On ABC‘s This Week (1/27/13), substitute host Martha Raddatz made a pretty remarkable claim about Syrian chemical weapons. During an interview with Sen. John McCain (hey, it’s a Sunday show, he has to be a guest), she played a clip of an interview she did with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta:
RADDATZ: Let’s talk about Syria. I actually spoke to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta last week about Syria, and he had some pretty alarming things to say. He basically said those shells that the U.S. knew they were loading, artillery shells, are still sitting there loaded with chemical weapons. Take a listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PANETTA: Well, they’d have to obviously decide whether they’re going to put them on planes or try to load them into artillery, you know, weapons of one kind or another. There are different ways to deploy this stuff.
RADDATZ: Are we talking about minutes, hours?
PANETTA: I think it — you know, it’s the kind of thing that would still take a matter of hours to be able to do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: That’s the red line for the Obama administration.
The implication, of course, is that Syria has loaded chemical weapons at the ready, and that it would take a matter of hours for the Assad government to use them.
But that’s not what Panetta told…well, Raddatz herself. The interview aired on the ABC/Yahoo Web show On the Radar. Raddatz asked Panetta about a sketchy report alleging that Syria had already used chemical weapons; he responded by saying the government “remains very concerned” about Syria’s weapons sites.
Then she asks him a very direct question:
Do they have artillery shells loaded and ready to go right now?
He responded by saying that the government’s
biggest concern was the intelligence we received that they were, in fact, putting together these ingredients into shells that could then be deployed against their own people. And that’s when the president spoke out about it, expressed our concern, and made very clear that that’s a red line for us.
Raddatz goes on to ask him how quickly such weapons could be deployed, and Panetta says it would take a “matter of hours.”
So did Panetta ever “basically say” that the United States government “knew” that Syria had loaded artillery shells that are “sitting there loaded with chemical weapons”? No. He said they received “intelligence”–which is not the same thing as something that is actually happening. (See: Iraq, late 2001-early 2003).
Raddatz is failing at the most basic act of stenographic journalism, which is to record what powerful people say. She’s going a step further and declaring that intelligence he laid out–allegations, really–are facts, the same thing too many reporters did 10 years ago when it came to Iraq intelligence.
P.S. Panetta was subjected to a similarly deceptive edit by PBS NewsHour. What is it about this guy?