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Fibbing It Up at Fox

Flat out lies should be confronted

~ Bill O’Reilly; Fox News Channel; May 22, 2003

Since the Iraq conflict began on March 20, Fox News has been on a mission to legitimize it.  One problem for Fox’s protracted apologia is that despite promises of evidence of current weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) by the Bush Administration, the evidence has been ambiguous at best.  Unfortunately for the network, I’ve been keeping a scratch diary of their reports since the war began.

Keep in mind that in the first three weeks of March, before the bombs started officially dropping, Fox was spreading all sorts of Pentagon propaganda.  Iraq had "drones" that it could quickly dispatch to major U.S. metropolitan areas to spread biological agents.  Saddam was handing out chemical weapons to the Republican guard to use against coalition troops in a last-ditch red-zone ring around Baghdad.  Given what we now know about Iraq, these reports seem to be laughable fantasies, but they were effective in securing public backing for the war.  The following is a short chronicle of lies, propagation of lies, exaggerations, distortions, spin, and conjecture presented as fact.  My comments are in brackets [ ]s. March 14:  On The Fox Report anchor Shepard Smith reports that Saddam is planning to use flood water as a weapon by blowing up dams and causing severe flood damage. March 19:  Fox anchor Shepard Smith reports that Iraqis are planning to detonate large stores of napalm buried deep below the earth to scorch coalition forces.   Fox Military Analyst Major Bob Bevelacqua states that coalition forces will drop a MOAB on Saddam’s bunker [!!] and give him the "Mother of All Sunburns." 

[After my last article, one sniveling neocon after another wrote me to tell me I was unqualified to assess defense matters because I wasn’t a "defense analyst" (never mind that the article wasn’t on the war, and the "real" defense experts made one wrong prediction after another on this war).  It’s interesting how these sniveling Frumsters cheer on the college-uneducated Hannity and Limbaugh when they make defense analyses supporting the neocon view.  I do know enough to say that the informed Bevelacqua’s suggestion that a MOAB would be used on a bunker was puzzling to say the least (given the reports of less-than-dazzling performance of daisy cutters outside caves in Tora Bora).  Anyway, later reports confirmed that GBU-28 bunker busters were used during The Decapitation That Apparently Failed.]   

March 23: The network begins 2 days of unequivocal assertions that a 100-acre facility discovered by coalition forces at An Najaf is a chemical weapons plant.   Much is made about the fact that it was booby trapped.  A former UN weapons inspector interviewed on camera over the phone downplays the WMD allegations and says that booby-trapping is common.  His points are ignored as unequivocal charges of a chemical weapons facility are made on Fox for yet another day (March 24).  Only weeks later is it briefly conceded that the chemicals definitively detected at the facility were pesticides. [Jennifer Eccleston has to be the worst reporter employed by any network.  She began one segment with a "Hi there!" – in no response to any segue from the relaying anchor at Fox headquarters in New York.  Her bangs are long and constantly blowing in her face in the wind.  Her head wobbles from side to side with her nose tracing out a figure 8 all the while arbitrarily syncopating a monotone voice with overemphasis on the last syllables of different words (e.g., Bagh-DAD).  The old, white-haired flag-waving yahoos like her not for her professionalism – she has none – but because of her innocent Britney Spearsesque beauty; i.e., she’s a typical young piece of meat which dirty old men with too much time on their hands fantasize about.]

March 24:  Oliver North reports that the staff at the French embassy in Baghdad are destroying documents.  [How could he know this?] 

March 24: Fox and Friends. Anchor Juliet Huddy asks Colonel David hunt why coalition forces don’t “blow up” Al Jazeera TV. [The context of the discussion makes it clear that she doesn’t know the difference between Al Jazeera and Iraqi TV!!!! Juliet Huddy is a beautiful woman but not very bright.]

March 28:  Repeated assertions by Fox News anchors of a red ring around Baghdad in which Republican Guard forces were planning to use chemical weapons on coalition forces.  A Fox "Breaking News" flash reports that Iraqi soldiers were seen by coalition forces moving 55-gallon drums almost certainly containing chemical agents.

April 7:  Fox, echoing NPR, reports that U.S. forces near Baghdad have discovered a weapons cache of 20 medium-range missiles containing sarin and mustard gas.   Initial tests show that the deadly chemicals are not "trace elements."

[In the coming weeks, this embarrassing non-discovery is quickly stomped down the Memory Hole.  The missiles were never mentioned again.]

