Tuesday, September 2, 2008

NY Times does it again: More 'Judy Miller' tapdancing (Pt3)

A front page article "In Nuclear Net’s Undoing, a Web of Shadowy Deals" in last Monday's New York Times by David Sanger and William Broad details the destruction of evidence by the US government in a case involving the nuclear black market.

The article highlights again that the New York Times continues to engage in 'Judy Miller reporting' by warmongering and acting as a mouthpiece for the government.

This is the third article in a multi-part series. This article will focus on the NY Times' appalling reliance on government-friendly sources, the lack of any actual investigative reporting, the lack of supporting evidence, and the absence of any dissenting views. (The first piece of the series focused on the players in the AQ Khan / BSA Tahir nuclear smuggling ring, the second article focused on the countries involved.)

Given the New York Times recent history of being used and abused by their anonymous government sources you might think they ought to be a little more diligent when reporting a story such as this, but apparently they haven't learnt their lesson from the recent debacles such as Iraq/WMD or Anthrax/Hatfill.

David Sanger and William Broad need look no further back than their early reporting on this same story to see how badly they are getting spun - although given their performance, it appears that they don't even care.

As just one example, that previous article was a transparent attempt to spin the story away from the fact that the US government bailed out members of the AQ Khan nuclear proliferation network. The article noted that the AQ Khan had nuclear "blueprints" which are "rapidly reproducible for creating a weapon that is relatively small and easy to hide" which makes these weapons "attractive to terrorists."

Now Sanger and Broad tell us in their current article that these plans are "sketchy and incomplete" which have "little or no value for a terrorist..." There was no correction, no apology, no remorse or embarrassment, and apparently no lessons learned.

Despite this history, Broad and Sanger again spoke to "five current and former Bush administration officials" - presumably the same sources as their previous article - and gave them the cover of anonymity to again spread transparent nonsense. Apparently Sanger and Broad didn't even wonder why a handful of Bush administration officials were willing to talk to them about these 'classified' operations, and it surely won't occur to them to ask why the Bush administration hasn't opened up a leak investigation either.

Last month, investigative journalist Joe Lauria joked that American journalists need five sources for something personally witnessed by the journalist. This is true for whistle-blowers, but there is a double-standard when it comes to official government sources. This kid-glove treatment of US officials is remarkable given the lies that we have been fed, particularly over the past seven years.

Did Sanger and Broad actually do anything to corroborate the story apart from speak to the five Bush officials who were all singing off the same hymn-sheet? Did they interview Richard Barlow, expert on Pakistan's nuclear program for his thoughts? Did they ask decorated British customs agent Atif Amin whether the story made any sense? Or former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds? Of course not.

Perhaps Sanger and Broad could have, for example, asked 'Dr Brian Jones, a former defence intelligence WMD specialist,' for his opinion. He was quoted in the Guardian on this very story back in June saying that he was "suspicious that the disclosure might be politically motivated." But that sort of thing would never get published in a US newspaper - unless it was a government source trying to undermine a whistle-blower.

Standard of Proof
If a whistle-blower tries to shed some light on government wrongdoing, then the Corporate Press in the US demands documents and multiple points of corroboration, and even then often don't run the story. They will question his or her motives, or they will argue that it is too difficult to establish the legitimacy of the whistle-blower case, or simply accept the government's denials.

In many cases, this standard of proof is legitimate, but it is applied so inconsistently that it turns the newspapers into organs of the government. The US corporate media will publish just about anything the government says, despite the Bush administration's documented history of lying to the press and the public. On the other hand, it is nearly impossible to get the US press to write about important matters that are not government-approved.

Again, take the case of Sibel Edmonds. Despite the fact that senators from both major parties reported that the case is credible, despite the fact that the FBI confirmed a lot of the case, despite the Justice Department's Inspector General's report, despite the State Secrets Privilege, despite the fact that there has not been a single substantial denial, despite the corroboration by Phil Giraldi, a CIA agent based in Turkey, despite the corroboration from veteran FBI agents John Cole and Gilbert Graham, the US media still can't report on the story.

I asked Sibel for a quote on this story, she said:
"You see this over and over again, and I'm not just talking about my case. As you know, my organization represents nearly 150 National Security whistle-blowers, and dealing with the US mainstream media, both the networks and print, we have faced the same double standards and bias consistently. Even if you get a high-ranking National Security whistle-blower with an impeccable record and no agenda, the response from the US media is "We need at least 2 or 3 more independent witnesses, as well as hard documents."

