Information Warfare: Bad Reporting and Iraq

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: September 12, 2005

Sir, if I got my news from the newspapers also, Id be pretty depressed as well. Captain Sherman Powell to Matt Lauer, Today, 8/17/05

If you were to believe what you see in the mass media, Iraq has become a horrendous quagmire, with soldiers being killed almost on a daily basis, for what turns out to have been a lie about weapons of mass destruction. To top it off, after having nothing to do with terrorism, Iraq has now become a training ground for al-Qaeda. But maybe not. The media has gotten things wrong before. Just look at Dan Rathers story about the memos concerning President Bushs service in the Texas Air National Guard, or how the battlefield victory of the 1968 Tet Offensive was turned into a defeat with a few words from Walter Cronkite.

What is happening in Iraq is a failure by the media to give the American people relevant information. This has probably colored public opinion on the liberation of Iraq. The medias failure has come in two areas. First, it has failed to provide the news in context, often focusing on negatives. Second, it has not brought evidence to the American people that would place the initial decision to go in into context. Both of these failures have occurred often enough that one cannot be blamed for wondering if a pattern of deception, by omission, is not occurring.

The term deception by omission might sound harsh, but it is accurate. Deception does not need the active misrepresentation of facts, it can occur when someone fails to reveal something relevant to the situation particularly when the people leaving out some of the facts are advocating a specific course of action (such as withdrawal from Iraq ).

For instance, the media has often failed to report many of the successes. This was a major complaint voiced by at least two columnists who have served in Iraq. In the first case, the complaint is about the lack of good news ( schools opened, rehabilitation of infrastructure neglected by Saddam Hussein, and other news items that dont have the suddenness and shock value of a car bombing). The second complaint is that the police blotter coverage often obscures the big picture of what is going on. This is quite important as well. The insurgents offer little more beyond murder, mayhem, and terror.

The second, and more serious matter is the fact that the media has flat-out omitted several pieces of information that tend to back up the decision to go to war and put to rest claims that President Bush lied. Stephen F. Hayes of The Weekly Standard has documented the connections between Saddams regime and al-Qaeda. This has been a constantly repeated pattern.

In April, 2003, a pair of journalists discovered a memo in which the Mukhabarat wanted to bring over a representative of Osama bin Laden to discuss the future of our relationship with him. The memo in question went through five translations before the article was published, and the reporter in question, Mitch Potter, admitted that he had been skeptical of the claims.

  • Ahmed Hikmat Shakir is someone else who has been ignored, except to be dismissed as a case of mistaken id entity. Yet looking closely at the circumstances of his capture (with contact information for safe houses used in the 1993 World Trade Center attack and information on the 1995 plan to destroy airliners of the Pacific), and how he got his job as a greeter at the airport in Kuala Lampur, one has to wonder just what the deal was with him.
  • Richard Clarkes e-mail opposing a U-2 mission over Afghanistan was also swept under the rug. The rationale: It would warn bin Laden of an attack and old wily Usama will likely boogie to Baghdad (Chapter 4, 9-11 Commission Report). Note that Clarke claimed in 2004 that there was no connection at all. Yet this 180-degree shift in his position never drew any notice in the outlets that initially published the charges.
  • Finally, there is an evidence summary for an al-Qaeda detainee currently being held at Guantanamo. The summary, reprinted in a report by Hayes in the Weekly Standard, indicated that the detainee traveled to Pakistan with an Iraqi intelligence agent in 1998 for the purposes of carrying out a chemical mortar attack against the U.S. and British embassies in Pakistan. Even though this attack was not carried out, it was precisely the scenario that both President Bush (Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists.) and then-Secretary of State Colin Powell (Our concern is not just about these elicit weapons. It's the way that these elicit weapons can be connected to terrorists and terrorist organizations that have no compunction about using such devices against innocent people around the world.) warned about in the run-up to the war.

These four instances would clearly exonerate the President and his national security team of the most serious charges laid against them by the anti-war movement. To wit, they prove that the rationale for going to war was based in fact, not lies. Knowing that the threat was real would certainly have an effect on public opinion.

In essence, the coverage of Iraq that people have been getting from the media is a distorted picture that has characterized by a distinct pattern of omission of facts that would support the Administration. Given the call by Greg Mitchell for media outlets to editorialize in favor of a withdrawal from Iraq, there is a serious question as to whether or not these omissions are deliberate. If so, then the media is guilty of deception by omission. --Harold C. Hutchison (hchutch@ix.netcom.com)

 


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