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Walter Isaacson.Walter Isaacson. [Source: Amazon (.com)]CNN chairman Walter Isaacson orders his staff to balance the network’s coverage of civilian devastation in Afghan cities with reminders that the Taliban harbors murderous terrorists who attacked the US on 9/11. Isaacson says it “seems perverse to focus too much on the casualties or hardship in Afghanistan.” In an internal memo to his international correspondents, he writes: “As we get good reports from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, we must redouble our efforts to make sure we do not seem to be simply reporting from their vantage or perspective. We must talk about how the Taliban are using civilian shields and how the Taliban have harbored the terrorists responsible for killing close to 5,000 innocent people.” [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 10/31/2001] Inside sources later say that CNN is bowing to pressure from certain segments of its viewing audience. [Toronto Star, 9/8/2002]
Suggested Endings Reiterate Pentagon Statements - In a corollary memo, CNN’s head of standards and practices, Rick Davis, writes: “As we get enterprising reports from our correspondents or Al Jazeera inside Afghanistan, we must continue to make sure that we do not inadvertently seem to be reporting uncritically from the perspective or vantage of the Taliban. Also, given the enormity of the toll on innocent human lives in the US, we must remain careful not to focus excessively on the casualties and hardships in Afghanistan that will inevitably be a part of this war, or to forget that it is the Taliban leadership that is responsible for the situation Afghanistan is now in.” Davis orders CNN reports from Afghanistan to end with a formulaic reminder, such as the following: “We must keep in mind, after seeing reports like this, that the Taliban regime in Afghanistan continues to harbor terrorists who have praised the September 11 attacks that killed close to 5,000 innocent people in the US.” Another suggested ending: “The Pentagon has repeatedly stressed that it is trying to minimize civilian casualties in Afghanistan, even as the Taliban regime continues to harbor terrorists who are connected to the September 11 attacks that claimed thousands of innocent lives in the US.” If relevant to the piece, the correspondent can end with the reminder that “the Pentagon has stressed that the Taliban continues to harbor the terrorists and the Taliban forces are reported to be hiding in populated areas and using civilians as human shields.” Davis concludes, “Even though it may start sounding rote, it is important that we make this point each time.” Isaacson tells reporters: “I want to make sure we’re not used as a propaganda platform. We’re entering a period in which there’s a lot more reporting and video from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. You want to make sure people understand that when they see civilian suffering there, it’s in the context of a terrorist attack that caused enormous suffering in the United States.” Presenters on CNN International are not subject to the edict. [Guardian, 11/1/2001]
Correspondents Fear 'Pro-American Stamp' on CNN Reporting - Some CNN correspondents worry that the network will put an overtly “pro-American stamp” on their reports; CNN executives worry that images showing misdirected US missile attacks landing on residential areas or Red Cross warehouses could be manipulated before they come out of Afghanistan. Some have criticized network coverage of the destruction rained on Afghan cities, towns, and villages by errant US bombs, while others say such coverage is necessary to present more than one side of the issue. CNN, like other American networks, airs hours of coverage every day of President Bush and his top officials. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 10/31/2001; Guardian, 11/1/2001] In 2002, then-CNN foreign correspondent Anthony Collings will say that “the Pentagon must surely have been pleased to learn that whenever its planes killed the wrong Afghans, CNN would quickly provide PR damage control.” [Toronto Star, 9/8/2002]
Some Pundits Agree with CNN's Position - Fox News anchor Brit Hume agrees that stories of casualties should not be emphasized, explaining, “Civilian casualties are historically, by definition, a part of war.” National Public Radio White House correspondent Mara Liasson agrees with Hume, noting, “War is about killing people; civilian casualties are unavoidable.” [Bob Zelnick, 3/22/2003]
Other Networks Not Following Suit - Other US news networks do not follow CNN’s lead. Jim Murphy, executive producer of the CBS Evening News, says: “I wouldn’t order anybody to do anything like that. Our reporters are smart enough to know it has to be put in context.” NBC News vice president Bill Wheatley adds, “I’d give the American public more credit, frankly.” In Britain, the BBC has no plans to put any such reminders on its broadcasts, but a spokeswoman for that network says, “Correspondents may or may not decide to put in this sort of detail in their reports to put things in context.” [Guardian, 11/1/2001]
Issue Not Relevant if Good Journalistic Standards Observed - In 2003, veteran foreign correspondent Robert Zelnick will write that the entire issue should have been moot, as long as reporters and networks followed strong standards of journalism. It is newsworthy in a tactical, a psychological, and a propagandistic sense to report civilian casualties, Zelnick will observe, especially when the targeting of civilians is deliberate. He cites examples of media coverage in Korea, Kosovo, and especially Vietnam, that galvanized public debate on those wars. “[N]o reasonable case can be made for temporizing reports of the war’s impact on the civilians that US forces were fighting to ‘save,’” he will write. On the other side, he will cite the US invasion of Panama in 1989, the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and Israel’s ongoing battles with the Palestinians as examples of wars fought with little US media coverage of civilian casualties; as a result, relatively few Americans raised objections or expressed doubts about those military actions. [Bob Zelnick, 3/22/2003]

Entity Tags: Brit Hume, Al Jazeera, Anthony Collings, Bill Wheatley, US Department of Defense, Walter Isaacson, Rick Davis, Robert Zelnick, CNN, Mara Liasson, Jim Murphy

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, War in Afghanistan

Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, posing as Jamal al-Ghurairy for Frontline.Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, posing as Jamal al-Ghurairy for Frontline. [Source: PBS]An Iraqi defector identifying himself as Jamal al-Ghurairy, a former lieutenant general in Saddam Hussein’s intelligence corps, the Mukhabarat, tells two US reporters that he has witnessed foreign Islamic militants training to hijack airplanes at an alleged Iraqi terrorist training camp at Salman Pak, near Baghdad. Al-Ghurairy also claims to know of a secret compound at Salman Pak where Iraqi scientists, led by a German, are producing biological weapons. Al-Ghurairy is lying both about his experiences and even his identity, though the reporters, New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges and PBS’s Christopher Buchanan, do not know this. The meeting between al-Ghurairy and the reporters, which takes place on November 6, 2001, in a luxury suite in a Beirut hotel, was arranged by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC). Buchanan later recalls knowing little about al-Ghurairy, except that “[h]is life might be in danger. I didn’t know much else.” Hedges recalls the former general’s “fierce” appearance and “military bearing.… He looked the part.” Al-Ghurairy is accompanied by several other people, including the INC’s political liaison, Nabeel Musawi. “They were slick and well organized,” Buchanan recalls. Hedges confirms al-Ghurairy’s credibility with the US embassy in Turkey, where he is told that CIA and FBI agents had recently debriefed him. The interview is excerpted for an upcoming PBS Frontline episode, along with another interview with an INC-provided defector, former Iraqi sergeant Sabah Khodada, who echoes al-Ghurairy’s tale. While the excerpt of al-Ghurairy’s interview is relatively short, the interview itself takes over an hour. Al-Ghurairy does not allow his face to be shown on camera.
Times Reports Defectors' Tale - Two days later, on November 8, Hedges publishes a story about al-Ghurairy in the New York Times Times. The Frontline episode airs that same evening. [New York Times, 11/8/2001; Mother Jones, 4/2006] Hedges does not identify al-Ghurairy by name, but reports that he, Khodada, and a third unnamed Iraqi sergeant claim to have “worked for several years at a secret Iraqi government camp that had trained Islamic terrorists in rotations of five or six months since 1995. They said the training at the camp, south of Baghdad, was aimed at carrying out attacks against neighboring countries and possibly Europe and the United States.” Whether the militants being trained are linked to al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, the defectors cannot be sure, nor do they know of any specific attacks carried out by the militants. Hedges writes that the interviews were “set up by an Iraqi group that seeks the overthrow of… Hussein.” He quotes al-Ghurairy as saying, “There is a lot we do not know. We were forbidden to speak about our activities among each other, even off duty. But over the years, you see and hear things. These Islamic radicals were a scruffy lot. They needed a lot of training, especially physical training. But from speaking with them, it was clear they came from a variety of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco. We were training these people to attack installations important to the United States. The Gulf War never ended for Saddam Hussein. He is at war with the United States. We were repeatedly told this.” He uses Khodada’s statements as support for al-Ghurairy’s, identifies Khodada by name, and says that Khodada “immigrated to Texas” in May 2001 “after working as an instructor for eight years at Salman Pak…” He quotes the sergeant as saying, “We could see them train around the fuselage. We could see them practice taking over the plane.” Al-Ghurairy adds that the militants were trained to take over a plane without using weapons. Hedges reports that Richard Sperzel, the former chief of the UN biological weapons inspection teams in Iraq, says that the Iraqis always claimed Salman Pak was an anti-terror training camp for Iraqi special forces. However, Sperzel says, “[M]any of us had our own private suspicions. We had nothing specific as evidence.” The US officials who debriefed al-Ghurairy, Hedges reports, do not believe that the Salman Pak training has any links to the 9/11 hijackings. Hedges asks about one of the militants, a clean-shaven Egyptian. “No, he was not Mohamed Atta.” Atta led the 9/11 hijackers. Hedges notes that stories such as this one will likely prompt “an intense debate in Washington over whether to extend the war against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban government of Afghanistan to include Iraq.” [New York Times, 11/8/2001; Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004]
Heavy Press Coverage - The US media immediately reacts, with op-eds running in major newspapers throughout the country and cable-news pundits bringing the story to their audiences. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice says of the story, “I think it surprises no one that Saddam Hussein is engaged in all kinds of activities that are destabilizing.” The White House will use al-Ghurairy’s claims in its background paper, “Decade of Deception and Defiance,” prepared for President’s Bush September 12, 2002 speech to the UN General Assembly (see September 12, 2002). Though the tale lacks specifics, it helps bolster the White House’s attempts to link Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 hijackers, and helps promote Iraq as a legitimate target in the administration’s war on terror. (Five years later, the reporters involved in the story admit they were duped—see April 2006.)
Complete Fiction - The story, as it turns out, is, in the later words of Mother Jones reporter Jack Fairweather, “an elaborate scam.” Not only did US agents in Turkey dismiss the purported lieutenant general’s claims out of hand—a fact they did not pass on to Hedges—but the man who speaks with Hedges and Buchanan is not even Jamal al-Ghurairy. The man they interviewed is actually a former Iraqi sergeant living in Turkey under the pseudonym Abu Zainab. (His real name is later ascertained to be Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, and is a former Iraqi general and senior officer in the Mukhabarat.) The real al-Ghurairy has never left Iraq. In 2006, he will be interviewed by Fairweather, and will confirm that he was not the man interviewed in 2001 (see October 2005). [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004; Mother Jones, 4/2006] Hedges and Buchanan were not the first reporters to be approached for the story. The INC’s Francis Brooke tried to interest Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff in interviewing Khodada to discuss Salman Pak. Isikoff will recall in 2004 that “he didn’t know what to make of the whole thing or have any way to evaluate the story so I didn’t write about it.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004]
"The Perfect Hoax" - The interview was set up by Chalabi, the leader of the INC, and former CBS producer Lowell Bergman. Bergman had interviewed Khodada previously, but was unable to journey to Beirut, so he and Chalabi briefed Hedges in London before sending him to meet with the defector. Chalabi and Bergman have a long relationship; Chalabi has been a source for Bergman since 1991. The CIA withdrew funding from the group in 1996 (see January 1996) due to its poor intelligence and attempts at deception. For years, the INC combed the large Iraqi exile communities in Damascus and Amman for those who would trade information—real or fabricated—in return for the INC’s assistance in obtaining asylum to the West. Helping run that network was Mohammed al-Zubaidi, who after 9/11 began actively coaching defectors, according to an ex-INC official involved in the INC’s media operations (see December 17, 2001 and July 9, 2004). The ex-INC official, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, did everything from help defectors brush up and polish their stories, to concocting scripts that defectors with little or no knowledge could recite: “They learned the words, and then we handed them over to the American agencies and journalists.” After 9/11, the INC wanted to come up with a big story that would fix the public perception of Saddam Hussein’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Al-Zubaidi was given the task. He came up with al-Ghurairy. He chose Zainab for his knowledge of the Iraqi military, brought him to Beirut, paid him, and began prepping him. In the process, al-Zainab made himself known to American and Turkish intelligence officials as al-Ghurairy. “It was the perfect hoax,” al-Haideri will recall in 2006. “The man was a born liar and knew enough about the military to get by, whilst Saddam’s regime could hardly produce the real Ghurairy without revealing at least some of the truth of the story.” Al-Haideri will say that the reality of the Salman Pak story was much as the Iraqis claimed—Iraqi special forces were trained in hostage and hijack scenarios. Al-Zubaidi, who in 2004 will admit to his propaganda activities, calls Al-Zainab “an opportunist, cheap and manipulative. He has poetic interests and has a vivid imagination in making up stories.” [Mother Jones, 4/2006]
Stories Strain Credulity - Knight Ridder reporter Jonathan Landay later says of al-Qurairy, “As you track their stories, they become ever more fantastic, and they’re the same people who are telling these stories, until you get to the most fantastic tales of all, which appeared in Vanity Fair magazine.” Perhaps al-Qurairy’s most fabulous story is that of a training exercise to blow up a full-size mockup of a US destroyer in a lake in central Iraq. Landay adds, “Or, jumping into pits of fouled water and having to kill a dog with your bare teeth. I mean, and this was coming from people, who are appearing in all of these stories, and sometimes their rank would change.… And, you’re saying, ‘Wait a minute. There’s something wrong here, because in this story he was a major, but in this story the guy’s a colonel. And, in this story this was his function, but now he says in this story he was doing something else.’” Landay’s bureau chief, John Walcott, says of al-Qurairy, “What he did was reasonably clever but fairly obvious, which is he gave the same stuff to some reporters that, for one reason or another, he felt would simply report it. And then he gave the same stuff to people in the Vice President’s office [Dick Cheney] and in the Secretary of Defense’s office [Donald Rumsfeld]. And so, if the reporter called the Department of Defense or the Vice President’s office to check, they would’ve said, ‘Oh, I think that’s… you can go with that. We have that, too.’ So, you create the appearance, or Chalabi created the appearance, that there were two sources, and that the information had been independently confirmed, when, in fact, there was only one source. And it hadn’t been confirmed by anybody.” Landay adds, “[L]et’s not forget how close these people were to this administration, which raises the question, was there coordination? I can’t tell you that there was, but it sure looked like it.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
No Evidence Found - On April 6, 2003, US forces will overrun the Salman Pak facility. They will find nothing to indicate that the base was ever used to train terrorists (see April 6, 2003).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard Sperzel, Newsweek, Saddam Hussein, Taliban, New York Times, Sabah Khodada, Washington Post, United Nations, Vanity Fair, Nabeel Musawi, Public Broadcasting System, Mother Jones, Ahmed Chalabi, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, Chris Hedges, Al-Qaeda, CBS News, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Mukhabarat, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Francis Brooke, Lowell Bergman, Michael Isikoff, Mohammed al-Zubaidi, Jonathan Landay, John Walcott, Jamal al-Ghurairy, Jack Fairweather, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Christopher Buchanan, Iraqi National Congress

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

PBS’s Frontline broadcasts an October 2001 interview with Bush foreign policy adviser Brent Scowcroft as part of its Gunning for Saddam episode. Scowcroft recently cemented his status as an outsider in the administration with an op-ed calling for the US to focus on building a coalition of allies before considering invading Iraq (see October 16, 2001). Scowcroft says that a unilateral move to invade Iraq and “deal with Saddam Hussein” will destroy the coalition of nations that still exists ten years after the 1991 Gulf War “virtually instantly.” Suspicion that the US is manipulating information to prove its rationale for war with Iraq is paramount throughout the Middle East and even among the US’s closest allies in Europe. Part of the responsibility for that perception, Scowcroft notes, comes from Iraq: “Saddam has managed to get the view out that the Iraqi people are suffering because of the [UN-mandated economic] sanctions. In fact, they’re suffering because Saddam Hussein doesn’t use the income from the oil he sells to provide for his people. But that’s the fact. So if we turn on Iraq now, it will look like we’re just using September 11 as an excuse to go after our favorite enemy.… So we need to sort of reestablish the kind of confidence that the United States enjoyed a decade ago around the time of the Gulf War. And to do that, we need to prosecute the Afghan/Osama bin Laden part of this whole thing in a way which will demonstrate that we know what we’re doing, that we do it carefully, not wildly and so on.”
Focusing on Terrorist Threat, Not Iraq, a Necessity - Scowcroft calls Hussein and Iraq “a separate problem” from al-Qaeda and global Islamist terrorism. “It is not at all clear that he is a part of a global terrorist network, which is what we’re focusing on.… Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden have one thing in common, and that is they both hate the United States. Otherwise, they have very little in common. As a matter of fact, my guess is, if it weren’t for the United States, Osama bin Laden would turn on Saddam Hussein.” Scowcroft says that even if the US manages to render al-Qaeda impotent, Iraq might not be the next problem on the list. “It’s a problem which right now should be differentiated from the Osama bin Laden problem.… Hezbollah, for example, is a global terrorist network, which has attacked the United States and US interests before. How about that?… We need to be skillful about this. We need to use scalpels, not sledgehammers.” He continues: “Nobody has said what ‘going after Saddam’ really means. What does it mean? Five hundred thousand troops again, based in a Saudi Arabia that would not accept them now? What does ‘going after Saddam’ mean?”
INC Not a Viable Replacement for Hussein - Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC) may or may not be a “viable alternative to Saddam,” Scowcroft says, but it is “certainly not a viable means to” overthrow Hussein. “It is weak, disparate, riven with disputes—probably unattractive to almost anyone inside or out.” [PBS Frontline, 11/8/2001; PBS Frontline, 11/8/2001]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, Ahmed Chalabi, Brent Scowcroft, Hezbollah, Iraqi National Congress, Public Broadcasting System, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Billy Crystal.Billy Crystal. [Source: Evan Agostini / Associated Press]Filming was originally going to start on this day for a comedy movie called Till Death Do Us Part, which would feature a terrorist targeting New York and include a key scene set at the World Trade Center, but the film has been postponed and is going to be rewritten as a result of the 9/11 attacks. [Newsday, 9/13/2001; United Press International, 11/1/2001; Variety, 11/12/2001] Till Death Do Us Part, which is set to star the well-known actors Michael Douglas and Billy Crystal, “is about two fathers, soon to be related by their children’s marriage, who find themselves trying to foil a terrorist bent on creating havoc in New York City,” according to Newsday. The story includes a “significant scene” that takes place at Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top of the North Tower of the WTC. [Newsday, 9/13/2001] The movie has “a big World Trade Center scene with terrorists,” Crystal has said. “Funny, but the whole story was about that,” he added. [United Press International, 11/1/2001] Till Death Do Us Part is supposed to be a remake of the 1979 movie The In-Laws, which was about a dentist and a CIA agent in South America. Its script was written by Nat Mauldin, who previously worked on the 1996 movie The Preacher’s Wife and the 1998 movie Dr. Dolittle. [Variety, 11/15/2000; Hollywood (.com), 5/8/2001] The decision to postpone work on Till Death Do Us Part was made the week after 9/11, because the movie’s plot concerned “New York, the World Trade Center, and terrorists,” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 9/27/2001] After the film was put on hold, Douglas explained: “There are too many elements we just couldn’t live with since the terrorist attack. It’s going back to the drawing boards.” [Times of India, 9/26/2001] The movie will subsequently be rewritten. [Variety, 11/12/2001] It will be released in May 2003, but renamed The In-Laws and without Crystal starring in it. [Los Angeles Times, 5/18/2003; CNN, 5/23/2003; Entertainment Weekly, 5/30/2003] Till Death Do Us Part is one of a number of movies and television dramas featuring storylines about terrorism that are canceled or rewritten following the 9/11 attacks (see (January 1998-2001); February 1999-September 11, 2001; June-September 11, 2001; Before Before September 11, 2001; September 13, 2001; September 27, 2001). [Newsday, 9/13/2001; ABC News, 9/25/2001; Village Voice, 12/4/2001]

