March 28, 2008 | Commentary on International Conflicts

Pack Journalists Miss Iraq Story, Again

A brutal dictator cooperated with Islamist terrorists, including Osama bin Laden's future No. 2 man. His own records show the dictator funded, trained and armed terrorists who "either associated directly with al Qaeda" or "shared al Qaeda's stated goals and objectives."

The evidence -- including tens of thousands of internal memos, computer files, audiotapes and videotapes -- reveals that in 2002 alone the dictator's regime hosted 13 "conferences" of anti-American jihadists from other lands and issued hundreds of passports to known terrorists.

Sound like news?

Perhaps if the dictator's name weren't Saddam Hussein. After all, the new evidence bolsters the Bush administration's case for going to war in Iraq five years ago this month.

The pack journalists can't change direction. That helps explain media indifference to these and many more specifics cited in a 59-page analysis accompanying "Iraqi Perspectives Project: Saddam and Terrorism," a study with 1,600 pages of documentation. The Institute for Defense Analyses, a federally funded think tank, drew from 600,000 captured documents to prepare this account of Saddam's secret dealings with terrorists for the Pentagon's Joint Forces Command.

"Because Saddam's security organizations and Osama bin Laden's terrorist network operated with similar aims (at least in the short term)," a summary of the report notes, "considerable overlap was inevitable when monitoring, contacting, financing, and training the same outside groups. This created both the appearance of and, in some way, a 'de facto' link between the organizations."

Yet the mainstream media -- from The New York Times and The Washington Post to ABC News and CNN -- misrepresented the study and dismissed the chilling findings before reading them.

They followed the lead of reporter Warren P. Strobel of the McClatchy-Tribune wire service, whose March 10 story previewed the study before its release. His story, headlined "Exhaustive review finds no link between Saddam and al Qaeda," asserts the study "found no evidence that Saddam Hussein's regime had any operational links" with bin Laden's terrorist network.

Strobel, who did not have a copy of the study, quotes an unnamed "U.S. official familiar with the report." His assessment of the report -- it doesn't place Saddam in bed with the Sept. 11 plotters -- hangs on that single anonymous source.

The source's clear intent was to tag the report, inaccurately, as another official challenge of Bush's stated reasons for invading Iraq. Namely, that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and was in cahoots with al Qaeda.

And so a misleading wire story set the stage for a media brush-off. Headline of six-paragraph Post story March 12: "Study Discounts Hussein, Al-Qaida Link." Headline of four-paragraph Times story March 14: "Study Finds No Qaeda-Hussein Tie."

Steve Schippert, a military blogger for National Review Online, exposed the mainstream media's rush to deep-six the report as more of the same.

Stephen Hayes, writing in The Weekly Standard, details the links missed by reporters who didn't look at the study. Hayes underlines how media accounts cherry-picked this awkward sentence from the executive summary: "This study found no 'smoking gun' (i.e., direct connection) between Saddam's Iraq and al Qaeda."

The report, though, cites what it calls "strong evidence that links the regime of Saddam Hussein to regional and global terrorism" -- including precursors to, and allies of, al Qaeda.

One exception to the media blackout was the New York Sun's Eli Lake, whose March 14 story cited the evidence under the headline "Report Details Saddam's Terrorist Ties."

Lake's competitors ought to be ashamed. Real editors used to demand real reporters gather and set down actual facts, not trust some anonymous partisan's instant analysis, sight unseen.

But days after the study became available, reporters for The Times, The Post, ABC, CNN and other outlets showed no signs of having read it and failed to run full stories setting the record straight. Not even Strobel has come clean.

As recently as March 18, a Post story made glancing reference to the findings as if they were a matter of partisan opinion. Ombudsmen, on your marks.

To make matters worse, the White House and Pentagon bungled modest plans to brief the media and post the study online. Apparently intimidated by the shoddy early reporting, they made the study available only by request.

President Bush, this evidence makes clear, had more reasons to topple Saddam than he knew at the time. Yet the president and his civilian advisers continue to show a dismaying lack of skill, or even gumption, in educating Americans about the enemy's nature and what we're up against.

Good thing any reporter worth the job description can do that.

Ken McIntyre is the Marilyn and Fred Guardabassi Fellow in Media and Public Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation

About the Author

Ken McIntyre Senior Editor, The Daily Signal, and Guardabassi Fellow in Media and Public Policy
The Daily Signal

First appeared in Washington Examiner