Aug
01
2008

SoundBites

Cherry-Picking Intelligence

The recent Senate Intelligence Committee report didn't really conclude that the White House was playing games with pre-Iraq invasion intelligence, argued Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt (6/9/08): "On Iraq's nuclear weapons program? The president's statements 'were generally substantiated by intelligence community estimates.'" Hiatt failed to quote the rest of the sentence from the report: " . . . but did not convey the substantial disagreements that existed in the intelligence community." Hiatt also wrote: "On chemical weapons, then? 'Substantiated by intelligence information.'" Yet the report said that Bush and Cheney's statements "regarding Iraq's chemical weapons production capability and activities did not reflect the intelligence community's uncertainties as to whether such production was ongoing." The Senate report clarifies in the beginning: "A public statement that selectively uses only that intelligence that supports a particular policy position . . . may be accurate on its face but present a slanted picture nonetheless." The same can be said for Hiatt's column.

Blood for Oil

When critics of the Iraq War suggested that the invasion might be about oil, pundits scoffed. It must have been confusing for them when the front page of the New York Times (6/19/08) announced that the Iraqi oil ministry--in consultation with U.S. advisers--was not only inviting U.S. oil companies back into the country for the first time in three decades, but was awarding them no-bid contracts. The Washington Post (6/20/08) worried that the no-bid contracts are "likely to revive speculation that the Iraq War was motivated by a desire to tap into reserves. . . . The belief is widespread in the Arab world." Actually, this belief is widespread around the world. Polls consistently find that European majorities believe that oil was a prime motivator for the invasion (Pew Research Center, 12/4/02, 12/10/03, 3/16/04), and in 2003 the New York Times (10/3/03) reported that a quarter of Americans were thinking similarly. USA Today, meanwhile, saw the no-bid contracts as good news. A June 20 article headlined "In Iraq's Oil Fields, Signs of Hope Finally Are Emerging" was filled with cheery news about economic development and support for the new oil deals among Iraqis--at least among the two Iraqis the paper found to quote. As for the reported 63 percent of Iraqis who want foreign oil companies kept out of the country (KA Research, 6-7/07), USA Today seemed to have trouble finding any of them.

Clinton's 'Craziness,' Not the War

A June 4 Wall Street Journal story named four reasons for Hillary Clinton's Democratic primary defeat: "mismanagement," a "flawed message," a "failure to mobilize" and "Clinton craziness." The Journal failed to mention what might be the most significant issue: the Iraq War, which Clinton supported from the outset, only calling for a limited withdrawal late in the Democratic race. Jonathan Alter (Newsweek, 6/5/08) likewise attributed Clinton's loss to five broad categories--the Iraq War not among them. The New York Times (6/8/08) made a similar omission in a front-page analysis, the same day it ran an op-ed feature airing the views of 13 political experts, only one of whom named the war as among the reasons for Clinton's loss. Columbia Journalism Review's Zachary Roth (6/9/08) argued that downplaying the role of Iraq in Clinton's loss is part of a larger trend of journalists downplaying how profoundly unpopular the Iraq War is with the American people. It seems that voters have tried to send this message at least twice--in the 2006 midterm elections and now in the Democratic primaries. When the media will pick up on the hint is another matter entirely.

Getting the Numbers Wrong

In a USA Today (6/27/08) piece by Richard Wolf hailing the apparent comeback of "deficit hawks," Wolf accepted the idea of a growing deficit crisis without examination. "The situation has gotten much worse since past presidents and Congress negotiated deficit-reduction deals in 1990, 1993 and 1997," he wrote. In fact, public debt as a percent of GDP dropped from 42 percent in 1990 to 36.8 percent in 2007.

Corporate America's Liberal Agenda?

When you see the headline "Is Wal-Mart Too Liberal?" you might assume you're reading a satirical news outlet like the Onion. Alas, the headline did really appear in the June 9 Newsweek, with the subhead "Once a Paragon of Red State Values, It's Being Criticized for Bowing to Political Correctness." This is a staple of lazy journalism: the man-bites-dog story, which grants attention to some event precisely because it's unrepresentative of reality. In this case, it's a lonely right-wing activist who has been "lambasting Wal-Mart for being too nice to unions, too concerned about the environment and too accommodating to gays and lesbians." The magazine notes in passing that Wal-Mart is accustomed to hearing "run-of-the-mill liberal criticisms." Why bother with that boring old stuff, when you can highlight the counterintuitive--and counterfactual--claim that corporate America is too kind and too green?