview on tape in case questions later arise about his statements. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 350-351]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: White House Involvement, Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Plame-Niger Controversy

Columnist Robert Novak, whose earlier column outed undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), confirms being given information about Plame Wilson by administration sources (see Late June 2003, July 8-10, 2003, and July 8, 2003). “I didn’t dig it out, it was given to me,” he says. “They thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it.” He does not name the individuals who provided him with the information. [Newsday, 7/22/2003; New York Times, 2006] Novak will later backtrack, claiming that the leak was less the result of White House pressure and more from his own initiative; he will also accuse Newsday’s Knut Royce, who first reports his statement, of quoting his words “out of context.” [American Prospect, 2/12/2004]

Entity Tags: Robert Novak, Bush administration (43), Valerie Plame Wilson, Knut Royce

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: White House Involvement, Conservative Media Pundits, Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Plame-Niger Controversy

Sometime between July 25 and July 28, Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, calls columnist Robert Novak. Libby was not one of Novak’s sources for his column outing CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), but was part of an orchestrated effort to discredit Plame Wilson’s husband, war critic Joseph Wilson (see June 3, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, 12:00 p.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 10, 2003, (July 11, 2003), 7:00 a.m. July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, and July 14 or 15, 2003), and himself outed Plame Wilson to two other reporters (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). In subsequent testimony before the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson leak (see March 5, 2004), Libby will admit to a vague recollection of the conversation between himself and Novak, but will require his notes to determine that the call took place between July 25 and 28. [US Department of Justice, 3/5/2004 pdf file; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007] It is unclear what Libby and Novak discuss.

Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson, Robert Novak

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Plame-Niger Controversy, Media Complicity, White House Involvement, Conservative Media Pundits

NBC announces plans to make a movie of Army Private Jessica Lynch’s capture and rescue (see June 17, 2003). The network announces its choice to play Lynch: Canadian actress Laura Regan, whose most recent role was in a B-list horror movie. People magazine initially reports that Lynch, through her family and representatives, is close to signing a deal with NBC that would allow her at least some input into the movie script, but the family refuses to participate, saying they would rather see Lynch’s story told in book form. The film is based on the dubious accounts by Iraqi lawyer Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, who alerted Marines to Lynch’s captivity and assisted in her rescue (see April 10, 2003 and After). The film, entitled Saving Jessica Lynch in an apparent attempt to connect it with the award-winning 1998 film Saving Private Ryan, is already in production. NBC plans to air it during the so-called “sweeps” period in November, when viewership is measured and network ratings are determined. More to the family’s liking, a biography of Lynch, perhaps to be authored by former New York Times reporter Rick Bragg, is also in the works. [People, 8/7/2003; Entertainment Weekly, 8/7/2003; Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003]

Entity Tags: Rick Bragg, Laura Regan, Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, Jessica Lynch, NBC

Category Tags: Lynch Disinfomation, Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War

Army Private Jessica Lynch, captured during an ambush in Iraq (see March 23, 2003) and rescued from an Iraqi hospital nine days later (see June 17, 2003), is discharged from the Army. She is now free to pursue movie and book deals if she chooses (see August 5-8, 2003 and September 2, 2003). [Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003]

Entity Tags: Jessica Lynch, US Department of the Army

Category Tags: Lynch Disinfomation, Media Complicity

Michael Massing, the author of a probing New York Review of Books article on the poor quality of US reporting on Iraq prior to the Iraq war, will say that in the autumn of 2003, “I ran into a senior editor at the [New York] Times and asked him” why journalists were so uncritical about information from defectors like Ahmed Chalabi. “Well, he said, some reporters at the paper had relied heavily on Chalabi as a source and so were not going to write too critically about him.” Massing comments, “The editor did not name names, but he did not have to,” and notes that New York Times reporter Judith Miller has been heavily criticized for publishing stories based on information from defectors that later proved completely false. [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Judith Miller, Ahmed Chalabi

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Iraqi Defectors and the INC, Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War

Rick Bragg and Jessica Lynch discuss Lynch’s biography on the ‘Today Show,’ November 12, 2003.Rick Bragg and Jessica Lynch discuss Lynch’s biography on the ‘Today Show,’ November 12, 2003. [Source: Peter Morgan / Reuters / Corbis]Army Private Jessica Lynch, captured during an ambush in Iraq (see March 23, 2003) and rescued from an Iraqi hospital nine days later (see June 17, 2003), signs a $1 million book deal with publisher Alfred A. Knopf to tell the story of her ordeal. She intends to allow former New York Times reporter Rick Bragg to actually write the book, to be titled I Am a Soldier, Too. “I feel a kinship with Jessica and her family,” Bragg says. Lynch says of the book, “It will be a story about growing up in America.” Knopf’s publicity director, Paul Bogaards, says Lynch’s memory is intact, and “The book will… answer any lingering questions about her injuries.” [Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003] The book will allege that Lynch was raped by her captors, a charge Lynch will later dispute (see November 11, 2003).

