Reynolds defense deceives and falls flat
The first thing to note is Reynolds penchant for taking things that I have said out of context. He studiously avoids quoting from my piece at any length, preferring instead to characterize my arguments by extracting a word or two, and then imbedding them into a sentence dominated by his own words. This allows him to attack arguments of his own making, rather than those I have actually made.
For example, Reynolds says:
Let me deal first with the nature of the visit, which Callahan himself says is the “primary question.”At no point did I say the nature of Wilson’s visit was the “primary question”. I used the phrase “primary question” in the following context:
The primary question needing to be asked is: At what point did the BBC transform the object of Wilson’s Niger trip, and the conclusions he drew from it, from an investigation into whether Iraq had obtained uranium from Niger into an investigation into whether Iraq had simply sought to obtain it?Reynolds is engaged in two deceits here. First, he pretends that I am posing a question about Wilson’s mission, when in fact I am posing a question about the BBC’s reporting. Second, he pretends that I have singled out the nature of Wilson’s mission as singularly important, when in fact I have identified both the mission and “the conclusions he drew from it” without stipulating that either was more important than the other.
It is important to Reynolds that the nature of Wilson’s visit be the “primary” thrust of my argument because, as it turns out, this is the only aspect of my argument for which he has anything that even resembles a legitimate rebuttal. Hence, if he can portray this as the lynchpin of my position and he can convince himself that he has destroyed it, he can declare victory. Unfortunately he fails on all counts.
In defending the BBC’s characterization of the nature of Wilson’s Niger trip, Reynolds points to the “talking points” that Wilson was given for is trip, which included, among other things, asking officials in Niger if they had been approached concerning uranium transfers. This, in Reynolds’ mind, apparently legitimizes the BBC’s characterization of Wilson’s trip as centering around whether a simple attempt to obtain, rather than an actual purchase, had occurred. Reynolds’ thinks this, despite the fact that: (all emphasis added)
1) Wilson’s trip was conceived directly “in response to questions from the Vice President’s Office and the Departments of State and Defense on the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium deal” (page 39, Senate Intelligence Report)
2) Wilson, in the NYT op-ed which formed the basis of the BBC’s original reporting on the issue, says: “I was informed by officials at the Central Intelligence Agency that Vice President Dick Cheney's office had questions about a particular intelligence report. While I never saw the report, I was told that it referred to a memorandum of agreement that documented the sale of uranium yellowcake — a form of lightly processed ore — by Niger to Iraq in the late 1990's. The agency officials asked if I would travel to Niger to check out the story so they could provide a response to the vice president's office.”
3) The BBC’s very first report on the affair described Wilson as “A former US ambassador who investigated reports that Niger sold uranium to Iraq…”
4) Less than two weeks ago Reynolds himself acknowledged that characterizing the mission as one about an attempt to buy uranium was incorrect when he edited his own story, changing the words “had tried to buy” to “had agreed the purchase” in his description of Wilson’s mission.
Now, Reynolds is certainly correct when he says:
Common sense indicates that anyone sent on a mission to investigate whether a sale had taken place would want to check the whole background. This might include whether any discussion of a sale had taken place and any approach made.Yes, it does. But common sense also indicates that, when describing - to use Reynolds’ own (ill-advised, given the point he is trying to make) words - “a mission to investigate whether a sale had taken place,” one would describe it as, er, a mission to investigate whether a sale had taken place. This is a “common sense” point that seems lost on Reynolds, and unfortunately, as I have pointed out, the BBC has repeatedly failed to employ such common sense.
However, contrary to Reynolds’ disingenuous portrayal of this as the “primary issue”, this is in fact not particularly important at all. Wilson gained his notoriety not because he claimed that the nature of his trip contradicted the president’s SOTU claims, but rather because he claimed that what he discovered during that mission contradicted the claims, and that the president knew it. It is, therefore the results of the trip, not the nature of it, which are most relevant. Even if we were to concede that the BBC’s characterization of the nature of the trip was accurate (which I do not), it would have no impact on the judgment that the BBC has presented a false narrative, because it has demonstrably misreported what he discovered.
