« | Home | »

News Judgment

Tags: | |

‘Bill never let his ideology interfere with his news judgment,’ Howell Raines says of William Safire, the late New York Times columnist.

Never?

One example of Safire’s news judgment being made misty by party prejudice was the tale of Mohamed Atta’s visit to Prague before 11 September 2001. Atta, according to Safire, met an Iraqi secret agent in the Czech Republic, which proved a connection between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein, and this association was therefore a reason to go to war in Iraq.

Safire was certain about the meeting. Along with James Woolsey, the former CIA director who had for years pushed for an invasion of Iraq, Safire was one of the first out of the blocks with that story — in October 2001. (Woolsey first made the connection, amazingly, within days of 11 September, and was apparently packed off to Europe in a freelance capacity by Paul Wolfowitz to ‘persuade’ European allies that Iraq was behind the attacks.) Dick Cheney would carry on talking about the connection for years, even when it was obvious that no meeting between Atta and an Iraqi agent had taken place.

It’s now clearer that the story about the non-existent meeting served another purpose. Safire wrote about the alleged alliance again and again, and when he did so he invariably blamed the CIA for for failing to spot the association. This was at the end of 2001 and the beginning of 2002, when the CIA was being chastised by the White House for failing to come up with ‘proper’ intelligence. It had failed to spot the connection between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein, just as it had failed to stop Atta et al. on 11 September. It must do better.

All of which can make you wonder how and why the CIA came round to believing that it should torture the prisoners it held in its secret jails in Thailand and elsewhere. The pressure put on it by the White House and its acolytes in the press, such as Safire, was intense; the Agency, this time, had to come up with the goods. Which hardly exonerates the CIA for torturing prisoners in order to extract ‘proper’ intelligence. But there’s no mystery about who wanted that intelligence, nor the lengths they demanded others go to so as to find it.

Comment on this post

Log in or register to post a comment.


  • Recent Posts

    RSS – posts

  • Contributors

  • Recent Comments

    • andymartinink on Reacher v. Parker: Slayground definitely next on my agenda. But to be fair to Lee Child, as per the Forbes analysis, there is clearly a massive collective reader-writer ...
    • Robert Hanks on Reacher v. Parker: And in Breakout, Parker, in prison, teams up with a black guy to escape; another white con dislikes it but accepts the necessity; Parker is absolutely...
    • Robert Hanks on Reacher v. Parker: Parker may not have the integrity and honesty of Marlowe, but I'd argue that Richard Stark writes with far more of both than Raymond Chandler does: Ch...
    • Christopher Tayler on Reacher v. Parker: Good to see someone holding up standards. The explanation is that I had thoughts - or words - left over from writing about Lee Child. (For Chandler se...
    • Geoff Roberts on Reacher v. Parker: ..."praised in the London Review of Books" Just read the article on Lee Child in a certain literary review and was surprised to find this rave notice...

    RSS – comments

  • Contact

  • Blog Archive

  • From the LRB Archive

    Chris Lehmann: The Candidates
    18 June 2015

    ‘Every one of the Republican candidates can be described as a full-blown adult failure. These are people who, in most cases, have been granted virtually every imaginable advantage on the road to success, and managed nevertheless to foul things up along the way.’

    Hugh Pennington:
    The Problem with Biodiversity
    10 May 2007

    ‘As a medical microbiologist, for example, I have spent my career fighting biodiversity: my ultimate aim has been to cause the extinction of harmful microbes, an objective shared by veterinary and plant pathologists. But despite more than a hundred years of concentrated effort, supported by solid science, smallpox has been the only success.’

    Jeremy Harding: At the Mexican Border
    20 October 2011

    ‘The battle against illegal migration is a domestic version of America’s interventions overseas, with many of the same trappings: big manpower commitments, militarisation, pursuit, detection, rendition, loss of life. The Mexican border was already the focus of attention before 9/11; it is now a fixation that shows no signs of abating.’

    James Meek: When the Floods Came
    31 July 2008

    ‘Last July, a few days after the floods arrived, with 350,000 people still cut off from the first necessity of life, Severn Trent held its annual general meeting. It announced profits of £325 million, and confirmed a dividend for shareholders of £143 million. Not long afterwards the company, with the consent of the water regulator Ofwat, announced that it wouldn’t be compensating customers: all would be charged as if they had had running water, even when they hadn’t.’

Advertisement Advertisement