The anthrax case-2: The scandalous behavior of ABC News

(The series on the ethics of food will continue later.)

The way the anthrax scare was used to panic the public in the wake of 9/11 and create a rush to war was one of the many low points in recent media history.

The way they did that was by presenting totally false information that the anthrax contained traces of materials that could only come from Iraq, charges that were widely disseminated by, among others, the notorious neoconservative Laurie Mylroie, one of the major cheerleaders for invading Iraq.

Who is this Mylroie? Peter Bergen wrote a profile of her in the Washington Monthly in December 2003:

In what amounts to the discovery of a unified field theory of terrorism, Mylroie believes that Saddam was not only behind the ’93 Trade Center attack, but also every antiAmerican terrorist incident of the past decade, from the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania to the leveling of the federal building in Oklahoma City to September 11 itself. She is, in short, a crackpot, which would not be significant if she were merely advising say, Lyndon LaRouche. But her neocon friends who went on to run the war in Iraq believed her theories, bringing her on as a consultant at the Pentagon, and they seem to continue to entertain her eccentric belief that Saddam is the fount of the entire shadow war against America.

Glenn Greenwald describes the disgraceful role played by the media, especially ABC News, in using this false information to shift the focus away from a domestic criminal probe of the anthrax attacks to one that excited public terror and drove the mad rush to war with Iraq.

During the last week of October, 2001, ABC News, led by Brian Ross, continuously trumpeted the claim as their top news story that government tests conducted on the anthrax – tests conducted at Ft. Detrick — revealed that the anthrax sent to Daschele contained the chemical additive known as bentonite. ABC News, including Peter Jennings, repeatedly claimed that the presence of bentonite in the anthrax was compelling evidence that Iraq was responsible for the attacks, since — as ABC variously claimed — bentonite “is a trademark of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s biological weapons program” and “only one country, Iraq, has used bentonite to produce biological weapons.”

ABC News’ claim — which they said came at first from “three well-placed but separate sources,” followed by “four well-placed and separate sources” — was completely false from the beginning. There never was any bentonite detected in the anthrax (a fact ABC News acknowledged for the first time in 2007 only as a result of my badgering them about this issue). It’s critical to note that it isn’t the case that preliminary tests really did detect bentonite and then subsequent tests found there was none. No tests ever found or even suggested the presence of bentonite. The claim was just concocted from the start. It just never happened.

We are now told that right from the beginning, the FBI was convinced that the anthrax came from the Fort Detrick facility. So who was lying then?

Greenwald continues:

Surely the question of who generated those false Iraq-anthrax reports is one of the most significant and explosive stories of the last decade. The motive to fabricate reports of bentonite and a link to Saddam is glaring. Those fabrications played some significant role — I’d argue a very major role — in propagandizing the American public to perceive of Saddam as a threat, and further, propagandized the public to believe that our country was sufficiently threatened by foreign elements that a whole series of radical policies that the neoconservatives both within and outside of the Bush administration wanted to pursue — including an attack an Iraq and a whole array of assaults on our basic constitutional framework — were justified and even necessary in order to survive.

ABC News already knows the answers to these questions. They know who concocted the false bentonite story and who passed it on to them with the specific intent of having them broadcast those false claims to the world, in order to link Saddam to the anthrax attacks and — as importantly — to conceal the real culprit(s) (apparently within the U.S. government) who were behind the attacks. And yet, unbelievably, they are keeping the story to themselves, refusing to disclose who did all of this. They’re allegedly a news organization, in possession of one of the most significant news stories of the last decade, and they are concealing it from the public, even years later.

They’re not protecting “sources.” The people who fed them the bentonite story aren’t “sources.” They’re fabricators and liars who purposely used ABC News to disseminate to the American public an extremely consequential and damaging falsehood. But by protecting the wrongdoers, ABC News has made itself complicit in this fraud perpetrated on the public, rather than a news organization uncovering such frauds. That is why this is one of the most extreme journalistic scandals that exists, and it deserves a lot more debate and attention than it has received thus far.

The willingness of the media to accept at face value the claims of the government is the real problem. On NPR yesterday, Renee Montagne, the host of Morning Edition, said things like the FBI is due to release this week some the evidence it has “amassed” against Ivins, giving the impression that the FBI actually has huge amounts of such evidence. She said that the evidence seems “compelling” and referred to the “genetic fingerprints” of the anthrax (based on apparently ‘new science ‘developed by the FBI) that somehow pointed to Ivins’ lab, and a psychologist’s description of him as a “threat”. It is important to realize that she had no idea if any of these statement were true. She just passed them on as fact because the government had told her, and thus they become part of the official story.

It is a very dangerous thing when the news media and the government collude to disseminate false information. ABC News has a lot of explaining to do. It should start by revealing who were these four “well placed” people who were spreading the dangerously false information that helped drive the country to war with Iraq.

Justin Raimondo has been tracking the anthrax story from the very beginning and his most recent analysis is well worth reading.

Glenn Greenwald has a follow-up posting that asks some very important questions.

POST SCRIPT: The perfect country and western song

Listen to the last verse, which puts it over the top.


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