Following The New York Times's disclosure on October 25 that "nearly 380 tons of powerful conventional explosives -- used to demolish buildings, make missile warheads and detonate nuclear weapons -- are missing from one of Iraq's most sensitive former military installations," members of the media incorrectly reported that a subsequent NBC Nightly News story refuted aspects of the New York Times article.
FOX News Channel co-host Sean Hannity, CNN host Wolf Blitzer, and ABC News's online political briefing "The Note" all suggested that NBC reported that the explosives were already gone by the time the U.S. military first arrived on April 10, 2003, at the installation in question. But at no point did the October 25 NBC report claim that the April 10 stopover of U.S. troops, which included an embedded NBC reporter, was the first time the U.S. military visited the Al Qaqaa installation. Indeed, the Associated Press reported that U.S. soldiers had been there six days earlier, and did find evidence of explosives. Moreover, the same NBC correspondent who issued the October 25 report clarified on October 26 that troops were simply passing through the installation on April 10 and were not looking for explosives.
According to a report on the October 25 edition of NBC's Nightly News, an NBC reporter embedded with the 101st Airborne Division arrived at the Al Qaqaa military installation on April 10, one day after the fall of Baghdad. From the report by NBC Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski:
MIKLASZEWSKI: April 10, 2003, only three weeks into the war, NBC News was embedded with troops from the Army's 101st Airborne as they temporarily take over the Al Qaqaa weapons installation south of Baghdad. But these troops never found the nearly 380 tons of some of the most powerful conventional explosives called HMX and RDX, which is now missing. The U.S. troops did find large stockpiles of more conventional weapons, but no HMX or RDX, so powerful, less than a pound brought down Pan Am [Flight] 103 in 1988 [over Lockerbie, Scotland] and can be used to trigger a nuclear weapon.
In a letter this month, the Iraqi interim government told the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] the high explosives were lost to theft and looting due to lack of security. Critics claim there were simply not enough U.S. troops to guard hundreds of weapons stockpiles, weapons now being used by insurgents and terrorists to wage a guerrilla war in Iraq.
Based on that NBC report, Hannity and Blitzer incorrectly suggested and The Note simply -- and falsely -- asserted that NBC reported that the weapons were gone by the time the troops first arrived at the Al Qaqaa site. But at no point did the NBC report claim that the arrival of its embedded crew at Al Qaqaa on April 10 was the first time U.S. troops visited the site. In fact, as the Associated Press reported (on April 5, 2003), the U.S. military arrived at the site six days earlier, on April 4, when the 3rd Infantry Division found, among other things, "white powder that appeared to be used for explosives."
Here's what Hannity said on the October 25 edition of FOX News Channel's Hannity & Colmes:
HANNITY: NBC News just late tonight broke this story. They were with the 101st when they arrived at that facility with the weapons. And what they discovered, there were no weapons when the military arrived.
CNN's Wolf Blitzer repeated the error on the October 26 edition of News from CNN:
BLITZER: It's unclear, though, when those explosives went missing. The IAEA apparently says that earlier, just before the war, they did verify they were still at that location -- the Al Qaqaa location, but when troops got there by April 10, April 11, after [former Iraqi leader] Saddam Hussein fell, apparently they were no longer there, those tons of explosives.
The October 26 edition of ABC News political unit's "The Note" repeated the error as well:
An NBC News report last night suggested that those explosives went missing before April 10, 2003 -- before U.S. troops ever got to the site in Iraq, leading to an avalanche of push-back from the Bush campaign last night. If the 101st Airborne Division was indeed there one day after liberation and they could not find any of the high grade explosives, that does cast doubt on the suggestion that the Bush Administration's alleged failure to plan for post-war eventualities was to blame.
NBC's Miklaszewski clarified on October 26 that there was another reason why the troops arriving April 10 didn't find explosives -- they weren't looking for them. Following up on his report on NBC's Nightly News, Miklaszewski offered this additional clarification on MSNBC on October 26:
Following up on that story from last night, military officials tell NBC News that on April 10, 2003, when the Second Brigade of the 101st Airborne entered the Al Qaqaa weapons facility south of Baghdad, that those troops were actually on their way to Baghdad, that they were not actively involved in the search for any weapons, including the high explosives HMX and RDX. The troops did observe stockpiles of conventional weapons but no HMX or RDX, and because the Al Qaqaa facility is so huge, it's not clear that those troops from the 101st were actually anywhere near the bunkers that reportedly contained the HMX and RDX.