The same media reports the government propaganda & agenda-driven leaks as undisputed fact, based on a statement from a spokesperson from one of the agencies; no request for documents, no request for independent witnesses...

Another interesting thing with the whistle-blower cases is that the MSM always use words such as 'allegations' but when they act as government mouthpieces, you rarely see any evidence of doubt or phrases like that."

We've heard from numerous sources that the US government warned reporters off writing about Sibel's story earlier this year after the UK's Times published their series on the case. The reporters were told that they would be compromising a sting operation and harming national security if they published any information about this case - and they all fell for it! The same is true of the alternate media including the blogosphere to a large extent. Steve Clemons, respected by many, apparently spoke to some of his State Dept friends before deciding that Sibel must have been only seen the ""raw intel", unprocessed, or coordinated" communications of a sting operation - despite the corroboration of the FBI agents involved in the operation.

US Press vs Foreign Press
Sibel has another example involving the nuclear black market and the US press:

"Let me give you one other example, Luke. In 2004 when Josh Meyer of the LA Times did a long but incomplete story on the Karni case, it was reported to him that one of the most important actors and angles in his article was that of Zeki Bilmen & Giza Technology. Bilmen's role and nationality were conveniently censored in the article.

Despite my efforts to get Meyer to report the relevance and significance of the Bilmen angle, and the FBI's files on him, Meyer bought in to the government's protection of Turkey and the Turkish angle. Of course, later, other outlets (mostly foreign) picked up Bilmen's significance, but still not a peep or follow-up to this day from the LA Times on this important story."

Somehow, in the logic of the US corporate press, it is more legitimate to print unsubstantiated claims of a warmongering administration, with a history of lying in order to go to war, than the substantiated claims of Sibel Edmonds who has consistently demonstrated a clean, agenda-free, non-partisan, track record of trying to expose high-level officials whose activities endanger us all.

The foreign press is much better in these matters. The Guardian's reporting on the nuclear black market has been way ahead of the pack. Their May 31 article on the destruction of evidence in the Tinner case was 3 months ahead of this latest nonsense from the NY Times (which also calls into question the timing of this later Sanger/broad article), they have also reported on the case of Atif Amin, and shown appropriate skepticism regarding the leaks and spin on the Tinner case. Germany's Der Spiegel has also done great reporting on this nuclear black market ring.

"Make-Believe Journalism
For this article, I also interviewed Joe Lauria who was co-author of the UK's Sunday Times series on Sibel's case. I'll quote him extensively here:

"Obviously I believe that government sources must be held up to the same scrutiny as critics of government. Both need supporting evidence to back up their claims. When an official says something it might be "official" but it's not necessarily true. The role of corporate media as stenographer for government has grown in recent years, with Judy Miller's case being the most prominent. But I believe the dictates of careerism and the desire to be included in the "inner circle", especially in Washington, coupled with a vicarious sense of power, leads mainstream journalists to uncritically report the statements of government officials...

There was a brief period when American journalism fulfilled its promised, during the Watergate scandal. But today the vast majority of corporate reporters essentially fulfill the role of a state-owned press. Since we live in a corporatist state, it's not far off from the truth. I also think there is an element of naivete here. Many journalists really believe that government officials are working in the people's interests and not, more often, working for their own interests and those of their elite backers...

The result of all this is that American news reporting creates a “make-believe”, almost childish view of America’s role in the world. It transmits the American myth of the nobility of America’s foreign policy and use of the military to spread democracy, or look for weapons of mass destruction, never entertaining that America could be the aggressor. The media is still rooted in America’s role in the Second World War as liberator, not explaining that that has diametrically changed. The reason for this is simple: it is a corporate press providing this “make-believe” cover for corporate and government agendas. Behind this media-created buffer or curtain between the people and the power is US involvement in the shadows with drug dealing, nuclear proliferation and terrorism. Even a suspicion of these dealings never gets through the curtain of news and entertainment distraction to reach the American people. The leading presidential candidates and the conventions of both parties of course uphold these myths, never leveling with the American people. Therefore they do not know that there is only so much money to pay for a military empire or for social services at home. And the press never explains it in these stark terms."

David Sanger & William Broad continue to promote the "make-believe" view of American foreign policy, hiding anything of significance from the American people.

They might serve a useful purpose for their government masters, but their function certainly isn't as 'journalists.' Whatever the reason for the Times to provide the government's preferred spin on this case, David Sanger and William Broad have earned their place in the Judy Miller Hall of Fame.


(Email me if you want to be added to my Sibel email list. Subject: 'Sibel email list')

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