Entity Tags: Rick Bragg, Paul Bogaards, Jessica Lynch

Category Tags: Lynch Disinfomation, Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War

Peter Jennings.Peter Jennings. [Source: Washington State University]ABC News anchor Peter Jennings says in an interview: “We have been criticized, a little bit to my surprise, by people who think I was not enough pro-war. That is simply not the way I think of this role. This role is designed to question the behavior of government officials on behalf of the public. I think people who have done this and all jobs in journalism have believed that.… Are we out of step with the administration because we do not comport completely to their political point of view? So they criticize us for it. It goes with the territory, and if we get a groundswell we begin to look at ourselves. ‘Are we? Are we not?’ I don’t think the public realizes how much soul-searching goes on in news organizations about what is the right thing to do.” [USA Today, 9/8/2003]

Entity Tags: ABC News, Peter Jennings

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War

The video sleeve for ‘DC 9/11.’The video sleeve for ‘DC 9/11.’ [Source: Internet Movie Database (.com)]Showtime broadcasts a “docudrama” about the 9/11 attacks and the White House’s response, entitled DC 9/11: Time of Crisis. According to New York Times author and media critic Frank Rich, the film drastically rewrites history to portray President Bush as “an unironic action-movie superhero.” In the movie, Bush—portrayed by actor Timothy Bottoms, who played Bush in Comedy Central’s satiric That’s My Bush!—is shown overruling his Secret Service detail and ordering Air Force One to return to Washington immediately, an event which never happened (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). “If some tinhorn terrorist wants me, tell him to come and get me!” the movie Bush shouts. “I’ll be at home, waiting for the b_stard!” The movie Bush has other lines that establish his desire to get back to Washington, including, “The American people want to know where their damn president is!” and “People can’t have an AWOL president!” In one scene, a Secret Service agent questions Bush’s demand to return to Washington by saying, “But Mr. President—” only to be cut off by Bush, who snaps, “Try ‘Commander in Chief.’ Whose present command is: Take the president home!” In reality, most of the orders on 9/11 were given by Vice President Dick Cheney and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, but in the movie, Bush is the man in charge. “Hike military alert status to Delta,” he orders Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. “That’s the military, the CIA, foreign, domestic, everything,” he explains. “And if you haven’t gone to Defcon 3, you oughtta.” To Cheney, he barks: “Vice? We are at war.” The White House team are, in Rich’s words, “portrayed as the very model of efficiency and derring-do.” [Washington Post, 6/19/2003; New York Times, 9/5/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 25-26] New York Times reviewer Alessandra Stanley notes that Bush is the unquestioned hero of the film, with British Prime Minister Tony Blair portrayed as “not very eloquent” and Cheney depicted as “a kowtowing yes-man.” [New York Times, 9/5/2003]
Conservative Pundits Influenced Script - The movie is produced by Lionel Chetwynd, whom Rich calls “the go-to conservative in B-list Hollywood.” For the movie script, Chetwynd was given unprecedently broad access to top White House officials, including Bush. He also received the assistance of conservative Washington pundits Charles Krauthammer, Morton Kondracke, and Fred Barnes, who cover the Bush White House for such media outlets as Fox News, the Weekly Standard, and the Washington Post. Rich later writes that much of the film seems based on Bob Woodward’s “hagiographic [book] Bush at War (see November 25, 2002).” [Washington Post, 6/19/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 25-26]
Propaganda Effort? - Before the movie airs, Toronto Sun columnist Linda McQuaig called the film an attempt to mythologize Bush in a fashion similar to Hollywood’s re-creation of the Wild West’s Wyatt Earp, and wrote that the film “is sure to help the White House further its two-pronged reelection strategy: Keep Americans terrified of terrorism and make Bush look like the guy best able to defend them.” Texas radio commentator Jim Hightower added that the movie would present Bush as “a combination of Harrison Ford and Arnold Schwarzenegger.… Instead of the doe-eyed, uncertain, worried figure that he was that day, Bush-on-film is transformed into an infallible, John Wayne-ish, Patton-type leader, barking orders to the Secret Service and demanding that the pilots return him immediately to the White House.” Chetwynd himself has acknowledged that he is a “great admirer” of Bush, and has close ties to the White House. In late 2001, Bush appointed him to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. “This isn’t propaganda,” Chetwynd insisted during the shooting of the movie, adding: “Everything in the movie is [based on] two or three sources. I’m not reinventing the wheel here.… I don’t think it’s possible to do a revision of this particular bit of history. Every scholar who has looked at this has come to the same place that this film does. There’s nothing here that Bob Woodward would disagree with.… It’s a straightforward docudrama. I would hope what’s presented is a fully colored and nuanced picture of a human being in a difficult situation.” [Washington Post, 6/19/2003] Rich will later write that the film is “unmistakably a propaganda effort on behalf of a sitting administration.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 25-26]
Blaming the Clinton Administration - Perhaps most questionably, Stanley writes, the film “rarely misses a chance to suggest that the Clinton administration’s weakness was to blame for the disaster.” Bush, she notes, is portrayed as a more decisive leader than his predecessor: in the film, he tells Blair over the telephone: “I want to inflict pain [on the attackers]. Bring enough damage so they understand there is a new team here, a fundamental change in our policy.” [New York Times, 9/5/2003]
9/11 Widow Unhappy with Film - Kristen Breitweiser, who lost her husband in the attack on the World Trade Center, calls the film “a mind-numbingly boring, revisionist, two-hour-long wish list of how 9/11 might have gone if we had real leaders in the current administration.” She adds: “It is understandable that so little time is actually devoted to the president’s true actions on the morning of 9/11. Because to show the entire 23 minutes from 9:03 to 9:25 a.m., when President Bush, in reality, remained seated and listening to ‘second grade story-hour’ while people like my husband were burning alive inside the World Trade Center towers, would run counter to Karl Rove’s art direction and grand vision.” Breitweiser questions numerous aspects of the film: “Miscellaneous things that surprised me included the fact that the film perpetuates the big fat lie that Air Force One was a target. Forgive me, but I thought the White House admitted at the end of September 2001 that Air Force One was never a target, that no code words were spoken and that it was all a lie (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and September 12, 2001-March 2004). So what gives?… Not surprisingly, there is no mention of accountability. Not once does anyone say, ‘How the hell did this happen? Heads will roll!’ I was hoping that, at least behind closed doors, there were words like, ‘Look, we really screwed up! Let’s make sure we find out what went wrong and that it never happens again!’ Nope, no such luck.” [Salon, 9/8/2003]

