More Misleading on Iraq-Al Qaeda Ties - June 21, 2004 -

Times Watch for June 21, 2004

More Misleading on Iraq-Al Qaeda Ties

In his Week in Review story "The Iraq-Qaeda Link: A Short History," reporter Tom Zeller again challenges the paper's conventional wisdom, this time on the liberal idea that the 9/11 report contradicts Bush and Cheney's claims about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda.

Zeller notes the response to the panel's report: "Some took aim at the news media, which critics argued made mush out of the intelligence coming out of the war on terror. Others pointed to what opponents of the Bush administration have called a deliberate campaign to implicate Iraq, however tangentially, in the Sept. 11 attacks, as a means of gaining support for the war. The administration countered that it never claimed a link between Iraq and 9/11, but rather a 'relationship' between Iraq and the more generalized comings and goings of Al Qaeda."

A chart accompanying Zeller's story, titled "What the Bush Administration Said," with quotes from top figures in the administration, actually shows Bush was right (and, by unstated implication, that the Times and other media outlets were wrong).

An accompanying caption notes: "Critics of the Bush administration argue that it falsely created a link between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks to help justify the war. Last week, the administration countered that it had never made such an assertion-only that there were ties, however murky, between Iraq and Al Qaeda. A survey of past public comments seems to bear that out-although whether there was a deliberate campaign to create guilt by association is difficult to say."

Yes, it's muted, but it's there: "Past public comments" by the Bushies "bear out" their argument they never claimed a link between Iraq and 9/11.

To review: Upon release of the report, the Times demanded Bush apologize to the American people for misleading the country into war. Now the question is, when will the Times apologize to Bush?

Yet the misleading statements on the report continued over the weekend, sprawled all over the Times news pages. Saturday's story by Steven Lee Myers is a dismissive report on Russian intelligence suggesting Hussein was targeting the U.S. for terrorist attacks, but includes a misleading reference to the 9-11 report: "Mr. Putin, who has cultivated a warm relationship with Mr. Bush despite sharp differences over the war, made his remarks a day after the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks reported in Washington that there was no clear evidence that Iraq had a relationship with Al Qaeda. That called into question a central rationale to the war, although Mr. Bush disputed the finding."

White House reporter Elisabeth Bumiller wedged the issue into a campaign story on Bush and McCain in Nevada: "The united front of the president and Mr. McCain, the Arizona Republican who waged a bitter primary fight against Mr. Bush in 2000, was a striking development at a time when the president is under political siege for stating that ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda in part justified going to war against Saddam Hussein".Mr. Bush, in a speech that was a familiar thank you to the troops as well as an update on the antiterrorism effort, repeated that Iraq had ties to Al Qaeda. He did not dwell on the extent of those ties, which have been questioned by the bipartisan commission investigating the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001."

Also on Saturday, reporters Philip Shenon and Richard Stevenson file, "Leaders of 9/11 Panel Ask Cheney for Reports that Would Support Iraq-Qaeda Ties." Yet the reporters fail to quote Democratic co-chairman Hamilton's opinion of how the media exaggerated the "sharp differences" between what Cheney said about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda and the findings of the report. Instead, Shenon and Stevenson tease out more conflict between Cheney and the commission: "The leaders of the Sept. 11 commission called on Vice President Dick Cheney on Friday to turn over any intelligence reports that would support the White House's insistence that there was a close relationship between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda."

Next they claim: "The report found that there did not appear to have been a 'collaborative relationship' between Iraq and the terrorist network. That finding appeared to undermine one of the main justifications cited by Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney for invading Iraq and toppling Mr. Hussein."

But Kean and Hamilton have both said there are no conflicts between their report and Cheney's past statements on Iraq-Al Qaeda ties.

Shenon again distorts the record in Sunday's Week in Review: "A staff report released by the commission last week said that there did not appear to have been a 'collaborative relationship' between Iraq and Al Qaeda, a finding that contradicted repeated statements by President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney in explaining the rationale for the war. The White House reacted with fury to the suggestion that it had overstated the Iraq-Al Qaeda ties""

Finally, on Monday Susan Jo Keller files a small story (page A9) noting chairman Kean states the commission's report does not contradict the Bush administration's claims of links between Al Qaeda and Iraq. Perhaps she could give a heads-up to the Times other political and intelligence reporters.

But even this story is salted with snark, perhaps by a copy editor, who graced it with this headline putting "tie" in scare quotes, as if it was still up for debate: "9/11 Panel Members Debate Qaeda-Iraq 'Tie.'"

