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A Tale of Two Scandals By: Ryan O’Donnell
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Over the past decade, the mass media has made a concerted effort to alter the public’s perception of two very different foreign policy “scandals”: the Cox Report and the infamous “16 words” in George W. Bush’s most recent State of the Union Address. The differences between how the so-called mainstream media – CBS, NBC, ABC, Time Magazine, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report and the New York Times – could not be more obvious. Whereas the media single out George W. Bush for blame over the “16 words,” they deflect criticism of Bill Clinton’s role in transferring nuclear secrets to Red China. While these outlets’ violations of objectivity will be readily apparent to all who read them, one must keep in mind that this partisan distortion hobbles Americans’ ability to accurately gauge which direction their nation is headed, whether we as a people are more or less safe from the specter or terror.

While most everyone remembers President Bush’s infamous claim, now made highly controversial by mass news outlets, that Saddam Hussein tried to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger, the Cox Report may have slipped everyone’s notice. The Cox Report was authored by Rep. Chris Cox, R-CA, in 1999 and dealt with the Clinton Administration’s genuinely scandalous complicity in Chinese espionage. Its revelations of President Clinton’s malfeasance and nonfeasance was shocking. Yet the media covered for Clinton on this as they did generally. Certainly his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky received massive media coverage, but even then, most news organizations were dragged into the ordeal kicking and screaming by the public’s morbid fascination with cigars and blue dresses. Something as substantial as giving nuclear technology to the Red Chinese escaped their radar.


In fact, the media painted the Cox Report, a clearly damning indictment of the Clinton White House, as “extremist” and “hysterical.” After the Cox Report was made public, Clinton’s media minions raced to the defense of his administration, and the media made themselves willing collaborators by describing the report as overblown nonsense concocted by extremists to discredit the Clinton White House (and derail Sino-American relations). Time reported that Christopher Cox’s revelation “slips close to hysteria,” whereas a “sober, morning after appraisal is not so chilling.” Newsweek characterized the Cox report’s tone as “strident.” Newsweek also joined in the official debunking, offering that “CIA and FBI officials are not as certain as the Cox Committee about how Beijing [accomplished the information theft].” U.S. News and World Report even concluded its report on the Cox Committee by quoting then Energy Secretary Bill Richardson’s assurance that “the ‘mights’ and the ‘coulds’ overwhelm the facts in this report…the alarm bells may be ringing a little too loudly. It relies too much on a worst-case scenario.”


In fact, the “mainstream” press went out of its way to spread the blame for the Cox Committee’s findings to every president since Gerald Ford. Time magazine admonished its readers, “four presidents have pushed to stroke up trade with China for rich profits for the U.S. economy.” They continued, “Ronald Reagan allowed U.S. satellites to be lofted into space by Chinese rockets,” and “Bush continued to approve still more launches even after sanctions were imposed for the 1989 Tiananmen massacre.” Newsweek was equally as eager to deflect criticism from the Boy President, arguing, “the Chinese effort to harvest American technology didn’t begin with Bill Clinton…the FBI believes that lax security at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory allowed the Chinese to obtain early U.S designs for a neutron bomb back in the late 1970s, when Jimmy Carter was President.” Further, the Reagan Administration “did little to plug the leaks on its watch.” 


This contrasts markedly with the traditional media’s over-emphasis of the disputed uranium claim in the President’s 2003 State of the Union Address. Take for example Time Magazine’s cover art for the two stories. For the Cox Report, Time’s cover featured an ethnically non-descript eye peering through a peephole, while the headline innocently inquired whether the Cox Report could spark “The Next Cold War.” For the “16 words” cover, Time superimposed the words “Untruth and Untruth” over a backdrop of President Bush delivering his State of the Union Address.


Newsweek’s July 28, 2003, article cleverly entitled “Follow the Yellowbrick Road,” makes the press’ desire for another Watergate explicit. It opened with the loaded and leading question, “Did it start with a break-in?” The article, penned by Michael Isikoff and Evan Thomas, also made sure to report that unnamed CIA sources believed “hard-liners in the Defense Department and vice president's office had ‘pressured’ agency analysts to paint a dire picture of Saddam's capabilities and intentions.” Isikoff and Thomas confidently asserted, “the intrigues and backstabbing at the highest levels have some of the qualities of a John le Carre spy story.” Funny, one would have thought the American President enabling the Chinese Government to steal nuclear secrets would have made a more appropriate spy story.


