Jeffrey LewisReporting on WMD

A colleague notes this paragraph in Susan Schmidt/’s review of The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife/’s CIA Identity by Joseph Wilson:

On the heels of Wilson/’s public criticism that intelligence was exaggerated and his statement that his trip to Niger had turned up no uranium sales to Iraq, agency Director George J. Tenet took the blame for allowing President Bush to make assertions about the Iraqi quest for nuclear material in his 2003 State of the Union address. Tenet said the intelligence had been too “fragmentary” to merit inclusion in the speech.

She fails to mention that Tenet had the same reference removed from several other White House speeches and that Bob Joseph at NSC had it placed back into the State of the Union speech.

My colleague concludes the case is one of a partisan hack hard at work: Schmidt played an unsavory role propagandizing for Ken Starr/’s witchhunt, leading to claims that she was one of Ken Starr/’s “minions” and a “stenographer” for the Office of the Independent Counsel.

On the other hand, sheer incompetence could explain things. I lean towards a corollary of Occam/’s razor that suggests never imputing malevolence to explain an action when stupidity will suffice. CISSM commissioned a study on WMD reporting that found:

1. Most media outlets represented WMD as a monolithic menace, failing to adequately distinguish between weapons programs and actual weapons or to address the real differences among chemical, biological, nuclear, and radiological weapons.
2. Most journalists accepted the Bush administration/’s formulation of the “War on Terror” as a campaign against WMD, in contrast to coverage during the Clinton era, when many journalists made careful distinctions between acts of terrorism and the acquisition and use of WMD.
3. Many stories stenographically reported the incumbent administration/’s perspective on WMD, giving too little critical examination of the way officials framed the events, issues, threats, and policy options.
4. Too few stories proffered alternative perspectives to official line, a problem exacerbated by the journalistic prioritizing of breaking-news stories and the “inverted pyramid” style of storytelling.

This maps nicely to a survey conducted by the Committee of Concerned Journalists during January 21-27 that found “of the 1,565 statements and allegations repeated by major television programs, newspapers, and magazines, only 1 percent were based on two named sources, 41 percent had no claim of factual reporting at all, and 40 percent were derived from anonymous single sources.”

Hack or moron? I am looking for some feedback here.

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