Entity Tags: Charles Krauthammer, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard A. Clarke, Showtime, Alessandra Stanley, Tony Blair, Bob Woodward, Morton Kondracke, Lionel Chetwynd, Timothy Bottoms, Kristen Breitweiser, Donald Rumsfeld, Clinton administration, Fred Barnes, Frank Rich, Karl C. Rove, George W. Bush, Linda McQuaig, Jim Hightower

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 2004 Elections

Category Tags: White House Involvement, Media Complicity

Christiane Amanpour.Christiane Amanpour. [Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]Well-known CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour is asked on a talk show if “we in the media, as much as in the administration, drank the Kool-Aid when it came to the [Iraq] war.” Amanpour replies, “I think the press was muzzled, and I think the press self-muzzled. I’m sorry to say, but certainly television and, perhaps, to a certain extent, my station was intimidated by the administration and its foot soldiers at Fox News. And it did, in fact, put a climate of fear and self-censorship, in my view, in terms of the kind of broadcast work we did.” Asked if there were stories not reported, she replies, “It’s not a question of couldn’t do it, it’s a question of tone. It’s a question of being rigorous. It’s really a question of really asking the questions. All of the entire body politic in my view, whether it’s the administration, the intelligence, the journalists, whoever, did not ask enough questions, for instance, about weapons of mass destruction. I mean, it looks like this was disinformation at the highest levels.” A Fox News spokeswoman says of Amanpour’s comments, “Given the choice, it’s better to be viewed as a foot soldier for Bush than a spokeswoman for al-Qaeda.” [USA Today, 9/14/2003]

Entity Tags: Christiane Amanpour, Fox News, CNN

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Media Opposition, Fox News

Victoria “Torie” Clarke, the Pentagon’s former public relations secretary who developed the Pentagon’s Iraq propaganda operation (see May 2001), joins CNN as a political and policy analyst. Her propaganda operation relied on retired military officers to serve as network analysts, promoting the administration’s Iraq policies and touting the occupation as a success. [New York Times, 9/23/2003] Several months later, Clarke will also join Comcast Communications, the nation’s largest cable television corporation, as its senior adviser for communications and government affairs. [PRWatch, 12/15/2003]

Entity Tags: Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke, CNN, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Media Complicity, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns

Hours after conservative columnist Robert Novak tells a CNN audience that he contacted Joseph Wilson to confirm that his wife was a CIA official for his July 2003 column exposing her as a CIA employee (see September 29, 2003), Wilson tells CNN’s Paula Zahn that Novak is incorrect in his characterization of events. “Bob Novak called me before he went to print with the report (see July 14, 2003) and he said a CIA source had told him that my wife was an operative,” Wilson says. “He was trying to get a second source. He couldn’t get a second source. Could I confirm that? And I said no.” After the article appeared, citing Bush administration and not CIA sources, Wilson called Novak about the article. According to Wilson, he called Novak about the discrepancy in his citation of sources (see July 14, 2003) and asked, “What was it, CIA or senior administration?” Wilson continues: “He said to me, ‘I misspoke the first time I spoke to you.’ That makes it senior administration sources.” [CNN, 9/29/2003; CNN, 10/1/2003]

Entity Tags: CNN, Bush administration (43), Robert Novak, Paula Zahn, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Plame-Niger Controversy, Media Complicity, Conservative Media Pundits

