Saturday, October 29, 2005

BBC's Reynolds disappoints

Paul Reynolds of the BBC writes today about the culmination of the Plame investigation and the indictment of Scooter Libby. Unfortunately, this is one of Reynolds’ worst efforts in quite some time.

He begins by exclaiming that the indictment of Libby:
…raises serious questions about how the Bush administration sought to justify the war against Iraq and brings into scrutiny the possible role of Mr Cheney in the unlawful disclosure of a CIA agent.
No, it doesn’t. This is just spin, with Reynolds himself attempting to raise those questions anew, and to place “scrutiny” on “the role” of Mr. Cheney despite the lack of any reason to do so.

With regard to the justification of the war, these indictments say absolutely nothing whatsoever. The indictments revolve around when Libby discovered that Plame worked at the CIA, who told him, and who he subsequently told. Again, they have absolutely nothing at all to do with the justification of the war. Indeed, the whole Plame issue itself touches only tangentially on it, in the sense that it was instigated by Joe Wilson’s original article which claimed, falsely as it turned out, that his trip to Niger did not bear out the claims of British intelligence. But these indictments provide virtually no new information, and raise no new questions at all, with regard to that intelligence. Reynolds is trying to create new controversy where none exists.

As for Mr. Cheney’s “role”, this has arisen strictly from the fact that Libby originally claimed to have heard about Plame’s employment from a journalist, when in fact he had been told by Cheney previously. But independent prosecutor Fitzgerald said explicitly in his news conference that “there was nothing wrong with government officials discussing Valerie Wilson or Mr. Wilson or his wife and imparting the information to Mr. Libby.” Again, Reynolds is attempting to create an issue where none exists, presumably in order to impart greater political significance to the indictments than already exists.

In his recap of the events that led up to the indictment, Reynolds does a reasonable job, except for his brief mention of Joe Wilson. As seems to be custom with BBC reports about this affair, Reynolds once again fails to inform his audience of the fact that Wilson has been wholly discredited with regard to his claims about his trip to Niger, and has also been shown to be lying about the involvement of his wife in his being given the assignment in the first place.

Given that Reynolds is trying to push the notion that the indictments raise “serious questions” about the justification of the war, it is no wonder that he tries to keep Wilson’s credibility problems from his audience. In one of the more revealing comments by Reynolds, he writes of the charge that Saddam sought uranium in Niger:
The British government certainly believed the Niger report - and strangely enough after all that has happened, still does.
Strangely enough? Why would it be strange if the report is, in fact, accurate? Reynolds is obviously insinuating that the report has been shown to be false, and that Wilson’s charges are accurate. But in fact, “after all that has happened”, including the Senate investigation that concluded Wilson was not telling the truth about his Niger trip, what reason does Reynolds have to think it is not accurate? Since Wilson’s lack of candor does not facilitate the use of him as a proxy for promoting the notion that Bush/Blair lied about the justifications for the war, it is little surprise that the BBC doesn’t want to remind its audience of the full story behind Wilson's claims.

Reynolds also employs those classic journalistic weasel words, used to express an opinion while maintaining the pretense of objectivity. The Project for the New American Century has been “seen as” the origin of Bush policy. Seen by who? Reynolds doesn’t say. The indictments have “got people asking” questions about the vice-president's role in the affair. What people? Reynolds doesn’t say.

Reynolds has, to my mind, shown himself in the past to be one of the more reasonable BBC reporters of political events. This latest effort, however, is highly disappointing.

21 Comments:

Anonymous tired & excitable said...

For anyone with the energy, here's a succinct attempt to put yesterday's minor and not-very-scandalous-or-even-sleazy events into context:
Is That All There Is?.

Equivalent commentary is all over the place, except on the BBC. In BBC world, Reynolds/Frei blathering away on autopilot plainly beats leading the news with, say, the scathing Oil-For-Food report just issued by Volker or the UN fiasco over the relief efforts following the Pakistan earthquake.

The BBC long since ceased to be a credible source of information about the US or the UN.

12:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unforunately the Reynolds type version of events will probably become the authorised version.

The media's selectivity on matters relating to Iraq has become legion.

I remember a BBC man storming "the newspaper of record, the newspaper of record, the NY Times, has reported that the Senate Committee has found no links between Saddam & al-Qaeda".

Which of course the NY Times did report, but corrected itself 24 hours later. But which NY Times report now gets trotted out by other commentators?

In addition some journalists just don't pay sufficient attention.

Today the SkyNews desk person introduces an interview with the words that "Libby had been charged with outing a covert CIA agent".