April 9:  The crowd around coalition troops toppling the Saddam statue in Baghdad looks strangely sparse despite the network’s assertions to the contrary.  The perspective is always in close and even then there is no mob storming the statue to hit it with their shoes. Just a handful of people.  It’s constantly asserted that there’s a huge crowd.  [I’m perplexed.  Where’s the huge crowd?!]

April 10:  Fox "Breaking News" report of weapons-grade plutonium found at Al Tuwaitha.  [In the coming weeks this "discovery" was expeditiously shoved down the Memory Hole as well.]

April 10 (2:59 EDT):  A report noting with surprise "how little" the Iraqis were celebrating the coalition invasion.  [An interesting contradiction of the allegations of widespread celebration just the day before with the toppling of the Saddam statue.]

April 10 (3 p.m. EDT: Reporter Rick Leventhal)  Fox "Breaking News" report:  A mobile bioweapons lab is found.  Video of a tiny tan truck—about the size of the smallest truck that U-Haul rents – which had its cargo bed and fuel tank shot up with bullets after a looter tried to drive it away. Repeated assertions that this is most definitely a "bioweapons" lab.  A graphic sequence is shown of a large Winnebago-type vehicle that is massive compared to the tiny truck found.  The irony of this escapes the Fox newscasters and defense "experts." 

[This was the first "bioweapons lab" found, not the larger one later found in Mosul.  A week later it is briefly conceded that the tiny truck was probably never a bio weapons lab, but promises that real ones will pour forth from the landscape continue.  The second phantom lab, a large tractor-trailer truck was discovered around May 2 by Kurdish fighters.]

April 10:  To show that France is in bed with Saddam Hussein, Fox begins running old footage of Saddam Hussein’s September 1975 trip to Paris to meet with Jacques Chirac and tour a nuclear power plant.  [Because Fox strives so hard to be "Fair and Balanced," it’s all the more curious how it fails to inform its audience about another trip four years later, this one to Baghdad on December 19, 1983 made by Reagan envoy and then former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld (see pic below).  The network again, because it’s so very "Fair and Balanced," also inexplicably forgot to tell its audience about another trip by Rummy to Baghdad, this time on March 24, 1984, the very same day that a U.N. team found that Iraqi forces had used mustard gas laced with a nerve agent on Iranian soldiers.  Rummy obviously wasn’t too concerned about the charges of gassing, as in 1986 when he was considering a run for the Republican presidential nomination of 1988, he listed his restoration of diplomatic relations with WMD-using Iraq as one of his proudest achievements. 

But all that’s an eternity ago for Imperial Conservatives with a 20-second attention span.  The Fox newscasters rename Jacques Chirac "Jacques Iraq"(yuk, yuk, yuk – what a side splitter!) and keep going.] 

April 7:  Repeated ominous footage of barrels buried in a below-ground shed near Karbala.  The implication is that the Iraqi landscape is replete with these types of shelters, all of them brimming with evidence of chemical weapons.  [These were revealed to be agricultural chemicals as well.]

April 13:  Fox Graphic:  "Bush:  Syria Harboring Chemical Weapons." [My favorite Fox war commentator is definitely Colonel David Hunt.  From my canvassing of all the cable network war coverage, it’s hard to find an analyst who is more dogmatic.  When coalition forces weren’t greeted with hugs and kisses like he predicted and instead encountered stiff resistance from Iraqi forces in Basra and other places, Davey was all denial.  Everything’s going perfect.  Rummy is God, hallelujah and praise Dubya!  There’s not a problem in Iraq that can’t be solved by blowing some Iraqi’s brains out.]

April 15:  Fox analyst Mansoor Ijaz claims that the top 55 Iraqi leaders (along with the whole stash of chemical and biological WMDs they have taken with them) are now living it up in Latakia, Syria.  [This is the same 55 that appeared on the deck of cards and is still being captured – far from all living it up in Syria.]  On The Fox Report anchor Shepard Smith completely breaks with any pretense of objectivity and openly mocks actor Tim Robbins after playing an excerpt of Robbins’ speech to the National Press Club.  "Oh, that was so powerful!" Smith mocked.  [Impressive objectivity there, Mr. Smith.] April 16:  Fred Barnes on Special Report with Brit Hume blames the looting of the Iraqi National Museum on the museum staff.  [Right now there are so many claims and counterclaims about the looting it’s hard to tell what happened.  In a Fox segment on May 19 a coalition official asserted that 170,000 items were definitely not missing.  Of course he refused to give a ballpark estimate of what was missing, which he’d surely have in order to plausibly deny that the original estimate was wrong.]   

