How bad can things get, how fast? Are we already at the point where literally nothing can derail the war machine? That’s exactly what some powerful media outlets seem to have decided, with predictable effects on public opinion and policy. In its March 3 issue, Newsweek disclosed that the Bush Administration had deliberately suppressed information exculpating Iraq–information from the same reliable source previously cited by the Administration as confirming that Iraq had developed weapons of mass destruction since the 1991 Gulf War. As damning as this disclosure was, Newsweek chose to underplay it, perhaps out of a belief that the Bush Administration’s Big Lie techniques have become so pervasive that another instance of tendentious truth-twisting is no longer front-page news.
Here’s the background: In the summer of 1995 Saddam’s then-son-in-law, Lieut. Gen. Hussein Kamel, former minister of Iraq’s military industry and the person in charge of its nuclear/chemical/biological programs, defected and provided what was deemed scrupulously accurate, detailed accounts of those weapons. Kamel’s information has been cited as central evidence and a key reason for attacking Iraq. In his February 5 presentation to the UN Security Council, Secretary of State Colin Powell said: “It took years for Iraq to finally admit that it had produced four tons of the deadly nerve agent VX. A single drop of VX on the skin will kill in minutes. Four tons. The admission only came out after inspectors collected documentation as a result of the defection of Hussein Kamel, Saddam Hussein’s late son-in-law.”
But Newsweek‘s John Barry revealed that the Administration had excised a central component of Kamel’s testimony–that he had personal knowledge that Iraq had “destroyed all its chemical and biological weapons stocks and the missiles to deliver them.” To be sure, Kamel said, Iraq had not abandoned its WMD ambitions, had retained the design and engineering details, and was likely to return to production given an opportunity. But his last information was that Iraq’s VX arsenal no longer existed.
According to the story, UN inspectors had reasons to hush up this revelation, as they were trying to bluff Saddam into revealing more. But what is Powell’s excuse for using only half of Kamel’s claim? And why did Newsweek and the rest of the American media make so little of this major story?
Newsweek chose to run a short, 500-word item in its “Periscope” section rather than put the story on the cover or make it the focal point of a longer article showing that the Bush Administration is rushing to war for no reason at all.
I was curious why Newsweek did not think this warranted a more muscular presentation. Communications director Ken Weine argued that the mag breaks many of its best stories in short sections like “Periscope,” citing as an example a brief piece two years ago showing that Sony had fabricated print movie reviews, a piece, he noted, that garnered worldwide attention.
But fake movie reviews flacking dubious entertainment and fake missile reviews flacking a war in which thousands may die are two different things entirely, and it is a sad comment on the media that such comparisons would even be made.