Her interviewee, from ABC News, offers a mealy mouthed correction, "Its not so much the outing of the CIA agent but lying about it".

The public have to pay very great attention if they want to get a clear version of events.

1:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The public have to pay very great attention if they want to get a clear version of events.

seems I have failed to get all the info before sounding off!

I had't picked up that Libby had leaked Plame's name, however from The Times

Mr Fitzgerald made clear that Mr Libby had not committed the far more serious offence of “knowingly and intentionally outing a covert agent”.

Mr Fitzgerald said that that information was classified, and that Mr Libby had an obligation not to leak it. Instead, he said, Mr Libby passed that information to three journalists in July 2003.

2:33 PM  
Anonymous avaroo said...

The Wilson's must be terribly disappointed that no one has been accused of outting Valerie. I thought Fitzgerald did a fabulous job but what this boils down to is that there was no crime until there was an investigation. If Libby did what he's been indicted for, then he did commit a crime. Just not the one that was being investigated.

Neither Reynolds nor any other BBC reporter could be expected to do anything other than what Reynolds has done. No matter what Fitzgerald found, had he indicted no one, the BBC would have reported that the investigation raised serious questions about how the Bush White House justified the war in Iraq. That was going to be the BBC story no matter what the investigation found.

4:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scott

1. Of course the indictment raises questions about how the war was justified, especially post facto --for a start, how an opponent of the war was treated. I would have thought this was obvious not fictitious. Why was Plame's name revealed?

2. Cheney. Nobody has said that Cheney did not have the right to discuss CIA agents. But why did he do so? At the same time Libby was researching Wilson's role. Maybe the Cheney conversation will prove to be innocuous. Maybe something else will come out. This is the "scrutiny" I refer to.

3. The British government does still stand by the Niger report. I said "strangely" because there are so many doubts about the Niger stuff. That there are doubts is shown by the CIA's disavowal of the famous sixteen words.

4. If you think the Project for the American Century is not seen as one of the sources of the Bush admin, you are in a minority of one I think.

In turn, I have to say, Scott, not one of your better efforts.

Paul Reynolds
BBC Online

9:25 AM  
Blogger Scott Callahan said...

Paul,

1. How an opponent of the war was treated has no logical bearing whatsoever on the justification for the war. None. The justification for the war could be airtight, and still an opponent of the war could be treated badly. Even people who are right can still engage in dirty politics.

Wilson's article raised serious questions about the justification for the war...questions which were answered by the Senate investigation which you strangely failed to mention in your article. However, the indictment of Libby on perjury and obstruction charges raises not one single new question about the justification for the war, and reflects in no way at all on those justifications.

If you think otherwise, then please point out one of those "serious" questions, and show how it has been raised by the indictments.

As for the discussion of Plame's role, it was discussed in order to put Wilson's claims into context. As Robert Novak, the person in whose column her name appeared, explained:

"I was curious why a high-ranking official in President Bill Clinton's National Security Council (NSC) was given this assignment. Wilson had become a vocal opponent of President Bush's policies in Iraq after contributing to Al Gore in the last election cycle and John Kerry in this one.

"During a long conversation with a senior administration official, I asked why Wilson was assigned the mission to Niger. He said Wilson had been sent by the CIA's counterproliferation section at the suggestion of one of its employees, his wife."


Perhaps Novak has more curiosity than the BBC, but his interest strikes me as sensible.

2. Why did Cheney discuss Plame and Wilson within the administration? It doesn't take a lot of creativity to imagine that, in the wake of Wilson's accusations, the White House was curious about how the hell a former diplomat rather than an intelligence agent got sent to investigate the claim.

BTW, why is there such lack of interest in role Wilson himself played in outing his wife? Why was he spouting off in the NYT - falsely as it turned out - about an intelligence mission that his wife put him up for if he was so concerned about her role as a CIA agent becoming public?

I suspect that these questions are not asked because to do so would make it more difficult to demonize the White House over the whole episode.

3. So many doubts. Whose doubts? Joe Wilson's? The BBC's? The Guardian's? The New York Times? I'd be more likely to conclude that Wilson's claims about the intelligence are "strange", given that British Intelligence still stand by it, than to conclude the opposite, as you apparently do.

4. Again, Paul, seen as by who? The press corps? Well, yeah, I agree that the media in general does "see" that. But if that is what you mean, why don't you just say it? If you are suggesting that it is simply a fact that the Project was one of the sources, then why didn't you just say that? The use of "seen as" in news stories is, frankly, a sloppy and unedifying form of reporting.