Entity Tags: Michael Douglas, Billy Crystal

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Defense Policy Board member Richard Perle, discussing the US’s planned reaction to the 9/11 attacks, says that Iraq is next on the US’s military strike list. CNN anchor John King asks, “Next phase Saddam Hussein?” and Perle replies, “Absolutely.” The day before, on ABC, Perle explained why the US had to make such a move: “Weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein, plus his known contact with terrorists, including al-Qaeda terrorists, is simply a threat too large to continue to tolerate.” And what would the upshot of such an invasion be? Perle tells his CNN listeners, “We would be seen as liberators in Iraq.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]

Entity Tags: ABC News, Richard Perle, CNN, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence

Fox News removes its series on the “art student spy ring” from its website after only two days, in response to pressure from The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) and others. CAMERA suggests the reporter “has something, personally, about Israel.… Maybe he’s very sympathetic to the Arab side.” [Salon, 5/7/2002] The head of the ADL calls the report “sinister dangerous innuendo which fuels anti-Semitism.” [Forward, 12/21/2001] Yet there does not appear to be any substance to these personal attacks (and Forward magazine later reverses its stance on the spy ring (see March 15, 2002)). Fox News also never makes a formal repudiation or correction about the series. The contents of the series continues to be generally ignored by the mainstream media, but it makes a big impact inside the US government: An internal DEA communiqué from December 18 mentions the Fox report by name, and warns of security breaches in telecommunications as described in the Fox report. [Salon, 5/7/2002]

Entity Tags: Fox News, Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, Drug Enforcement Administration, “Israeli art students”, Anti-Defamation League, The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Zaab Sethna of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) arranges for Iraqi defector Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri to be interviewed by Judith Miller of the New York Times. Miller, who has known Chalabi for about eight years (see May 1, 2003), immediately flies out to Bangkok for the interview. Her story is published on December 20, just three days after Haideri told his story to a CIA agent who subjected him to a polygraph and determined Haideri’s story was a complete fabrication (see December 17, 2001). Miller’s front-page article, titled “An Iraqi defector tells of work on at least 20 hidden weapons sites,” reports: “An Iraqi defector who described himself as a civil engineer, said he personally worked on renovations of secret facilities for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in underground wells, private villas and under the Saddam Hussein Hospital in Baghdad as recently as a year ago.” If verified, Miller notes, “his allegations would provide ammunition to officials within the Bush administration who have been arguing that Mr. Hussein should be driven from power partly because of his unwillingness to stop making weapons of mass destruction, despite his pledges to do so.” Sethna also contacts freelance journalist Paul Moran. Moran is a former employee of the INC and has been employed for years by the Rendon Group, a firm specializing in “perception management” and which helped develop the INC (see May 1991). Moran’s on-camera interview with Haideri is broadcast worldwide by the Australian Broadcasting Corp. [New York Times, 12/20/2001; SBS Dateline, 7/23/2003; New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004; Rolling Stone, 11/17/2005] Reporter Jonathan Landay will later say that he and others were skeptical from the outset: “There were some red flags that the New York Times story threw out immediately, which caught our eye, immediately. The first was the idea that a Kurd—the enemy of Saddam—had been allowed into his most top secret military facilities. I don’t think so. That was, for me, the biggest red flag. And there were others, like the idea that Saddam Hussein would put a biological weapons facility under his residence. I mean, would you put a biological weapons lab under your living room? I don’t think so.” Landay’s partner Warren Strobel will add, “The first rule of being an intelligence agent, or a journalist, and they’re really not that different, is you’re skeptical of defectors, because they have a reason to exaggerate. They want to increase their value to you. They probably want something from you. Doesn’t mean they’re lying, but you should be—journalists are supposed to be skeptical, right? And I’m afraid the New York Times reporter in that case and a lot of other reporters were just not skeptical of what these defectors were saying. Nor was the administration…” [PBS, 4/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Zaab Sethna, Warren Strobel, Jonathan Landay, Judith Miller, Paul Moran, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, Ahmed Chalabi, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl writes stories about the ISI that will lead to his kidnapping and murder (see January 31, 2002).
bullet On December 24, 2001, he reports about ties between the ISI and a Pakistani organization, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau, that was working on giving bin Laden nuclear secrets before 9/11 (see 2000 and Mid-August 2001). [Wall Street Journal, 12/24/2001]
bullet A few days later, he reports that the ISI-supported militant organization Jaish-e-Mohammed still has its office running and bank accounts working, even though President Pervez Musharraf claims to have banned the group. The Jaish-i-Mohammed is connected to the Al Rashid Trust, one of the first entities whose assets were frozen by the US after 9/11 and through which funding may have passed on its way to the hijackers in the US (see Early August 2001 and September 24, 2001). “If [Pearl] hadn’t been on the ISI’s radarscope before, he was now.” [Wall Street Journal, 12/31/2001; Guardian, 7/16/2002; Vanity Fair, 8/2002]
bullet He begins investigating links between shoe bomber Richard Reid and Pakistani militants, and comes across connections to the ISI and a mysterious religious group called Al-Fuqra. [Washington Post, 2/23/2002]
bullet He also may be looking into the US training and backing of the ISI. [Gulf News, 3/25/2002]
bullet He is writing another story on Dawood Ibrahim, a powerful Islamic militant and gangster protected by the ISI, and other Pakistani organized crime figures. [Newsweek, 2/4/2002; Vanity Fair, 8/2002]
bullet Former CIA agent Robert Baer later claims to be working with Pearl on an investigation of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. [United Press International, 4/9/2004] It is later suggested that Mohammed masterminds both Reid’s shoe bomb attempt and the Pearl kidnapping, and has connections to Pakistani gangsters and the ISI, so some of these explanations could fit together. [Asia Times, 10/30/2002; CNN, 1/30/2003; United Press International, 4/9/2004] Kidnapper Saeed will later say of Pearl, “Because of his hyperactivity he caught our interest.” [News (Islamabad), 2/15/2002] Pearl is kidnapped on January 23, 2002, and his murder is confirmed on February 22, 2002. [CNN, 2/22/2002]

Entity Tags: Dawood Ibrahim, Al-Fuqra, Daniel Pearl, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Osama bin Laden, Pervez Musharraf, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Robert Baer, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Pentagon chief of public relations Victoria Clarke.Pentagon chief of public relations Victoria Clarke. [Source: Department of Defense]While detailed plans for the upcoming invasion of Iraq are well underway, the administration realizes that the American people are not strongly behind such an invasion. They aren’t convinced that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and unsure about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. White House and Pentagon officials decide that using retired military officers as “independent military analysts” in the national media can help change hearts and minds (see April 20, 2008). Assistant secretary of defense for public affairs Victoria “Torie” Clarke, a former public relations executive, intends to achieve what she calls “information dominance.” The news culture is saturated by “spin” and combating viewpoints; Clarke argues that opinions are most swayed by voices seen as authoritative and completely independent. Clarke has already put together a system within the Pentagon to recruit what she calls “key influentials,” powerful and influential people from all areas who, with the proper coaching, can generate support for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s agenda. After 9/11, when each of the news networks rushed to land its own platoon of retired military officers to provide commentary and analysis, Clarke saw an opportunity: such military analysts are the ultimate “key influentials,” having tremendous authority and credibility with average Americans. They often get more airtime than network reporters, Clarke notes. More importantly, they are not just explaining military minutiae, but telling viewers how to interpret events. Best of all, while they are in the news media, they are not creatures of the media. Reporter David Barstow will write in 2008, “They were military men, many of them ideologically in sync with the administration’s neoconservative brain trust, many of them important players in a military industry anticipating large budget increases to pay for an Iraq war.” And even those without such ties tended to support the military and the government. Retired Army general and ABC analyst William Nash will say: “It is very hard for me to criticize the United States Army. It is my life.”
'Writing the Op-Ed' for the War - As a result, according to Clarke’s aide Don Meyer, Clarke decides to make the military analysts the main focus of the public relations push to build a case for invading Iraq. They, not journalists, will “be our primary vehicle to get information out,” Meyer recalls. The military analysts are not handled by the Pentagon’s regular press office, but are lavished with attention and “perks” in a separate office run by another aide to Clarke, Brent Krueger. According to Krueger, the military analysts will, in effect, be “writing the op-ed” for the war.
Working in Tandem with the White House - The Bush administration works closely with Clarke’s team from the outset. White House officials request lists of potential recruits for the team, and suggests names for the lists. Clarke’s team writes summaries of each potential analyst, describing their backgrounds, business and political affiliations, and their opinions on the war. Rumsfeld has the final say on who is on the team: “Rumsfeld ultimately cleared off on all invitees,” Krueger will say. Ultimately, the Pentagon recruits over 75 retired officers, though some only participate briefly or sporadically.
Saturation Coverage on Cable - The largest contingent of analysts is affiliated with Fox News, followed by NBC and CNN, the networks with 24-hour cable news coverage. Many analysts work for ABC and CBS as well. Many also appear on radio news and talk broadcasts, publish op-ed articles in newspapers, and are quoted in press reports, magazine articles, and in Web sites and blogs. Barstow, a New York Times reporter, will note that “[a]t least nine of them have written op-ed articles for The Times.”
Representing the Defense Industry - Many of the analysts have close ties with defense contractors and/or lobbying firms involved in helping contractors win military contracts from the Pentagon:
bullet Retired Army general James Marks, who begins working as an analyst for CNN in 2004 (until his firing three years later—see July 2007) is a senior executive with McNeil Technologies, and helps that firm land military and intelligence contracts from the government.
bullet Thomas McInerney, a retired Air Force general and Fox News analyst, sits on the boards of several military contractors.
bullet CBS military analyst Jeffrey McCausland is a lobbyist for Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, a major lobbying firm where he is director of a national security team that represents several military contractors. His team proclaims on the firm’s Web site, “We offer clients access to key decision makers.”
bullet Shortly after signing with CBS, retired Air Force general Joseph Ralston became vice chairman of the Cohen Group, a consulting firm headed by former Defense Secretary William Cohen (also an analyst for CNN). The Cohen Group says of itself on its Web site, “The Cohen Group knows that getting to ‘yes’ in the aerospace and defense market—whether in the United States or abroad—requires that companies have a thorough, up-to-date understanding of the thinking of government decision makers.”
Ideological Ties - Many military analysts have political and ideological ties to the Bush administration and its supporters. These include:
bullet Two of NBC’s most familiar analysts, retired generals Barry McCaffrey and Wayne Downing, are on the advisory board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, an advocacy group created with White House encouragement in 2002 to push for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. [New York Times, 4/20/2008] Additionally, McCaffrey is chief of BR McCaffrey Associates, which “provides strategic, analytic, and advocacy consulting services to businesses, non-profits, governments, and international organizations.” [Washington Post, 4/21/2008] Other members include senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), and prominent neoconservatives Richard Perle and William Kristol. [Truthout (.org), 4/28/2008] Both McCaffrey and Downing head their own consulting firms and are board members of major defense contractors.
bullet Retired Army general Paul Vallely, a Fox News analyst from 2001 through 2007, shares with the Bush national security team the belief that the reason the US lost in Vietnam was due to negative media coverage, and the commitment to prevent that happening with the Iraq war. In 1980, Vallely co-wrote a paper accusing the US press of failing to defend the nation from what he called “enemy” propaganda—negative media coverage—during the Vietnam War. “We lost the war—not because we were outfought, but because we were out Psyoped,” he wrote. Vallely advocated something he called “MindWar,” an all-out propaganda campaign by the government to convince US citizens of the need to support a future war effort. Vallely’s “MindWar” would use network TV and radio to “strengthen our national will to victory.” [New York Times, 4/20/2008]
bullet Ironically, Clarke herself will eventually leave the Pentagon and become a commentator for ABC News. [Democracy Now!, 4/22/2008]
Seducing the Analysts - Analysts describe a “powerfully seductive environment,” in Barstow’s words, created for them in the Pentagon: the uniformed escorts to Rumsfeld’s private conference room, lavish lunches served on the best government china, embossed name cards, “blizzard[s] of PowerPoints, the solicitations of advice and counsel, the appeals to duty and country, the warm thank you notes from the secretary himself.” Former NBC analyst Kenneth Allard, who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, says: “[Y]ou have no idea. You’re back. They listen to you. They listen to what you say on TV.” Allard calls the entire process “psyops on steroids,” using flattery and proximity to gain the desired influence and effect. “It’s not like it’s, ‘We’ll pay you $500 to get our story out,’” Allard says. “It’s more subtle.”
Keeping Pentagon Connections Hidden - In return, the analysts are instructed not to quote their briefers directly or to mention their contacts with the Pentagon. The idea is always to present a facade of independent thought. One example is the analysts’ almost perfect recitation of Pentagon talking points during a fall and winter 2002 PR campaign (see Fall and Winter 2002). [New York Times, 4/20/2008]

Entity Tags: Richard Perle, Paul Vallely, Thomas G. McInerney, William S. Cohen, Wayne Downing, US Department of Defense, William Nash, William Kristol, New York Times, Joseph Ralston, Kenneth Allard, CBS News, Bush administration (43), Brent T. Krueger, Barry McCaffrey, ABC News, CNN, Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, David Barstow, Don Meyer, Joseph Lieberman, John McCain, NBC, Jeffrey McCausland, Fox News, Donald Rumsfeld, James Marks, Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke

Timeline Tags: US Military, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

The “military analysts” named by the New York Times as participants in the Pentagon’s propaganda operation to manipulate public opinion on the Iraq war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) appear over 4,500 times on network and television news broadcasts between January 1, 2002 and May 13, 2008. The news outlets included in the May 13, 2008 count, performed by the media watchdog group Media Matters, includes ABC, ABC News Now, CBS, CBS Radio Network, NBC, CNN, CNN Headline News, Fox News, MSNBC, CNBC, and NPR. Media Matters uses the Lexis/Nexis database to compile their report. Media Matters releases a spreadsheet documenting each analyst’s appearance on each particular broadcast outlet. [Media Matters, 5/13/2008] Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald notes, “If anything, the Media Matters study actually under-counts the appearances, since it only counted ‘the analysts named in the Times article,’ and several of the analysts who were most active in the Pentagon’s propaganda program weren’t mentioned by name in that article.” [Salon, 5/15/2008]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, New York Times, National Public Radio, Media Matters, CNBC, CBS News, ABC News, NBC, Fox News, MSNBC, Glenn Greenwald, CNN

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

Norman Podhoretz, the editor of the neoconservative magazine Commentary, writes a call to arms called “How to Win World War IV.” For Podhoretz, the US has already won World War III—the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Now, he asserts, it is time to win the war against Islamist terrorism. The US must embrace this war against civilizations, and President Bush must accept that it is his mission “to fight World War IV—the war against militant Islam.” To win this war, Podhoretz writes, the nations of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea must be overthrown, but also Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority. Bush must reject the “timorous counsels” of the “incorrigibly cautious Colin Powell [and] find the stomach to impose a new political culture on the defeated” Islamic world. The 9/11 attacks caused the US to destroy the Afghan Taliban in the process of battling al-Qaeda, Podhoretz writes: “We may willy-nilly find ourselves forced… to topple five or six or seven more tyrannies in the Islamic world (including that other sponsor of terrorism, Yasir Arafat’s Palestinian Authority). I can even [imagine] the turmoil of this war leading to some new species of an imperial mission for America, whose purpose would be to oversee the emergence of successor governments in the region more amenable to reform and modernization than the despotisms now in place.… I can also envisage the establishment of some kind of American protectorate over the oil fields of Saudi Arabia, as we more and more come to wonder why 7,000 princes should go on being permitted to exert so much leverage over us and everyone else.” A year later, conservative pundit Pat Buchanan will explain why Podhoretz wants to so drastically remake the map of the Middle East: “[O]ne nation, one leader, one party. Israel, [Ariel] Sharon, Likud.” [Commentary, 2/2002; American Conservative, 3/24/2003]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Colin Powell, Ariel Sharon, Likud, Patrick Buchanan, Taliban, Norman Podhoretz, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) says he is “gravely concerned” to learn that President Bush “received a warning in August about the threat of hijackers,” referring to a CBS News report revealing that Bush had been warned about a possible hijacking over a month before the 9/11 attacks (see August 6, 2001). Daschle calls on the White House to provide the classified briefing to Congressional investigators. House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) says, using the language of Watergate investigators, “I think what we have to do now is find out what the president, what the White House knew about the events leading up to 9/11, when they knew it, and, most importantly, what was done about it at the time.” White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later write that, as objectionable as the White House finds these statements, “the Democrat who most aroused the ire of the White House and Republicans was New York’s Democratic senator, Hillary Clinton.” Clinton takes the floor of the Senate and says, “We learn today something we might have learned at least eight months ago: that President Bush had been informed last year, before September 11, of a possible al-Qaeda plot to hijack a US airliner.” She displays a New York Post headline that reads, “BUSH KNEW” (see May 15, 2002) and “9/11 BOMBSHELL.” “The president knew what?” Clinton asks. McClellan will write that he and his White House colleagues are “incensed” at Clinton’s rhetoric: “To us, such grandstanding appeared to be a return to the ugly partisan warfare that had come to define Washington and its culture during the 1990s. Politics as war, the innuendo of scandal, and the egregious implication that the president had deliberately neglected the country’s safety—it was all in service of the November election results. All the familiar elements were there. The story and the partisan accusations that followed provided great controversy for the media to cover.” (In this passage, McClellan fails to note that White House political guru Karl Rove had, months before, advised Bush and Republican candidates to use the war to attack Democrats in the November 2002 elections—see January 2002). McClellan will complain that Clinton “had not even bothered to call [the White House] to find out more about the facts behind the headlines before delivering her speech,” and will note: “To us, the disingenuous way the leaders rushed to create a damning story line about the president and his administration crossed a line. Republicans objected vehemently and aggressively in a counteroffensive led by the White House,” with Vice President Dick Cheney calling the Democrats’ questions “incendiary” (see May 16, 2002) and Bush declaring, “Had we any inkling, whatsoever, that terrorists were about to attack our country, we would have moved heaven and earth to protect America.” Bush adds: “And I’m confident that President Clinton would have done the same thing (see September 7, 2003). Any president would have.” McClellan will call Bush’s statement “a gesture toward the rapidly vanishing spirit of bipartisanship.” He will write that Democrats did not, by themselves, break the bipartisanship that had supposedly reigned before CBS broke the news of the August 6 briefing: “Democrats were responding in part to perceived efforts by Republicans seeking political advantage from the president’s aggressive efforts to wage war against Islamist terrorists,” and will note that in 1998, Republicans accused President Clinton of “wagging the dog”—launching military strikes against Iraq to distract the nation from the Monica Lewinsky scandal (see December 16-19, 1998). [McClellan, 2008, pp. 117-118]