Reynolds pretends to address the issue of how the BBC reported what Wilson discovered on his trip, but, alas, he has not done so. Yet again, he begins his defense, such as it is, by taking snippets of my words out of context and presenting them as saying something they did not say. He says:
[Callahan] claims that this distinction [regarding the nature of the mission] is important on the following grounds: when Wilson reported that he could find no evidence of an actual sale, the “myth had thus been fixed in place” that “no such attempt had ever been made.”Reynolds has so mangled what I actually said, it is difficult to know where to start. First of all, I made no claims about why the distinction regarding the nature of the mission was important. The importance of that distinction, it seems to me, is self-evident to anyone who has followed the issue. Second, I said that the “myth” had been fixed, not by when Wilson himself reported about his trip, but rather when the BBC continually mis-reported the information with which he returned. Last, the myth to which I referred was not that “no such attempt had ever been made.” I have no idea whether or not an attempt was made. It remains an open question. No, the myth to which I referred was the myth, generated by the BBC (among other media outlets), regarding the nature of Wilson’s trip and what he reported back to the CIA.
This is what I actually said, which as you can see bears little resemblance to Reynolds' portrayal:
The myth had thus been fixed in place. Wilson's original mission to investigate whether a sale had occurred, and his conclusion that it was unlikely that any such transaction had taken place, had forever become conflated with a mission to investigate whether Iraq had tried to buy uranium, and a conclusion that no such attempt had ever been made.I am happy to address rebuttals to what I have actually said, but I see little reason for focusing too much on straw-men.
Reynolds does go on to defend the BBC’s reporting on the results of Wilson’s mission by making two substantive points. First, he points out that that State Department was not as credulous as the CIA regarding the importance and implications of the Mayaki discussions. Second, he points out that the approach by the Iraqi delegation, as described by Mayaki, was vague and uncertain, and that ultimately no overt approach was alleged. It is clear, I think, that Reynolds shares the State Department's doubts about the significance of the Mayaki discussions.
But, in making these points, Reynolds has in fact gone a long way towards substantiating my charges. For it seems that the BBC’s reporting has been driven not by a desire to present the facts, but rather by Reynolds’ (or others) personal judgments about those facts. Instead of presenting its audience with the facts and allowing them to make up their own minds about how to weigh the relative importance of them, the implication of Reynolds’ defense is that the BBC itself formed its own judgments about their meaning and significance, or lack thereof, and then presented a narrative that reflected those judgments. But, in doing so, it all but prevented its audience from coming to a judgment different from its own.
Apparently, if Paul Reynolds has personally judged that the views of the State Department are correct and those of the CIA are wrong, then he thinks he has no obligation to inform his audience of the views of the CIA, and can present the views of the State Department as definitive. And if Paul Reynolds has personally judged that the Mayaki discussions do not lend support to the notion that an approach on uranium had been made, then he thinks he is justified in withholding the fact of those discussions, and the contrary judgments of others about them, from his audience.
I very much disagree. It is the BBC’s obligation to present the facts, and allow its audience to draw its own conclusions. The point of “Anatomy” was to expose how the BBC had prevented its audience from doing so. The fact that Paul Reynolds, or some other reporter at the BBC, disagrees with Mayaki’s judgment that the Iraqi attempt to increase commercial ties was an allusion to uranium, does not justify the BBC’s failure to inform its audience about Mayaki’s judgment. And it certainly does not justify the BBC in perpetuating the demonstrably false assertion, repeated over and over again, that “[Wilson’s] report said there was no evidence of the claim [that an approach had been made].”
Finally, it is notable that Reynolds has failed to even attempt to address any of the other instances in which I showed how the BBC had incorrectly reported events, nor, more significantly, has he attempted to explain the BBC’s seeming failure to report on the Senate Intelligence report’s revelations regarding Wilson and his trip. He tries to cover for his failure to adress these issues by suggesting that to do so would be “tedious”, a judgment that he even goes so far as to suggest that I have introduced.
Callahan ranges far and wide across the field of this episode and I will not go through all the details. This, he himself has suggested, would be tedious.This would be the third time that he has taken my words out of context and presented me as saying something I did not say (and he has the audacity to describe my arguments as “calumnies”!). I used the word “tedious” in a post several days ago only to describe the effort needed to parse Reynolds’ many edits with regard to a specific column. I had said:
In any event, all of this parsing of sentences is tedious and, ultimately, mostly beside the point.It may well be tedious to see Reynolds attempt to explain away all of the other failings of the BBC that I listed in “Anatomy” (especially if those attempts match the less than convincing attempts he has produced so far). But, contrary to what he says, I have not suggested that it would be so.
You, TAE readers, can judge for yourselves what to make of Reynolds’ reluctance to “go through all the details.” I merely point it out.
I look forward to Reynolds’ upcoming Q&A on the issue. It will be interesting to see if, despite his public declaration of “not guilty” to the claims I have made, he manages to take on board the criticisms, and correct the mis-impressions about the issue that the BBC has encouraged its readers to accept for over 2 years now.