BTW, I would be remiss if I did not note that you have not addressed your failure to disclose in your article Joe Wilson's known credibility problems. Why?

SC

10:27 AM  
Blogger Marc said...

Why can't you just tell the truth Paul? Why do you and the BBC continue to mislead the public - the ones who pay your salary?
Millions of people around the world are being lied to by the BBC everyday.

Shame on you Paul and your beloved BBC.

10:42 AM  
Blogger David said...

"The Senate report includes a 48-page section on Wilson that demonstrates, in painstaking detail, that virtually everything Joseph Wilson said publicly about his trip, from its origins to his conclusions, was false."

So you obviously skipped over those 48 pages then Paul?

Not one of YOUR better efforts I'm afraid Paul.

6:21 PM  
Anonymous avaroo said...

Pretty weak excuses from Paul Reynolds.

Fitzgerald himself was quite careful to explain that this indictment says nothing at all about justification for the Iraq war. How could the BBC miss that?

The fact that the BBC sees itself as being the arbiter of what is "seen", as in Reynolds comments about PNAC is quite disturbing.

The BBC does itself no favors when it is caught distorting the news.

6:26 PM  
Anonymous tired & excitable said...

So...
Wilson is a proven liar.
Fitzgerald discounts any connection between Libby and the rationale for war.

And...
Reynolds knows better, for reasons that are "obvious."

Uh, yeah.

3:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paul Reynolds: Just another disgusting BBC liar.

4:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scott, You make a good case but if you will look here at the names associated with the Project for the American Century http://www.newamericancentury.org/statementofprinciples.htm Reynolds too has a point.

He could have phrased it differently of course (i.e., I think saying "the people associated with the Project for the American Century are seen as closely associated/amongst the guiding forces of American foreign policy" would have been more accurate) but it seems (prima facie at least) somewhat disingeneous to deny that Dick Cheney for example has a great deal of influence in the White House.

Regards,

Inna

8:43 AM  
Anonymous paul reynolds said...

My reply to Scott's reply...

1. Read my words:

"It raises serious questions about how the Bush administration sought to justify the war against Iraq and brings into scrutiny the possible role of Mr Cheney in the unlawful disclosure of a CIA agent."

It raises questions about the "way the Bush admininstration sought" justification of the war in at least this way.

Why did it make an ad hominem attack instead of relying on the doubts about the Wilson mission expressed the Senate report? Wilson's mission got a "good" rating from the CIA but this is only a middling one.

Instead his personal circumstances were called into question in an apprarent attempt. to undermine criticism of the war. If you seek to undermine criticism, you are at the same time trying to justify your position.

You Scott are doing the same thing by concentrating on Wilson's shortcomings. That is my answer to your last point.


2. The Cheney conversaations: again the issue is not whether Cheney had the right but whether he was abusing that right.


3. Doubts about Niger.

A key sentence in the Senate report shows that the CIA lost confidence in the Niger connection.

"CIA Iraq nuclear analysts..still believed that Iraq was probably seeking uranium from Africa and they continued to hold that belief until the IAEA reported that the documents were forged."

This I think more than justifies my use of the word "strangely" when discussing the views of the british government. "Strangely" impplies that there is a mystery and there is.



Paul Reynolds
BBC News Online

9:39 AM  
Blogger Scott Callahan said...

Inna,

Thanks for the comment and the link.

The particular point you are speaking about was, for me, more one of form than substance (and also a minor one...I spent all of one sentence mentioning it at the very end of my post). I certainly don't deny that Cheney has great influence in the White House.

Reporters' use of the vague "seen as" or the like is a pet peeve of mine. It is almost always used to convey the reporter's own attitude towards something while maintaining the pretense of objectivity. That view may be defensible, and sensible, and I may even agree with it. But it is still a weasely way of incorporating the author's view into an ostensibly objective report by passing it off as the view of some disembodied, vague, and undefinable other.

Certainly in the context of the rest of my criticisms, this is not a very big deal, which is why I relegated it to one sentence at the very end. As I said, it is mostly a pet peeve of mine, and probably not worth focusing on.

If withdrawing the criticism will entice Paul Reynolds to focus on the more substantive problems in his piece, like the total lack of information on the truth about Joe Wilson, then consider it withdrawn.

SC

9:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The most amazing thing for me is the giant leaps in logic. Bush asserted that Iraq was trying to get uranium from Niger, not that it had. Yet the existence of forged documents purporting to show that it had, is taken as proof that it wasn't even trying. How convenient.

