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PostWatch: An irregular correction to the Washington Post

Brought to you by Christopher Rake


Monday, January 26, 2004
5:30 PM

I picked a bad day to arrange a Washington snowstorm. Sorry!

Too bad I'm not in the thick of things; there's a lot of action out there on remarks made about WMD by David Kay.

When press critics write about bias, they're talking about coverage that consistently ignores, downplays or shades the facts to support the favored view.

In today's Kerry: Bush Misled Congress by Walter Pincus, it sure seems as if news helping Bush is downplayed and news hurting him is, uh, up-played. One example:
As he had done in October, Kay speculated that some of Iraq's prohibited weapons or components had been shipped to Syria because there was satellite photography showing trucks, trailers and cars across the border. But, he said yesterday, "we simply don't know what was moved," and the Damascus government has been no help in finding out.

This is near the end of the story, which generally shows you how important the reporter or editor thinks it is. And it's news to me that Kay said anything about this in October (entirely possible). Putting that aside, is it fair to say that Kay is speculating? Here's a different take, from the Telegraph of London:
David Kay, the former head of the coalition's hunt for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, yesterday claimed that part of Saddam Hussein's secret weapons programme was hidden in Syria.

In an exclusive interview with The Telegraph, Dr Kay, who last week resigned as head of the Iraq Survey Group, said that he had uncovered evidence that unspecified materials had been moved to Syria shortly before last year's war to overthrow Saddam.

"We are not talking about a large stockpile of weapons," he said. "But we know from some of the interrogations of former Iraqi officials that a lot of material went to Syria before the war, including some components of Saddam's WMD programme. Precisely what went to Syria, and what has happened to it, is a major issue that needs to be resolved."

I have no idea if Kay is correct, but does it sound like he thinks he's speculating?

Exhibit B is related to comments by Kay in an NPR interview. Pincus bases some of today's story on the interview, and includes a comment by Kay that the failure to find WMDs should not be a political issue. But a superb post by Justin Katz includes the following:

And here's where Ms. Hansen drops the ball completely as a journalist. Having stated that he believes it was reasonable, before the war, to characterize the threat as imminent, Kay offers this intriguing statement:

I must say, I actually think what we learned during the inspections made Iraq a more dangerous place potentially than in fact we thought it was even before the war.

You can listen for yourself (it's at 11:50 in the streaming audio), but to my ear, Ms. Hansen's stutter and redirect back to "imminent" has the sound of a woman ushering one boyfriend out of a room in which another hides. What that stutter indicates ? symbolizes ? is that the ambiguity is certain to be exacerbated, even nourished, by the media, as the primary source is skewed and all subsequent coverage pushes the story closer and closer to what the reporters want it to be.

As Katz says, it sure would be nice to know what he was talking about. But it doesn't fit the anti-Bush script, so never mind, nothing to look at here. Now, did Pincus or anyone else at the post hear the same words?

There's another issue, however, and that is the Traveling Circus of David Kay himself. It does seem odd that extremely important statements, not all of them consistent, are being randomly sprinkled across the media landscape like chocolate chips on an ice cream cone. Powerline comes down pretty hard on the man.

David Kay is going out in an unprofessional blaze of glory. He is giving interviews to one news outlet after another, popping off in various more or less inconsistent directions. Heavily edited accounts of these conversations are now cropping up everywhere...It's hard to know what to make of this, since we are getting only a collection of sound bites, not a coherent, thoughtful, systematic report--such as the Iraq Survey Group will ultimately produce. I can't imagine why Kay thought it was appropriate to sound off as he has in these interviews. The political aspects of the issue are too obvious to require comment. It now seems likely that Kay's parting shots will overshadow whatever conclusions the ISG eventually reaches.

Junkyard Blog has a very long and thoughtful post on Kay's comments.

Many links courtesy of Insta; I was having trouble calling up his site when posting this item.

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