April 18:  Bill O’Reilly opens his show calling Iraqis "ungrateful." 

April 21:  Bill O’Reilly opens his show calling Iraqi Shiites "ungrateful SOBs" and "fanatics."  He concludes that "[we] can’t tolerate a fundamentalist state" in Iraq. 

[Whoa, O’Reilly.  I thought we promised the Iraqis that we were going to implement democracy, not democracy that gives the U.S. the election results it wants.  That’s not democracy, now, is it?  By now it’s quite clear that despite the spinning on The No Spin Zone, Iraq is descending into chaos.] April 22:  Lt. Colonel Robert Maginnis states on The O’Reilly Factor that the probability of finding WMDs is a 10 out of 10.  [This is the same Robert Maginnis who predicted a double-ring defense of Baghdad in the Washington Times on January 7.]  O’Reilly states that if no WMDs are found within a month from today, then that spells big trouble.  O’Reilly promises to explore the issue a month later.   [Cool, let’s hold his feet to the fire on that promise.  On an earlier show he said that U.S. credibility would be "shot" if no WMDs were found. ]

May 8: Fox News Military Analyst Major General Paul Vallely states on The O’Reilly Factor that "Middle East agents" have told him that Iraq’s WMDs along with 17 mobile weapons labs (1 of which was captured around May 2) are now buried in the Bakaa Valley in Syria 30 meters underground.  He also claims that France helped Iraqi leaders escape to Europe by providing them with travel papers [a charge that even the Pentagon later denies although it’s apparent that’s where Vallely got his information].

May 11:  On The Fox Report with Rick Folbaum it is conceded that the nefarious captured trailer contains not a shred of evidence of WMDs, but Folbaum hints that what’s important is that the trailer could have been used to make them.  [Hmmm.  I thought we went to war for actual WMDs, not for the ability to make WMDs.]

May 16:  Special Report with Brit Hume.  Muslims, citing Islam’s ban of alcohol, are torching liquor stores and threatening their Christian owners.   Under Saddam’s secular regime, Christian names were banned and schools were nationalized, but guns and alcohol were freely available; there was tolerance for Iraq’s 1 million Catholic and Protestant Christians.  In New and Improved Neocon Iraq, there’s a letter circulating in Baghdad threatening violence to even the families of women who refuse to wear the traditional Muslim head covering.  [The report is yet another interesting and reluctant concession of unintended consequences.]                

May 19:  O’Reilly discusses a number of inflammatory and bogus charges that were floated in the U.S. media about France (e.g., France supplied Iraq with precision switches used in nuclear weapons, French companies sold spare parts to Iraq for military planes and helicopters, France possessed illegal strains of smallpox, France helped Iraqi leaders escape to Europe by providing them with travel papers).  Recall this last charge was made by Major General Paul Vallely on May 8 on The O’Reilly Factor.  Again, the Pentagon denies all such charges although much of the Beltway thinks it’s obvious that the Pentagon is the source of them.  O’Reilly claims that Vallely is only irresponsible if the charges don’t turn out to be true.  O’Reilly refers to documents that prove that the French government was briefing Saddam right until the war started. [Briefed on what?]

May 20:  O’Reilly concedes that the Private Jessica Lynch rescue story could be a fraud, as asserted by the BBC and Los Angeles Times columnist Robert Scheer.  "Somebody is lying," he states.  He says that if the U.S. military has concocted a fraud, then it will be a terrible scandal but if the BBC and Scheer are wrong, nothing will happen to them.  He says he is skeptical of the BBC and Scheer.  To prove his point he brings on no other than Colonel David Hunt.  [Geez.  Transcript here.]  Over and over, Hunt calls the allegations of staged rescue an "assail on the finest soldiers in the world."  He claims that the ambulance with Lynch in it that drove up to a Marine checkpoint was never shot at, its drivers demanded $10,000 for information on Jessica, Saddam Hospital was guarded by uniformed Iraqi soldiers and Fedayeen, Jessica’s life was saved, and coalition forces didn’t trash the hospital.  What were his sources for this information?  The special ops members on the raid, some of whom are his friends and former colleagues.  Over and over Hunt kept saying, "They’re the best soldiers in the world, they’re the best in the world.  Why would they make this up?" 

