Wagging the Media

The consequence of the Bush White House’s cutting a secret deal with cherry picked reporters in the White House press pool was predictable. By cutting out editors and bureau chiefs from the reporting process, one of the first news reports about President Bush’s secret trip to Baghdad, by Mike Allen of The Washington Post, one of the few reporters invited to fly on board Air Force One and with the strict provision he could not tell his editor or bureau chief in Washington, muddied the waters for people anxious for details about the trip. Allen’s report, titled, “Flight to Baghdad: Untold Story,” stated, “A little after 5 am Baghdad time, about 10 hours after takeoff from Andrews, the cabin lights were turned off and all the shades were down. Twenty minutes later, we touched down in Baghdad.” The story was run in the Friday, November 29 print edition of the Post, on the Post’s web site, and by the Los Angeles Times/Washington Post wire service. Soon, the 5 am arrival time was being carried in print editions and on the web around the world and the United States in such papers as the Buffalo News, Tacoma News Tribune, Orlando Sentinel, Sydney Morning Herald, Melbourne Age, and The Telegraph of Calcutta. The “Untold Story” that the plane landed at 5:20 am and not pm, as now seems to be the case, was the first record of events hundreds of thousands of Americans and those abroad would initially read.

Preliminary details from Air Force concerning the trip were spotty at best, with no mention made on Thanksgiving Day about various takeoff and landing times. All we knew was that Bush quickly snuck in and out of Baghdad for a meal with the troops without being detected by Iraqi insurgents armed with portable surface-to-air missiles. Allen’s report was the first to give any details about the itinerary but he gave the false impression that Air Force One touched down in Baghdad at o’dark thirty in the morning, an hour and a half before sunrise in the Iraqi capital. Allen later told CNN that none of the on-board pool reporters were able to file their stories until Air Force One got above 10,000 feet. In the same interview, he stated that the reporters were not permitted to file until Air Force One had cleared “airspace.” If he meant Iraqi airspace, it is doubtful that the aircraft would have been flying in Iraqi airspace at 10,000 feet and then ascended over Syria or Turkey. More inconsistencies in a story so full of holes it could pass for a piece of Swiss cheese.

In an age of instantaneous news from the Internet and cable TV, the public and the media are more reliant on first hand accounts of events. The fact that the Post’s editors were cut out from the secret trip to Baghdad practically guaranteed that an erroneous 5:20 am Baghdad time account would have crept into the Post’s early morning edition. A number of people who read the Post print edition Friday morning were also given the impression that there was an early morning landing and that Bush was serving Thanksgiving dinner to the troops in the morning. And they would stay confused. Outrageously, by Sunday, November 30, the Post still had not corrected its error.

The only correction it published in its Sunday, November 30 edition was the following less-than-critical one: “The headline “Carving the Bird” was inadvertently omitted from the crossword puzzle in the Nov. 23 Magazine.” But the bird carving that the Post first indicated took place in the wee hours of the morning at the Bob Hope Dining Facility at Baghdad airport went uncorrected.

Phil Taubman, the New York Time’s Washington bureau chief, expressed the distaste for this kind of White House stealth reporting when he told the Post’s media critic, Howard Kurtz, that when the White House “decided to do a stealth trip, they bought into a whole series of things that are questionable.” Indeed, including corrupted information in initial filings.

That kind of reporting is a far cry from what Bush told his hand selected press agents on board Air Force One during the trip back from Baghdad, “You’re a credit to your nation, a credit to your profession.”

Then there is the very odd time line for the visit that CNN, which was not included on the press pool manifest, filed on Wednesday, November 26, the day before the actual landing in Baghdad. The time line, retrieved from Nexis, with a load date of November 28, contains the departure times from Waco, Texas and Andrews Air Force Base. Fair enough. That could have been filed on the 26th, although it would have been rather late, 11:06 pm EST. But the CNN report also contains the landing time in Baghdad (5:31 pm Baghdad time) and the departure time (8:00 pm Baghdad time). Was the White House visit so carefully scripted, the arrival and departure times in Baghdad were known a day in advance? Was it another typo on the date? Did the White House advance planners provide the time line to CNN? A day before when the actual arrival and departure times would not have been easily known? Maybe. But the following cannot be explained so easily. In the CNN report filed on November 26, the president is quoted telling the reporters on Thursday night, November 27, after takeoff from Baghdad, “I was fully prepared to turn this baby around and come home,” he says. “Three hours out, I checked with our Secret Service and checked with the people on the ground. They assured me that we still had a tight hold on the information.” Incredible, CNN was told the day before what the President would tell reporters the next day? More inconsistencies. Or possibly, clairvoyants are once again employed by the White House staff.