Entity Tags: Hillary Clinton, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Tom Daschle, Scott McClellan, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard Gephardt, Karl C. Rove

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In his 2004 book The Politics of Truth, former ambassador Joseph Wilson will reflect that by this time, it has become “clear that there were few forces willing to confront the neoconservative juggernaut” and its drive towards war with Iraq. “They had mastered the art of marketing their policy prescriptions and were aggressive and intimidating in debate. Their strategy, as I discovered, was to make an opening statement, interrupt the person making a different argument, and then filibuster to the end of a five-minute television segment. That domination of the available time, coupled with aggressively stated talking points and ad hominem attacks on the credibility and intelligence of their interlocutors, was designed to leave viewers with the impression these neocon experts were the only ones who knew what they were talking about. After a while, many of the genuine experts on the region, people who had spent their careers living and working in the Arab world, simply refused to subject themselves to such demeaning behavior and retired to the sidelines.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 292]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence, Domestic Propaganda

According to deputy press secretary Scott McClellan, the White House is in the midst of a large and widespread effort to manipulate public opinion in favor of the impending invasion of Iraq. Writing in 2008, McClellan will note: “[President] Bush and the White House were engaging in a carefully orchestrated campaign to shape and manipulate sources of public approval to our advantage. We’d done much the same on other issues—tax cuts and education—to great success. But war with Iraq was different. Beyond the irreversible human costs and the substantial financial price, the decision to go to war and the way we went about selling it would ultimately lead to increased polarization and intensified partisan warfare. Our lack of candor and honesty in making the case for war would later provoke a partisan response from our opponents that, in its own way, further distorted and obscured a more nuanced reality.… And through it all, the media would serve as complicit enablers. Their primary focus would be in covering the campaign to sell the war, rather than aggressively questioning the rationale behind the war in pursuing the truth behind it. The White House knew the national media would cover its arguments for war even if the underlying evidence was a little shaky. Questions ought to be raised, but the administration had the biggest platform, especially when something as dramatic and controversial as war was at stake. And the public is generally inclined to believe what the White House says, or at least give it the benefit of the doubt until the watchdog media proves it is unreliable. But in this case, the media would neglect their watchdog role, focusing less on truth and accuracy and more on whether the campaign was succeeding.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 125-126] Writing in hindsight, McClellan will continue: “In the permanent campaign era, it was all about manipulating sources of public opinion to the president’s advantage. Of course, I didn’t see it that way at the time. Like most if not all of those involved, I viewed it as the way things were done to advance the broader agenda—simply part of the way Washington governed. I didn’t pause to think about the potential consequences of our campaign to manipulate the public debate. When you are caught up in the intense day-to-day experience of the White House and Washington, your focus is on winning the daily battles, which makes it extremely difficult to step back and have a clear-eyed perspective on the broader meaning of it all.… Today, the fatal flaws of the administration’s strategy are apparent. Bush’s team confused the political propaganda campaign with the realities of the war-making campaign. We were more focused on creating a sense of gravity and urgency about the threat from Saddam Hussein than governing on the basis of the truths of the situation.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 134-135]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Scott McClellan, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Dennis Pluchinsky, a senior intelligence analyst with the Diplomatic Security Service in the State Department, pens an op-ed for the Washington Post that begins, “I accuse the media in the United States of treason.” Pluchinsky describes himself as a veteran “threat analyst” with 25 years of government experience. He writes that the media has no business reporting on any supposed “intelligence failures” surrounding the 9/11 attacks, calling himself “appalled and confused by many of the post-9/11 articles published at home and abroad, in newspapers, news magazines and academic journals, as well as on the Internet.”
Doing Research for Terrorists - Those articles identify the nation’s weak spots, Pluchinsky argues: “our food supply, electrical grids, chemical plants, trucking industry, ports, borders, airports, special events, and cruise ships.” Terrorists would have no trouble gleaning useful tactical details from some of the articles, he says. Worse, “[n]o terrorist group that I am aware of has the time and manpower to conduct this type of extensive research on a multitude of potential targets. Our news media, and certain think tankers and academicians, have done and continue to do the target vulnerability research for them.” America is at war, Pluchinsky argues, and therefore the media must support the government in that war. He writes that some current media reporting is equivalent to giving actionable information to “Japanese and Nazi saboteurs and fifth columnists” during World War II. There is a wealth of open-source information out there already, Pluchinsky writes; the media should not add to it and thereby make terrorists’ jobs even easier.
Media Reporting on 9/11 Hijackers Aiding Terrorists - Pluchinsky writes that the media’s extensive reporting on the 9/11 hijackers—their entries into the US, their movements and actions once in the country—have done nothing but aid future terrorists. These future terrorists will learn from their predecessors’ mistakes, Pluchinsky believes. Indeed, he asserts, media reports on earlier terrorists such as Ramzi Yousef (see April 2, 1993) likely helped the 9/11 terrorists with their plans.
Only Quote Certain Government Officials - In many cases, he writes, reporters should only interview government sources who will exercise caution in giving possibly useful information to those reporters, and refuse to quote experts and specialists from oversight groups, unions, or even private technicians or consultants. “[I]f not for the media, terrorist groups would have no access to the insights and wisdom of these people,” he writes.
Instead of Reporting News, Inform Government - Instead of writing about it in public forums, Pluchinsky recommends that reporters who believe they have found evidence of vulnerability inform someone in “the proposed Department of Homeland Security” or other government agency.
'Patriotism,' Not 'Censorship' - He writes: “A skeptic would call this censorship; a patriot would call it cooperation. This type of cooperation existed during World War II and believe me, this current war is a ‘world war’ also.” The media would win the “Osama bin Laden award” if al-Qaeda gave one out, he states.
Government Must Enforce Censorship - “This type of reporting—carrying specifics about US vulnerabilities—must be stopped or censored,” he concludes. He recommends that “the Department of Homeland Security establish a program where academicians, reporters, think tankers, or any citizen could contact the department and inform them of security vulnerabilities. If the department determined that these vulnerabilities indeed existed, then it could award ‘Homeland Security Protective Security’ certificates to individuals or ‘Homeland Security Gold Stars’ to newspaper or Internet sites that put the country first during a time of war. If displayed on its banner, this star might increase circulation.” The government should “temporarily restrict… the media from publishing any security information that can be used by our enemies. This was necessary during World War II, it is necessary now. These restrictions were backed by the American public during World War II, and I believe the public would support them now.” In World War II, the slogan was, “Loose lips sink ships,” he reminds his readers. He suggests another slogan for today: “Prolific pens propagate terrorist plots.” [Washington Post, 6/16/2002]
So Extreme It Seems Like Satire, Critic Notes - Liberal pundit Jim Hightower later responds that Pluchinsky’s article is so extreme that he first thought it was satire. After realizing that Pluchinsky is serious, Hightower will note: “Osama’s troops are fairly savvy zealots who figured out how to fly commercial airliners into big buildings, so they already seem to have a pretty clear grasp of our vulnerabilities. It’s not like they’re waiting for Wolf Blitzer to identify targets for them!” A true patriot would not call Pluchinsky’s recommendations “patriotism,” Hightower concludes, “a patriot would call it stupid.” [Austin Chronicle, 7/12/2002]
Method for Hiding Incompetence - Time’s James Poniewozik attempts to take Pluchinsky’s recommendations more seriously than Hightower, and reminds readers that the same open-source information available to terrorists is also available to government officials, law-enforcement officials, and private citizens who can use that information to help counter future attacks. He also points out that Pluchinsky’s uncritical reliance on government officials to use the knowledge given to it by trusting reporters for the public good flies in the face of what we know of the government’s response to the 9/11 attacks. Indeed, Poniewozik writes, adopting Pluchinsky’s recommendations would do little more than give government officials a shield behind which to hide their errors, miscalculations, and outright incompetence. [Time, 6/18/2002] And the Toronto Star’s Lynda Hurst will observe, “[W]arnings work both ways: If anybody had written about the possibility of terrorists taking flying lessons, that alone might have put a wrench into 9/11.” [Toronto Star, 9/8/2002]

Entity Tags: Diplomatic Security Service, Dennis Pluchinsky, Jim Hightower, US Department of Homeland Security, James Poniewozik, Lynda Hurst, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Richard Shelby (R-AL), the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, leaks highly classified information to Fox News political correspondent Carl Cameron just minutes after his committee learns it in a closed-door hearing with NSA Director Michael Hayden, according to later testimony. Shelby learns that telephone calls intercepted by the NSA on September 10, 2001 warned of an imminent al-Qaeda attack, but the agency failed to translate the intercepts until September 12, the day after the 9/11 attacks (see September 10, 2001). Cameron does not report the story, but instead gives the material to CNN reporter Dana Bash. A half-hour after Cameron’s meeting with Bash, CNN broadcasts the story, citing “two Congressional sources” in its report. CNN does not identify Shelby as a source. Moments after the broadcast, a CIA official upbraids committee members who have by then reconvened to continue the hearing. USA Today and the Washington Post publish more detailed stories on the NSA intercepts the next day. White House and intelligence community officials will quickly claim that the leak proves Congress cannot be trusted with classified information, but experts in electronic surveillance will later say the information about the NSA’s intercepts contains nothing harmful because it does not reveal the source of the information or the methods used to gather it. [Washington Post, 8/5/2004; National Journal, 2/15/2007] The next day, a furious Vice President Dick Cheney will threaten Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) with termination of the White House’s cooperation with the 9/11 Congressional inquiry unless Graham and his House Intelligence Committee counterpart, Porter Goss (R-FL), push for an investigation (see June 20, 2002). Shelby will deny any involvement in the leak (see August 5, 2004).

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Carl Cameron, CNN, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Al-Qaeda, Dana Bash, Michael Hayden, Richard Shelby, Senate Intelligence Committee, USA Today, Washington Post, Porter J. Goss, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Fox News

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Vice President Dick Cheney phones Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Bob Graham (D-FL). Cheney’s call comes early in the morning, and Graham takes it while still shaving. Cheney is agitated; he has just read in the newspaper that telephone calls intercepted by the NSA on September 10, 2001 warned of an imminent al-Qaeda attack. But, the story continues, the intercepts were not translated until September 12, the day after the 9/11 attacks (see September 10, 2001). Cheney is enraged that someone leaked the classified information from the NSA intercepts to the press. As a result, Cheney says, the Bush administration is considering terminating all cooperation with the joint inquiry by the Senate and House Intelligence Committees on the government’s failure to predict and prevent the attacks (see September 18, 2002). (Graham co-chairs the inquiry.) Classified records would no longer be made available to the committees, and administration witnesses would not be available for interviews or testimony. Furthermore, Cheney says, unless the committee leaders take action to find out who leaked the information, and more importantly, take steps to ensure that such leaks never happen again, President Bush will tell the citizenry that Congress cannot be trusted with vital national security secrets. “Take control of the situation,” Cheney tells Graham. The senator responds that he, too, is frustrated with the leaks, but Cheney is unwilling to be mollified.
Quick Capitulation - At 7:30 a.m., Graham meets with the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Porter Goss (R-FL), and the ranking members of the committees, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL, who will later be accused of leaking the information) and Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). They decide to request that the Justice Department conduct a criminal inquiry into whether anyone on either committee, member or staffer, leaked the information to the press. One participant in the meeting later says, “It was a hastily made decision, made out of a sense of panic… and by people with bleary eyes.” Another person involved in the decision later recalls: “There was a real concern that any meaningful oversight by Congress was very much at stake. The political dynamic back then—not that long after September 11—was completely different. They took Cheney’s threats very seriously.” In 2007, reporter Murray Waas will observe that Cheney and other administration officials saw the leak “as an opportunity to undercut Congressional oversight and possibly restrict the flow of classified information to Capitol Hill.”
Graham: Congress Victimized by White House 'Set Up' - In 2007, after his retirement from politics, Graham will say: “Looking back at it, I think we were clearly set up by Dick Cheney and the White House. They wanted to shut us down. And they wanted to shut down a legitimate Congressional inquiry that might raise questions in part about whether their own people had aggressively pursued al-Qaeda in the days prior to the September 11 attacks. The vice president attempted to manipulate the situation, and he attempted to manipulate us.… But if his goal was to get us to back off, he was unsuccessful.” Graham will add that Goss shared his concerns, and say that in 2003, he speculates to Goss that the White House had set them up in order to sabotage the joint inquiry; according to Graham, Goss will respond, “I often wondered that myself.” Graham will go on to say that he believes the NSA leak was not only promulgated by a member of Congress, but by White House officials as well; he will base his belief on the fact that Washington Post and USA Today reports contain information not disclosed during the joint committee hearing. “That would lead a reasonable person to infer the administration leaked as well,” he will say, “or what they were doing was trying to set us up… to make this an issue which they could come after us with.”
White House Goes Public - The same day, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer tells reporters, “The president [has] very deep concerns about anything that would be inappropriately leaked that could… harm our ability to maintain sources and methods and anything else that could interfere with America’s ability to fight the war on terrorism.”
Investigation Will Point to Senate Republican - An investigation by the Justice Department will determine that the leak most likely came from Shelby, but Shelby will deny leaking the intercepts, and the Senate Ethics Committee will decline to pursue the matter (see August 5, 2004). [National Journal, 2/15/2007]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Ari Fleischer, House Intelligence Committee, Nancy Pelosi, Senate Ethics Committee, Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Shelby, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Porter J. Goss, US Department of Justice, Murray Waas

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Entifadh Qanbar, a lobbyist for the Iraqi National Congress (INC), sends a memo to the staff of the Senate Appropriations Committee, in which he provides information about a State Department-funded intelligence program, known as the “information-collection program,” run by the INC (see September 2004-September 2006). Qanbar, who says he is the overall manager of the group, states in the memo that under the program, “defectors, reports and raw intelligence are cultivated and analyzed,” and “the results are reported through the INC newspaper (Al Mutamar), the Arabic and Western media and to appropriate governmental, nongovernmental and international agencies.” Information is also passed on to William Luti, who will later run the Office of Special Plans (see September 2002), and John Hannah, a senior national-security aide on Cheney’s staff, who Qunbar describes as the “principal point of contact.” [Newsweek, 12/15/2003; New York Times, 2/12/2004 Sources: Memo] The memo provides a description of some of the people involved in the group and their activities. It says that the analytical group includes five analysts with a background in Iraq’s military, Iraq’s intelligence services and human rights. One person, a consultant, monitors the Iraqi government’s alleged efforts to develop banned weapons. The five analysts process information and write reports, which are sent to Al Mutamar, the INC’s newspaper, as well as the US government and many mainstream news organizations. Qanbar says that the information-collection program issued 30 reports between August 2001 and June 2002, which were sent to Al Mutamar. (Al Mutamar is only available inside Iraq on the Internet; the effectiveness of other government-funded projects to disseminate propaganda inside Iraq could not be proven, and may not have ever existed.) According to the memo, the group published 28 private reports in collaboration with the INC’s headquarters in London. The memo reveals that between October 2001 and May 2002, information provided by the INC was cited in 108 articles published by a variety of English-language news publications, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time, Newsweek, the New Yorker, CNN, Fox News, and several others. [New York Times, 2/12/2004; New Yorker, 6/7/2004; Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004] New York Daily News reporter Helen Kennedy will say in 2004, “The INC’s agenda was to get us into a war.” Kennedy’s name appears on Qanbar’s list. “The really damaging stories all came from those guys, not the CIA. They did a really sophisticated job of getting it out there.” Bob Drogin of the Los Angeles Times will say, “I think something that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention is how [the INC] used the British press to plant a lot of this stuff, some of it pretty outlandish.” British journalist Jamie Dettmer points the finger the other way. “I’ve been utterly appalled by the lack of skepticism about this entire Iraq project and the war on terrorism” in the press. When Dettmer learns that his name is on the list, he shouts, “Complete bollocks!” Other journalists on the list will refuse to admit that they were duped by the INC, even though some of their stories contain extensive interviews and dramatic claims from INC sources that were later disproven. Qanbar will say, “We did not provide information. We provided defectors. We take no position on them. It’s up to you reporters to decide if they are credible or not.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004]

Entity Tags: Iraqi National Congress, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Entifadh Qanbar, Memo

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

White House chief of staff Andrew Card forms the White House Iraq Group, or WHIG, which aims to “educate the public” about the alleged threat from Iraq. WHIG is formed concurrently with the Office of Special Plans (see September 2002). A senior official involved with the group will later describe it as “an internal working group, like many formed for priority issues, to make sure each part of the White House was fulfilling its responsibilities.” [Washington Post, 8/10/2003] According to White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan, the WHIG is “set up in the summer of 2002 to coordinate the marketing of the [Iraq] war,” and will continue “as a strategic communications group after the invasion had toppled Saddam [Hussein]‘s regime.” McClellan, who will become a full-fledged member of the WHIG after rising to the position of senior press secretary, will write: “Some critics have suggested that sinister plans were discussed at the WHIG meetings to deliberately mislead the public. Not so. There were plenty of discussions about how to set the agenda and influence the narrative, but there was no conspiracy to intentionally deceive. Instead, there were straightforward discussions of communications strategies and messaging grounded in the familiar tactics of the permanent campaign.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 142] Author Craig Unger will sum up the WHIG’s purpose up more bluntly: “to sell the war.” Members of the group include White House political advisers Karl Rove, Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, James R. Wilkinson, and Nicholas E. Calio, and policy advisers led by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, her deputy Stephen Hadley, and Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. They meet weekly in the White House Situation Room. A “strategic communications” task force under the WHIG is charged with planning speeches and writing position papers. [Washington Post, 8/10/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 241]
Marketing Fear, Idea of Invasion as Reasonable - After Labor Day 2002—and after suitable test marketing—the group launches a full-fledged media marketing campaign. The images and storyline are simple and visceral: imminent biological or chemical attack, threats of nuclear holocaust, Saddam Hussein as a psychopathic dictator who can only be stopped by American military force. A key element of the narrative is forged documents “proving” Iraq sought uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 18, 2001, November 20, 2001, February 5, 2002, March 1, 2002, Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002, and Late June 2002). One of the main objectives is to swing the dialogue ever farther to the right, creating the assumption in the public mind that war with Iraq is a thoughtful, moderate, well-reasoned position, and delegitimizing any opposition. To that end, Cheney stakes out the “moderate” position, with statements like “many of us are convinced that Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon” (see August 26, 2002), and neoconservatives such as Michael Ledeen pushing the extremes ever rightward with calls to invade not only Iraq, but Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia (see September 20, 2001, August 6, 2002, and September 4, 2002). The real push is delayed until the second week of September. As Card reminds the group, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August” (see September 6, 2002). The first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is a perfect opportunity to launch the new campaign (see September 8, 2002). [Unger, 2007, pp. 250-251] Wilkinson, the group’s communications director, is tasked with preparing one of the group’s first public releases, a white paper that will describe the “grave and gathering danger” of Iraq’s “reconstituted” nuclear weapons program. Wilkinson will claim that Iraq “sought uranium oxide, an essential ingredient in the enrichment process, from Africa.” [CounterPunch, 11/9/2005]
'Push[ing] the Envelope' - According to an intelligence source interviewed by the New York Daily News in October 2005, the group, on “a number of occasions,” will attempt “to push the envelope on things.… The [CIA] would say, ‘We just don’t have the intelligence to substantiate that.’” [New York Daily News, 10/19/2005] In 2003, three unnamed officials will tell a Washington Post reporter that the group “wanted gripping images and stories not available in the hedged and austere language of intelligence,” what author and reporter Charlie Savage will call “a stark display of the political benefits that come with the power to control information.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 357] In 2008, McClellan will write of “the heightened rhetoric on Iraq, including unequivocal statements that made things sound more certain than was known.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 137]
Using Friendly Media Outlets - An important part of the WHIG strategy is to feed their messages to friendly journalists, such as New York Times reporter Judith Miller. James Bamford, in his book A Pretext for War, will write: “First OSP [Office of Special Plans] supplies false or exaggerated intelligence; then members of the WHIG leak it to friendly reporters, complete with prepackaged vivid imagery; finally, when the story breaks, senior officials point to it as proof and parrot the unnamed quotes they or their colleagues previously supplied.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 325]