For the full Zeller report, with links to Bush quotes linking Hussein and Al Qaeda, click here.

For Shenon and Stevenson on Cheney vs. the 9-11 Commission, click here.

For Bumiller's story on Bush and McCain, click here.

For Myers on the Russian intel, click here.

For Shenon's Week in Review piece, click here.

For Keller on the 9-11 Commission's findings, click here.

" Al Qaeda | Elisabeth Bumiller | George W. Bush | Iraq War | Susan Jo Keller | Steven Lee Myers | Philip Shenon | Richard Stevenson | Terrorism | Tom Zeller

Safire vs. The Times

William Safire's Monday column opens with a broadside against the Times' misleading front-page treatment of the 9-11 report, and then takes on his paper's editorial page: "'Panel Finds No Qaeda-Iraq Tie' went the Times headline. 'Al Qaeda-Hussein Link Is Dismissed' front-paged The Washington Post. The A.P. led with the thrilling words 'Bluntly contradicting the Bush Administration, the commission. . . .' This understandably caused my editorial-page colleagues to draw the conclusion that 'there was never any evidence of a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda"'"

What is Safire's opinion of his paper's editorial: "All wrong. The basis for the hoo-ha was not a judgment of the panel of commissioners appointed to investigate the 9/11 attacks. As reporters noted below the headlines, it was an interim report of the commission's runaway staff, headed by the ex-N.S.C. aide Philip Zelikow. After Vice President Dick Cheney's outraged objection, the staff's sweeping conclusion was soon disavowed by both commission chairman Tom Kean and vice chairman Lee Hamilton."

For the rest of Safire's contradicting column, click here.

" Al Qaeda | Columnists | Iraq War | William Safire | Terrorism

US in Iraq Like Soviets in Afghanistan?

Distortions old and new from reporter Edward Wong in his Sunday Week in Review story from Baghdad, "Iraq Is a Hub for Terrorism, However You Define It." First Wong compares the U.S. liberation of Iraq to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Then he wrongly claims Bush pressed for war by citing a working relationship between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda.

Wong opens: "A superpower invaded an impoverished Islamic nation. Guerrillas responded with AK-47's and rocket-propelled grenades. A generation of warriors was born, eager to wage jihad. That was Afghanistan in the 1980's. It became a breeding ground for terrorists-most infamously Osama bin Laden-who exported their deadly skills throughout the world. In Iraq, some of the same conditions that nurtured terrorism in the mountains of Afghanistan have emerged in the power vacuum created by the American occupation, Iraqis and terrorism experts say."

Then it's on to the Times' misstatement du jour: "An independent commission in Washington investigating the attacks of Sept. 11 reported last week that there was no evidence of a working relationship between Mr. Hussein and Al Qaeda, as the Bush administration had said in pressing its case for war."

Sigh. As even the Times has pointed out (on inside pages) the two cochairmen of the 9-11 Commission, Republican Tom Kean and Democrat Lee Hamilton agree their report does not contradict Bush administration claims of links between Al Qaeda and Hussein.

Wong argues in his conclusion: "By deciding that Baath Party members could not participate in the rebuilding of Iraq, the Americans essentially dismantled much of the state without installing a suitable replacement. L. Paul Bremer III, the top civilian administrator here, disbanded the Iraqi Army, leaving behind a pool of disgruntled men trained in killing". As the United States occupation approaches its official end on June 30, many Iraqis say that the future will be defined by the legacy the Americans are leaving the interim government-the birth of terrorist and insurgent groups and the struggle to control them."

For the rest of Wong on Iraq, click here.

" Al Qaeda | Iraq War | Terrorism | Edward Wong

There They Go Again: Ronald Reagan, Anti-Gun

And liberals accuse conservatives of using Reagan for political ends. Monday brings more cynical Reagan exploitation from the Times editorial page. Two weeks ago, it hooked Ronald Reagan to the debate on embryonic stem-cell research, a policy opposed by many pro-life conservatives (of which Reagan was one).

Monday's editorial page issues another dubious "tribute" to a president whose policies they found repellent, conjuring up the convenient image of an anti-gun Ronald Reagan and suggesting Bush can "go the Gipper one better" by pushing to renew the ban on "assault weapons."

