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Another Falsehood on Iraq Goes Unchallenged
Posted: Tuesday, September 30, 2003

September 29, 2003

On a weekend when the Bush administration's pre-war intelligence on Iraq was a major topic on the Sunday talkshows, Secretary of State Colin Powell re-circulated a false story about United Nations weapons inspectors being kicked out of Iraq in 1998. Some major media outlets let Powell's comments pass without comment or correction.

On ABC's This Week (9/27/03), Powell explained that the Clinton administration "conducted a four-day bombing campaign in late 1998 based on the intelligence that he had. That resulted in the weapons inspectors being thrown out."

The actual history is much different. On December 15, 1998, the head of the U.N. weapons inspection team in Iraq, Richard Butler, released a report accusing Iraq of not fully cooperating with inspections. The next day, Butler withdrew his inspectors from Iraq, in anticipation of a U.S.-British bombing campaign that began that evening. Neither George Stephanopoulos nor George Will, who conducted ABC's interview, corrected Powell's false assertion.

In reporting on the interview, the New York Times merely repeated Powell's charge (9/29/03): "Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, in a television appearance today, noted that the Iraqi leader threw weapons inspectors out in 1998, making it more difficult for intelligence agencies to get hard information." The Los Angeles Times (9/29/03), meanwhile, paraphrased Powell's words to make them more factually accurate, prefacing his quote with the statement that "U.N. weapons inspectors had left Iraq in 1998 and did not return until late last year." The quote immediately follows, giving readers the misimpression that Powell accurately conveyed this background.

As the Bush administration's false statements about Iraq have become a public controversy, it is reasonable to expect journalists to point out continuing misinformation on Iraq by senior Bush administration officials. If New York Times editors were interested in correcting the record, all they would have to do is re-print a correction they ran over three years ago (2/2/00): "A front-page article yesterday... on Iraq misstated the circumstances under which international weapons inspectors left that country before American and British air strikes in December 1998. While Iraq had ceased cooperating with the inspectors, it did not expel them. The United Nations withdrew them before the air strikes began."

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