Entity Tags: Stephen J. Hadley, Scott McClellan, Saddam Hussein, Nicholas E. Calio, White House Iraq Group, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Condoleezza Rice, Mary Matalin, Andrew Card, Craig Unger, James Bamford, Charlie Savage, Karen Hughes, James R. Wilkinson, Karl C. Rove

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

In 2007, author Craig Unger will observe that during the eight months of the administration’s strongest push for war with Iraq (between August 2002 and March 2003), the Washington Post runs about 190 front-page articles making the administration’s case for war, and 27 pro-war editorials—about one every nine days. Antiwar reports are given much less coverage. When 100,000 people march against the war in Washington, the largest antiwar demonstration since the Vietnam War, the Post buries the story in its Metro section. The Post is joined in slanting its coverage by other newspapers and even more openly on network and cable news broadcasts. Saddam Hussein is routinely, and effectively, conflated with 9/11, and the “smoking gun-mushroom cloud” trope (see September 4, 2002) is reported over and over again in TV news broadcasts. Unger will call it the “all fear all the time” campaign (see August 2002). By late September 2002, over half of Americans polled believe that Saddam was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and 72 percent believe that Saddam will attack the US with chemical or biological weapons. Republican pollster David Winston explains, “The reaction that you’re getting from the American people is, for the first time, their personal safety and security is threatened in a way that it’s never been before, and they want action.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 255-256]

Entity Tags: Washington Post, Craig Unger, Saddam Hussein, David Winston

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

Washington Post syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, speaking on “Inside Washington” in a discussion with fellow Post columnist Charlie King and Post military reporter Thomas Ricks, argues in favor of the Bush administration’s policy on Iraq. At one point, moderator Gordan Petersons asks what the US should do after deposing Saddam Hussein. Krauthammer responds: “We don’t speak about exit strategies; this is not Bosnia, or Haiti, or the Balkans. This is very important, everybody understands it, we are not going to run away. We are going to get there, and we are going to stay. We are going to try to make a reasonably civil society, reasonably pro-American, a good influence on the neighbors, and disarmed. That’s a large undertaking, and I think we are absolutely [unintelligible] everybody who is supporting the war or the invasion is in favor of staying and doing the job.” When Thomas Ricks notes that Krauthammer’s proposal would involve nine of the US Army’s ten active-duty divisions, he counters, “That assumption is entirely unwarranted. I think we will be accepted as liberators, as we were in Afghanistan.” He also shoots down a comment from Peterson referring to the cost of invading Iraq. “If we win the war, we are in control of Iraq, it is the single largest source of oil in the world, it’s got huge reserves, which have been suppressed because of Iraq’s actions, and Saddam’s. We will have a bonanza, a financial one, at the other end, if the war is successful,” Krauthammer explains. [WUSATV, 8/3/2002; Unger, 2007, pp. 289]

Entity Tags: Charlie King, Charles Krauthhammer, Thomas Ricks, Washington Post

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Jeff Cohen.Jeff Cohen. [Source: Jeff Cohen]Jeff Cohen, the founder of the media watchdog organization Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) and a former producer for MSNBC talk show host Phil Donahue, loses almost all of his airtime on the network as the Iraq invasion approaches. Cohen, once a frequent guest on MSNBC’s various opinion and commentary shows, will reflect in his 2006 book Cable News Confidential that he argued passionately against invading Iraq, using “every possible argument that might sway mainstream viewers—no real threat, cost, instability.” However, as the run-up to war progresses, he is no longer allowed on the air. He will write: “There was no room for me after MSNBC launched ‘Countdown: Iraq’—a daily one-hour show that seemed more keen on glamorizing a potential war than scrutinizing or debating it. ‘Countdown: Iraq’ featured retired colonels and generals, sometimes resembling boys with war toys as they used props, maps and glitzy graphics to spin invasion scenarios. They reminded me of pumped-up ex-football players doing pre-game analysis and diagramming plays. It was excruciating to be sidelined at MSNBC, watching so many non-debates in which myth and misinformation were served up unchallenged.” In 2008, Cohen will write: “It was bad enough to be silenced. Much worse to see that these ex-generals—many working for military corporations—were never in debates, nor asked a tough question by an anchor.” Cohen’s recollections will be bolstered by a 2008 New York Times investigation that documents a systematic, well-organized media manipulation program by the Pentagon that successfully sells the war to the media and the American public by using so-called “independent military analysts” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). While the Times article focuses primarily on the analysts and their Pentagon handlers, Cohen says that an equal portion of blame belongs to the media outlets themselves. “The biggest villain here is not Rumsfeld nor the Pentagon,” Cohen writes. “It’s the TV networks. In the land of the First Amendment, it was their choice to shut down debate and journalism. No government agency forced MSNBC to repeatedly feature the hawkish generals unopposed. Or fire Phil Donahue. Or smear weapons expert Scott Ritter. Or blacklist former attorney general Ramsey Clark. It was top NBC/MSNBC execs, not the Feds, who imposed a quota system on the Donahue staff requiring two pro-war guests if we booked one anti-war advocate—affirmative action for hawks.… [T]he major TV networks… were not hoodwinked by a Pentagon propaganda scheme. They were willingly complicit, and have been for decades.” [Truthout (.org), 4/28/2008]

Entity Tags: Phil Donahue, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Donald Rumsfeld, Jeff Cohen, New York Times, MSNBC, Scott Ritter, NBC, Ramsey Clark, US Department of Defense

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

White House officials, in interviews with the New York Times, describe the administration’s strategy to convince the public, Congress, and US allies of the need to confront Iraq. They say the centerpiece of the strategy will be Bush’s September 11 speech at Ellis Island in New York Harbor, which they have been planning since at least June. (The speech will not actually make a case for confronting Iraq. Bush will first make his case to the nation in his October 7 speech (see February 20, 2001).) Explaining why the White House did not launch this effort in August when the administration’s plans came under intense criticism from a number of different quarters, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card tells the New York Times, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.” Card is the founding member of the White House Iraq Group (see August 2002 and June 9, 2008), which was formed to “educate the public” on the alleged threat from Iraq. The officials also tell the Times that one of the administration’s goals is for Congress to pass a resolution approving the use of force in Iraq within the next four to five weeks. “In the end it will be difficult for someone to vote against it,” one administration official tells the Times. [New York Times, 9/7/2002] In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write: “The proposed hurry-up vote on the eve of the first election since 9/11 presented a win-win scenario for the White House: If Democrats voice caution or skepticism about the proposed war resolution (see October 11, 2002), then the GOP could portray them as weak on terrorism ahead of the election, and if Democrats supported the bill, then the Bush-Cheney administration would fortify its powers by eliminating even the suggestion that it might later need to ask for permission to launch any war against Iraq” (see August 2002). By mid-September, Republican Congressional candidates will make Iraq a central issue of their campaigns, proclaiming unwavering support for Bush and attacking their Democratic opponents. In New Mexico, Republican House candidate Mike Pence will say of his opponent, John Arthur Smith, who is still considering whether or not to support the invasion, “While Smith ‘reflects’ on the situation, the possibility of a mushroom cloud hovering over a US city (see September 4, 2002) remains.” In Minnesota, Republican Senate candidate Norm Coleman will attack Democratic incumbent Paul Wellstone for refusing to “stand with the president.” Similar tactics will be used in campaigns around the country. As a result, almost every Democrat facing re-election joins Republicans in supporting the war authorization. Savage will write, “Thus, even though the Founders wanted Congress to make the final decision about when the United States should go to war, lawmakers abdicated their responsibility and delegated their power to the president.” [USA Today, 10/13/2002; Savage, 2007, pp. 156-157]

Entity Tags: Norm Coleman, Mike Pence, Andrew Card, White House Iraq Group, Bush administration (43), John Arthur Smith, Charlie Savage, Paul Wellstone

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

The White House Iraq Group (WHIG—see August 2002) launches its Iraq marketing campaign with a blitz of the Sunday morning talk shows. Vice President Dick Cheney appears on NBC (see September 8, 2002 and September 8, 2002), Secretary of State Colin Powell on Fox (see September 8, 2002), Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on CBS (see September 8, 2002), and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice on CNN (see September 8, 2002). Rice is the first to use the characterization, “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud” (see September 4, 2002), but President Bush and his senior officials repeat the phrase over and over in the following days. Author Craig Unger will note “Cheney’s most Machiavellian flourish” in having all four officials cite “evidence” of Iraq’s nuclear program, suspicious aluminum tubes, and attribute the information to the New York Times. Cheney and the others are referring to a story by the Times’ Judith Miller and Michael Gordon (see September 8, 2002) that Iraq had tried “to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes” that American experts believe could be used in centrifuges to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. The story is attributed to “unnamed administration sources;” Miller and Gordon do not inform their readers that the story comes from Cheney’s office. In essence, Cheney planted disinformation in the New York Times, then cited the Times article to prove his contention. Gordon will later insist that he and Miller had to pry that story out of the administration, but Unger will note that it is hard to equate Gordon’s contention with four of the administration’s highest officials going on television simultaneously to spread the story and cite the Times article. Furthermore, because of the scheduling practices on the four networks, it appears that the four officials’ simultaneous appearances were arranged in advance. As the Times is the flagship newspaper of the US press, over 500 other newspapers and broadcast outlets pick up on the Times story and the officials’ appearances, giving the story tremendous visibility throughout the world. [Unger, 2007, pp. 252-254]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, CNN, CBS News, Craig Unger, Judith Miller, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, NBC News, New York Times, Michael Gordon, White House Iraq Group, Fox News

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Toronto Star reporter Lynda Hurst examines the US media’s coverage of foreign affairs after 9/11, and concludes that while the media generally intensified its coverage of foreign events and issues after the terrorist attacks, that burst of coverage was short-lived, giving way to the usual focus on sensationalistic celebrity and “true crime” stories, and to a fixation on retaliation and revenge for the attacks. In-depth reporting was shelved in favor of superficial reporting on battle tactics in Afghanistan and prominent displays of flag pins and red-white-and-blue bunting. “In the first few days [after the attacks], they performed a Herculean task and did an epochal job,” says Vince Carlin, an American-born Canadian media executive and chair of the journalism school at Ryerson University. However, the media did not follow through with its initial focus, he says. Within weeks, any attempts to analyze or understand the myriad issues surrounding the terrorist attacks—what Hurst calls “the ‘other’ side of the story”—were, she writes, “subsumed by the demands of… Bush’s with-us-or-against-us war on terrorism.” Carlin notes: “Evil is evil. When something is demonized, there’s no need to analyze it. In that, Bush reflects a fairly broad spectrum of the population.” With the notable exception of the New York Times, Carlin says that the same thinking is in place today: “Americans were not noted for their interest in the rest of the world before 9/11 and they’re not interested after. There are all sorts of places in the world they should be looking at, but they’re not.” Carlin cites the example of ABC News anchor Peter Jennings, whose Canadian ancestry was of little import to viewers before the attacks. Afterwards, Carlin says, when Jennings “tried to bring a more sophisticated approach to the broadcast,” ABC producers “were warned off and went back to cheerleading.” CBS news anchor Dan Rather recently observed, “The fear of being accused of lacking patriotism keeps journalists from asking the toughest of tough questions.” [Toronto Star, 9/8/2002]

Entity Tags: Dan Rather, Lynda Hurst, New York Times, Peter Jennings, Vince Carlin

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

National Public Radio (NPR) learns of the administration’s tough approach to what it calls a pattern of information leaks from Congress and government employees. The FBI is investigating a number of Congressmen who are suspected of leaking information about the administration’s Iraq policies to the press (regardless of the presumption that members of Congress have the right to reveal unclassified information as they see fit), but the administration wants more from the FBI than questioning legislators. The administration is pushing the FBI to administer lie detector tests to legislators and federal employees it suspects of talking to reporters. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wants to jail leakers who work for the government. And one of Rumsfeld’s analysts has suggested that police SWAT teams be sent to reporters’ homes to help find leakers. [Unger, 2007, pp. 256] By August 2002, the FBI also questioned nearly all senators and congresspeople making up the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry to uncover which one of them leaked information to the press (see August 2, 2002).

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Public Radio, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) delivers an impassioned speech at Johns Hopkins University raising questions about the upcoming war with Iraq: “I have come here today to express my view that America should not go to war against Iraq unless and until other reasonable alternatives are exhausted,” he says. Kennedy questions the rationale behind the administration’s claims of Iraqi perfidy: “I have heard no persuasive evidence that Saddam is on the threshold of acquiring the nuclear weapons he has sought for more than 20 years. And the administration has offered no persuasive evidence that Saddam would transfer chemical or biological weapons of mass destruction to al-Qaeda.” Kennedy warns of the possible calamitous aftereffects of a US invasion: “War with Iraq before a genuine attempt at inspection and disarmament, without genuine international support, could swell the ranks of al-Qaeda with sympathizers and trigger an escalation in terrorist acts.” Kennedy’s speech is virtually ignored by the mainstream media. Author and media commentator Eric Boehlert later says, “[The] Washington Post gave that speech one sentence. Thirty-six words. I calculated in 2002, the Washington Post probably published 1,000 articles and columns about Iraq. Probably one million words, in excess of one million words. And one of the most famous Democrats in the country raised questions about the war, the Washington Post set aside 36 words.” [CNN, 9/27/2002; CommonDreams, 9/30/2002; PBS, 4/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Saddam Hussein, Washington Post, Eric Boehlert

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Right-wing pundit Ann Coulter says on Fox News that Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), who has criticized the administration’s attempts to push the country towards war (see September 27, 2002), is a member of something she calls the “treason lobby.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 256]

Entity Tags: Fox News, Ann Coulter, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

George Will.George Will. [Source: Washington Policy Group]Conservative columnist George Will calls two anti-war House Democrats “American collaborators” working with Saddam Hussein, either implicitly or directly. Will singles out Representatives Jim McDermott (D-WA) and David Bonior (D-MI) for criticism because of their opposition to the impending Iraq invasion. Will compares the two to World War II propaganda maven William Joyce, the British citizen who earned the sobriquet “Lord Haw Haw” for his pro-Nazi diatribes on the radio, and goes on to observe that McDermott and Bonior provided a spectacle unseen by Americans “since Jane Fonda posed for photographers at a Hanoi anti-aircraft gun” during the Vietnam War. McDermott and Bonior became a target for Will’s wrath by saying they doubted the Bush administration’s veracity in its assertions that Iraq has large stashes of WMD, but believed Iraqi officials’ promises to allow UN inspectors free rein to look for such weapons caches. “I think you have to take the Iraqis on their value—at face value,” McDermott told reporters in recent days, but went on to say, “I think the president [Bush] would mislead the American people.”
Leninist 'Useful Idiots' - After comparing the two to Joyce and Fonda, Will extends his comparison to Bolshevik Russia, writing: “McDermott and Bonior are two specimens of what Lenin, referring to Westerners who denied the existence of Lenin’s police-state terror, called ‘useful idiots.’” Will also adds UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in this last category, compares Annan with British “appeaser” Neville Chamberlain for good measure, and labels him “Saddam’s servant.”
Slamming Democrats for Not Supporting War - Will saves the bulk of his ire for the accusations by McDermott and Bonior that Bush officials might be lying or misrepresenting the threat of Iraqi WMD, and adds former Vice President Al Gore to the mix. “McDermott’s accusation that the president—presumably with Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld, Rice, and others as accomplices—would use deceit to satisfy his craving to send young Americans into an unnecessary war is a slander licensed six days earlier by Al Gore,” Will writes. Extending his comparisons to the Watergate era, Will adds, “With transparent Nixonian trickiness—being transparent, it tricks no one—Gore all but said the president is orchestrating war policy for political gain in November.” Will accuses Gore and other Democrats of what he calls “moral infantilism” because they voted to support the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act (see October 31, 1998). Will returns to his complaints about the Democratic congressmen in his conclusion: “McDermott’s and Bonior’s espousal of Saddam’s line, and of Gore’s subtext (and Barbra Streisand’s libretto), signals the recrudescence of the dogmatic distrust of US power that virtually disqualified the Democratic Party from presidential politics for a generation. It gives the benefits of all doubts to America’s enemies and reduces policy debates to accusations about the motives of Americans who would project US power in the world. Conservative isolationism—America is too good for the world—is long dead. Liberal isolationism—the world is too good for America—is flourishing.” [Washington Post, 10/1/2002]

Entity Tags: George Will, Jim McDermott, David Bonior

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

Reporter Jonathan Landay will recall being surprised about the superficial evidence in the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002), particularly the evidence regarding the aluminum tubes that were supposedly for nuclear weapons production. Landay says: “I got my copy [of the unclassified version—see October 4, 2002], and I opened it up and I came to the part that talked about the aluminum tubes. Now, it said that the majority of analysts believed that those tubes were for the nuclear weapons program. It turns out, though, that that majority of intelligence analysts had no background in nuclear weapons.… So, here was yet another building block in this chain of building blocks that we had collected over these months about what they were saying to the public, and what the intelligence was actually telling them. And, there were differences. Some of them were nuanced. Some of them were quite large. But, it became quite apparent that they were grabbing just about anything they could to make the case for going to war in Iraq.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Jonathan Landay

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Fox News is the only national television news broadcaster to cover a speech by President Bush on Iraq. Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh calls the lack of coverage by other broadcasters the “final confirmation” of liberal bias among the news media. “If there was any remaining doubt about the networks’ editorial bias and ideological preferences,” he tells his listeners, “there shouldn’t be any longer.” [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 149-150]

Entity Tags: Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Saxby Chambliss celebrates his victory over Max Cleland.Saxby Chambliss celebrates his victory over Max Cleland. [Source: USA Today]Incumbent Senator Max Cleland (D-GA) angrily defends himself against a television ad that implies he lacks patriotism. Cleland is a triple amputee, having lost both legs and an arm in a grenade explosion in Vietnam. The television ad is sponsored by the campaign of Saxby Chambliss, a House Republican who did not himself serve in Vietnam. The Chambliss ad puts pictures of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein next to Cleland’s, and accuses Cleland of being soft on homeland security. Cleland favors the creation of a Department of Homeland Security (see November 25, 2002), but will not vote for a bill creating such an entity without an amendment guaranteeing labor rights for federal workers. Cleland has also advocated a more deliberate approach to dealing with Hussein instead of joining the push to invade Iraq, and favors the resumption of open UN inspections. “To put my picture up there with Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden and insinuate I’m not fighting hard enough for national security, I just find that this is an incredible low in Georgia politics,” Cleland says. Chambliss retorts, “Georgians deserve to know—all Americans deserve to know—why Max Cleland is more concerned with protecting federal bureaucracy, rules and regulations than creating a department that can respond effectively to future threats of terrorism.” [Associated Press, 10/11/2002; Unger, 2007, pp. 256] Zell Miller (D-GA), Cleland’s fellow Georgian senator, defends Cleland, calling the ad “disgraceful.… [Chambliss] should be ashamed.” Cleland campaign consultant Karl Struble calls the Chambliss ad campaign “some of the ugliest stuff I’ve ever seen.” Nevertheless, the ad is apparently effective; Chambliss makes up a relatively large deficit to defeat Cleland in the November elections. [PBS, 11/6/2002] In 2007, author Craig Unger will write that few voters in Georgia “realized [Cleland’s] views were similar to those held by the president’s father.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 256]