Columnist Robert Novak, who revealed the secret CIA identity of Valerie Plame Wilson to the public (see July 14, 2003) after learning of her identity from White House officials Richard Armitage (see June 13, 2003) and Karl Rove (see July 8, 2003), calls Rove three days after the Justice Department announced that the CIA had asked it to investigate the source of the Plame Wilson leak (see September 26, 2003). Novak assures Rove that he will protect him from being harmed by the investigation. The conversation between Novak and Rove will later be revealed during statements given to the FBI (see October 8, 2003). Attorney General John Ashcroft will later be told by the FBI that it suspected Rove and Novak of colluding to concoct a cover story to protect Rove (see October and November 2003). Rove will later testify that during the conversation, Novak tells him, “You are not going to get burned,” and, “I don’t give up my sources.” According to Rove, Novak also refers to a 1992 incident in which Rove was fired from the Texas gubernatorial campaign of George W. Bush after the campaign learned that he had been the source for a Novak column criticizing the campaign’s inner workings. Novak assures Rove that nothing like that will happen now. “I’m not going to let that happen to you again,” Novak tells Rove. Rove will testify that he believes Novak means that he will say Rove was not a source for the Plame Wilson information—in essence, that Novak would lie about Rove’s involvement. Rove will call their conversation “curious,” and say he was unsure what to make of it. In 2006, Washington lawyer Stanley Brand says that for potential witnesses to discuss a case with one another “raises the inference that they are comparing each other’s recollections and altering or shaping each other’s testimony.… [There is a] thin line between refreshing each other’s recollections… and suborning someone to lie under oath.” Journalism professor Mark Feldstein will later say that Novak may have stretched the boundaries of journalistic ethics, or broken them entirely, by contacting Rove after the criminal investigation had been announced. “A journalist’s natural instinct is to protect his source,” Feldstein will say. “Were there no criminal investigation, it would have been more than appropriate for a reporter to say to a source, ‘Don’t worry, I’m not going to out you.’ But if there is a criminal investigation under way, you can’t escape the inference that you are calling to coordinate your stories. You go very quickly from being a stand-up reporter to impairing a criminal investigation.” A close friend of Rove’s will say in 2006 that he doubts either Rove or Novak will ever change their stories and testify against the other, regardless of the evidence or the truth of the matter. “These are two people who go way back, and they are going to look out for each other,” the friend says. [National Journal, 5/25/2006]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, John Ashcroft, Karl C. Rove, Mark Feldstein, Valerie Plame Wilson, Stanley Brand, Robert Novak

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Plame-Niger Controversy, Media Complicity, White House Involvement, Conservative Media Pundits

Clifford May.Clifford May. [Source: Talkhaba]Conservative columnist Clifford May writes in the National Review that the question at the heart of the Plame Wilson leak investigation is not, “Who leaked her identity?” but “Who didn’t know?” that she was a clandestine CIA agent. May notes that he has previously questioned the credibility and partisanship of Plame Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson, over his conclusions about the purported Iraq-Niger uranium deal (see July 6, 2003). He then goes on to write that conservative columnist Robert Novak’s revelation of Plame Wilson’s CIA status (see July 14, 2003) “wasn’t news to me.” May says he “had been told that—but not by anyone working in the White House. Rather, I learned it from someone who formerly worked in the government and he mentioned it in an offhand manner, leading me to infer it was something that insiders were well aware of.” May says he never revealed Plame Wilson’s identity as a CIA agent in his columns because “it didn’t seem particularly relevant to the question of whether or not Mr. Wilson should be regarded as a disinterested professional who had done a thorough investigation into Saddam [Hussein]‘s alleged attempts to purchase uranium in Africa.” He then goes on to call Wilson a “far-left… bitter critic of the current administration” and an affiliate of “the pro-Saudi Middle East Institute [and the] Education for Peace in Iraq Center,” which he calls “a far-left group that opposed not only the US military intervention in Iraq but also the sanctions and the no-fly zones that protected Iraqi Kurds and Shias from being slaughtered by Saddam.” He then mocks Wilson’s fact-finding trip to Niger as “eight days drinking sweet mint tea” and rubbing elbows with US and Nigerien dignitaries at the US Embassy in Niamey. May asks if Wilson’s trip to Niger was “primarily due to the fact that [his] wife worked for the CIA?… It has to be seen as puzzling that the agency would deal with an inquiry from the White House on a sensitive national security matter by sending a retired, Bush-bashing diplomat with no investigative experience. Or didn’t the CIA bother to look into Mr. Wilson’s background? If that’s what passes for tradecraft in Langley, we’re in more trouble than any of us have realized.” [National Review, 9/29/2003]

Entity Tags: Education for Peace in Iraq Center, Central Intelligence Agency, Clifford May, Middle East Institute, Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson, Robert Novak

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Conservative Media Pundits, Media Complicity, Plame-Niger Controversy

Conservative columnist Robert Novak, who first publicly outed Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003), denies being fed the information of Plame Wilson’s identity by White House officials (see June 13, 2003, July 7, 2003, July 8, 2003, and Before July 14, 2003). The subject arose when he was inquiring about her husband’s trip to Niger (see July 6, 2003), Novak says. Shortly after the leak, he said of Plame Wilson’s identity, “I didn’t dig it out, it was given to me” by White House officials (see July 21, 2003). However, Novak’s story is now quite different. He says of the outing: “Nobody in the Bush administration called me to leak this. In July, I was interviewing a senior administration official on Ambassador [Joseph] Wilson’s report when he told me the trip was inspired by his wife, a CIA employee working on weapons of mass destruction. Another senior official told me the same thing. When I called the CIA in July, they confirmed Mrs. Wilson’s involvement in a mission for her husband on a secondary basis… they asked me not to use her name, but never indicated it would endanger her or anybody else. According to a confidential source at the CIA, Mrs. Wilson was an analyst, not a spy, not a covert operative (see Before July 14, 2003 and February 2004), and not in charge of undercover operatives. So what is the fuss about, pure Bush-bashing?” [American Prospect, 2/12/2004; New York Times, 2006; National Journal, 5/25/2006] The same day that Novak issues his denial, he tells White House political strategist Karl Rove, one of his sources, that he will protect Rove from the Justice Department’s investigation into the leak (see September 29, 2003).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Valerie Plame Wilson, Bush administration (43), Robert Novak

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Conservative Media Pundits, Plame-Niger Controversy

