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‘October Surprise’ Comes Straight from Elite Press

October 31, 2004

The story of the missing explosives in Iraq seems to change every half-hour, but at this writing, it looks as though John Kerry is going to lose his big gamble of furiously denouncing President Bush over the issue. Was Bush incompetent in allowing nearly 380 tons of highly dangerous explosives to disappear? So far there is no clear evidence that he was.

At his Friday press conference, Maj. Austin Pearson said his team had removed 250 tons of explosives from the site a few days after American troops arrived — no sign of incompetence there. Pearson said he had not noticed any inspectors’ seals on the buildings at the site. In a separate report, ABC News said only 3 tons is missing from the site, not 380. And its report is based on documents of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a creature of the United Nations and the agency that played such a large role in framing the accusations of alleged American failures to guard the explosives.

The Defense Department, making no claims that it knew for sure whether looters and terrorists had taken some explosives, released photos showing large tractor-trailers parked outside al Qaqaa buildings on March 17, 2003, more than three weeks before the first American troops arrived.

How did Kerry overplay his hand, repeatedly making charges he didn’t know for sure were true? Part of the answer is that he relied on three sources he must have considered impeccable: the IAEA, The New York Times and CBS. But all three turned out to be peccable. The IAEA director, Mohamed El-Baradei, is considered incompetent and hostile by the Bush administration, which has made clear it will not support him for another term. Perhaps he thought a President Kerry would.

The New York Times and CBS have strong track records of hostility to Bush. The Times has been conducting what surely looks like an all-out six-week assault on Bush in the news columns and its Sunday magazine. CBS, which gave us Rathergate, did not think it was worth postponing its hoax-based report on Bush’s National Guard documents long enough to get the story straight. But it did think it was a good idea to hold back the missing-explosives story until Sunday, Oct. 31 — some 36 hours before the polls opened. William Safire, a token conservative columnist at the Times for many years, said on the Larry King show that it was “scandalous” for CBS to plan a last-minute unanswerable charge so close to the election.

CBS abandoned its plan to hold its coverage until two days before the election, allowing its partner on the story to run it on Oct. 25, a week early. The Times story contained no input from the Army and made little effort to explore the possibility (now the likelihood) that Saddam had dispersed much of the explosives before Americans reached the site.

Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times, told The Washington Post that the Times article had been rushed into print because the Internet had gotten wind of it. The blog Power Line offered this comment: “When the Times runs a false, half-baked story, it isn’t their fault; they had to do it lest people get wind of the false, half-baked story from some other source first.”

Keller also said there should be no fuss over the Times’ coverage because the newspaper’s original story allowed the possibility that the looting had preceded the troops’ arrival. Not really. That Times story said “White House and Pentagon officials acknowledge that the explosives vanished sometime after the American-led invasion last year.” That sentence falsely committed the Bush administration to the Times’ point of view — that Bush had badly bungled the issue.

The Times’ rushed and incompetent coverage seemed built to swing the election to Kerry. The Times will now see its dwindling credibility shrink even further. Instead of a smoking gun that fatally wounds the president, we see a partisan newspaper playing to a candidate who will say anything, true or not, to defeat Bush. Call it a massive backfire.

From → Media, Politics

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