Wilson concluded that it was impossible for uranium to have gotten out of Niger without someone knowing. Even assuming this conclusion is correct, how does it impact on the President's statement? Can I avoid prosecution for shoplifting if I bring in an expert who testifies it was impossible for me to have gotten out of the shop without being detected?

And then we are expected to believe that the White House "punished" Wilson by blowing his wife's cover. While she was working at a desk in Washington. Boy, that must really have hurt. Of course, that's much more sensible than asking why Wilson was sent on the mission in the first place, and who sent him.

11:04 AM  
Blogger Scott Callahan said...

Paul,

I've read your words. Perhaps you haven't really thought about them carefully enough yourself.

You talk about the "possible role of Mr. Cheney in the unlawful disclosure of a CIA agent." Sorry, Paul, but Fitzgerald has not alleged any such unlawful disclosure. How can Cheney have a role in a crime that did not occur?

Anyway:

1. "Why did it make an ad hominem attack instead of relying on the doubts about the Wilson mission expressed the Senate report?"

Given that the indictments do not allege any such ad hominem attack, it is difficult to for me to see how the indictments could give rise to such a question. Besides, this particular "serious question" was raised by Joe Wilson, and his friends on Capitol Hill and in the media, some two years ago. To suggest that the indictments have raised this question, or have fueled new and additional speculation on it in any way at all, is simply spin. You are merely using the occassion of the indictments to continue to promote the same suspicions that have existed for two years, despite the fact that the indictments do not speak to the issue in any way at all.

As for the answer to the question:
a) suggesting, truthfully, that Wilson was sent on the mission at the behest of his wife is not, as you characterize it, an ad hominem attack on his personal circumstances.

b)Wilson himself had been implying all around Washington that the White House had sent him on the trip. (The Guardian was still pushing this false recap of events this weekend). How does the White House discredit this claim without explaining how it was that his trip came about?

c) You are being disingenuous. Your reference to questions about the justification for the war were almost certainly meant to refer to, and were undoubtedly interpreted by your audience as referring to, the claims made by the admininistration regarding Saddam's nuclear activity, specifically an attempt to buy uranium from Niger, not some convoluted justification through discrediting critics. As I said, and indeed even as Fitzgerald himself has said, the indictments have no bearing whatsoever on the justifications, or lack thereof, for the war.

BTW, I'm not "concentrating" on Wilson's utter lack of credibility. I just think it is an integral part of the story and hence your audience deserves to know about it, although I understand that it is perhaps not conducive to the story you want to tell. The media insists on portraying Wilson as an innocent whistleblower who has been hard done by. Given his deceptions and lies, however, a strong case can be made that he was simply a political partisan lying about his role in order to give his attacks on the President more weight. If that is the case, then any admin attempts to discredit him apppear to be little more than the normal rough and tumble politics which he himself was engaged in. At the very least it makes him appear a significantly less sympathetic character than he has been portrayed.

2. If no law was broken regarding the discussions of Plame, then Cheney was not abusing that right. Since there is no allegation that a law was broken, the insinuation of scandal surrounding him is little more than spin.

3. The British intelligence about which Bush spoke in his infamous "16 words", and which British intelligence still believes to this day, was not based on the forged documents.

What seems strange to me is the media obsession with trying to imply a lack of good faith on Bush's part with regard to his public mention of this intellgence when, not only were his words true when he uttered them 3 years ago, they remain equally true today!

SC

11:34 AM  
Blogger Scott Callahan said...

Paul,

BTW, although I dispute that I have tried to concentrate on Wilson, your charge does raise an interesting question.

Why are you not interested in concentrating on Wilson and his story. You speak of the mystery surrounding British intelligence's continued support of its Niger conclusions. Well, the mysteries surrounding Wilson and his role in this affair are numerous.

Why would the CIA choose a former diplomat with no experience in intelligence gathering to go on an intelligence gathering mission?

If the CIA was actively trying to keep a particular agent's association with the agency a secret, why would it select a person with direct links to that agent to act on its behalf in seeking intelligence? And, having done so, why would it not require him to sign a non-disclosure agreement?

If the CIA was actively trying to keep Plame's role as an agent a secret, why did the CIA confirm to a journalist, Robert Novak, that she did work there?

If Wilson was indeed concerned with his wife's association with the CIA remaining a secret, why did he write an op-ed in the most widely read newspaper in America disclosing the details of a CIA mission he was assigned precisely because of his wife's association with the CIA?

Why did Wilson lie about his wife's role in getting him the assignment, once her employment with the CIA was made public?