Tom Rosenstiel on the PBS broadcast ‘In the Shadows.’Tom Rosenstiel on the PBS broadcast ‘In the Shadows.’ [Source: PBS]PBS hosts a live discussion with former CIA analyst Larry Johnson and journalist Tom Rosenstiel on the exposure of Valerie Plame Wilson as a covert CIA official (see July 14, 2003). Columnist Robert Novak initially told reporters that the White House “gave” him the information about Plame Wilson (see July 21, 2003), but is now claiming that he had to “dig for” that information (see September 29, 2003). Novak also asserts that Plame Wilson was a “mere” CIA analyst and not a covert operative (see Fall 1992 - 1996), and admits that CIA officials asked him not to reveal her identity (see (July 11, 2003) and Before July 14, 2003), though he says they never indicated that doing so would endanger her or anyone else. Johnson says: “To hear Bob Novak parsing words like a Clinton lawyer defining sex is outrageous.… They took the initiative to divulge the CIA officer’s name. And that is outrageous.”
Confirmation that Plame Wilson Was Undercover - Johnson confirms that Plame Wilson is indeed an undercover CIA official, saying: “Let’s be very clear about what happened. This is not an alleged abuse. This is a confirmed abuse. I worked with this woman. She started training with me. She has been undercover for three decades, she is not, as Bob Novak suggested, a CIA analyst. But given that, I was a CIA analyst for four years. I was undercover. I could not divulge to my family outside of my wife that I worked for the Central Intelligence Agency until I left the agency on Sept. 30, 1989. At that point I could admit it. So the fact that she’s been undercover for three decades and that has been divulged is outrageous because she was put undercover for certain reasons. One, she works in an area where people she meets with overseas could be compromised. When you start tracing back who she met with, even people who innocently met with her, who are not involved in CIA operations, could be compromised. For these journalists to argue that this is no big deal.”
Novak Did 'a Really Dangerous and Terrible Thing' - Rosenstiel calls Novak’s assertion that the CIA didn’t warn him of any danger in leaking Plame Wilson’s name “weak,” and adds: “Bob Novak has done a really dangerous and terrible thing. If you are going to get involved in something like this where you’re bumping up against breaking the law, as a journalist you have a civil disobedience test you have to meet. What’s the public good of this story? What’s the—balanced against what’s the danger to the people involved publishing the story. The third part of the test is, is it necessary in telling the story to do this or is there another way to do it, do you need to divulge this person’s name, in other words, to convey the information you think is of the public interest? This doesn’t meet any one of those three tests. It’s not of overriding public interest. Novak may be really just an instrument of Republican revenge here. Whatever the public good is of the story is far overwhelmed by the danger to this woman and her network of operatives. And it’s gratuitous. You could have told the story without her name.” Johnson adds: “This is not about partisan politics. This is about a betrayal, a political smear of an individual with no relevance to the story. Publishing her name in that story added nothing to it. His entire intent was correctly as Ambassador Wilson noted (see August 12, 2003): to intimidate, to suggest that there was some impropriety that somehow his wife was in a decision-making position to influence his ability to go over and savage a stupid policy, an erroneous policy, and frankly, what was a false policy of suggesting that there were nuclear material in Iraq that required this war. This was about a political attack. To pretend that it’s something else and to get into this parsing of words, I tell you, it sickens me to be a Republican to see this.”
Most Reporters Thought Story 'Lousy - Asked why six reporters were told of Plame Wilson’s identity and five chose not to publish it (see September 28, 2003), Rosenstiel says that the five reporters’ decision “tells us that the majority of reporters involved thought this was a lousy story.” It was “[i]mproper to identify and actually maybe the story itself just didn’t rise to the level of being much of a story. Frankly, it’s difficult to see how this information discredits Wilson. I can see how it intimidates him but I don’t think it necessarily discredits his research into the Niger claim.” [PBS, 9/30/2003]

Entity Tags: Public Broadcasting System, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Joseph C. Wilson, Larry C. Johnson, Tom Rosenstiel, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Media Complicity, Media Opposition, Plame-Niger Controversy, Conservative Media Pundits