Fox News, the only TV news crew permitted to fly with Bush, initially reported on Thanksgiving Day that Air Force One flew across the Atlantic and Europe during total darkness and in total radio silence. Of course, that also gave the impression that the plane must have left Washington much earlier than later reported in order to give it the cover of darkness over the normally busy daytime air corridors of Europe. It was later reported that a British Airways pilot radioed Air Force One and asked whether he was, in fact, seeing the presidential plane whizzing by. We were told that Air Force One responded to the pilot by claiming it was a much smaller Gulfstream 5 executive jet, to which the British pilot replied, “Oh.” Of course, by radioing the British plane, which now appears to have been a phantom, the Air Force One broke the radio silence originally reported by Fox News. But Fox reports and you’ll have to decide.

According to a Reuters report from Crawford, Texas, British Airways later denied any such encounter with one of its planes, stating that if it occurred, company regulations required a report be filed. No such report was filed.

A 5:30 pm landing in Baghdad would have put Air Force One over very crowded air corridors in Europe at the height of the evening business “rush hour” into such busy airports as Heathrow, Frankfurt and Charles DeGaulle. But we were told by the White House that only a British Airways pilot saw the plane, either during total darkness or during daylight hours, maybe over the Atlantic or maybe not. No one has come forward to report the encounter as required by British Airway’s own regulations. On the other hand, no Lufthansa, Air France, Aeroflot, Sabena, Olympia, or Turkish Airlines pilots saw the plane with its military escort. Perhaps only the airlines of the “coalition of the willing” countries were trustworthy enough to spot the plane. Now it appears that no other pilot saw Air Force One en route to Iraq.

Agence France Presse also reported from Crawford that hours after Air Force One landed in Texas, a local tourist shop was selling pins depicting the encounter between Air Force One and a British Airways plane. Ironically, the image of Air Force One, according to the French wire service, is shown flying into the sunset, something that only happened if it flew west, not east. Unless it was flying into sunrise. Did Allen make a typo in his report of a morning landing? Not if the crack souvenir makers in Crawford are to be believed.

The American public was also told that Air Force One made a difficult “cork screw” landing in Baghdad. The Post’s Allen later reported that the plane “touched down in swift abrupt landing.” He later reported the plane made “a dramatic corkscrew landing.” The Dallas Morning News Matt Stiles reported, “The plane made an abrupt descent into Baghdad International Airport.” An abrupt descent is not the same as a complicated corkscrew landing. More inconsistencies.

We all saw the press being co-opted by providing “embedded” reporters with military units during the invasion of Iraq. And we were treated to a real life Hollywood-style rendition of “Saving Private Lynch,” the Special Forces “rescue” of Jessica Lynch from an Iraqi hospital where she was taken after she was injured in a vehicle accident. Lynch later told ABC News that she felt “used” by the administration and refuted earlier U.S. military reports that she was tortured. The Central Command’s press center in Qatar was designed by a Hollywood set designer giving the false impression that the interior of a warehouse was a desert command tent on the battlefront. It would appear that the Bush White House is a real life version of the movie, “Wag the Dog.” According to a Navy Judge Advocate General (JAG) officer, before Bush landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln, he was authorized to have locked up in the brig any sailor deemed “unstable” during the duration of the presidential visit. Were the troops Bush served dinner to on Thanksgiving Day similarly vetted?

Bush’s emcee for the Baghdad stopover, L. Paul Bremer, who had been saying for months that the security situation in Baghdad was improving, was criticized by his predecessor as Iraqi pro-consul, retired General Jay Garner. The general told the BBC it was a mistake for Bremer to disband the Iraqi army and he indicated that his warnings about future destabilization in Iraq caused problems for him with the highest levels in the administration, meaning either Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney. More proof of Bush’s smoke and mirrors tactics.

After all the Bush administration’s tall tales about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, his links to Al Qaeda, Iraq’s desire to purchase yellowcake uranium from Niger, Britain’s “dodgy dossier,” the “suicides” of Dr. David Kelly and State Department intelligence analyst John Kokal, Jessica Lynch’s dramatic “rescue,” “Mission Accomplished” carrier landings, Valerie Plame Wilson’s “non-importance” to the CIA’s covert operations, Cuba’s biological weapons, Syria’s support for Iraqi insurgents, the threat of Iran’s nuclear arsenal, North Korea’s “non-threatening” nuclear arsenal, Saudi Arabia’s support in the war on terrorism, Pakistan’s assistance in stamping out the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and the “coalition of the willing,” everyone, including Mike Allen, his and other newspaper editors and bureau chiefs, broadcast news anchors, can be forgiven if they are confused about what they are being fed by the White House on a daily basis.

The most germane quote is from Morpheus in The Matrix:

“You take the blue pill–the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill–you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes. ”

WAYNE MADSEN is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and columnist. He wrote the introduction to Forbidden Truth. He is the co-author, with John Stanton, of “America’s Nightmare: The Presidency of George Bush II.

Madsen can be reached at: WMadsen777@aol.com