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PostWatch: An irregular correction to the Washington Post

Brought to you by Christopher Rake


Sunday, January 25, 2004
10:18 AM

Right conclusion, wrong reason...Post ombudsman Michael Getler agrees that a Glenn Kessler story should not have used the word "imminent," which is good. But his goal appears to be to cut down on angry readers as opposed to there being anything seriously misleading about it:

Their complaint was that the lead paragraph refers to administration public statements declaring an "imminent" threat posed by Saddam Hussein. This has come up before and is a red flag to some who point out that Bush never used that word to describe the threat. Kessler points out that he did not use that word with quotation marks, nor did he say the president said it.

But this is evasive--the use of quotation marks in this lede was immaterial, and it is clear that Kessler said the Bush Administration--of which some guy named Bush is a part--maintained the the threat was imminent. Here's the lede:
The Bush administration's inability to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq -- after public statements declaring an imminent threat posed by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein -- has begun to harm the credibility abroad of the United States and of American intelligence, according to foreign policy experts in both parties.

Public statements made by whom? The queen of the Rose Bowl parade? Getler continues:
Clearly, the portrait of Iraq painted by the administration, and the timetable of its actions, left no doubt that it viewed Hussein as a clear, urgent and present danger. In announcing the invasion, Bush said it was "to defend the world from grave danger." Whether the word "imminent" was used seems like a quibble. But because it is such a known source of contention, it seems best to use it, or other language, in a way that is beyond reproach, or to use the actual and relevant quotations, so that the news content of a story is not left vulnerable to charges of bias.

Grave--imminent--it's all the same to us! This is what happens when you outsource automated dictionaries to New Delhi!

Look. The controversial doctrine of pre-emption is intended to defeat threats before they are imminent, as explained by a number of Bush Administration officials. And Bush specifically explained why we couldn't wait until Saddam's threat was imminent.

It is best to avoid use of the word "imminent" not because it leaves you vulnerable to charges of bias, but because the way you are using it is false.

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