[What followed next was an exchange that’s priceless and one of many that goes by far too un-analyzed on Fox every day:] Hunt:  In my opinion it’s an assault, an effrontery to the finest men and women in our service, it’s an assault on Jessica, it’s an assault on these great guys, these great special operations guys … at a minimum we should no longer buy the L.A. Times, no longer buy the Toronto Free Press, and shut the BBC off.  It’s a government to government issue…this is calling into question the veracity of the finest soldiers in the world and it’s uncalled for, it’s absolutely unbelievable."

O’Reilly:  If you [Hunt] turn out to be right, nothing will happen to Scheer…he’ll just go along blithely printing his lies and living his life and getting paid for it. [To the Colonel:  U.S. special ops soldiers may be the best in the world at what they do, but how does it logically follow from that assessment that particular actions taken during the raid were not excessive and unjustified?   How is the BBC’s story an assault on Jessica?!  What do you mean when you mention a "government to government issue" given that the U.S. government now controls Iraq?!  Is the Pentagon the most effective check on its own possible misdeeds?   How convenient if you’re suggesting that it is.  Who is your source that Iraqi doctors were trying to ransom Jessica?  Why hasn’t this allegation made its way into any other news reports?]

[To O’Reilly:  If the raid does turn out to be mostly staged, there’ll be no terrible scandal precisely because you, Fox News, and the Pentagon will assert just the opposite and allow yet another embarrassment to slide into the Memory Hole.  This is exactly why your demand for accountability from the BBC and L.A. Times is so hollow and hypocritical.  Instead of plumbing the U.S. military to investigate itself, why don’t you interview Iraqi doctor Harith al-Houssona as the London Times did on April 16 (where the story was first broken, not by the BBC or Robert Scheer) who actually saved Lynch’s life instead of the U.S. special ops who could have jeopardized it?  The doctor testifies that all Iraqi forces left the day before the raid and that Jessica was delivered by an ambulance that had to return to the hospital because it was shot at by Marines.  Why would he lie?  You say you automatically trust the Pentagon.   Why, when tales of Lynch’s heroics in fighting off 500 Iraqi soldiers with one hand while severely wounded and tales that she had amnesia have already been proven bogus?]

May 22 (5:54 a.m. CDT):  Richard King, a military doctor, appears on Fox and Friends with promises by the show’s hosts that he will verify that the Jessica Lynch rescue wasn’t staged.  King doesn’t prove anything.  He states that he arrived at Saddam Hospital the day after the rescue, concedes damage and mal-treatment of doctors at the hospital, and that he "was told " that the hospital was guarded by hostile forces but doesn’t specify who told him.  [The testimony of the hospital staff contradicts this last hearsay.]                     

May 22:  O’Reilly fails to live up to his promise to make a big stink if no WMDs are found by today.  In his Talking Points Memo he wonders why the U.S. has caught such informed Iraqis as Dr. Germ and Ms. Anthrax and has gotten no leads.  He states that more time is needed [contradicting what he said more than a month ago, when he said that if no WMDs were found after 2 months U.S. credibility would be "shot" and there would be big trouble].   He ends his Memo saying Bush must candidly address the situation soon. 

June 2:  [Unfortunately for O’Reilly, Bush isn’t candidly explaining anything.]  A video clip on Fox and Friends is shown with Bush in Poland claiming that "[w]e found" weapons of mass destruction.  His evidence?  Two trailers found near Mosul that were supposedly used as mobile bioweapons labs.  [A June 7 article by the Times’ Judith Miller reports serious doubts by some analysts that the two trailers were used as mobile bioweapons labs.   Said one senior analyst about the initial CIA report, it "was a rushed job and looks political."   Yes, they violated U.N. resolutions but this is another red herring to suggest WMDs.]      

June 4:  O’Reilly’s Talking Points Memo:  [Surreal.]  O’Reilly says that the WMD issue has now been politicized [!!].   The war was a just war because there’s now great progress between Palestinians and Israelis and that alone made the war worthwhile [?!!].  Also the mass graves and other horrors discovered add to the case for war.  The intelligence was either wrong or more time is needed to find the WMDs.  [Again contradicting what he said on and before April 22.]

June 11:  Fox reports a bus blast in Jerusalem caused by Hamas, killing 15 and wounding at least 100.  [Looks like the real reason for war according to O’Reilly (Israeli-Palestinian peace) has also disintegrated, but don’t expect O’Reilly to admit it.]

June 13, 2003