Entity Tags: US Department of Homeland Security, Craig Unger, Saxby Chambliss, Karl Struble, Zell Miller, Max Cleland

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, having broken his decade-long silence on Middle Eastern affairs just months before (see May 2002), pens an op-ed for the San Jose Mercury News titled “How Saddam Thinks.” Wilson warns of a “bloody American invasion and long occupation of Iraq” if President Bush follows up on his threats of “regime change,” with the United Nations failing to derail the US push for war with forceful weapons inspections.
Crucial Lessons of Desert Shield/Desert Storm - “Both the US and UN approaches are dangerously flawed,” he warns. “They ignore crucial lessons we learned in the Persian Gulf War about how Saddam thinks.” If Bush does go to war, Wilson writes, “Saddam [Hussein] will use every weapon in his arsenal to defend himself,” which may well include chemical and biological weapons. “But,” he continues, “history also shows that the less-confrontational approach favored by some on the Security Council—France and Russia—isn’t likely to work, either. Saddam has, after all, repeatedly flouted UN resolutions and ignored its demands to let weapons inspectors back into the country for almost four years.” Wilson recalls listening to Hussein gloat over the prospect of slaughtering American soldiers during Desert Shield (see August 6, 1990), and the difficulties Wilson and his fellow diplomats encountered in persuading Hussein to release hundreds of foreign hostages intended for use as “human shields” (see August 8, 1990).
Hussein a 'Malignant Narcissist' - Wilson writes that “[w]e learned firsthand… what the CIA psychiatrists have said for years: Saddam is an egomaniacal sociopath whose penchant for high-risk gambles is exceeded only by a propensity for miscalculation. Those psychiatrists, who study the characters of world leaders, believe that he suffers from what is popularly called ‘malignant narcissism,’ a sense of self-worth that drives him to act in ways that others would deem irrational, such as invading neighboring countries. But the trait also makes him highly sensitive to direct confrontation and embarrassment, even as he is contemptuous of compromise.”
Confrontation without War - Wilson found that a confrontational, “in your face” approach worked the best in getting the desired results from Hussein (see August 8-9, 1990). Wilson recommends revisiting the techniques that worked during the 1991 Gulf War, incorporating “[a]n aggressive UN-sanctioned campaign to disarm Iraq—bolstered by a militarily supported inspection process—would combine the best of the US and UN approaches, a robust disarmament policy with the international legitimacy the United States seeks.” Wilson continues: “Our message to Saddam can be simple: ‘You are going to lose your weapons of mass destruction capability either through the inspections or through a sustained cruise-missile assault on the 700 suspicious sites the United Nations has already identified. If you rebuild them, we will attack again. And if you use weapons of mass destruction or attack another country in the region, we will destroy you and your regime.’ The decision to live or die then becomes his to make. The ultimate lesson of the Gulf War may be that when offered the choice, Saddam will sacrifice almost everything before sacrificing his own life or grip on power.” [Mercury News (San Jose), 10/13/2002]
Response - Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board chief Brent Scowcroft (see October 16, 2001 and March 2002) asks Wilson if he can “take [the editorial] over to the White House.” Scowcroft says that White House officials need to hear the views of someone who actually has experience with Iraq and with Hussein. Days later, Wilson receives a note from former President George H. W. Bush indicating that he agrees wholeheartedly with Wilson’s position. The op-ed will also garner invitations from a variety of television news shows for Wilson to appear as a commentator. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 295-297]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, George Herbert Walker Bush, Bush administration (43), Brent Scowcroft, Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush, United Nations Security Council

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

Concurrent with the New York Times’s revelation of the existence of the Office of Special Plans (OSP—see October 24, 2002), Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announces the existence of a similar operation, the Counter-Terrorism Evaluation Group (CTEG—see Shortly After September 11, 2001). CTEG has been absorbed into the OSP by this point. The Washington Post will call CTEG “a small team of defense officials outside regular intelligence channels to focus on unearthing details about Iraqi ties with al-Qaeda and other terrorist networks.” The unveiling of CTEG coincides with Rumsfeld’s move to take over the financing and management of an outside project, the “Information Collection Project,” sponsored by the Iraqi National Congress and one of CTEG’s primary sources of information. Before now, the State Department had financed and overseen the INC project, and had grown increasingly reluctant to maintain what Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang later calls an “off the reservation” intelligence operation (see September 15, 2001). Rumsfeld tells reporters, “Any suggestion that [CTEG is] an intelligence-gathering activity or an intelligence unit of some sort, I think would be a misunderstanding of it.” Rumsfeld’s assertion is contradicted by former CIA case officer, enthusiastic neoconservative, and CTEG consultant Reuel Marc Gerecht, who describes the intelligence-gathering mission of CTEG: “The Pentagon is setting up the capability to assess information on Iraq in areas that in the past might have been the realm of the agency (CIA). They don’t think the product they receive from the agency is always what it should be.” [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]

Entity Tags: Iraqi National Congress, Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group, Donald Rumsfeld, US Department of State, Reuel Marc Gerecht, Patrick Lang, Office of Special Plans, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh excoriates Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), accusing him of attempting to “destroy this country” by questioning the Bush administration’s rationale for war with Iraq (see September 25, 2002 and September 26, 2002). Limbaugh directly impugns Daschle’s patriotism, accusing him of being a traitor and comparing him to “Hanoi Jane” Fonda and World War II’s Japanese propaganda maven, Tokyo Rose. “What more do you want to do to destroy this country than what you’ve already done?” Limbaugh shouts. “It is unconscionable what this man has done! This stuff gets broadcast around the world, Senator. What do you want your nickname to be? Hanoi Tom? Tokyo Tom?… You sit there and pontificate on the fact that we’re not winning the war on terrorism when you and your party have done nothing but try to sabotage it.” One of Limbaugh’s callers accuses Daschle and the Democrats of giving “aid and comfort to the enemy”—a legal definition of treason—and says of Daschle, “He’s not interested in the safety of this country.” [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 156-157]

Entity Tags: Tom Daschle, “Tokyo Rose”, Rush Limbaugh, Jane Fonda

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) responds to conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh’s accusations that Daschle and Congressional Democrats are guilty of treason by not supporting the Bush administration’s push for war with Iraq (see November 15, 2002). Daschle calls Limbaugh “and all of the Rush Limbaugh wannabees” of having “a shrill edge,” and says of his listeners: “They want to act because they get emotionally invested. And so, you know, the threats to us in public life go up dramatically (see October 5-November 21, 2001), and on our families and on us in a way that’s very disconcerting. You know, we see it in foreign countries. And we think, well my God, how can this religious fundamentalism become so violent? Well, it’s the same shrill rhetoric. It’s that same shrill power that motivates. They—you know, they—that somebody says something, and then it becomes a little more shrill the next time, and then more shrill the next time.” Some media observers, such as the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz, later say that such responses from their political targets merely elevate figures such as Limbaugh in their listeners’ eyes. [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 157]

Entity Tags: Tom Daschle, Howard Kurtz, Rush Limbaugh

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The cover of ‘Bush at War.’The cover of ‘Bush at War.’ [Source: Amazon (.co.uk)]Author and famed reporter Bob Woodward’s book Bush at War is published.
Unprecedented Access - Woodward, who made his reputation uncovering the Watergate conspiracy from 30 years before (see June 15, 1974), is no longer an unknown young reporter working to find sources that will confide in him. Now he is an established Washington insider. For this book, Woodward was granted “unprecedented access” to Bush administration officials, including notes from National Security Council meetings and two long interviews with President Bush himself, far more access than even that granted to the 9/11 Commission and Congressional inquiries into other events of interest. Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich will find this level of access inexplicable, saying that “it makes no sense for an administration that has jealously guarded its executive privilege to allow a reporter the access it denies to members of Congress.”
Hagiographic Account - The Observer’s Peter Preston calls Woodward’s book a “more-or-less instant study of the White House after 9/11,” and writes that while Woodward could have created “a classic of investigative journalism,” instead he gave us a compendium of “painful, obsessively useless detail” that generally paints the picture the White House wants painted. If Woodward’s book is to be believed, Preston writes, the Colin Powell moderates and the Dick Cheney hawks “had their snappy moments, but they’re OK-ish now.” CIA Director George Tenet “is a far-sighted man” who not only immediately divined that Osama bin Laden was behind the attacks, but while the towers were still burning, wondered if the attacks had anything to do with “that guy taking pilot training,” Zacarias Moussaoui. Iraq war planner General Tommy Franks usually feels “finer than the hair on a frog’s back.” Former President Clinton’s “weak-willed men used to ‘pound the desert’ ineffectually, while his brilliant successors like to hit something, if at all possible.” And President Bush “is bright and talented and eloquent and decisive,” who runs National Security Council meetings himself and knows all he needs to know about the state of the world (Woodward quotes Bush as saying, “I’m not a textbook player—I’m a gut player”). Both Preston and author Frank Rich accuse Woodward of “burnishing” Bush’s image at the expense of the truth. A few potentially embarrassing tidbits manage to poke their way through what both Preston and Rich call the “hagiography,” mostly relating to senior administration officials’ lack of knowledge about Afghan tribal politics and the lack of evidence tying Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attacks. But all told, the book seems to tell a clear story: where Clinton was indecisive, Bush is forthright; where Clinton muddled around with bin Laden and Middle East terrorism, Bush is taking the war straight into the heart of the Islamist redoubt. [Observer, 12/1/2002; Rich, 2006, pp. 66-67] The book gives such a favorable impression of Bush and his administration that the Republican National Committee will recommend it on its Web site. [New York Times, 11/12/2006]
Selective Reporting - The administration officials who talked to Woodward are painted in largely glowing terms, while those who did not (including Attorney General John Ashcroft and Homeland Security head Tom Ridge) are, in Preston’s words, “written out of the script.” Potentially embarrassing incidents such as the administration’s complete failure to find the source of the anthrax mailings of 2001 (see September 17-18, 2001 and October 5-November 21, 2001) and the ineffective roundup of thousands of Middle Eastern “terror suspects” after 9/11 (see Late November, 2001) are ignored entirely. The pivotal Afghan battle of Tora Bora, where bin Laden was allowed to escape US clutches (see Mid-November 2001-Mid-December 2001), gets two paragraphs. [Observer, 12/1/2002; Rich, 2006, pp. 66-67] Guardian reviewer Peter Symon notes that Woodward even fails to ask the most “obvious questions” about the 9/11 attacks, instead accepting the administration’s accounts of events and its responses as absolute and unquestionable. [Guardian, 1/29/2003] Rich notes that Woodward grants Bush and his officials tremendous individual credence, taking their word on one issue after another without question: for example, when Bush calls investigative journalist Seymour Hersh “a liar,” Woodward takes Bush’s word without giving Hersh a chance to respond. More generally, Woodward never asks the obvious follow-up questions. Bush explains why the US didn’t attack Afghanistan and Iraq simultaneously after the 9/11 attacks: “If we tried to do too many things… militarily, then… the lack of focus would have been a huge risk.” Rich notes, “The follow-up question that was not to be found in Bush at War was simple enough: If it was a huge risk to split our focus between Saddam and al-Qaeda then, why wasn’t it now?” Preston concludes: “Maybe the Woodward of three decades ago would have given [the Bush administration more intense scrutiny]. No longer. Today’s Woodward, eight bestsellers later, skates breathlessly from interview to interview and notepad to notepad without ever, seemingly, stopping to think, ‘Why am I being told all this? What does it mean?’ It isn’t investigation, just cross-referenced compilation.” [Observer, 12/1/2002; Rich, 2006, pp. 66-67]

Entity Tags: Peter Preston, National Security Council, John Ashcroft, Frank Rich, Bob Woodward, Bush administration (43), Newt Gingrich, Thomas Franks, Peter Symon, George W. Bush, Republican National Committee, Seymour Hersh, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

Former Vice President Al Gore calls Fox News a virtual arm of the Republican Party. “Something will start at the Republican National Committee, inside the building, and it will explode the next day on the right-wing talk show network and on Fox News and in the newspapers that play this game,” Gore says. “And pretty soon they’ll start baiting the mainstream media for allegedly ignoring the story they’ve pushed into the zeitgeist” (see October 13, 2009). [New Yorker, 5/26/2003]

Entity Tags: Republican National Committee, Republican Party, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Fox News

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

On December 6, 2002, conservative media pundit Bill O’Reilly says about Saddam Hussein, “I can’t, in good conscience, tell the American people that I know for sure that he has smallpox or anthrax or he’s got nuclear or chemical and that he is ready to use that. I cannot say that as a journalist or an American.” O’Reilly is far more certain on February 7, 2003, when he tells his listeners, “According to the UN, he’s got anthrax, VX gas, ricin, and on and on.” On February 23, 2003, he says flatly, “This guy we know has anthrax and VX and all this stuff.” Then on March 18, 2003, just two days before the US invades Iraq, he says that he isn’t sure what kind of WMDs Saddam Hussein may possess: “Here’s the bottom line on this for every American and everybody in the world: Nobody knows for sure, all right? We don’t know what he has. We think he has 8,500 liters of anthrax. But let’s see.” [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), 5/2003]

