Media Blog

Truth or Semantics?

Last week, I nominated the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for the dishonor roll for reprinting Joseph Wilson’s false statements as facts.
MB reader Lawrence H. was one of several readers who wrote to the Seattle P.I. to complain about the story. Lawrence wrote:

Dear Publisher and Editors:
In Sam Skolnik’s SPI article of October 27, 2005 (“Leak indictments would be ‘a sad day,’ Wilson says”), appearing in the Nation/World section, Mr. Skolnik wrote:

Wilson served as a career diplomat from 1976 to 1998. In 2002, he was asked to investigate claims that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was seeking uranium from Niger for a nuclear weapons program.
When his inquiry turned up nothing, Wilson said he reported to officials in Washington that the claims were unfounded.

The assertion that Wilson’s inquiry in Niger “turned up nothing” is false. As the Senate Intelligence Committee reported in its July 2004 report on pre-war intelligence, Wilson learned from a former prime minister that an Iraqi delegation had sought to buy uranium from Niger. The ambassador reported this information to the CIA when he returned to Washington.
See here (“Wilson’s reports to the CIA added to the evidence that Iraq may have tried to buy uranium in Niger.”) and here (Conclusion 13, p. 72, “For most analysts, the information in [Ambassador Wilson’s] report lent more credibility to the original Central Intelligence Agency reports on the uranium deal.”).
Wilson himself, in a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote, “I never claimed to have ‘debunked’ the allegation that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa.”
Clearly, it is inaccurate to report that Ambassador Wilson’s trip to Niger turned up “nothing” in regard to the claims that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger. Therefore I am sure you will agree that a correction is warranted. Please advise me if this is not the case.
P.S. I contacted Mr. Skolnik about the error but have not yet received a reply from him.

He received the following reply from assistant managing editor Mark Matassa, who wrote:

Thanks again for your message last week. I reread the story and the background information, and while I appreciate your semantic point I don’t believe a correction is warranted.

According to Matassa, the difference between “nothing” and “something” is not the difference between “false” and “true” — it’s just a parsing of semantics. I see. Now I’m starting to realize why Wilson’s lies get repeated over and over again in the press. Even though Wilson told the CIA that he found “something” in Iraq, he likes to tell reporters he found “nothing.” And it’s not important to correct this false information — it’s just a semantic difference.
Meanwhile, more blogs join the honor roll:
Protein Wisdom

Discerning Texan

Southern Illinois Catholics


The Roughstock Journal
Thanks for keeping this effort going. If the press is going to repeat canards about Wilson over and over, then we have to repeat the facts about Wilson over and over as well. Let me know if you spot any more items for the dishonor roll.
UPDATE: Lawrence has more info on his e-mail exchange at his blog.

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