They write: "In the debate over who can lay claim to the Reagan legacy, one aspect of the late president's record has gotten little attention. That was Mr. Reagan's willingness to stand up to the National Rifle Association and support the cause of gun control when he thought it was right".True, it was only after Mr. Reagan left office that he woke up to the need for sensible national laws like the assault weapons ban and background checks for gun buyers. As president, he signed legislation weakening federal gun laws. Right now, President Bush has the chance to go the Gipper one better by waging a principled fight to renew the 10-year-old assault weapons ban, which is due to expire in September. The president is on record as favoring the ban's continuation. But he steadfastly refuses to do anything to rally lawmakers to renew and strengthen its proven, life-saving provisions. Mr. Bush may please anti-gun-control extremists by presiding over the extinction of the assault weapons ban. We doubt it would have pleased Mr. Reagan."

Like they'd know.

For the full editorial, click here.

" Editorial | Gun Control | Ronald Reagan

Throwing the Book at Clinton

Times lead book reviewer Michiko Kakutani has been harsh on conservative books and Clinton-bashing tomes in the past, but no one can accuse her of going soft on Clinton's new autobiography, "My Life." The Times, to its credit, puts her scathing review on Sunday's front page, giving it the same play as the paper's previous Clinton coverage (except for Clinton's confession on Monica Lewinsky, which it relegated to the back pages).

Kakutani writes: "The book, which weighs in at more than 950 pages, is sloppy, self-indulgent and often eye-crossingly dull-the sound of one man prattling away, not for the reader, but for himself and some distant recording angel of history."

She even probes the downside Clinton's policy arguments in the same skeptical fashion the Times always applies to conservative thinkers: "Mr. Clinton confesses that his affair with Monica Lewinsky was 'immoral and foolish,' but he spends far more space excoriating his nemesis, independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, and the press. He writes at length about his awareness that terrorism was a growing threat, but does not grapple with the unintended consequences of his administration's decisions to pressure Sudan to expel Osama bin Laden in 1996 (driving sent the al Qaeda leader to Afghanistan, where he was harder to track) or to launch cruise missile attacks against targets in Sudan and Afghanistan in retaliation for the embassy bombings in 1998 (an act that some terrorism experts believe fueled terrorists' conviction that the United States was an ineffectual giant that relied on low-risk high technology)". For the most part, the self-portrait that emerges from this book is not all that different a Bill Clinton from the one the public has already come to know: tireless, driven, boyish, self-absorbed and optimistic, someone riven by contradictions but adept at compartmentalizing different parts of his life."

For the full Kakutani on Clinton, click here.

" Books | Bill Clinton | Michiko Kakutani

Pulling Down Pro-War Blair

Foreign correspondent Patrick Tyler's dispatch from London, "Blair Confronts Political Burdens of Iraq," finds the prime minister's future prospects gloomy for having supported Bush on the war in Iraq.

Tyler begins: "Every British prime minister faces dark hours, but for Tony Blair it seems as if time has stood still at the nadir of his political career. The slump in his popularity brought on by the war in Iraq stubbornly will not come to an end".Though he tried valiantly in an hour of questioning to turn the national discussion back to the domestic agenda, he found himself in the familiar defensive crouch, over Iraq, over the poor showing of his party in local and European parliamentary elections and over the political malaise that grips much of the country."

You know a politician is in trouble when they start talking about malaise.

Or perhaps, the Times just wants to make it appear that way. Belgravia Dispatch points out the view for Blair is rather less dire than the one Tyler paints: "Memo to Pat Tyler-it's not quite all that bad over here for Mr. Blair. After all, polls wouldn't have Blair easily winning a third term if all were so doom and gloom."

In more gloomy analysis masquerading under cover of a straight news story, Tyler sees Blair sinking under the weight of the war: "Iraq thus pulls like the millstone around Mr. Blair's neck, and its weight has undermined his role as the pivotal prime minister, one whose leadership in Europe was supposed to give him more leverage over the Bush administration, and whose influence in Washington was supposed to strengthen Britain's hand in Europe".The pivotal prime minister has become the diminished prime minister, facing a summer of more uncertain news about Iraq, including a report from Lord Butler, who has been examining the failure of British intelligence in the matter of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons or their components."

Tyler even blames Blair for Britain's lost of cool cachet: "The era of a cooler and hipper Britannia seems now lost to the rancor of a thousand political battles, but most overwhelmingly to the war in Iraq".The collapse of trust in Mr. Blair's government is not the result of any failure to deliver on promises to improve the national health service, schools and police effectiveness against crime-he has delivered. Poll after poll show that it is largely about going to war in Iraq for reasons that have not stood up."

For the rest of Patrick Tyler on Blair, click here.

" Tony Blair | Iraq War | Patrick Tyler