Syndicated columnist Robert Novak, who publicly outed former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA officer in one of his columns three months earlier (see July 14, 2003), writes that he is now forced to revisit that column since “repercussions” from it “have reached the front pages of major newspapers and led off network news broadcasts.” Today’s column, he writes, is to clarify his actions and those of the Bush White House, which have been “distorted” in media reports. Novak says he “did not receive a planned leak” (see Late June 2003, July 8-10, 2003, and July 8, 2003). He asserts that “the CIA never warned me that the disclosure of Wilson’s wife working at the agency would endanger her or anybody else” (see Before July 14, 2003 and September 27, 2003). And, Plame Wilson’s identity “was not much of a secret” (see Before July 14, 2003).
Husband the Real Issue, Novak Claims - Novak attempts to turn the issue around and make Joseph Wilson and the Democrats the focus of the controversy: “Wilson, after telling me in July that he would say nothing about his wife, has made investigation of the leak his life’s work—aided by the relentless Sen. Charles Schumer of New York. These efforts cannot be separated from the massive political assault on President Bush.” Novak points out that Wilson, whom he falsely describes as a former “high-ranking official in President Bill Clinton’s National Security Council,” is now “a vocal opponent of President Bush’s policies in Iraq after contributing to Al Gore in the last election cycle and John Kerry in this one.” (Novak fails to note that Wilson gave campaign contributions to both Republicans and Democrats—see September 30, 2003). Why, Novak asks, was such a “partisan Democrat” given the assignment to investigate the Iraq-Niger uranium claims (see July 6, 2003)?
Again Asserts Wife Sent Wilson to Niger - Novak says that according to “a senior administration official,” Wilson was sent to Niger “by the CIA’s counterproliferation section at the suggestion of one of its employees, his wife. It was an offhand revelation from this official [later revealed as Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage—see Late June 2003 and July 8, 2003], who is no partisan gunslinger.” Novak called a second official, later confirmed as White House political adviser Karl Rove (see July 8, 2003), who said, “Oh, you know about it.” Novak calls reports that White House officials “failed to plant this story with six reporters and finally found me as a willing pawn is simply untrue.” He acknowledges being asked not to reveal Plame Wilson’s identity by the CIA official “designated to talk to me,” but denies being told that others might be harmed or intelligence networks might be damaged by the revelation. As for Plame Wilson’s identity being “no big secret,” he asserts, falsely, that Republican activist Clifford May knew of her identity before his column appeared, and, according to May, her CIA status was “common knowledge” (see July 12, 2004). Novak also notes that “Valerie Plame” is listed as Joseph Wilson’s wife in her husband’s “Who’s Who in America” entry, though he fails to note that the entry does not identify her as a CIA employee. He goes on to say that the CIA did not describe her as an “operative,” but a mere “employee” who is “covered”—working under the auspices of another agency. He writes, again falsely, that Plame Wilson “has been an analyst, not in covert operations” (see Fall 1992 - 1996 and April 2001 and After). Finally, Novak writes that the Justice Department investigation was not, in fact, requested by CIA Director George Tenet (see September 26, 2003). The request for an investigation was routine, he claims, one of around one such request a week. [Town Hall (.com), 10/1/2003]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Valerie Plame Wilson, Robert Novak, Richard Armitage

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Conservative Media Pundits, Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Plame-Niger Controversy

Syndicated columnist Robert Novak, who has already outed Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003), now outs the CIA front firm that was her cover. In a column reporting that Plame Wilson and her husband Joseph Wilson made campaign donations of $1,000 each to Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore in 1999, Novak notes that Plame Wilson, under her married name of Valerie E. Wilson, “identified herself as an ‘analyst’ with ‘Brewster Jennings & Associates.’ No such firm is listed anywhere, but the late Brewster Jennings was president of Socony-Vacuum oil company a half-century ago. Any CIA employee working under ‘non-official cover’ always is listed with a real firm, but never an imaginary one. Sort of adds to the little mystery.” Novak fails to mention that Joseph Wilson also donated $1,000 to the campaign of George W. Bush. He also fails to note that he has indirectly admitted that he knew Plame Wilson was an undercover CIA agent. [Town Hall (.com), 10/4/2003; Washington Post, 10/4/2003] In 2005, Joseph Wilson will tell a reporter that Novak’s outing of Brewster Jennings indicates a “pattern of disclosure,” presumably indicating that Novak’s revealing of state secrets may rise to the level of criminal behavior. [Raw Story, 7/13/2005]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson, Brewster Jennings, Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Conservative Media Pundits, Media Complicity, Plame-Niger Controversy

PIPA poll results by media source.PIPA poll results by media source. [Source: PIPA] (click image to enlarge)A poll conducted by the Program on International Policy (PIPA) at the University of Maryland reveals that a majority of Americans have misperceptions about the Iraq war, and these vary significantly depending on people’s primary source of news.
bullet 48% of Americans incorrectly believe that evidence of links between Iraq and al-Qaeda has been found.
bullet 22% incorrectly believe that weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq.
bullet 25% incorrectly believe that world public opinion favored the US going to war with Iraq.
bullet Overall, 60% have at least one of these misperceptions. For those who believe none of these misperceptions, only 23% support the war. But 86% of those who believe all three misperceptions support the war.
Furthermore, those who get most of their news by watching Fox News are much more likely to believe one or more of the misperceptions. Those who get their news mainly from National Public Radio (NPR) or PBS are much less likely to believe one or more of the misperceptions. The other major television networks fall in between. Such variations are also found within demographic subgroups of each audience. Interestingly, the more one watches Fox News, the more likely a person believes such misperceptions, whereas the more a person reads a newspaper, the less likely they are to believe such misperceptions. [Program on International Policy Attitudes, 10/2/2003]