Entity Tags: Bill O’Reilly, Saddam Hussein, United Nations

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

The cover of the current National Review, labeling Tim Johnson an ‘Invalid Senator’ and claiming to tell ‘How the Democrats Stole a Senate Seat.’ The allegations behind the cover story have already been proven false by the time the story is published on the Internet.The cover of the current National Review, labeling Tim Johnson an ‘Invalid Senator’ and claiming to tell ‘How the Democrats Stole a Senate Seat.’ The allegations behind the cover story have already been proven false by the time the story is published on the Internet. [Source: Free Republic (.com)]The National Review’s Byron York publishes a detailed article alleging that, in November 2002, Democrats committed massive voter fraud in South Dakota in order to ensure Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) won re-election against opponent John Thune (R-SD). York accuses South Dakota Democrats of using Native American votes to “throw” the election. York reports that Democrats “deployed” 10,000 lawyers nationwide, including the contingent sent to Mission, to ensure that voting rights would be protected. In South Dakota, he writes, “compelling evidence” based on testimony from South Dakota poll workers shows that some of the Democratic lawyers “engaged in illegal electioneering, pressured poll workers to accept questionable ballots, and forced polling places in a heavily Democratic area to stay open for an hour past their previously-announced closing time. In addition, the testimony contains evidence of people being allowed to vote with little or no identification, of incorrectly marked ballots being counted as Democratic votes, of absentee ballots being counted without proper signatures, and, most serious of all, of voters who were paid to cast their ballots for Senator Johnson.” The allegations, if true, would constitute voter fraud on a massive scale. York says the testimony is collected “in more than 40 affidavits collected by Republicans in the days after the election and obtained by National Review,” and supplemented by “interviews with state and local officials.” York alleges that “hundreds of votes” for Johnson “were the product of polling-place misconduct.” Johnson won the election by a few hundred votes. “Had those votes not been added to his total, it seems likely that the senator, who won by just 524 votes, would instead have lost, and John Thune would today be South Dakota’s senator-elect.” [National Review, 12/19/2002]
Allegations False, Says South Dakota Attorney General - South Dakota Attorney General Mark Barnett, a Republican, has said the most serious of the affidavits are either “perjury or forgery,” and says the allegations of illegality are “flat[ly] false.” Barnett said most of the accusations were not illegal, but simply evidence of effective get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts by Democrats (see December 10, 2002). And liberal news blogger Joshua Micah Marshall wrote that the only verifiable crimes may have been committed by Republicans who fraudulently concocted bogus allegations of voter fraud (see December 16, 2002). [Rapid City Journal, 12/10/2002; Talking Points Memo, 12/16/2002]
Illegal Operations inside Polling Places? - York recounts accusations from an election board member, Noma Sazama, in Mission, South Dakota, that “out-of-town” Democratic poll watchers tried to “intimidate” her as they coordinated GOTV efforts from a Mission polling place. A Republican poll watcher in Todd County, Ed Assman, recounts a similar story to Sazama’s, of Democratic lawyers from out of town setting up shop inside a polling place, this one in Parmalee; a third witness who refuses to be identified says he saw Democratic poll workers running carpools “out of the polling place.” Holding such operations inside a polling place is illegal under South Dakota law, and South Dakota officials admitted after the election that such operations may have indeed taken place. State election supervisor Chris Nelson told a Todd County reporter, “That type of office operation to conduct a partisan campaign operation should not have been happening at the polling place.”
Allegations of Paying Voters - Assman says he personally watched Democratic poll watchers give cash to van drivers who were transporting voters back and forth from the polls. Another witness, who refuses to be identified, tells York that the watchers gave out “wad[s] of twenties.” That same witness says a Democratic poll watcher later explained the money was for gas. A Republican poll watcher in Mission makes similar allegations. York says that the stories “have raised suspicions that Democrats were perhaps buying more than gasoline,” suspicions that are bolstered by three witnesses in Todd County who say that van drivers offered them cash to vote for Johnson. All three affidavits say that the witnesses were offered $10 to vote, presumably for Johnson. York writes: “None [of the affidavits] explicitly says the voters accepted the money—this would be a confession of a crime—but there is little doubt that they did. And even if they did not, simply offering money for a vote is a crime under South Dakota law, which forbids anyone ‘to pay, lend, contribute, or offer… any money or other valuable consideration’ to anyone for a vote.” In an update to the article, York notes that Barnett has found two of the three affidavits and considers the third “suspect.” Barnett believes the affidavits may be the work of a single man on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, though that man, a registered Democrat, says he knows nothing of the affidavits. The man has told a Sioux Falls reporter that “people on the streets” told him that “they” were paying people with $10 bills or cigarettes to go vote, “and if you couldn’t get there, they would give you a ride.”
Time Discrepancy - Todd County auditor Kathleen Flakus twice published notices in the local press that polls would be open on Election Day, November 2, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Central Standard Time (CST). According to government maps, Todd County is west of the time-zone line that splits South Dakota, placing the county in Mountain Standard Time (MST). The Todd County populace routinely operates on Central time. On Election Day, a Democratic election official named Iver Crow Eagle showed up almost an hour late to one Todd County polling place, forcing that polling place to alter its hours from 7 a.m. - 7 p.m. to 8 a.m. - 8 p.m. The time change is allowable under state law. However, Democratic poll watchers asked that all the Todd County precincts be allowed to stay open until 8 p.m. Todd County is heavily Democratic, York says, providing a possible motive for the request. The Democratic lawyers also asked that precincts in Mellette County be allowed to stay open until 8 p.m.; like Todd, Mellette is technically in Mountain time but the populace keeps Central time. The lawyers argued that the polls should stay open until 7 p.m. MST, which is 8 p.m. CST. York says Flakus and the “[l]ocal election officials were flabbergasted” by the request. However, state officials found that the Democrats were legally correct, and the precincts stayed open until 8 p.m. CST. Republican officials attempted to force the polls to close at 7 p.m. CST, York reports, calling the extra hour an “unconstitutional” dilution of other counties’ votes, whose citizens cast their votes “during proper hours.” The Republicans also asked that the ballots cast after 7 p.m. CST be segregated from the other ballots in case a judge ruled in favor of the original closing time. A state circuit judge dismissed the requests without comment, and the polls stayed open an extra hour in the two counties. Witnesses later tell York that they saw well over a hundred voters cast their votes during the extra hour. “Given the voting patterns of the area, it’s likely that nearly all of those extra votes were Democratic,” York writes. “[I]t seems reasonable to estimate that the extended voting hours gave Tim Johnson an additional 200 or so votes” in Todd County alone.
Voter Registration Fraud? - Democrats from the state and national party worked to register thousands of new voters during the run-up to the November election, specifically working on Indian reservations. The effort secured some 17,000 new voters, York says. However, he cites a news report that alleged “bounty hunters” were paid ”$3 per head” to register new voters, which he calls “an invitation to fraud.” One Democratic volunteer, Becky Red Earth Villeda, made almost $13,000 from registering new voters. Before the election, state prosecutors said that 15 “phony ballots,” in York’s words, were “associated with Villeda.” The prosecutors were investigating 1,700 others and were considering filing charges against her. South Dakota Deputy Attorney General Larry Long told reporters: “It appears that we were able to get her stopped before she actually cast any fraudulent ballots. But it’s conceivable that she was able to get ballots cast that we don’t know about.” York says that at least three absentee ballot requests—not ballots—from the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, in Dewey County, may have also been fraudulent. A witness at a Dewey County polling place later alleges that he saw “15 or 20” people come to vote, only to find that records indicated they had requested absentee ballots when they said they had not made such requests. One of those voters told election officials that the signature on the ballot request was not his. At another precinct, another witness says the same thing happened with ten voters, and a third witness says a similar occurrence happened to seven voters at another Dewey County precinct. York says it is “reasonable” to presume that many other occurrences took place, and many improper absentee ballots may have been cast. Sazama tells York that she saw ballots cast at her Todd County precinct that “didn’t look right.” She says she saw several signatures that appeared to match the voters’ signatures, but they “all looked like they had been signed by the same person.” Those votes were counted. York says that along with the “suspicious” absentee ballot issues, “there were widespread problems with voter identification,” including a number of instances where voters presented themselves to an election judge, found that their given names were not listed, and were given the opportunity to vote under what a Republican witness in Mellette County calls “alternate names.” Another unnamed observer says similar instances happened at a polling place in Shannon County, home of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. And Assman says he saw similar instances in Todd County. York says that Democratic lawyers at polling places “pressured election officials to allow people to vote, whatever the problem with names,” and quotes an unnamed Republican election official as saying the lawyers “intimidated” local officials.
Vote Surge Gives Johnson the Victory, Votes May Be 'Improper' - York writes that the voting improprieties may be the reason why Thune maintained a narrow lead in vote counts throughout the evening of November 2, until late in the vote counting, when Thune led by almost 1,000 votes with only six precincts remaining. Five precincts in Shannon County gave Johnson the victory, York says, coming in at an “unusual” 91.4 percent of votes cast going to Johnson. Shannon County is an “overwhelmingly Democratic area,” York concedes, but alleges that many of the Shannon County ballots had “significant problems” that caused them to be rejected by the optical scan machines counting the votes and processed by a resolution committee. The problems with the optically scanned votes caused the Shannon County votes to be among the last reported. Later, a Republican member of the resolution committee named Lee Linehan says she may have inadvertently let “improper” votes go through, due to her exhaustion and unfamiliarity with the process. York implies that her Democratic committee partner, whom he only identifies as “a lawyer,” may have influenced her to send ballots through regardless of their possible improprieties. Linehan tells York, “I believe the race would have been much closer had we paid more attention.”
Conclusion - York alleges that, in conclusion, Johnson and “an army” of Democratic lawyers improperly threw the election for Johnson. “[T]he accounts of dozens of eyewitnesses at the polling places,” he writes, suggests “the electoral system was not fully trustworthy and in fact failed to stop serious violations of election laws committed by Johnson’s supporters.” The small number of votes in one county after another—200 in Todd, 250 in Shannon, 100 in Dewey, and around 200 in other counties—may have given Johnson the edge he needed to claim a narrow victory. York writes, “[I]t seems reasonable to conclude that, had Democratic misconduct not occurred in those counties, John Thune would have won.” Thune chose not to ask for a recount, as was his right under South Dakota law. York explains that Thune did not wish to put the state’s voters under what Thune called a “long, drawn-out, painful, and protracted struggle over 524 votes.” York goes on to note that Thune dropped broad hints that he felt improprieties cost him the election. Some of the problems were most likely “homegrown,” York says, and cites what he calls previous “allegations of voting irregularities on some of the reservations, particularly in tribal elections.” However, the improprieties that he says cost Thune the election “went far beyond local fraud, and are instead attributable to the team of party operatives sent to South Dakota from the DNC’s headquarters in Washington.” York says the local Republican officials should have been prepared for just such problems, citing Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman Terry McAuliffe’s promise that lawyers would be at polls in every state, and implying that McAuliffe and the DNC concocted a scheme to steal elections throughout the nation through the auspices of this “army” of lawyers. “[T]he evidence from South Dakota suggests that some of them were on the lookout to commit voter fraud,” he writes, “to steal the election under the guise of preventing it from being stolen.” York concludes that the Democrats’ success in South Dakota will only encourage them to try even harder to steal elections in future elections. [National Review, 12/19/2002]
Purged - The National Review will later purge the York article from its database.

Entity Tags: Ed Assman, County of Shannon (South Dakota), County of Mellette (South Dakota), County of Dewey (South Dakota), Chris Nelson, Byron York, Becky Red Earth Villeda, Democratic National Committee, Tim Johnson, Noma Sazama, County of Todd (South Dakota), Mark Barnett, Lee Linehan, Larry Long, National Review, Iver Crow Eagle, Kathleen Flakus, Terry McAuliffe, Joshua Micah Marshall, John Thune

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

President Bush signs an executive order creating the Office of Global Communications (OGC—see July 30, 2002), whose mission is to “ensure consistency in messages that will promote the interests of the United States abroad, prevent misunderstanding, build support for and among coalition partners of the United States, and inform international audiences.” The OGC soon sends out a daily “Global Messenger” e-mail of talking points to administration officials, US embassies, Congress, and outside recipients. It organizes daily telephone conference calls to coordinate foreign policy messages among US government agencies and representatives of British Prime Minister Tony Blair. PR expert Sheldon Rampton later writes, “These activities may sound innocuous. The idea of ‘ensuring consistency’ is a cardinal rule of PR crisis communications, whose practitioners try whenever possible to make sure that all messages flow through a single, controlling channel. In practice, however, ensuring consistency leads to a concerted effort to enforce a ‘party line’ on all messages emanating from the US government, effectively silencing officials whose point of view contradicts the official institutional message.” [PRWatch, 4/2003; US State Department, 9/28/2004]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Sheldon Rampton, Tony Blair, Office of Global Communications

Timeline Tags: US Military, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

Associated Press reporter Charles Hanley, an award-winning news veteran with over 30 years of weapons issues coverage on his record, accompanies the UN weapons inspectors combing through Iraq to find the suspected weapons of mass destruction. In 2007, Hanley will recall: “What we did was go out everyday with the inspectors. These guys would roar out on these motorcades at very high speed and roar through towns and do sudden U-turns and drive over land and do all of these things to confuse the Iraqis about where they were going so that there wouldn’t be a call ahead telling them to put away all the bad stuff. The inspectors then would issue a daily report. And as it turned out, of course, inspection after inspection, it turned out to be clean. They had nothing to report, no violations to report.” Hanley files repeated reports with statements such as, “No smoking guns in… almost 400 inspections.” But, Hanley will later say, his editors often refuse to print his work. “[T]hat would be stricken from my copy because it would strike some editors as tendentious. As sort of an attack or some sort of allegation rather than a fact. You know and we don’t want our reporters alleging things. We, you know, we just report the facts. Well it was a fact. It was a very important fact that seemed to be lost on an awful lot of journalists unfortunately.” Instead, Hanley says, “The media just continued on this path of reporting, ‘Well, the Bush administration alleges that there are WMD,’ and never really stopped and said ‘It doesn’t look like there are. There’s no evidence.’ That should have been the second sentence in any story about the allegations of WMD. The second sentence should have been, ‘But they did not present any evidence to back this up.’” [PBS, 4/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Charles Hanley, Associated Press

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

Robert Bartley.Robert Bartley. [Source: Slate]The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page editor emeritus, Robert Bartley, acknowledges that Fox News’s slogan, “We report, you decide,” is a “pretense.” Bartley, a staunch conservative, writes: “Even more importantly, the amazing success of Roger Ailes at Fox News (see October 7, 1996) has provided a meaningful alternative to the Left-establishment slant of the major networks.… His news is no more tilted to the right than theirs has been on the left, and there’s no reason for him to drop his ‘we report, you decide’ pretense until they drop theirs” (see October 13, 2009). [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 49] In May 2003, ABC News president David Westin will say: “I like ‘We report. You decide.’ It’s a wonderful slogan. Too often, I don’t think that’s what’s going on at Fox. Too often, they step over the line and try and help people decide what is right and wrong.” Fox News pundit and host Bill O’Reilly will agree. Asked whether a more accurate tag line for Fox might be “We report. We decide,” he will reply, “Well, you’re probably right.” Todd Gitlin of the Columbia Journalism School will add: “I find it hard to believe many Fox viewers believe Bill O’Reilly is a ‘no-spin zone,’ or ‘We report. You decide.’ It’s a joke. In Washington it reinforces the impression of ‘we happy few who are members of the club.’ It emboldens the right wing to feel justified and confident they can promote their policies.” [New Yorker, 5/26/2003]

Entity Tags: Fox News, David Westin, Wall Street Journal, Bill O’Reilly, Robert Bartley, Todd Gitlin, Roger Ailes

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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, Domestic Propaganda

Victoria “Torie” Clark, the head of public relations for the Defense Department (see May 2001), develops the idea of embedding reporters with troops during the US invasion of Iraq. In a memo for the National Security Council, Clarke, with the approval of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, argues that allowing journalists to report from the battlefields and front lines will give Americans the chance to get the story, both “good or bad—before others seed the media with disinformation and distortions, as they most certainly will continue to do. Our people in the field need to tell our story. Only commanders can ensure the media get to the story alongside the troops. We must organize for and facilitate access of national and international media to our forces, including those forces engaged in ground operations.” [US Department of Defense, 2/2003 pdf file; Bill Berkowitz, 5/10/2008]

Entity Tags: National Security Council, Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke, Donald Rumsfeld, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

Conservative radio pundit Rush Limbaugh says of antiwar protesters, “It is beyond me how anybody can look at these protesters and call them anything than what they are: anti-American, anti-capitalist pro-Marxists and communists.” [New York Press, 2/4/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 290]

Entity Tags: Rush Limbaugh

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Colin Powell’s speech to the UN Security Council (see February 5, 2003) has a far more powerful effect on the American populace than it does among others. [Unger, 2007, pp. 286-288]
Did Not Convince Skeptical Governments - The presentation does little to change minds on the Security Council. France, Russia, and China remain opposed to the idea of a new resolution that would pave the way for the US to invade Iraq. These countries say that Powell’s speech demonstrates that inspections are working and must be allowed to continue. “Immediately after Powell spoke, the foreign ministers of France, Russia and China—all of which hold veto power—rejected the need for imminent military action and instead said the solution was more inspections,” reports the Washington Post. But governments who have been supportive of the United States’ stance remain firmly behind Washington. [Washington Post, 2/6/2003; Washington Post, 2/7/2003]
European Press Skeptical - The European press’s response to Powell’s evidence is also mixed. The Times of London, a relatively conservative daily newspaper, describes Powell’s presentation as a “few smudgy satellite photographs, a teaspoon of talcum powder, some Lego-style drawings of sinister trucks and trains, a picture of an American U2 spy plane, several mugshots of Arabic men, and a script that required a suspension of mistrust by the world’s doves.” [London Times, 2/6/2003]
American Media Strongly Positive - The US media’s reaction to Powell’s presentation is immediate and overwhelmingly positive. Over 100 press outlets compare his speech to Adlai Stevenson’s 1962 denunciation of the USSR during the Cuban Missile Crisis (see January 30-February 4, 2003). One poll shows that 90 percent of Americans now believe Iraq has an active WMD program that poses a dire threat to the nation. Another shows 67 percent of Americans believe that the US is justified in going to war with Iraq because of that nation’s illicit WMD. The San Francisco Chronicle calls the speech “impressive in its breadth and eloquence.” The Denver Post compares Powell to “Marshal Dillon facing down a gunslinger in Dodge City,” and adds that he showed the world “not just one ‘smoking gun’ but a battery of them.” Perhaps the most telling reaction is among the media’s liberals. The Washington Post’s Mary McGrory says Powell won her over. Richard Cohen, a moderate Post colleague, writes that Powell’s evidence is “absolutely bone-chilling in its detail… [and] had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hadn’t accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool, or possibly a Frenchman, could conclude otherwise.” And the New York Times writes three separate stories praising Powell as “powerful,” “sober,” “factual,” and “nearly encyclopedic.” Columnist William Safire says Powell’s presentation has “half a dozen smoking guns” and makes an “irrefutable and undeniable” case. Safire’s colleague at the Times, Michael Gordon, concludes, “It will be difficult for skeptics to argue that Washington’s case against Iraq is based on groundless suspicions and not intelligence information.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 286-288] In the days after the speech, the Washington Post opinion pages are filled with praises for Powell and the presentation. [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004] One Post editorial proclaims that after the presentation, it is “hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.” [Washington Post, 2/6/2004]
Powell 'Trusted' - Former ambassador Joseph Wilson will write in 2004: “[I]t was Powell’s credibility that finally put public opinion over the top. Over and over again, I was told, ‘Colin Powell wouldn’t lie to us.‘… Powell’s support for invading Iraq with a pseudo-coalition was essential, and he deserves at least as much of the responsibility for the subsequent situation that we find ourselves in as anybody else in the administration, because, more than anybody else, it was his credibility and standing among the American people that tipped the scales.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 317-318] In 2007, CBS anchor Dan Rather gives a simple reason why Powell’s presentation is so strongly accepted by so many. “Colin Powell was trusted. Is trusted, I’d put it—in a sense. He, unlike many of the people who made the decisions to go to war, Colin Powell has seen war. He knows what a green jungle hell Vietnam was. He knows what the battlefield looks like. And when Colin Powell says to you, ‘I, Colin Powell, am putting my personal stamp on this information. It’s my name, my face, and I’m putting it out there,’ that did make a difference.… I was impressed. And who wouldn’t be?” [PBS, 4/25/2007]

Entity Tags: United Nations Security Council, San Francisco Chronicle, Richard Cohen, New York Times, William Safire, Mary McGrory, Colin Powell, Michael Gordon, Denver Post, Dan Rather, London Times, Joseph C. Wilson

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

Florida’s Second Court of Appeals overturns a wrongful-firing ruling against Fox Television by a lower court (see August 18, 2000), finding in favor of the network against two citizen plaintiffs who claim they were fired by Fox News for refusing to falsify a news segment they were producing for a local affiliate. In essence, the court rules that Fox, and by extension other media outlets, can legally lie to their consumers: that there is no law against distorting or falsifying the news in the US. The appeals court holds that the plaintiffs’ threat to report the network to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) does not deserve protection under Florida’s whistleblower statute, because a whistleblower must report “an employer breaking an adopted law, rule, or regulation.” The FCC has a policy against falsification of the news, but the court, in what the St. Louis Journalism Review will call “a stunningly narrow interpretation of FCC rules,” rules that the policy does not rise to the level of a “law, rule, or regulation.” Therefore, Fox Television’s Fox News Channel or any other news producer can produce willfully false stories and claim they are true, without fear of reprisal. In their court arguments, lawyers for Fox Television asserted that no rules or laws exist that prohibit distorting or falsifying news reports: that, under the First Amendment, broadcasters have the right to lie or deliberately distort news reports on the public airwaves. The attorneys did not dispute that network officials pressured the plaintiffs to produce a false story; instead, they argued that it was the network’s right to do so. Fox Television won “friend of the court” support from five major news owners: Belo Corporation, Cox Television, Gannett, Media General Operations, and Post-Newsweek Stations. [St. Louis Journalism Review, 12/1/2007] After the verdict, the local Fox affiliate, WTVT-TV, airs a news report saying it is “totally vindicated” by the verdict. [Sierra Times, 2/28/2009]

Entity Tags: Gannett Corporation, Cox Television, Belo Corporation, Federal Communications Commission, Fox News, Post-Newsweek Stations, Fox Broadcasting Company, Media General Operations, WTVT-TV

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

’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, Domestic Propaganda

Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly delivers a threat to Americans who disagree with the administration’s war policies, telling viewers: “Anyone who hurts this country in a time like this—well, let’s just say you will be spotlighted.… I will call those who publicly criticize their country in a time of military crisis, which this is, bad Americans.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Fox News, Bill O’Reilly

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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, Domestic Propaganda

ABC’s Nightline hosts a “town meeting” panel discussion with a number of experts and pundits on the subject of the impending invasion of Iraq. The proponents of the war include Senator John McCain (R-AZ), former CIA Director James Woolsey, and Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention. Arguing against the war are the former deputy chief of mission to Iraq, Joseph Wilson; Senator Carl Levin (D-MI); and the Reverend Susan Thistlewaite of the Chicago Theological Seminary. The advocates of the war had prepared for the discussion, even holding a mock debate the night before with Randy Schoeneman of the Iraqi Liberation Front. The anti-war panelists did not discuss their remarks until minutes before the broadcast. “[W]e were disadvantaged by our comparative lack of preparation,” Wilson will later recall in his 2004 book The Politics of Truth. He remembers the panel discussion as “unpleasant,” not the least because, during his remarks about achieving disarmament without occupation (see February 13, 2003 and February 28, 2003), McCain interrupts him and accuses him of “appeasement.” Wilson will later write: “I take great offense at having my patriotism questioned by anyone. John McCain’s service to his country is unimpeachable but that does not give him a monopoly on loyalty, nor is it equatable with wisdom on national security issues.” Woolsey piles on, accusing Wilson of racism when Wilson notes that implementing democracy in Iraq would be “a stiff challenge.” Wilson will write that the accusation, which he will term “an outrageously provocative insult,” angers many of the African-American audience members, including “several members of the House of Representatives who had known me from my White House days managing African Affairs” for the State Department. Wilson will note, “The remark went over with a thud and was subsequently dropped from the standard set of neoconservative talking points spouted against me.” At the end of the debate, host Ted Koppel tells the threesome in favor of war, “You have made some important points, gentlemen, but you have not made your case that war with Iraq now is necessary.” Wilson calls it “a pyrrhic victory,” in part because “the one person whom we would have liked most to influence by our arguments—George W. Bush—was probably already asleep. But then, as he later told Brit Hume of Fox, he gets his information straight from his advisers rather than from newspapers and broadcast outlets.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 321-323]

