Thursday, June 12, 2008

Some Thoughts on Sources

As much as I was amused by the spanking that Chris Matthews gave Kevin James over James’ historical ignorance regarding Neville Chamberlain, I was equally disturbed by James’ sources on topics upon which he imagines he is well informed. In discussing responsibility for 9/11, James cited a made-for-TV docudrama, Pathway to 9/11 after Air America’s Green cited a book written by a former National Coordinator for Counterterrorism Richard Clarke, Against All Enemies. I don’t know how many box tops James had to send in to get his law degree, but I think his evidence professor has reason to be embarrassed.

I was similarly disappointed when I picked up Richard Miniter’s Disinformation: 22 Media Myths That Undermine the War on Terror. I borrowed it from the local public library because a conservative blogger had identified it as a book he had read that touched on the Iraq War. I thought it would be interesting to compare it to another book I am reading, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War by Michael Isikoff and David Corn.

The first thing I looked at was Miniter’s attempts to debunk what he calls the myth that “There is no connection between Iraq and as Queda.”
He began by the chapter by trying to convince his readers that he had reliable
information: Before exploring the myriad links between Iraq and al
Queda, let us consider sources. To be persuasive, the best sources have to
be authoritative and impartial—preferably independent of the White House.
So the main sources for this chapter are the official reports of the 9-11
Commission, bipartisan reports of the U.S. congressional committees, and news
stories written by staff members of overseas center-left dailies, mostly the
Guardian and the Observer (London) as well as established American publications,
such as the New Yorker, and respected Arabic-language newspapers, including

The main administration sources relied on this chapter
are Colin Powell, who was the most independent member and was certainly not a
cheerleader for war in Iraq, and former CIA director George Tenet, who was
appointed by President Clinton.

Frankly, I found this initial litany less than comforting. After all, George Tenet is the guy who told George Bush that the case for Saddam’s WMD was a slam dunk. Does the fact that he was appointed by Clinton really enhance his credibility? As far as established American publications go, The New York Times is both one of the most established and the most liberal papers in the United States but that was hardly a guarantee of its accuracy. Times reporter Judith Miller was a virtual mouthpiece for the administration in selling the Iraq War. Secretary of State Powell did indeed seek a diplomatic solution to the problems with Iraq, but he was not in the business of gathering intelligence on Iraq connections to terrorists. He had to rely on the same intelligence as the White House.

As I looked at Miniter’s footnotes, his claim to authoritative and impartial source began looking pretty thin. For example, his reliance on Powell all came from the one time that the Secretary of State had been an unabashed cheerleader for the war. At the request of President Bush, Powell made the big pitch to the United Nations on February 6, 2003. The first draft of his speech was written by Steven Hadley and Scooter Libby. Powell refused to make all the allegations that Libby and Hadley wanted because he thought the intelligence was too sketchy. Nevertheless, after receiving assurances from George “Slam Dunk” Tenet, Powell still passed on shaky allegations about aluminum tubes, unmanned drones, and mobile biological weapons laboratories. While the best known gaffes from that speech concerned WMD, the intelligence on the Iraq-al Queda connections has not held up very well either. The U.N. speech is probably the most biased least authoritative moment in Powell’s tenure as Secretary of State.

When I looked at the publications cited in Miniter’s footnotes, I failed to find much evidence of impartiality either. One third of the sixty footnotes for the chapter on Iraq’s connections came from one of the biggest cheerleaders for the Iraq War, William Kristol’s Weekly Standard. Since this publication is cited more than any other, it should certainly have been identified as one of Miniter’s “main sources.” While it appears that some of the articles concerned the 9/11 Commission Report, citing the neo-conservative’s take on the report is hardly the same thing as citing the report itself.

Maybe I’m a cynic, but it is hard for me to take seriously an author who claims to be looking for authoritative and unbiased sources, when in fact, he relies primarily on Powell’s speech to the United Nations and The Weekly Standard. Maybe he is counting on his readers’ credulity, or their stupidity, or their laziness. It is very sad in any case.

1 comment:

  1. My first thought on reading this post is that Kevin James is counting upon his public's blind loyalty to all things conservative and is himself rather lazy. He quotes sources with which he's familiar and spreads around just enough claims of liberality in those sources to make his case to his audience. There is always the hope that some unsuspecting centrist will listen and actually pay some attention based upon the appearance of balanced evidence.

    Keep up the good work.