Thursday, July 01, 2004

The Credibility of the Credulous 

Via Cursor, a Douglas McCollum article from the Columbia Journalism Review on the pernicious influence of the Information Collection Program -- a (U.S.-funded) project of Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress that placed 108 mostly-bogus stories about Saddam's weapons programs and terrorist connections in such ostensibly respectable venues as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Time, Newsweek, Atlantic Monthly, 60 Minutes, USA Today, the New York Daily News, UPI, and Fox News. In a grotesque abdication of basic journalistic responsibility, newspapers, magazines, and broadcast organizations from points all along the ideological spectrum gladly played the chump to Chalabi (and the Bush administration) in the runup to war:
In all, I called or wrote to about forty reporters whose names appear on the list to ask about their contacts with the INC in general and their knowledge of the Information Collection Program in particular. Some, like The New York Times’s Judith Miller, who has become the poster child (somewhat unfairly, in my view) for all that was wrong with the press in the run-up to the Iraq war, did not call back. Most others were willing to talk about the list either on the record or on background. Some spoke at length — Hitchens treated me to a two-hour dissertation on Iraq, which covered everything from the importance of Ataturk to why radical Jihad was more like Nazism than Stalinism. Others were more terse and tetchy. Jim Hoagland at The Washington Post, who has championed the INC for years, abruptly hung up on me before calling back to apologize graciously. Almost all played down the INC’s role in influencing their stories and said they were aware of the group’s agenda of regime change, and included disclaimers to that effect in their work.

Nonetheless, a review of the list shows that the Information Collection Program succeeded in heavily influencing coverage in the Western press in the run-up to the war. A report issued by the Defense Intelligence Agency last fall concluded that almost all the information given to the government through the ICP and its roster of defectors before the war was useless — but nonetheless the information received prominent play in our leading newspapers, magazines, and television newscasts. When I asked Qanbar about the program’s influence on the media before the war, he shrugged and responded: “We did not provide information. We provided defectors. We take no position on them. It’s up to you reporters to decide if they are credible or not.”

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