Friday, February 16, 2007

Dan Froomkin: A Shaky Briefing on Iran?

For a long time now, Bush administration officials have been promising reporters proof that the Iranian government is supplying deadly weaponry to Iraqi militants.

The administration finally unveiled its case this weekend, first in coordinated and anonymous leaks to a trusting New York Times reporter, then in an extraordinarily secretive military briefing at which no one would speak on the record, journalists weren't allowed to photograph the so-called evidence, and nothing even remotely like proof of direct Iranian government involvement was presented.

The result: The White House got the headlines it wanted.

But there is plenty of reason for reporters to be suspicious of the administration's claims.

And looking at the big picture, one can't help but wonder: Is this deja vu all over again? Is the Bush admininistration once again building a faulty case for war, this time against Iran? And is the press going along for the ride?

The Gordon Piece

Michael R. Gordon started the ball rolling in the Saturday New York Times: "The most lethal weapon directed against American troops in Iraq is an explosive-packed cylinder that United States intelligence asserts is being supplied by Iran."

This is about as close as Gordon gets to skepticism: "The assertion of an Iranian role in supplying the device to Shiite militias reflects broad agreement among American intelligence agencies, although officials acknowledge that the picture is not entirely complete."

Gordon acknowledges the obvious context -- "Any assertion of an Iranian contribution to attacks on Americans in Iraq is both politically and diplomatically volatile," he writes -- but then gives his sources a pass: "The officials said they were willing to discuss the issue to respond to what they described as an increasingly worrisome threat to American forces in Iraq, and were not trying to lay the basis for an American attack on Iran."

It was up to Greg Mitchell of Editor and Publisher and blogger Glenn Greenwald to put Gordon's own report in context.

"What is the source of this volatile information?" Mitchell asked. "Nothing less than 'civilian and military officials from a broad range of government agencies.'

"Sound pretty convincing? It may be worth noting that the author is Michael R. Gordon, the same Times reporter who, on his own, or with Judith Miller, wrote some of the key, and badly misleading or downright inaccurate, articles about Iraqi WMDs in the run-up to the 2003 invasion."

Writes Greenwald: "Over the past few weeks, The Los Angeles Times has published several detailed and well-documented articles casting serious doubt on the administration's claims that Iran is fueling the Iraqi insurgency with weapons. . . .

"But today, The New York Times does precisely the opposite -- it has published a lengthy, prominent front-page article by Michael Gordon that does nothing, literally, but mindlessly recite administration claims about Iran's weapons-supplying activities without the slightest questioning, investigation, or presentation of ample counter-evidence."

And as Greenwald notes, Gordon's story appears to violate quite a few of the basic journalistic rules for avoiding the media's government-enabling mistakes in Vietnam and Iraq that I tried to sketch out for last week.


Anonymous said...

The question, I think, is not whether Bush wants to attack Iran (he does, he does) but what is keeping him from doing so. I would be interested to hear knowledgable posts on that.

GDAEman said...

One thing keeping Bush from attacking Iran might be joint chiefs chairman General Peter Pace. It was a mini military coup when Pace contradicted the White House line, saying there is no direct link to Iranian leaders. Pace spoke out while traveling in Indonesia.

There is, however, plenty of buzz that an attack is brewing. See the Brzezinski link under Reason 5) of my Reasons for Attacking Iran.

The Brzezinski link also offers a word of caution, which might be giving Bush pause: Iran has said they will retaliate around the world if attacked, and they have the assets to do it. Also, Iran could make life for US soldiers in Iraq even more dangerous if the US were to attack.