Entity Tags: Susan Thistlewaite, ABC News, Carl Levin, Joseph C. Wilson, George W. Bush, John McCain, James Woolsey, Richard Land

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

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, Domestic Propaganda

One day after the UN and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issue a report debunking the allegations that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger (see March 7, 2003), a State Department spokesman says of the forged documents at the heart of the allegation, “We fell for it” (see March 8, 2003). Former ambassador Joseph Wilson is “astounded” at the State Department’s reaction, as he will recall a year later. Wilson had himself debunked the allegations more than a year earlier (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). He tells CNN national security reporter David Ensor that the State Department spokesman “had not spoken accurately.” Wilson does not tell Ensor about his own trip to Niger, nor of the other reports debunking the uranium claims (see February 24, 2002). He does not tell Ensor that “nobody in the management chain of command” at State’s African Bureau “had ever believed there was anything to the story that a spokesman was now claiming they ‘fell for.’” Wilson decides to expose the administration’s duplicity to the public. Appearing on CNN, Wilson is asked a question provided to the interviewer by Ensor, and replies that the State Department knows far more than it is telling about the Iraq-Niger claim. The government should check its files, Wilson says (see March 8, 2003). “We know a lot about the uranium business in Niger,” he says, “and for something like this to go unchallenged by US—the US government is just simply stupid. It would have taken a couple of phone calls. We have had an embassy there since the early ‘60s. All this stuff is open. It’s a restricted market of buyers and sellers. The Nigerians [sic] have always been very open with us. For this to have gotten to the IAEA is on the face of it dumb, but more to the point, it taints the whole rest of the case that the government is trying to build against Iraq.” Wilson adds that when one such piece of evidence is found to be false, “it casts doubt on every other bit of evidence.” Worse, “I think it’s safe to say that the US government should have or did know that this report was a fake before [the IAEA’s Mohamed] ElBaradei mentioned it in his report at the UN yesterday.” Wilson is openly dismissive of the State Department official who said, “We fell for it” (see March 8, 2003). He says: “That’s just not good enough. Either he’s being disingenuous, or he shouldn’t be drawing a government paycheck.” Wilson later learns that it is this CNN appearance that prompts the White House to produce a “workup” on him for the office of the vice president (see March 9, 2003 and After). [CNN, 3/8/2003; Wilson, 2004, pp. 325-326]

Entity Tags: United Nations, Bush administration (43), David Ensor, International Atomic Energy Agency, US Department of State, Mohamed ElBaradei, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

A day after former ambassador Joseph Wilson appears on CNN questioning the validity of the administration’s claims about the Iraq-Niger uranium purchase (see March 8, 2003), Vice President Dick Cheney and Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley begin a campaign to discredit him. The information comes from senior sources within the State Department, the CIA, and the National Security Council (NSC), all with direct knowledge of the campaign, and from Wilson himself. The sources will say that they and other officials are directed to unearth or “invent” embarrassing information on Wilson that could be used against him in public. Aides in the Office of the Vice President and others, including the sources, prepare a “workup” on Wilson, including memos and classified material on him for Cheney and the NSC. Officials meet regularly in Cheney’s office to discuss the progress of the campaign with Cheney, Hadley, and other officials.
Visit to CIA Headquarters - According to an official in the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division (CPD), Cheney and Hadley visit the CIA the day after Wilson’s interview on CNN. Cheney’s original target for discrediting was not Wilson, but David Albright, the former UN weapons inspector who has also challenged the credibility of the Iraq-Niger claims and the rationale for invading Iraq (see March 8, 2003). Cheney asked several CIA officials to find “dirt” on Albright for use in discrediting him in the media. At the outset, the CIA official will say: “Vice President Cheney was more concerned with Mr. Albright. The international community had been saying that inspectors should have more time, that the US should not set a deadline. The vice president felt Mr. Albright’s remarks would fuel the debate.” The CIA will eventually send a “binder” to Cheney’s office containing information about Albright; it is not clear to what, if any, use that information is put.
Cheney 'Enraged' - But Wilson’s appearance on CNN and his public ridicule of the Iraq-Niger uranium claim enraged Cheney, who saw Wilson’s comments as a personal attack against him. Hadley also took an interest in Wilson’s remarks because he personally allowed the Iraq-Niger claim to remain in Bush’s State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) even after being informed that the documents the claim was based upon were forgeries. Both Cheney and Hadley view Wilson as a possible impediment to the public’s acceptance of the impending Iraq invasion. Cheney chairs a meeting in his office the day after Wilson’s appearance on CNN, attended by, among others, Hadley, White House political guru Karl Rove, Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Cheney’s deputy national security adviser John Hannah, and several officials from the CIA and State Department, including the officials who will later discuss the matter with the press. “The way I remember it,” says the CIA official, “is that the vice president was obsessed with Wilson. He called him an ‘_sshole,’ a son-of-a-b_tch. He took his comments very personally. He wanted us to do everything in our power to destroy his reputation and he wanted to be kept up to date about the progress.” Hadley says he will write an editorial about the Iraqi threat that should offset Wilson’s remarks; the State Department will redistribute a February 16, 2003 editorial by Hadley that appeared in the Chicago Tribune to newspaper editors around the country. Cheney will appear on NBC’s Meet the Press to refute the challenges to the Iraq-Niger claims (see March 16, 2003). [Truthout (.org), 2/9/2006] In 2004, Wilson will write: “I learned that a meeting right around the time of this particular CNN appearance (see March 8, 2003) led to the decision to produce a ‘workup’ on me for the Office of the Vice President. It was not made clear to me whether Dick Cheney himself attended this meeting, although I was told that senior members of his staff and quite possibly other senior Republicans, including former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, were present and that Gingrich actively participated in a strategy session, the objective of which was to figure out how to discredit me.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 326-327]
False Allegations of 'Womanizing,' Drug Use - Within days, officials in the CIA, NSC, and State Department pass on information to Cheney and Libby that purportedly shows Wilson is a “womanizer” who had occassionally used drugs in his youth; the sources later say that the allegations are entirely false. The sources will say that they are unsure the material was ever used to discredit Wilson, since after the war began on March 19, the media lost interest in Wilson’s warnings. [Truthout (.org), 2/9/2006] Wilson later writes that the meeting about him does “not include discussion of how the president and his senior staff might address the indisputable, if inconvenient, fact that the allegation I had made was true. In other words, from the very beginning, the strategy of the White House was to confront the issue as a ‘Wilson’ problem rather than as an issue of the lie that was in the State of the Union address.… The immediate effect of the workup, I am told by a member of the press, citing White House sources, was a long harangue against the two of us within the White House walls. Over a period of several months, Libby evidently seized opportunities to rail openly against me as an ‘assh_le playboy’ who went on a boondoggle ‘arranged by his CIA wife’—and was a Democratic Gore supporter to boot.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 441-442]
New Interest in Wilson - Cheney’s interest in Wilson will be renewed in May 2003 (see May 2003), when Wilson informs New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof that he was the special envoy who had gone to Niger in February 2002 to investigate the uranium claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002).

Entity Tags: Office of the Vice President, National Security Council, David Albright, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Joseph C. Wilson, John Hannah, Karl C. Rove, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, CNN, Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of State, Newt Gingrich, Stephen J. Hadley, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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, Domestic Propaganda

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

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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, Domestic Propaganda

As enthusiasm for the war in Iraq permeates the US business community as well as mainstream television news outlets (see March 19-20, 2003), billionaire Donald Trump predicts on Fox News that because of the war, “I think the market’s going to go up like a rocket!” [New York Times, 3/30/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 75]

Entity Tags: Donald Trump, Fox News

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

A study by George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs examines the 600 hours of war coverage by the nation’s broadcast news organizations between the coverage of the first strikes (see March 19, 2003) and the fall of Baghdad (see April 9, 2003). The study shows that of the 1,710 stories broadcast, only 13.5 percent show any images of dead or wounded civilians or soldiers, either Iraqi or American. The study says that television news coverage “did not differ discernibly” from the heavily sanitized, Pentagon-controlled coverage of the 1991 Gulf War (see August 11, 1990 and January 3, 1991). “A war with hundreds of coalition and tens of thousands of Iraqi casualties” is transformed on US television screens “into something closer to a defense contractor’s training video: a lot of action, but no consequences, as if shells simply disappeared into the air and an invisible enemy magically ceased to exist.” A similar study by Columbia University’s Project for Excellence in Journalism finds that “none of the embedded stories (see February 2003 and March-April 2003) studied showed footage of people, either US soldiers or Iraqis, being struck, injured, or killed by weapons fired.” In fact, only 20 percent of the stories by embedded journalists show anyone else besides the journalist.
Focus on Anchors - Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write: “The conveying of actual news often seemed subsidiary to the networks’ mission to out-flag-wave one another and to make their own personnel, rather than the war’s antagonists, the leading players in the drama.… TV viewers were on more intimate terms with [CNN anchor] Aaron Brown’s and [Fox News anchor] Shep Smith’s perceptions of the war than with the collective thoughts of all those soon-to-be-liberated ‘Iraqi people’ whom the anchors kept apothesizing. Iraqis were the best seen-but-not-heard dress extras in the drama, alternately pictured as sobbing, snarling, waving, and cheering.”
Fox News - Rich will say that Fox News is the most egregious of the lot, reporting what he mockingly calls “all victory all the time.” During the time period analyzed, one Fox anchor says, “[O]bjectively speaking [it is] hard to believe things could go more successfully.” Another Fox anchor reports “extraordinary news, the city of Basra under control” even as that city is sliding into guerrilla warfare and outright anarchy. Neoconservative Fred Barnes, one of Fox’s regular commentators, calls the competition “weenies” for actually reporting US casualties. [Rich, 2006, pp. 78]

Entity Tags: Shepard Smith, Columbia University, Aaron Brown, Fox News, George Washington University, Frank Rich, US Department of Defense, Fred Barnes

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

Privates Jessica Lynch and Lori Piestewa.Privates Jessica Lynch and Lori Piestewa. [Source: CNN]US Army Private First Class Jessica Lynch, a supply clerk, is injured in a Humvee crash in the city of Nasiriyah. Lynch’s convoy had become separated from its mates and wound up lost in Nasiriyah, where it came under attack. An Army investigation later shows that Lynch and her colleagues were lost due to exhaustion, several wrong turns, and faulty communications (see July 10, 2003), all of which contribute to the convoy’s misdirection. Eleven US soldiers die in the ambush; Lynch and five others, including her close friend Private Lori Piestewa, are taken captive (see October 24, 2003). Piestewa is mortally wounded and will die within a few hours. Besides Lynch and Piestewa, the others taken prisoner are Sergeant James Riley; Specialists Edgar Hernandez, Joseph Hudson, and Shoshana Johnson; and Private First Class Patrick Miller. [Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003; POW Network, 6/22/2006]

Entity Tags: Shoshana Johnson, Jessica Lynch, Joseph Hudson, James Riley, Lori Piestewa, Edgar Hernandez, Patrick Miller

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

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, Domestic Propaganda

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, Domestic Propaganda

The New York Times reveals that CIA analysts acknowledge being pressured to shape their intelligence reports on Iraq to conform to Bush administration policies. In particular, they were pressured to find or create evidence that Iraq had links to al-Qaeda. [New York Times, 3/23/2003] In 2004, Times editor Daniel Okrent will admit that the story was “completed several days before the invasion (see March 19, 2003) and unaccountably held for a week,” not appearing until three days after the war began, when it “was interred on Page B10.” [New York Times, 5/30/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 192] For months, some CIA analysts have privately expressed concerns over the forcible shaping of their reports to colleagues and Congressional officials, but until now have not revealed those concerns to reporters. “A lot of analysts have been upset about the way the Iraq-al-Qaeda case has been handled,” a senior intelligence official says. The revelation that the claims of Iraq’s attempt to buy uranium from Niger were false (see March 7, 2003) sparked some analysts to come forward. One government official says, “The forgery heightened people’s feelings that they were being embarrassed by the way Iraqi intelligence has been handled.” The intelligence official says: “As we have become an integral component informing the debate for policy makers, we have been asked a lot of questions. I’m sure it does come across as a pressured environment for analysts. I think there is a sense of being overworked, a sense among analysts that they have already answered the same questions. But if you talk to analysts, they understand why people are asking, and why policy makers aren’t accepting a report at face value.” Other analysts have discussed leaving the agency over their frustration with the way intelligence is being manipulated by the Bush administration. Another government official says, “Several people have told me how distraught they have been about what has been going on.” A CIA official says no analysts have resigned in protest over the management of Iraqi intelligence. [New York Times, 3/23/2003]

Entity Tags: Daniel Okrent, Bush administration (43), Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency, New York Times

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

The Weekly Standard’s Stephen Schwartz celebrates the success of the Iraq invasion and mocks antiwar critics, writing, “In recent weeks, anti-Shi’a propaganda has emerged as a staple of the liberal media, full of dire predictions that the fall of the Butcher of Baghdad will result in Iraq’s being torn apart, as Shi’as, Sunnis, and Kurds fight each other for power.” Schwartz continues, “Incompetent voices at the State Department proclaim the need to back old, exhausted politicians, who will presumably serve as pliable tools, in preference to Shi’a leaders like Ahmed Chalabi, of the Iraqi National Congress.” Schwartz seems to suggest that Iraq’s Shi’as, presumably under the leadership of Chalabi, are ready and willing to ally with the US against their Shi’a brethren in Iran, and establish a Western-style democracy. [Weekly Standard, 3/24/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 303]

Entity Tags: Ahmed Chalabi, Stephen Schwartz, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Bernard Trainor.Bernard Trainor. [Source: PBS]The New York Times examines the influence of retired military officers in influencing public opinion on the invasion of Iraq. Reporter John Cushman, Jr writes that “a whole constellation of retired one-, two-, three- and four-star generals—including many who led the recent wars in Afghanistan, Kosovo, and the Persian Gulf—can be seen night and day across the television firmament, navigation aids for viewers lost in a narrative that can be foggier than war itself.” All of the news broadcasters, including cable news outlets CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, and the commercial networks’ news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC rely on retired military officers to explain to their viewers what is happening in Iraq. Cushman acknowledges the “deep perspective” that the retired officers bring to the war coverage, particularly those who led the same units now on the ground, or at least “commanded, trained, or shared barracks and beers with the current commanders.” Retired Marine General Gregory Newbold recently told an ABC News audience, “If things haven’t gone exactly according to script, they’ve gone according to plan.” Newbold helped draw up the plans for the invasion as director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Questions Raised - How much do the military analysts actually know? Cushman asks, and are they giving out more information than they should? Many of the analysts receive what Cushman calls “occasional briefings from the Pentagon” (he is apparently unaware of the Pentagon’s propaganda operation involving these selfsame analysts—see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond), and garner much of their information from public sources and from their friends and former colleagues in the military. Cushman goes on to observe that almost all of the analysts have “evident sympathies with the current commanders”; between those sympathies and their “immersion in [military] doctrines,” their objectivity is in doubt—or as Cushman delicately phrases it, their experience and bias “sometimes seem to immunize them to the self-imposed skepticism of the news organizations that now employ them.” After conducting “a detailed review of their recent remarks,” Cushman says that it is a rarity when an analyst criticizes the conduct of the war. “Instead, they tend gravely to point out the timeless risks of combat.” One sharp exception is from retired Army General Wesley Clark, the former supreme commander of NATO, who recently questioned whether the military had committed enough troops on the ground. More typical is recent remarks by retired Army General Wayne Downing, a commander in the 1991 Gulf War. Downing lavished praise on the invasion’s supreme commander, General Tommy Franks. Cushman notes that Downing “rattl[ed] off the story of his old comrade’s career as if by rote.”
Technical Details Vs. Analysis - The retired officers do “reasonably well” in explaining what Cushman calls “the nuts and bolts of an operation, the technical details of weapons, the decisions facing American and British commanders.” Their speculations about what the Iraqis might be doing and thinking are more problematic. One analyst, retired Marine General Bernard Trainor, almost seemed to invite chemical or biological retaliation from the Iraqis when he told an MSNBC audience: “If he moves, we kill him; if he stays put, we kill him. And regardless of what they’re told to do over the network, whatever is left of the command and control, unless it comes down to using chemical weapons, then the rest of it is just ancillary. If this is going to be the communication of red telephone, if you will, to tell people to launch chemical weapons—and we’re reaching that point in the operation—if they’re going to use their stuff, they’d better start thinking about it, because pretty soon we’re in downtown Baghdad.” Clark, considered the most polished and urbane of the analysts, takes a different tack, and notes repeatedly that the analysts are careful not to give away details of current operations and thus endanger American troops. All of the analysts, Cushman writes, “emphasize the gravity of what the military is up to in Iraq.” As Clark told an audience, “It’s not entertainment.” [New York Times, 3/25/2003]

Entity Tags: MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, CBS News, Bernard Trainor, ABC News, Gregory Newbold, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Thomas Franks, US Department of Defense, Wayne Downing, Wesley Clark, NBC, New York Times, John Cushman, Jr

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

Sheldon Rampton.Sheldon Rampton. [Source: Sheldon Rampton]Author Sheldon Rampton, an expert on public relations and propaganda, observes that the Bush administration uses what he calls “the framework of a ‘propaganda model’ of communication” in releasing information to the public and coordinating communications between administration officials and outsiders (see Early 2002 and Beyond, January 2003, and March 6, 2003). Rampton says such a model’s “strategies and assumptions are fundamentally contrary to a democratic model.… The goal of the propaganda model is simply to achieve efficient indoctrination, and it therefore tends to regard the assumptions of the democratic model as inconvenient obstacles to efficient communication.”
Inherent Contradictions - Rampton notes that using the propaganda model as a communications strategy on such a large scale is impossible in the long term. One problem the Bush administration is facing is in countering the growing disaffection with the US among other nations while simultaneously refusing to listen to criticism from these nations. He cites as examples Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s contemptuous dismissal of European opponents to the Iraq invasion as members of “old Europe” (see January 22, 2003), and Bush’s dismissal of recent worldwide protests with over 11 million participants by saying he doesn’t “decide policy based upon a focus group.” Rampton writes, “Bush’s statement speaks volumes about his inability to think outside the framework of a propaganda model of communication.” The Bush administration is an avid consumer of polls, though it goes to extraordinary lengths to give the impression that it does not. Columnist Joshua Green recently wrote that instead of using polls to determine policy, as the Clinton administration was often accused of doing, in the Bush White House, “[p]olicies are chosen beforehand [and] polls [are] used to spin them.… Because many of Bush’s policies aren’t necessarily popular with a majority of voters, [his pollsters’] job essentially consists of finding words to sell them to the public.” The administration has similar problems with spreading propaganda among foreign nations, particularly among Middle Eastern nations. Rampton writes: “The real problem with the Bush administration is that it doesn’t listen to anything but focus groups. It never thinks of public opinion as worth considering in its own right, and instead merely uses it to refine the message points that go out each day in its ‘Global Messenger’ emails” (see January 2003).
Self-Indoctrination - Rampton notes that while the Bush administration’s propaganda efforts often fail to produce the desired effects, at least to the degree desired, such persistent propaganda practices often have more success in “indoctrinating the propagandist themselves.… The discipline of ‘ensuring message consistency’ cannot hope to succeed at controlling the world’s perceptions of something as broad, sprawling, and contradictory as the Bush administration’s foreign policy. However, it may be successful at enabling people like George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld to ignore the warnings coming from Europe and other quarters. As our leaders lose their ability to listen to critics, we face the danger that they will underestimate the risks and costs involved in going to war.” [PRWatch, 4/2003]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Joshua Green, Sheldon Rampton, Bush administration (43), Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: US Military, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

