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Spinelessness and Credulity

Why is Kerry Getting a Pass?

by GREG WEIHER

I was listening to excerpts from a debate on "Democracy Now" the other day. On one side was Mark Green, Michael Bloomberg’s opponent in the recent mayoral race, and John Kerry’s New York campaign chair. On the other were Robert Scheer, the Los Angeles Times columnist, and his son Christopher who writes for AlterNet.

The Scheers’ argued that Kerry should call for Bush’s impeachment for lies he told in the run-up to war. Green pretty much labeled such an approach "wack-job" politics, and said it would result in Bush regaining the White House. In defending Kerry, Green painted him as the near twin of Ted Kennedy, and praised the stalwart service that both had given to Democratic causes.

Both sides’ apparently agreed that Kerry was not culpable in voting for war since, like everyone else, he was deceived by the Bush administration. The comparison of Kerry to Kennedy made this particularly disquieting. As you may recall, Ted Kennedy did not vote to authorize Bush to attack Iraq. In Kennedy’s own words, "[Bush] did not make a persuasive case that the threat [from Iraq] is imminent and that war is the only alternative."

What?

How is it that Teddy could resist the prevari-con necromancy? How did Teddy see through the befuddling loquacity of George W. Bush?

Well, let’s take a look at what was known prior to the beginning of hostilities.

· The argument that Iraq sought enriched uranium from Niger was an inept fabrication

· The case presented to the U.N. Security Council by Colin Powell included information that was plagiarized and woefully dated

· The aluminum tubes imported by Iraq were not suited to the production of fissile material

· The widely publicized meeting of an Al Qaeda representative and an Iraqi diplomat in the Czech Republic almost certainly did not happen

There were CIA assessments that criticized the prevari-con’s conclusions with respect to WsMD and Al Qaeda connections to Iraq. There were veteran diplomats and CIA insiders, like Ray McGovern and Greg Thieleman, who were vocally skeptical about the prevari-con intelligence vetting process. How is it that Kennedy could critically assess the available information but Kerry could not?

In fact, even after the war began, Kerry was a vocal supporter. At house meetings in South Carolina, Kerry avowed that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the United States and had to be removed. It was not until the major media jumped on the "no-WsMD" bandwagon that Kerry dared to differ with the Bushies.

The simple fact of the matter is that anybody who was paying attention should have had serious reservations about the case for war. A million marchers in New York did, and so did a million in London, and so did other millions in places around the world. Teddy Kennedy did. How did all of this elude Kerry?

This is not the only curious case of Kerry sliding under the press’s radar. Much has been made of Bush family connections with the band of thieves that ran Enron, but Kerry has his own history of complicity with corporate malfeasance. He had close connections to David Paul, CEO of the failed S&L, Centrust. Paul was convicted of ninety-seven counts of bank fraud and sent to prison for ten years, and the failure of CenTrust cost taxpayers $2 billion.

Charles Lewis notes that Kerry has never been reluctant to accept money from special interests.

"Over the course of his senate career, [Kerry] has not been averse to taking campaign cash from the companies and firms with a direct interest in his work. Since 1995, he raised more than $30 million for his various campaigns, most of it from industries such as finance and telecommunications companies (which are overseen by the Senate committees he serves on) and the law and lobby firms that represent them."

It is not clear why the media are so reluctant to call Kerry on his pontificating about special interests. But it is possible that they are not asking Kerry about his complicity in the rape of Iraq because the answers might lead in embarrassing directions. A recent assessment by Michael Massing in the New York Review of Books documents the credulity of the mainline press during the run-up to the war. The reluctance of this same press to confront its sorry performance is apparent in the fact that Judith Miller still holds a job at the New York Times.

Miller presents a microcosm of the mainline coverage of the case for war. Her reporting style is to take whatever the Bushies say and relay it to the American people. This is not my description of her work, but hers. She has said, "my job isn’t to assess the government’s information and be an independent intelligence analyst myself. My job is to tell readers of The New York Times what the government thought about Iraq’s arsenal."

This was her approach when she reported that Iraq was importing aluminum tubes for enriching uranium for nuclear weapons, one of her many stories that proved to be without substance. It also characterized her involvement in a particularly weird episode once the war was joined. Miller operated as an ex officio member of "Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha," an Army team looking for caches of WsMD in Iraq. Time and again, MET alpha undertook activities outside its formal writ because it would result in good stories for the Times. When MET Alpha was to be reassigned, Miller threatened unflattering coverage, and the order was rescinded.

The goofiest of all these episodes had Miller reporting that "a leading Iraqi scientist claimed Iraq had destroyed chemical and biological weapons days before the war began . . . the scientist ‘had pointed to several spots in the sand where he said chemical precursors and other weapons material were buried’" (Washington Post, 5/26/03). In typical Judith Miller fashion, there was no attempt to consult other sources or gain independent confirmation of any of this. She "was not permitted to interview the scientist." She only saw him from a distance while he was in MET Alpha custody. The story ran on the Times front page and, of course, was entirely apocryphal. It is a close question whether the journalistic sins that got Jason Blair and Rick Bragg fired were more egregious than Miller’s.

Like Miller, the American mainline press suspended disbelief, sidled right up to the Bush administration, and spewed whatever nonsense about WsMD the prevari-cons decided to put out. Like Miller, the corporate media parroted drivel about Scuds, about mobile weapons labs, about anthrax spewing drones that might appear over Milwaukee or Paducah. So the big problem for them now is this: if they start to give Kerry a hard time for his spinelessness on Iraq, they might just have to confront their own spinelessness as well.

GREG WEIHER is a political scientist and freelance writer living in Houston, Texas. Excerpts from this article appeared previously on the OpEdNews website under the title "George Bush, the Democrats, and Revisionist History." He can be reached at gweiher@uh.edu.