Entity Tags: Program on International Policy Attitudes

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Fox News

Salon columnist and media observer Eric Boehlert notes that while the White House has specifically, and emphatically, denied Karl Rove leaked the CIA identity of Valerie Plame Wilson (see September 29, 2003), it has not yet given such coverage to Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney. Circumstantial evidence that the White House may be leaving Libby to, in Boehlert’s words, “twist in the wind” is mounting. The New York Daily News has reported that “Democratic Congressional sources said they would like to hear from… Lewis Libby.” On MSNBC, an administration critic, former counterterrorism official Larry Johnson, who says he knows who the leaker is, would not deny it was Libby. And Senator Chuck Hagel has implied that the leak originated from the vice president’s office when he said that President Bush needs to sit down with Cheney and “ask… what he knows about it.” A former senior CIA officer says, “Libby is certainly suspect No. 1.” Even Cheney’s own spokeswoman, Cathie Martin, refuses to deny Libby’s involvement, saying only, “This is a serious matter and we shouldn’t be speculating in light of an ongoing investigation.” Boehlert notes that conservative columnist Robert Novak, who outed Plame Wilson in one of his columns (see July 14, 2003), has dropped several hints about his primary source that point (inconclusively) to Libby. Novak’s assertion that his source is “no partisan gunslinger” (see October 1, 2003) is a better characterization of Libby than of Rove. Since Novak has referred to his source as “he,” the source cannot be National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice or any other White House female. Most interestingly, Boehlert notes, Novak was never looking for Plame Wilson’s identity when he spoke with his sources in July 2003. Rather, he wanted to know why former ambassador Joseph Wilson was chosen to go to Niger (see Shortly after February 13, 2002 and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). The logical place for Novak to begin such an inquiry, Boehlert writes, was Cheney’s office. Wilson believed Cheney was primarily, if indirectly, responsible for sending him to Niger (see (February 13, 2002)). Time magazine ran a story that revealed Libby was talking to reporters about Wilson (see July 17, 2003). And Boehlert notes other, less significant clues that add incrementally to the evidence showing that Libby might well have been Novak’s source. Finally, Boehlert comes back to Larry Johnson. Johnson confirmed for PBS that Plame Wilson was an undercover CIA agent and not merely an “analyst,” as Novak has asserted. He recently said flatly on MSNBC, “I know the name of the person that spoke with Bob Novak,” and that person works “at the White House,” and more specifically, “in the Old Executive Office Buildings.” Cheney’s office is located inside the Old Executive Office Building. Johnson was asked by co-host Pat Buchanan: “Scooter Libby. Now, is Scooter Libby the name you heard?” Johnson replied, “I’m not going to comment on that.” [Salon, 10/3/2003] The day after Boehlert’s column appears, White House press secretary Scott McClellan gives reporters the same assurance about Libby that he gave to Rove (see October 4, 2003).

Entity Tags: Larry C. Johnson, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Bush administration (43), Chuck Hagel, Karl C. Rove, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Robert Novak, Eric Boehlert, Office of the Vice President, Valerie Plame Wilson, Patrick Buchanan, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: White House Involvement, Media Complicity, Media Opposition, Plame-Niger Controversy, Conservative Media Pundits

On CNBC’s Capital Report, NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell says it should be “easily ascertained” who the sources were for the Plame Wilson identity leak. Asked, “Do we have any idea how widely known it was in Washington that Joe Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA?” Mitchell responds, “It was widely known among those of us who cover the intelligence community and who were actively engaged in trying to track down who among the foreign service community was the envoy to Niger” (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Many interpret Mitchell’s comment to mean that she and many other reporters knew about Plame Wilson’s CIA status. Mitchell will later recant her statement, saying she misunderstood the question and “screwed it up.” [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 1/26/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 5/26/2006 pdf file] Mitchell will later explain her misstatement on a broadcast of the Don Imus radio and television show, saying: “This is one of those things. We’ve got a whole new world of journalism out there where there are people writing blogs who are going to grab this one thing and not everything else I have written and said about this and go to town with it. It supports their political point of view, and… bingo.” [Jane Hamsher, 3/13/2007]

Entity Tags: Andrea Mitchell, Joseph C. Wilson, CNBC

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Plame-Niger Controversy, Media Complicity

Aly Colon, a communications manager and columnist for the Poynter Institute of Journalism, writes a cautionary column regarding Robert Novak’s outing of covert CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003). Colon writes: “There’s an old adage that claims journalists are only as good as the sources that feed them. Here’s a new one: Journalists are only as credible as the ethics that guide them.” Colon writes that Novak should have been more “rigorous” in his “decision-making process” that led him to out a covert CIA agent. Novak’s decision to out a person he clearly knew was a covert CIA agent, even after being asked not to by CIA officials on the grounds that blowing her identity would imperil US intelligence operations and assets (see July 8-10, 2003, Before July 14, 2003, July 21, 2003, and October 3, 2003), risked violating fundamental ethical principles of journalism. Novak is bound to report the truth as fully and independently as possible, but he is also bound to minimize harm. Colon writes that Novak should have more fully considered the ramifications of Plame Wilson’s outing, how important her identity was to his story, and what alternatives he had besides identifying her as a covert CIA agent. Novak also failed to adequately consider his sources’ motivations (see July 8, 2003). Colon concludes: “By disclosing the identity of a CIA operative… Novak provoked a Justice Department investigation of his sources (see September 26, 2003) and raised serious questions about his ethical conduct. Taking the time to answer a few ethical questions before publication can sometimes protect a reporter from having to answer more questions later.” [Poynter Institute of Journalism, 10/6/2003] In a subsequent interview, Colon will say, “Any time a journalist purposely deceives his readers, he undermines the newsperson’s or [his or her own] news organization’s credibility” and “threatens the trust between the reader and reporter.” [American Prospect, 2/12/2004]

Entity Tags: Poynter Institute of Journalism, Aly Colon, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Conservative Media Pundits, Media Complicity, Plame-Niger Controversy