Still photo from Defense Department video of Lynch’s rescue.Still photo from Defense Department video of Lynch’s rescue. [Source: Associated Press]US Special Operations forces rescue captured Private Jessica Lynch from Saddam Hussein Hospital hospital near Nasiriyah (see March 23, 2003). According to the Pentagon, the rescue is a classic Special Forces raid, with US commandos in Black Hawk helicopters blasting their way through Iraqi resistance in and out of the medical compound. [Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003] The Associated Press’s initial report is quite guarded, saying only that Lynch had been rescued. An Army spokesman “did not know whether Lynch had been wounded or when she might return to the United States.” [Project for Excellence in Journalism, 6/23/2003]
'Shooting Going In ... Shooting Going Out' - Subsequent accounts are far more detailed (see April 3, 2003). Military officials say that the rescue was mounted after securing intelligence from CIA operatives. A Special Forces unit of Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, and Air Force combat controllers “touched down in blacked-out conditions,” according to the Washington Post. Cover is provided by an AC-130 gunship circling overhead; a reconnaissance aircraft films the events of the rescue. One military official briefed on the operation says: “There was shooting going in, there was some shooting going out. It was not intensive. There was no shooting in the building, but it was hairy, because no one knew what to expect. When they got inside, I don’t think there was any resistance. It was fairly abandoned.” [Washington Post, 4/3/2003] CENTCOM spokesman General Vincent Brooks says he is not yet sure who Lynch’s captors were, but notes: “Clearly the regime had done this. It was regime forces that had been in there. Indications are they were paramilitaries, but we don’t know exactly who. They’d apparently moved most of them out before we arrived to get in, although, as I mentioned, there were buildings outside of the Saddam Hospital, where we received fire—or the assault force received fire—during the night.” [New York Times, 4/2/2003]
'Prototype Torture Chamber' - According to a military official, the Special Forces soldiers find what he calls a “prototype” Iraqi torture chamber in the hospital’s basement, equipped with batteries and metal prods. US Marines are patrolling Nasiriyah to engage whatever Iraqi forces may still be in the area. [Washington Post, 4/3/2003]
Secretive Intelligence Sources - CENTCOM officials refuse to discuss the intelligence that led them to Lynch and the 11 bodies. One official says, “We may need to use those intelligence sources and collection methods again.” [New York Times, 4/2/2003]
Pentagon's Story Almost Entirely Fictitious - Reporters are given a detailed briefing about the rescue, as well as copies of a video of the rescue shot by the soldiers as they performed the mission (see April 1, 2003). 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: Associated Press, Washington Post, Jessica Lynch, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

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, Domestic Propaganda

Army Private Jessica Lynch, rescued from an Iraqi hospital by US Special Operations forces (see April 1, 2003), arrives at a US military hospital in Landestul, Germany. Military officials describe her as in “stable” condition, with multiple broken limbs and multiple gunshot and stab wounds. Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke tells reporters that Lynch is “in good spirits and being treated for injuries.” Another military officer tells reporters that she is conscious and was able to communicate with her rescuers, but “she was pretty messed up.” Lynch has spoken with her parents by telephone, who describe her as in good spirits, but hungry and in pain. [Washington Post, 4/3/2003] The New York Times reports that Lynch suffered from gunshot wounds: “Details of what happened to Private Lynch were scarce. An Army official said Tuesday night that Private Lynch had been shot multiple times. The official said that it had not been determined whether she was shot during the rescue attempt or before it.” The Associated Press reports, “Officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said she was suffering from broken legs, a broken arm, and at least one gunshot wound.” [Project for Excellence in Journalism, 6/23/2003] It is later determined that Lynch was not, in fact, shot (see April 15, 2003).

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

Timeline Tags: US Military, Domestic Propaganda

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, Domestic Propaganda

Colonel David Rubenstein, a spokesman for the US military’s Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany, confirms that Army Private Jessica Lynch was neither shot nor stabbed as previously reported (see April 3, 2003). Rubenstein says, “While the mechanism of injury is still unclear at this point, the most recent evaluations by our staff do not suggest that any of her wounds were caused by either gunshots or stabbing injuries.” According to Rubenstein, Lynch’s injuries include fractures to her right arm, both legs, right foot and ankle, and lumbar spine. She also has a head laceration. She has already undergone several surgeries and is scheduled for more. She will “require extensive rehabilitative services” even after the surgeries. Rubenstein says he cannot tell if Lynch’s injuries were sustained during the ambush or while she was in Iraqi custody. Doctors have not discussed the care she received while in an Iraqi hospital (see May 4, 2003). [CNN, 4/4/2003] Around the same time as Rubenstein’s press conference, Lynch’s father, Greg Lynch, confirms that his daughter suffered no gunshot wounds. [Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003] “We have heard and seen reports that she had multiple gunshot wounds and a knife stabbing,” he says, but “[t]he doctor has not seen any of this.” Contradicting Lynch’s father’s statement, an Associated Press story reports: “Dan Little, a cousin who held a news conference Friday night in West Virginia, said he had talked with her doctors and they had determined she had been shot. He said they found two entry and exit wounds ‘consistent with low-velocity, small-caliber rounds.’ They also found shrapnel, Little said.” Little’s statement would continue to fuel the story of Lynch’s gunshot wounds. The New York Times presents both sides of the tale, writing: “Pfc. Jessica Lynch shifted overnight from victim to teenage Rambo: all the cable news shows ran with a report from the Washington Post that the 19-year-old POW had been shot and stabbed yet still kept firing at enemy soldiers (see April 3, 2003).… Later yesterday, her father said she had not been shot or stabbed.” Numerous media reports also cite “an Iraqi lawyer named Mohammed” who helped the US rescue team secure Lynch. The lawyer, Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, tells of Lynch being interrogated and slapped by a black-clad Fedayeen (see June 17, 2003). [Project for Excellence in Journalism, 6/23/2003]

Entity Tags: Jessica Lynch, David Rubenstein, Dan Little, Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, Greg Lynch

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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, Domestic Propaganda

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, Domestic Propaganda

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, Domestic Propaganda

Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief.Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief. [Source: Yuri Gripas / Reuters / Corbis]Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, the Iraqi lawyer who provided intelligence leading to the rescue of Army Private Jessica Lynch (see June 17, 2003), arrives in the US with his wife and daughter. Al-Rehaief is granted political asylum under the “humanitarian parole” program, which is usually used to expedite entry into the US for medical emergencies. A spokesman for the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services says, “Quite honestly, it was the fastest way to get him and his family to safety in the United States.” Al-Rehaief is provided a job with the Livingston Group, a Washington lobbying firm headed by former US representative Bob Livingston (R-PA). He is also given a $500,000 book contract by HarperCollins, which as reporter Robert Scheer notes, is “a company owned by Rupert Murdoch, whose Fox network did much to hype Lynch’s story, as it did the rest of the war.” [Washington Post, 5/2/2003; Los Angeles Times, 5/20/2003]

Entity Tags: Rupert Murdoch, Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Bob Livingston, Fox News, Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, HarperCollins, Livingston Group, Jessica Lynch, Robert Scheer

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

While television news anchors and analysts continue to follow the lead of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in comparing the toppling of the Firdos Square statue to the fall of the Berlin Wall (see April 9, 2003 and April 9, 2003), press reporters and editorial writers begin to express some skepticism. An unphotogenic photo of the statue being covered by an American flag prompts the New York Times’s Alessandra Stanley to note that this was a “powerful reminder that, unlike the Soviet empire, Iraq’s regime did not implode from within.” Noting that an American tank had been required to eventually push the statue over, Stanley adds, “In 1989, East Germans did not need American help to break down their wall.” The Washington Post’s Tom Shales observes that “of all the statues of Saddam Hussein scattered throughout the city, the crowds had conveniently picked one located across from the hotel where most of the media were headquartered. This was either splendid luck or brilliant planning on the part of the [US] military.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 83] Two days later, the Toronto Star will report, “Never mind how that video was tightly framed, showing a chanting crowd, when wider shots would have revealed a very different picture: a very large, mostly empty square surrounded by US tanks.” [Toronto Star, 4/12/2003]

Entity Tags: New York Times, Tom Shales, Toronto Star, Alessandra Stanley, Washington Post, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

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, Domestic Propaganda

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, pleased with the propaganda effort of his assistant Victoria Clarke and her use of retired military officers as media analysts to boost the administration’s case for war with Iraq (see Early 2002 and Beyond), sends a memo to Clarke suggesting that the Pentagon continue the propaganda effort after the war has run its course. He writes, “Let’s think about having some of the folks who did such a good job as talking heads in after this thing is over.” As the occupation lasts through the summer and the first signs of the insurgency emerge, the Pentagon quickly counters with its military analysts to reassure the American populace that everything is going well in Iraq (see Summer 2003). [New York Times, 4/20/2008]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke, US Department of Defense, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

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, Domestic Propaganda

Fox News analyst Robert Scales, Jr.Fox News analyst Robert Scales, Jr. [Source: New York Times]Washington Post columnist Colman McCarthy notes that there are at least a dozen retired military officers giving supposedly independent opinion and commentary on the Iraq war to the various news networks. McCarthy writes: “Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have been unhappy with the criticism of their war effort by former military men appearing on television. So am I, but for a different reason. The top people at the Pentagon are wondering why these ex-military talkers can’t follow the company line on how well the war has been fought. I’m wondering why these spokesmen for militarism are on TV in the first place.” McCarthy lists twelve: Lieutenant General Bernard Trainor, Major General Robert Scales, Lieutenant General Gregory Newbold, Major General Donald Shepperd, General Barry McCaffrey, Major General Paul Vallely, Lieutenant General Don Edwards, Lieutenant General Thomas McInerney, Colonel Tony Koren, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, Major Jack Stradley, and Captain Chris Lohman. He asks rhetorically, “Did I miss anyone?” [Washington Post, 4/19/2003] In 2008, after the story of the massive and systematic Pentagon propaganda operation using at least 75 retired military officers to promote the war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) becomes public knowledge, Editor & Publisher’s Greg Mitchell answers the question, “[H]e sure did.” [Editor & Publisher, 4/20/2008]
Deploring the Military's Domination of the Airwaves - McCarthy continues: “That the news divisions of NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, and Fox sanctioned this domination by military types was a further assault on what the public deserves: independent, balanced and impartial journalism. The tube turned into a parade ground for military men… saluting the ethic that war is rational, that bombing and shooting are the way to win peace, and that their uniformed pals in Iraq were there to free people, not slaughter them. Perspective vanished, as if caught in a sandstorm of hype and war-whooping. If the US military embedded journalists to report the war from Iraq, journalists back in network studios embedded militarists to explain it. Either way, it was one-version news.” McCarthy asks why no dissenters are allowed on the airwaves to counter the military point of view, a question answered by a CNN news executive (see April 20, 2003). McCarthy answers his own question: “In wartime, presumably, the message to peace activists is shut up or shut down.”
Viewers Unaware of Analysts' Business Connections - Presciently, considering the wide range of business connections exploited by the analysts and documented in the 2008 expose, McCarthy notes: “Viewers are not told of possible conflicts of interest—that this general or that one is on the payroll of this or that military contractor. Nor are they given information on whether the retired generals are paid for their appearances.”
Militaristic Newsmen - It is not just the retired officers who provide a militarist perspective, McCarthy observes, but the reporters and anchormen themselves. With examples of ABC’s Ted Koppel and NBC’s Brian Williams donning helmets before the cameras, or Fox’s Geraldo Rivera proclaiming in Afghanistan that “[W]e have liberated this country” (and his cameraman shouting, “Hallelujah!”), “the media are tethered to the military,” McCarthy writes. “They become beholden, which leads not to Pentagon censorship, as in 1991 (see October 10, 1990), but a worse kind: self-censorship” (see September 10, 2003).
For Us or Against Us - McCarthy concludes: “George W. Bush lectured the world that you’re either with us or against us. America’s networks got the message: They’re with. They could have said that they’re neither with nor against, because no side has all the truth or all the lies and no side all the good or evil. But a declaration such as that would have required boldness and independence of mind, two traits not much linked to America’s television news.” [Washington Post, 4/19/2003]

Entity Tags: NBC, Paul Vallely, Rick Francona, Ted Koppel, Robert Scales, Jr, Tony Koren, Thomas G. McInerney, Jack Stradley, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Greg Mitchell, Barry McCaffrey, Bernard Trainor, Brian Williams, Gregory Newbold, CBS News, ABC News, CNN, Chris Lohman, Don Edwards, Geraldo Rivera, George W. Bush, Fox News, Donald Shepperd, Donald Rumsfeld, Colman McCarthy

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

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, Domestic Propaganda

New York Times reporter Judith Miller speaks about her reporting on PBS.New York Times reporter Judith Miller speaks about her reporting on PBS. [Source: PBS]New York Times reporter Judith Miller, embedded with the Army’s 101st Airborne Division south of Baghdad, writes that Iraq destroyed large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in the days before the March 2003 invasion.
Single Unidentified 'Scientist' as Source - Miller’s source is identified as an Iraqi scientist who claims to have worked in Iraq’s chemical weapons program for over a decade; this scientist is said to have told an American military team hunting for unconventional weapons in Iraq, the Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha, or MET Alpha (see April-May 2003), of the stockpiles. According to MET Alpha, the scientist has taken the team to a supply of material he buried in his backyard—“precursors for a toxic agent”—as evidence of Iraq’s illicit weapons programs. The scientist also claims that Iraq sent unconventional weapons and technology to Syria, and has been cooperating with al-Qaeda. In the last years of the Hussein regime, Miller reports the scientist as claiming, Iraq “focused its efforts… on research and development projects that are virtually impervious to detection by international inspectors, and even American forces on the ground combing through Iraq’s giant weapons plants.” MET Alpha refuses to identify the scientist, saying to do so would imperil his safety, and does not take Miller to see the scientist’s buried supply of materials. According to Miller, the team describes the scientist’s assertions and his cache of materials as “the most important discovery to date in the hunt for illegal weapons.” Moreover, Miller writes that the discovery “supports the Bush administration’s charges that Iraq continued to develop those weapons and lied to the United Nations about it. Finding and destroying illegal weapons was a major justification for the war.”
Military Controlled, Vetted Report - Miller admits to not interviewing the scientist, not being permitted to write about the scientist for three days, and having her report vetted by military officials before submitting it for publication. She says that portions of her report detailing the chemicals located by the MET Alpha team were deleted, again for fear that such reporting might place the scientist in jeopardy. Neither Pentagon officials in Washington nor CENTCOM officials in Qatar will verify that the scientist is actually working with American forces. Miller’s only contact with the scientist is viewing him “from a distance at the sites where he said that material from the arms program was buried,” where he wore a baseball cap and pointed at spots in the sand where he claimed chemical weapons materials were buried.
'Incalculable Value' - Miller quotes the commander of the 101st Airborne, Major General David Petraeus, as calling the potential of MET Alpha’s work “enormous.” Petraeus adds: “What they’ve discovered could prove to be of incalculable value. Though much work must still be done to validate the information MET Alpha has uncovered, if it proves out it will clearly be one of the major discoveries of this operation, and it may be the major discovery.” [New York Times, 4/21/2003] The day after her report is published, Miller will tell a PBS interviewer: “I think they found something more than a smoking gun.… What they’ve found is… a silver bullet in the form of a person, an Iraqi individual, a scientist, as we’ve called him, who really worked on the programs, who knows them firsthand, and who has led MET Alpha people to some pretty startling conclusions.” Asked if the report will confirm “the insistence coming from the US government that after the war, various Iraqi tongues would loosen, and there might be people who would be willing to help,” Miller responds: “Yes, it clearly does.… That’s what the Bush administration has finally done. They have changed the political environment, and they’ve enabled people like the scientists that MET Alpha has found to come forth.” [American Journalism Review, 8/2003; Huffington Post, 1/30/2007]
Report Almost Entirely Wrong - Miller’s reporting will be proven to be almost entirely wrong. Neither Miller nor MET Alpha will ever produce any tangible evidence of the scientist’s claims, including the so-called “evidence” he claims he buried in his backyard. And, Miller will later admit, the “scientist” was actually a former Iraqi military intelligence officer with no connection to Iraq’s WMD programs (see July 25, 2003). [Slate, 7/25/2003] Other reporters, such as the Washington Post’s Barton Gellman and the Associated Press’s Dafna Linzer, report that teams such as MET Alpha have found nothing of use. Linzer will soon report that nothing the Iraqi scientist claims can be verified. And Miller will admit that much of the information she has published in the Times has come from Iraqi National Congress head Ahmed Chalabi (see May 1, 2003), a known fabricator (see 1992-1996, (1994), November 6-8, 2001, Summer 2002, Early 2003, and July 9, 2004). Miller will continue to insist that her reporting is accurate. [American Journalism Review, 8/2003]

Entity Tags: New York Times, Dafna Linzer, David Petraeus, Bush administration (43), Barton Gellman, Ahmed Chalabi, Judith Miller, US Central Command, US Department of Defense, Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

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, Domestic Propaganda

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

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Joseph Wilson, the former ambassador who journeyed to Niger to investigate groundless claims that Iraq had clandestinely bought uranium from that nation (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), takes part in a retreat for Democratic senators. During a panel discussion with some of the senators and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, Wilson discusses his trip and his findings. Kristof asks if he can write about Wilson’s trip (see May 6, 2003); Wilson agrees after stipulating that Kristof may only identify him as a “retired former ambassador.” Wilson’s wife, senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, will write in 2007 that her husband’s reason for remaining anonymous “was not to hide from our government, but to avoid drawing attention to himself.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 138]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Nicholas Kristof, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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, Domestic Propaganda

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]

Entity Tags: David S. Broder, Chris Matthews, Tom Cruise, Texas Air National Guard, Ronald Reagan, Public Broadcasting System, Walter Mondale, Washington Post, Wendell Goler, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Ann Coulter, Bob Schieffer, Pat Caddell, Brian Williams, CBS News, Wolf Blitzer, Brit Hume, New York Times, Vladimir Putin, Michael Dukakis, George S. McGovern, Fox News, CNN, Elisabeth Bumiller, Detroit Free Press, David Sanger, Dwight Eisenhower, George W. Bush, NBC News, Jerry Bruckheimer, Keith Olbermann, Gwen Ifill, Karl C. Rove, Laura Ingraham, Jon Scott, MSNBC, Joe Klein, Maureen Dowd

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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, Domestic Propaganda

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, Domestic Propaganda

US military officials report that Private Jessica Lynch, who was captured after an Iraqi ambush (see March 23, 2003) and rescued from an Iraqi hospital (see April 1, 2003, May 4, 2003, and June 17, 2003), has no recollection of what happened after her unit was attacked and she awoke in the hospital. [Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003] The Pentagon continues to deny media access to Lynch, who is recovering from her wounds in Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital. [Toronto Star, 5/4/2003]

Entity Tags: Jessica Lynch, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: US Military, Domestic Propaganda

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

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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