Friday, February 02, 2007

Won't Get Fooled Again?

The most important lesson about the Iraq War for reporters was perhaps the simplest one: Don't assume the White House is telling the truth. It's a lesson that many reporters seem to be forgetting now that U.S. officials are escalating their claims about Iran's role in Iraq.

On January 29, CBS Evening News aired a report about Iran's alleged support for Shiite militias in Iraq. Anchor Katie Couric introduced the segment by saying "the U.S. military says it has proof positive" to that effect, and Pentagon correspondent David Martin did little to undercut the official line by saying the U.S. is "already fighting a proxy war inside Iraq" with Iran. Martin went on to list the evidence: serial numbers on explosive devices that could be "traced directly back to Iran," along with rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons that "bear Iranian factory markings." The only guest on the segment was Jon Alterman of the Center for Strategic & International Studies, who essentially backed the official story.

Martin closed his report by commenting, "American failure in Iraq would be a disaster for the U.S., but American success would be a disaster for Iran. So something's got to give." When Couric asked Martin, "Is this intelligence really reliable?," Martin's response was that while U.S. officials "wince" at the question, "this time, some of the evidence, like those serial numbers, is smoking-gun quality." In other words, exactly what U.S. officials said about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

The following night (1/30/07), ABC World News With Charles Gibson correspondent Jonathan Karl warned that "U.S. officials say the mounting evidence against Iran includes photographs of Iranian training camps on Iraqi soil." Karl bolstered this claim by citing a "slickly produced video released by a Sunni terrorist group" that alleged Iranians were supplying weapons to Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. It is unclear why Karl would cite a rival insurgent group's videotape as credible evidence; for that matter, any claims of "training camps" in Iraq deserve special scrutiny, as exactly the same claims were made regarding Al Qaeda training camps in the country, which turned out to be false (Mother Jones, 3-4/06).



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