U.S. News and World Report’s Gloria Borger neatly summed up the press’ approach in her article “Lies, damned lies, whatever.” The issue, she writes, was not Iraq, nukes or Saddam (or the fact President Clinton assumed Saddam to be almost-nuclear); it was about “whether the president or his intelligence agencies hyped the facts, either purposely or unwittingly.”


The big three networks’ coverage, if possible, was actually even more biased against President Bush. On July 9, 2003, the “NBC Evening News” reported, "The Bush administration admits that a vital argument for going to war against Iraq was not true." On July 22, 2003, NBC Nightly News devoted its first 11 minutes, about half the show’s total air time, to how “the Bush administration finds itself under fire on several fronts.” NBC began with Andrea Mitchell on the charge by former Ambassador Joe Wilson that he is “now the subject of a smear campaign by senior administration officials,” then moved on to how the Niger documents were “obvious fakes.”


The behavior at CBS was more disappointing yet. On Saturday July 19, the “CBS Evening News,” in a clear attempt to manufacture a link between Iraq and Vietnam, lamented, “This is not the first time the U.S. has gone to war based on facts that later turned out to be questionable.” CBS News reporter Jim Acosta asserted, “For some intelligence veterans, the fear is the truth, and the reputation of the people who must find the truth, may have become casualties of this war.”


Yet, even when making up the news, CBS could not get its story straight. “Bush Knew Iraq Info Was False,” declared the headline over a posting on the CBSNews.com website. John Roberts opened Thursday’s “CBS Evening News” by announcing: “President Bush’s false claim about Iraqi weapons. He made it despite a CIA warning the intelligence was bad.” Of course, even in the media, some subtlety is required when smearing a President, and after receiving severe criticism for its editorial-masquerading-as-a-headline, the CBS.com headline was taken down.


Throughout the war, the news media rolled out the dreaded q-word (“quagmire”) at any and every chance they had. Since these giddy prognostications failed to materialize on the battlefield, the media is now hell-bent to associate Iraq with Vietnam in the public consciousness. Thus, the Left relives its past glories: Iraq is Vietnam; the 16 words are Watergate. And you know which party gained dominance in Washington after Watergate.


One may question why Bush’s assertion was even deemed controversial. The British stand by their account. Yet if the uranium “scandal” was evaluated solely from the mainstream media’s tone, one might assume the President had suggested Saddam was an alien. Instead, President Bush simply indicated that there was evidence suggesting that a maniacal tyrant, who had tried to acquire nuclear capacity since the 1980s and had no qualms about using chemical weapons on his own people, was once again trying to obtain components for nuclear weapons from a lawless African nation.


The Clinton administration, on the other hand, enabled a hostile, Communist government to steal American nuclear secrets. The Cox Report revelations offered damning evidence of the sloppy and irresponsible manner in which the Clinton Administration dealt with issues of atomic espionage. Such negligence is deplorable and offered deeper insight into the arrogance and irresponsibility that characterized American foreign policy from 1992-2000, the same arrogance that crafted a foreign policy allowing Osama bin Laden to operate without fear of reprisal. Had the media perhaps been more concerned with American safety than safeguarding Bill Clinton’s presidency, perhaps American security would have been tightened before the events of September 11.


As the ratings for network news continue to plummet, and as the circulation of the major news magazines dwindles, it seems that perhaps Americans have simply begun to ignore the “mainstream” news organizations in favor of cable outlets like Fox News, or internet sites like FrontPage Magazine. One can only hope this trend continues, because the mass media clearly has an agenda to push, as their contrasting treatment of these two presidencies has proven.

Ryan O’Donnell is a graduate of the College of the Holy Cross. He currently resides in Washington DC, where he is at work on his first novel. Please visit him at http://www.RyanODonnell.com or email him at raodonne@hotmail.com.

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