The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

Views expressed in this archived message are those of the author, not of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

[Main archive index/search] [List information] [Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Iraq Connection: Press Coverage and Fact Checking (12 Nov 01)

Source: Michael Massing, "Seven Days in October", The Nation, 12 November
2001, or

A month ago, when thirty-seven neoconservatives, led by William Kristol,
William Bennett and Jeane Kirkpatrick, signed an open letter warning George
Bush that failure to attack Iraq would "constitute an early and perhaps
decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism," they were widely
dismissed as extremists. But in one short week, the extreme became the
mainstream, thanks largely to the anthrax scare and to the media's role in
fanning it.

On Tuesday, October 16, Senator Tom Daschle announced that the anthrax
discovered in a letter sent to his office was of a "very potent" form. On
Wednesday, the headlines blared. "Sign of Escalating Threat," the New York
Times declared atop a story by Stephen Engelberg and Judith Miller. This
"high grade" anthrax, they wrote, "finely milled so that it would float a
considerable distance on the smallest of air currents," suggested that "for
the first time in history a sophisticated form of anthrax has been developed
and used as a weapon in warfare or bioterrorism." It also suggested that
"somewhere, someone has access to the sort of germ weapons capable of
inflicting huge casualties." A prime suspect, Engelberg and Miller noted,
was Iraq. But, they cautioned, it was too early to say for sure whether Iraq
was responsible.

On the next day's Op-Ed pages, even that caveat was missing. In the Times,
Richard Butler, a former UN weapons inspector in Iraq, wrote that, based on
his visits to Iraq from 1997 to 1999, he had concluded that "biological
weapons are closest to President Hussein's heart because it was in this area
that his resistance to our work reached its height." Noting reports that
hijacker Mohamed Atta had met with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague
last year, Butler observed that this "may have been an occasion on which
anthrax was provided" to him.

In the same day's Wall Street Journal, former Director of Central
Intelligence R. James Woolsey held forth about "The Iraq Connection," as the
headline put it. The "professionally prepared and precisely sized anthrax
spores" that closed down the Capitol, he wrote, made it essential to
determine with whom we are "at war." Offering various bits of circumstantial
evidence against Saddam Hussein, including that Mohamed Atta meeting in
Prague, Woolsey urged the Bush Administration to move against Baghdad.

Meanwhile, in the Washington Post, Richard Cohen, in a column headlined
"Public Enemy No. 2," noted that while it was not yet clear whether Saddam
was responsible for the anthrax in Daschle's office, it didn't really
matter. "Neither the United States nor the rest of the world should
countenance any state--especially a rogue one--developing weapons of mass
destruction," Cohen wrote. "Saddam and his bloody bugs have to go."

The next day, Tom Ridge, the director of the Office of Homeland Security,
announced that further testing showed that the strain of anthrax in
Daschle's mail was indistinguishable from that found in the offices of NBC
in Manhattan and the National Enquirer in Florida, and, moreover, that the
tests "have shown that these strains have not been, quote, unquote,

Then, on Saturday, the Times, in a story filed by John Tagliabue from
Prague, reported that Czech officials, upon investigation, had concluded
that Atta had not met with an Iraqi intelligence official during his stop in

Buried on page B6, the Times story received little attention. One person who
noticed it, however, was George Stephanopoulos, and he brought it up in an
exchange with George Will on ABC's This Week on Sunday morning. "Iraq's
fingerprints were all over the '93 bombing of the World Trade Center," said
Will, one of the most vocal proponents of going after Saddam Hussein. "We
know that Mohamed Atta met in Prague with Iraqi agents----"

"We actually don't know that," Stephanopoulos interrupted. "The Prague
intelligence services have said they can't confirm that. They're still
working on it."

"As Rumsfeld says, 'The absence of evidence is not the evidence of
absence,'" Will sniffed. "The fact is, there's lots of reports of contacts
in Sudan and Afghanistan and in Prague that suggest that Iraq is involved.
And there is a large constituency in this town desperate not to see that
because it then does dictate action." In other words, Will seemed to say,
Don't bother me with the facts.

Will's was not the only voice raised against Iraq on the Sunday morning talk
shows. On NBC's Meet the Press, Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman urged
the Administration to attack Saddam. On CBS's Face the Nation, Dr. Richard
Spertzel, a former UN biochemical weapons inspector in Iraq, said that he
did in fact believe the anthrax found in Daschle's office was weapons grade
and that "most likely" it came "from some other country." Spertzel was
followed by Jim Hoagland, a Washington Post columnist who has also
vigorously advocated attacking Iraq. While we don't yet have the evidence
that Iraq was involved in the anthrax incidents, Hoagland said, they "should
bring home to us the danger of having a regime in place" that has the

Taking in all this, I was struck by how monolithic and unquestioning
coverage had become. Because anthrax had been discovered in New York and
Washington, the political and journalistic establishment suddenly seems
united in wanting to attack Iraq. Here and there I found a few notes of
skepticism. In the London Guardian, for instance, in a piece headlined,
"Don't Blame Saddam for This One," Scott Ritter, another former weapons
inspector in Iraq, observed that Iraq's main biological weapons facility was
destroyed as part of the inspection process and that all the tests before
the inspectors were kicked out had produced "no evidence of anthrax or any
other biological agent." And Sharon Begley, in a fine article in Newsweek,
noted that "thousands of scientists around the world have learned how to
turn anthrax into a weapon" and that the equipment needed to do so is "not
hard to acquire."

None of this, of course, rules out the possibility that Iraq does indeed
have a bioterrorism capability. For the most part, though, the press seems
uninterested in reporting on this or other key questions. What is the
evidence of Iraq's ties to Al Qaeda? What did the UN inspectors find in
Iraq, and what has been taking place there since they stopped visiting? If
Iraq is shown to have ties to the anthrax attacks, or to September 11, what
practically could the United States do about it? If, as the hawks seem to
want, we did invade Iraq, what would the consequences be? Clearly, it's time
for more facts and less opinion.

Nathaniel Hurd
Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR)
162 Montague Street, 2nd Floor
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Tel.: 718-237-9145, x 21
Fax: 718-237-9147
Mobile: 917-407-3389
Personal E-Fax: 707-221-7449
Afghanistan Factsheets:

*The contents of this message may contain personal views which are not the
views of ISP, unless specifically stated*

This is a discussion list run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq
For removal from list, email
CASI's website - - includes an archive of all postings.

[Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]