Media AWOL on WMD
With nary a WMD to show for its work, the 400-member team searching for military equipment in Iraq has packed up and gone home. Although more than 1,000 member of the Iraq Survey Group remain on the hunt, it now appears the Bush administration's weapons of mass destruction mantra was propaganda for mass deception. How much attention will the mainstream media now devote to investigating the unfolding of the WMD affair and who in the administration should be held accountable for perpetuating this monumental fabrication?
Hans Blix, the former United Nations chief weapons inspector, believes the Bush administration may "have given up on [finding] the weapons." Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair still claims the WMD exist and insists that they'll be found, and in a television interview, President Bush claims that there's no difference between weapons of mass destruction and weapons of mass destruction "programs."
An early-January story in The Washington Post and a new report from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace confirm what all but administration true believers have suspected to be true for some time: Iraq had no functioning weapons of mass destruction programs that could immediately threaten the United States.
In a long piece dated Jan. 7, The Washington Post's Barton Gellman wrote: "Investigators have found no support for the two main fears expressed in London and Washington before the war: that Iraq had a hidden arsenal of old weapons and built advanced programs for new ones."
The Carnegie report, entitled "WMD in IRAQ: Evidence and Implications," concludes that Bush administration "officials misrepresented [the] threat from Iraq's WMD and ballistic missiles programs over and above intelligence findings." The findings in the Carnegie report were the result of more than six months of work, and were based on hundreds of documents and dozens of interviews with specialists, former weapons inspectors and current and former US officials.
Exaggerating The Iraq Threat
President Bush trucked out WMD-speak at key moments before the invasion. In a June 2003 article published at FindLaw.com John Dean, former White House Counsel to President Richard Nixon, compiled a collection of the president's comments regarding Iraq's weapons off mass destruction:
Media Follow White House Script
"Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons." -- United Nations Address, Sept. 12, 2002
"We've also discovered through intelligence that Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas. We're concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVS for missions targeting the United States."
"Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised." -- Address to the Nation, Mar. 17, 2003
After the United States invaded Iraq, reports of WMD sightings starting flowing. As media analyst Seth Ackerman meticulously recorded last year in Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting's EXTRA! ("The Great WMD Hunt: The media knew they were therebut where are they?"), the administration cast and the media swallowed hook, line and sinker nearly every one of its claims that chemical factories or biological weapon facilities had been discovered.
Ackerman asks: "So how had the media come to be so convinced of the weapons' existence? And could they have seen past the White House spin had they chosen to?" Journalists trusted the expertise of "'independent' weapons experts who repeated the mantra of Iraq concealment over and over[and] used these experts as outside sources who could independently evaluate the administration's claims. "Often" Ackerman notes, "these 'experts' were simply repeating what they heard from U.S. officials, forming an endless loop of self-reinforcing scare mongering."
"In short," Ackerman added, "the longstanding 'consensus' in official circles that Iraq must have been harboring illegal arms has always had somewhat murky origins. Behind the thundering allegations issued at heavily publicized official press conferences, a careful observer might have noticed quiet signs of dissent: the "senior intelligence analyst" who anonymously told The Washington Post four days before the war started that one reason U.N. inspectors didn't find any weapons stockpiles "is because there may not be much of a stockpile."
But that was then, and this is nearly 10 months after the U.S. invasion, and the media has basically bailed on the important issue beyond the fact of missing WMD: Who was responsible for the lies? Are they too busy dealing with weightier matters, such as the Michael Jackson or Kobe Bryant sex cases? Are they overwhelmed by a bouillabaisse of homeland security stories dished out by Secretary Ridge's Department of Homeland Security? Or is it possible that "Bush Lied about Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction" is a headline that would be too darned hot to handle?
Danny Schecter, the executive editor of MediaChannel.org, points out in his new book "Embedded: Weapons of Mass Deception" that, "The TV networks...considered their non-stop around-the-clock coverage their finest hour, pointing to the use of embedded journalists and new technologies that permitted viewers to see a war up close for the first time." Will they devote even a fraction of those resources to uncovering the genesis of Bush's WMD lies?
Will The Media Pay Attention Now?
John Dean speculated that not finding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction could be a scandal of greater proportion than Watergate: "...if Bush has taken Congress and the nation into war based on bogus information, he is cooked. Manipulation or deliberate misuse of national security intelligence data, if proven, could be 'a high crime' under the Constitution's impeachment clause. It would also be a violation of federal criminal law, including the broad federal anti-conspiracy statute, which renders it a felony 'to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose.'"
If there's any scandal brewing at this point, it's that the mainstream media has not held the Bush administration accountable for its misinformation and disinformation campaign about Iraq's WMD stockpiles.
Upon the publication of the Carnegie Endowment's report, Joseph Cirincione called for the creation of an independent commission to further investigate the study's findings. In December, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, told CBS' "Face the Nation" that there might be public hearings on the Bush administration's weapons of mass destruction claims, beginning sometime in February. With the Post's story and the Carnegie report under their belts, the committee should have a lot more to work with. Will the mainstream media come along for the ride?
Bill Berkowitz is a long time political observer and columnist.