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Media Selectively Recycles Old News

By Jack Kelly

We journalists are environmentally friendly. We recycle. We've been recycling old news all weekend, without, of course, telling you it's old news.

"A senior administration official confirmed for the first time on Sunday that President Bush had ordered the declassification of parts of a prewar intelligence report on Iraq in an effort to rebut critics who said the administration had exaggerated the nuclear threat posed by Saddam Hussein," reported David Sanger and David Johnston in the New York Times Monday.

For the first time? Here's the AP's Tom Raum on July 20, 2003: "The White House declassified portions of an October, 2002 intelligence report to demonstrate that President Bush had ample reason to believe Iraq was reconstituting a nuclear weapons program."

"The unusual decision to declassify a major intelligence report was a bid by the White House to quiet a growing controversy over Bush's allegations about Iraq's weapons programs," wrote Dana Milbank and Dana Priest in the Washington Post the day before.

Mr. Sanger and Mr. Johnston must have slept through that month. Why the recycling? In a court filing April 5, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald reported that I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, told the grand jury that Mr. Cheney had authorized him to disclose portions of the National Intelligence Estimate to Judith Miller of the New York Times a couple of weeks before its general release.

The NIE was declassified to rebut charges by Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV that President Bush lied when he said in his 2003 State of the Union address that "the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium in Africa."

Mr. Libby has been indicted by Mr. Fitzgerald for lying to the grand jury about whether he told Ms. Miller that Mr. Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, worked at the CIA, and was responsible for dispatching him on his now famous trip to Niger.

Dafna Linzer and Barton Gellman of the Washington Post should be grateful no legal jeopardy is attached to lying to their readers. In their story Sunday they said: "the evidence Cheney and Libby selected to share with reporters had been disproved months before."

The opposite is true. In July of 2004, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence concluded unanimously that it was Mr. Wilson who was lying. He had been sent to Niger by his wife, and he told the CIA officers who debriefed him that Iraqi officials had approached Nigerien officials about buying "yellowcake."

Also that month, a parliamentary panel which investigated British claims about Iraqi WMD, the Butler Commission, concluded that the statements that Saddam had tried to buy uranium in Africa were "well founded." Perhaps Ms. Linzner and Mr. Gellman slept through that month.

Most of the recycled stories this weekend described the release of portions of the NIE as a "leak," a word that was not used in July of 2003 when the NIE was made public. For good reason. A leak is an unauthorized disclosure of classified information.

"President Bush was right to approve the declassification of parts of a National Intelligence Estimate about Iraq three years ago in order to make clear why he had believed that Saddam Hussein was seeking nuclear weapons," said the Washington Post in an editorial Sunday, one which noted the holes in Mr. Wilson's story which Ms. Linzner and Mr. Gellman somehow overlooked. "Presidents are authorized to declassify sensitive material, and the public benefits when they do."

The weekend's feeding frenzy was based on the little bit of news that Judy Miller had been briefed on the NIE before its general release. Hardly earth shattering or uncommon stuff. But many journalists saw an opportunity to imply the president had done something wrong, and to repeat charges made years ago which subsequently were proven false.

We're more reluctant to reexamine old news even when there are new developments, if the new developments run counter to journalistic memes. Here's a story you didn't read on the front page: Among the captured Iraqi documents recently released to the public is a March 17, 2001 memo from an Iraqi air force brigadier general soliciting volunteers from his command for a suicide mission to "strike American interests." Gee, in what sort of suicide mission would pilots have been useful?

Another document, released Friday, has not yet been translated from Arabic, but notations on it indicate it describes the movement of chemical and biological weapons.

But Saddam had no ties to terror groups, and he had no WMD. We told you so.

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