Was Wilson's trip to Niger classified, and if so, why was the CIA unbothered by Wilson's leak of this classified information?

Given the political tensions that existed between the CIA and the White House over blame for intelligence failures leading up to 9/11, is it possible that Wilson was used by someone in the CIA in an attempt to embarrass the White House?

In a different vein, why do journalists, including yourself, inevitably characterize Wilson as disputing the claim that Saddam had sought to buy uranium, when in fact Wilson specifically disputed the notion that Saddam had bought uranium from Niger?

I suspect your reply to all this will be simply that this was not the story you were reporting on. My question is, why not? If not you, why not someone at the BBC?

These are mysteries that a less politicized and more objectively curious media might be asking themselves, not to mention asking others.

SC

1:22 PM  
Blogger Scott Callahan said...

Addendum to above:

The line that reads:

Given the political tensions that existed between the CIA and the White House over blame for intelligence failures leading up to 9/11...

should read:

Given the political tensions that existed between the CIA and the White House over blame for intelligence failures leading up to 9/11 and continuing through the failure of intel over WMD...

SC

1:40 PM  
Anonymous avaroo said...

Scott,

There are two more mysterious issues. The CIA said that Wilson's oral report added no new information on the issue of what Iraq tried to purchase, if anything, from Niger. In fact, the CIA said that it took Wilson's report as more confirmation that there WAS some sort of contact to try to buy uranium from Niger. If the CIA didn't take Wilson's report terribly seriously, then why would the White House? Wilson tries to act as though he brought back firm information and completely obliterated the case against the uranium buy, yet nothing could be further from the truth.

The second issue is why was a seriously partisan person sent on this mission in the first place? I know he was suggested by Valerie Plame but should the CIA not have looked a bit more closely at his qualifications for the job? It seems tea drinking was the primary job qualification. I think the CIA sent Wilson on a joy ride to Niger, not expecting him to come back with anything. It was a favor to Valerie, probably a way to get a paid for "business trip" he was allegedly making prior to her suggestion that he go on behalf of the CIA. Hopefully, we won't have any more people sent on serious missions with few qualification and at the request of a spouse working at the CIA.

To believe that Wilson's personal circumstances were called into question to undermine his criticism of the war, one would have to meet 2 conditions: 1) Valerie would have to have not been involved in the first place and 2) the administration would have had to have taken Wilson's criticisms seriously. It appears the administration, or at least the CIA, didn't think Wilson's report even worthy of telling the VP about. So how seriously did they take anything else he said?

I'd like to ask Mr. Reynolds specificially what he meant when he said "The Cheney conversaations: again the issue is not whether Cheney had the right but whether he was abusing that right."

How does one "abuse" a right? A right is either something that one has or does not have.

I'm going to agree with Mr. Reynolds on one issue, his use of the word "strangely". And here's how it should be used.

After Wilson's report was taken by the CIA more as information comfirming that there was some attempt by Iraq to purchase uranium from Niger, and the refusal of the British government to back away from the claim, it is quite strange that anyone would think the Iraq-Niger story had been debunked.

3:02 PM  
Anonymous Inna said...

RE: strangely...

Scott, The strange part (for me) at least is not this particular story per se; it is the overall narrative that he (less than the BBC let us admit) had been telling.

The narrative goes something like this. The United States practices psuedo-colonialism in its foreign policy especially. As long as the hired thugs keep the resources flowing- and a lid on their own people- we let them steal and kill as they please and praise them as friends and allies.

Now, that part is pretty straightforward, right?

But look at the news--isn't it interesting that bringing one of the thugs down has caused more outcry than supporting any number of them? That one of the most popular arguments against bringing him down seems to be that we didn't bring the others down, too? And that the next fear expressed is that we will?

Look at Reynolds' latest report, for example:

"Three of the major countries in the region are now either in huge upheaval - such as Iraq - or in a dispute with international organisations - such as Syria with the Security Council over Mr Hariri's murder, and Iran with the International Atomic Energy Agency over its uranium enrichment work.

"The Middle East, therefore, is far from settling down into a zone of peace, stability and security."

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/4393634.stm

This passage seems to imply the Middle East is unstable NOT because the thugs are in power but because the US SAID that thugs are in power.

Now, that "reasoning" is (to me) strange indeed.

Regards,

Inna

5:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

good how I hate BBC news, do they understand the meaning of the world "objective", I look forward to the day when I no Longer am forced to pay for the witterings of a "D" list scribe such as Reynolds, at least with the Indie and Guardian you get a choice.

1:39 PM  

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