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Daily Howler: One more journalist changes the facts to produce a treasured contradiction
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ENDLESS IMPROVEMENT! One more journalist changes the facts to produce a treasured contradiction: // link // print // previous // next //

THE WEEKEND’S FEEL-GOOD STORY: Wake the kids and share this story! On Wednesday night, the Baltimore Oriole’s Sidney Ponson racked up his latest DUI. The team hopes to void the pitcher’s contract. But in this morning’s Washington Post, one of Ponson’s loyal team-mates says he’s planning to stand by his man. Jorge Arangue delivers:
ARANGUE (8/27/05): Ponson was asked by the team to stay home on Friday. Some teammates offered support.

"I'm not going to sit here and crucify him," Rafael Palmeiro said. "The one thing I'm going to do is stand by him. He supported me and I'm going to do the same for him."

Kids, there is no “i-rony” in the word “team!” In Arangue’s moving rendition, we see the modern face of teamwork: The steroid abusers stand by the drunk drivers. Once again, we beg our readers: Run, don’t walk—wake up the kids!

ENDLESS IMPROVEMENT: Two weeks back, we noted that the mainstream press corps almost always “improves” the Joe Wilson story; they rearrange what he said in his Times op-ed to make his conflict with Bush more dramatic (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/12/05). This week, the Los Angeles Times tackled the story—and the paper did it again! In a 5600-word report, Tom Hamburger did play it cool; he never quoted or directly characterized the claims in Wilson’s op-ed column. But he did offer this account of what Wilson learned in Niger:

HAMBURGER (8/25/05): On his trip, [Wilson] interviewed Niger officials and citizens and talked with French mine managers.

He also spoke with the U.S. ambassador to Niger, Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, who recently had examined the Iraq uranium claim herself—as had a four-star general, Carlton W. Fulford Jr., deputy commander of the U.S. European Command.

Like Fulford and the ambassador, Wilson said, he concluded that there was little reason to believe Iraq had tried to purchase yellowcake from Niger. He did learn, however, that Iraqi officials had previously met with counterparts from Niger.

But when exactly did Wilson say that? When did he say he “concluded that there was little reason to believe Iraq had tried to purchase yellowcake from Niger?” In his Times op-ed piece, he plainly said something different:
WILSON (7/6/03): I spent the next eight days drinking sweet mint tea and meeting with dozens of people: current government officials, former government officials, people associated with the country's uranium business. It did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place.

Given the structure of the consortiums that operated the mines, it would be exceedingly difficult for Niger to transfer uranium to Iraq. Niger's uranium business consists of two mines, Somair and Cominak, which are run by French, Spanish, Japanese, German and Nigerian interests. If the government wanted to remove uranium from a mine, it would have to notify the consortium, which in turn is strictly monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Moreover, because the two mines are closely regulated, quasi-governmental entities, selling uranium would require the approval of the minister of mines, the prime minister and probably the president. In short, there's simply too much oversight over too small an industry for a sale to have transpired.

Plainly, Wilson said he concluded that it was highly doubtful that a sale had taken place. This conclusion, of course, doesn’t contradict what Bush said in his State of the Union—that Iraq had sought uranium. And so, from that day to this, journalists have “improved” what Wilson said, hoping to heighten the pleasing conflict, producing a sense of stark contradiction. Hamburger does it again in this lengthy report.

From such episodes, we get a look at how our press corps works—and at the nature of our own species. How do humans reason? Quite poorly! More than two years after Wilson went public, every journalist knows he must “improve” the facts about what Wilson actually concluded. To a man, to a woman, they obediently reinvent Wilson’s findings, thereby producing the contradiction absent from Wilson’s original report. Of course, the press has routinely done this sort of thing over the course of the past fifteen years. But this is one of the rare cases where they do it in service to a Dem/liberal framework. The hapless Bush was put in the White House by two years of this kind of clowning (the clowning there was more extreme). Now, the press corps adopts an inaccurate framework to heighten a charge against Bush.

Yes, your press corps’ frameworks change—but what never changes is their blatant fact-fiddling. Do you think that Hamburger doesn’t know that he has “improved” what Wilson said? Alternate question: Do you think all those journalists really believed that Al Gore said he invented the Internet? That Al Gore said he inspired Love Story? That he lied about Bradley’s health plan?

PERSISTENT IMPROVEMENT: Perhaps craftily, Hamburger never quotes what Wilson said in his Times op-ed column. But at an earlier point in his lengthy report, he offers this account of what Wilson was saying on the day the op-ed appeared:

HAMBURGER (8/25/05): Ten weeks after Bush landed aboard an aircraft carrier in front of a banner that proclaimed "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq, Wilson created his own media moment by questioning one of the central reasons for going to war.

He told how he was dispatched by the CIA in February 2002 to investigate the claim that Iraq had sought large quantities of uranium from the African nation of Niger. Wilson told "Meet the Press" that he and others had "effectively debunked" the claim—only to see it show up nearly a year later in the president's State of the Union speech.

Wilson appeared to be an eyewitness to administration dishonesty in the march to war.

According to Hamburger, Wilson said he debunked “the claim that Iraq had sought large quantities of uranium from the African nation of Niger.” But what did Wilson actually say he “debunked?” Here’s his actual statement on Meet the Press. There was a big yacht race on Nantucket—sorry, in Buffalo—that day, so Andrea Mitchell guest-hosted:
MITCHELL (7/6/03): Now, we only learned later when U.N. inspectors first looked at the documents, this was a year later, that, in fact, these documents were fraudulent, a year after your first trip. What did you think when you first saw the president making that comment in the State of the Union?

WILSON: Well, first of all, Andrea, when the president made the comment, he was referring to a British White Paper Report that came out in September of the previous year, September 2002; again, referring to uranium sales from an African country to Iraq. Now, there are four African countries that produce uranium or have uranium stockpiles: South Africa, Namibia, Gabon and Niger. So throughout this, whenever the British and then the president were mentioning Africa, I assumed that they were talking about one of the other countries and not Niger since we had, I believed, at the time effectively debunked the Niger arms uranium sale.

In fact, Wilson said he had debunked the notion of a “sale.” But as Hamburger notes above, Bush didn’t say that a sale had occurred—only that Iraq “sought” one.

Are these important distinctions? Only if you like rational discourse. At any rate, they’re important enough so that reams of journalists—scribes like Hamburger—know to rearrange the facts to keep such distinctions from, troubling your mind. But this is how your press corps typically works. Keep this in mind when you’re told about the wonders of your species, the ballyhooed “rational animal.”