Conservative columnist Robert Novak, who outed Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status in a column in July (see July 14, 2003), is interviewed by FBI agents regarding the Plame Wilson leak. The interview takes place in the offices of Swidler Berlin, a law firm that is representing Novak. Novak’s attorneys, Lester Hyman and James Hamilton, have advised Novak that he has no certain constitutional basis to refuse to obey a grand jury subpoena, and that to do so could mean imprisonment and, Novak will later write, “inevitably result in court decisions that would diminish press freedom, all at heavy personal legal costs.” Novak discloses how he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity (see July 8, 2003), but, he will write, “the FBI did not press me to disclose my sources.” [Human Events, 7/12/2006]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Swidler Berlin, James Hamilton, Robert Novak, Lester Hyman

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Plame-Niger Controversy, Media Complicity, Conservative Media Pundits

Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh announces the results of a poll finding: “We have a great Gallup poll, folks. Sixty percent of conservatives, 40 percent of moderates, and 18 percent of liberals say the media is too liberal.” Authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella later write that Limbaugh “creates an interpretative frame for the information,” with Limbaugh saying, “We all know that moderates are liberals anyway, so that would be 58 percent of liberals and 60 percent of conservatives, that’s over 100 percent of the people who think the media is too liberal.” Neither Jamieson nor Cappella point out the creative mathematics and regrouping Limbaugh is performing. They do note, however, that on Fox News, commentator Tony Snow reports the same poll results, and accuses the “liberal media” of failing to report the poll in a widespread fashion. [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 149]

Entity Tags: Tony Snow, Fox News, Joseph N. Cappella, Rush Limbaugh, Kathleen Hall Jamieson

Category Tags: Conservative Media Pundits, Media Complicity, Fox News

Gannett News Service discovers that identical letters purporting to be from different US soldiers in Iraq are being published around the country as supposed “letters to the editor.” The Pentagon later admits that it released the letters as part of what it calls its “hometown news release program.” The letters are signed by different soldiers with the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Airborne Infantry. At least 11 copies of the letter have appeared at a variety of small-town newspapers, including two (with identical copy but different signatures) coming to the Olympia-based Washington Olympian. That newspaper refused to run either letter because it considered them “form letters,” not actual letters from independent sources. But many other newspapers did run the letters. [Gannett News Service, 10/11/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 107] One of them was the Boston Globe. [Boston Globe, 9/14/2003]
Troops Mobbed by Happy Iraqis, Proud of Accomplishments, Letter Says - The letter, written in five paragraphs, discusses soldiers’ efforts to re-establish police and fire departments, and rebuild water and sewer plants, in Kirkuk. “The quality of life and security for the citizens has been largely restored, and we are a large part of why that has happened,” the letter says. “The fruits of all our soldiers’ efforts are clearly visible in the streets of Kirkuk today. There is very little trash in the streets, many more people in the markets and shops, and children have returned to school. I am proud of the work we are doing here in Iraq and I hope all of your readers are as well.” It goes on to describe crowds of happy Iraqis waving at passing troops, and soldiers being mobbed by children grabbing their hands and thanking the troops in broken English.
Some Willingly Signed, but None Wrote Letter - Six of the soldiers who “signed” the various copies of the letter say they agree with its content, but deny writing it. Some admit to signing it. One, Private Nick Deaconson of Beckley, West Virginia, denies anything to do with the letter through his parents. Deaconson is hospitalized, recovering from shrapnel wounds in both legs. Another, Sergeant Christopher Shelton, who supposedly authored a letter that appeared in the Snohomish Herald, says his platoon sergeant distributed the letter and asked his soldiers for the names of their hometown newspaper. Shelton and others were asked to sign it if they agreed with it. Shelton calls the letter “dead accurate.”
Source Disputed - When the letters are revealed to be fakes, Army spokesman Sergeant Todd Oliver tells a reporter that an individual soldier wrote the letter and asked some of his fellow soldiers to sign it. “Someone, somewhere along the way, took it upon themselves to mail it to the various editors of newspapers across the country,” he says. Sergeant Shawn Grueser says he talked to a military public affairs officer about his unit’s accomplishments for what he thought was a news release to be sent to his hometown paper in Charleston, West Virginia, but says he never saw, much less signed, any letter. The Pentagon later says that “several soldiers” collaborated on the letter. [Gannett News Service, 10/11/2003; CBS News, 10/14/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 107] Days later, the 2nd Battalion’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel Dominic Caraccilo, says his staff wrote the letter. He says his intent was to get “good news” back to the US more efficiently. He says he gave it to his soldiers and told them they could send copies home if they liked. “We thought it would be a good idea to encapsulate what we as a battalion have accomplished since arriving Iraq and share that pride with people back home,” he says. [BBC, 10/14/2008] The New York Times calls the “orchestrated campaign” of letters “disturbing.” It observes: “[T]he misleading letter… coincides with the Bush administration’s renewed program of defending the war in an ambitious speaking campaign across the nation. With polls registering rising public doubts, the president and his aides are claiming that the news media unfairly play up negative developments and ignore progress in Iraq” (see Mid-October 2003). It concludes, “Fakery is the worst possible way to answer the public’s rising demand for information about the true state of affairs in Iraq.” [New York Times, 10/15/2003]

Entity Tags: Boston Globe, Nick Deaconson, Gannett News Service, Bush administration (43), Dominic Caraccilo, Shawn Grueser, New York Times, The Olympian, Snohomish Herald, US Department of the Army, Christopher Shelton, US Department of Defense, Todd Oliver

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, White House Involvement, Media Complicity, Media Opposition

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