Willful Ignorance As Editorial Policy

When President Bush invoked British support for his casus belli, American editors couldn't run enough of it. Now, too many resist British revelations that challenge White House judgment, suggesting

When President Bush invoked British support for his casus belli, American editors couldn't run enough of it. Now, too many resist British revelations that challenge White House judgment, suggesting editors enjoy willful ignorance at our expense.

They ignored BBC's allegation that a Blair aide "sexed up" intelligence to justify the war. They were blind to Downing Street Memo assertions that Republicans "fixed" intelligence to support aggressive war. Eventually, those stories worked their way into some American news media.

A more recent omission involves testimony by Carne Ross, formerly the key British UN diplomat dealing with Iraq. It was submitted to Lord Butler's official inquiry into prewar British intelligence blunders and declassified and reported in London papers in December.

"During my posting ... it was the commonly held view among the officials dealing with Iraq that any threat had been effectively contained. I remember on several occasions the UK team stating this view ... during our discussions with the U.S. — who agreed. At the same time, we would frequently argue, when the U.S. raised the subject, that 'régime change' was inadvisable, primarily on the grounds that Iraq would collapse into chaos.


"With the exception of some unaccounted-for Scud missiles, there was no intelligence evidence of significant holdings of CW (chemical weapons), BW (biological weapons) or nuclear material. ... There was no evidence of any connection between Iraq and any terrorist organisation that might have planned an attack using Iraqi WMD. I do not recall any occasion when the question of a terrorist connection was even raised in UK/U.S. discussions or UK internal debates."

He also quizzed "colleagues in the FCO (Foreign & Commonwealth Office) and MOD (Ministry of Defense) working on Iraq on several occasions about the threat assessment in the run-up to the war. None told me that any new evidence had emerged to change our assessment; what had changed was the government's determination to present available evidence in a different light."

Curmudgeon notes:
· Read Paul Daugherty's Jan. 28 Enquirer column about a new University of Cincinnati basketball arena. Thoughtful, clear and blunt, it shuns the paper's traditional boosterism to describe the abyss between tuition-paying working students and athletes for whom nothing is too good ... or expensive.

· Most revealing one-liner of the past month: When Cincinnati Magazine asks about the best part of her job, UC President Nancy Zimpher responds, "Our alums."

· Belated acknowledgment to blogger Dean of Cincinnati at Cincinnatibeacon.com for persuading Chicago's WGN-TV to correct its story promoting the Heimlich maneuver as first response to choking. WGN ignored a new American Red Cross decision to recommend back slaps. WGN also apparently dismissed requests for a correction by Heimlich's son, Peter, until The Dean joined the fray.

· Was there at least a chuckle when The Enquirer decided to publish the hilariously ironic letter to the editor attacking a suburban school board member for her Christian conservative beliefs and actions? The letter concluded, "An intolerant person should not be allowed on a school board."

· Duke Energy, GE and others have called for mandatory national greenhouse gas reductions. The Enquirer buried the story, while The Cincinnati Post and Wall Street Journal put it on page 1. Greg Loomis, editor of CincyBusiness magazine, adds in an e-mail, "The WSJ context is important. It appears that (Duke and former Cinergy boss Jim) Rogers is acting in his company's interest, not as a converted Al Gore disciple. The big news, to me, is GE, Duke and others are conceding we've reached a tipping point. These industrial giants seem to be saying that on the human impact on global warming there's enough scientific and political consensus — now — to bring mandatory CO2 caps into law. So they're angling to find beneficial positions."

· Paula Wolfe (white) was killed a few days after Richard Muhammad (black) was gunned down. The Enquirer repeatedly printed Muhammad's police mug shot but printed upbeat photos of Wolfe, although it has her mug shot.

· It's called the Virgin Rule in journalism: We lust for a story but don't want the blame for breaking it, so we wait until someone goes first and then report that they reported you-know-what. In obedience to the Virgin Rule, The Enquirer reported that a convicted sex predator is suspected of following a young girl and rubbing his "private parts." Why so coy? His pubic is public and hardly private. A week later, the paper reports that "a court record" says he "had his hand inside of his pants and appeared to be fondling his penis."

· The longtime unofficial Associated Press credo remains, "Get it first but first get it right." So recent Pentagon/wingnut efforts to undermine AP is a puzzle unless it's part of the conservative campaign to discredit nonpartisan news media.

In the past year, it was AP's cop-who-never-existed. AP quoted Iraqi police Capt. Jamail Hussein about Shia militiamen torching six Sunni worshippers. Pentagon and Shiite-dominated Iraqi government spokesmen insisted the AP story and the cop were fiction. Bloggers suggested AP is part of a vast conspiracy to delegitimize the occupation. Oops. Weeks later, Pentagon and Iraqis admit Capt. Hussein exists and Iraqis issued an arrest warrant for talking to reporters about the incineration.

Last month it was kidnap-victims-who-never-existed. AP said four U.S. soldiers were grabbed by Iraqi raiders and found dead or dying in or near kidnappers' abandoned vehicles. The Army said no one was kidnapped and all "were accounted for after the action."

AP dug in. Now two senior American military officials confirm AP's story, gathered from senior Iraqi government, military and religious leaders, and the Army is providing details from internal accounts.

· Gannett's 27 Community Press and Community Recorder weeklies are shifting to shorter pages and an out-of-town press that Editor/General Manager Susan McHugh says will allow "full color on every page. This gives our readers a very colorful look at their community each week and our advertisers a way to tell their story with more impact and even better results." Her e-mail also assures readers, "We're not making any change to our news hole."

Ben L. Kaufman teaches journalism ethics at Northern Kentucky University.

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