FOX News Channel host Chris Wallace, National Review editor Kate O'Beirne, New York Times op-ed columnist William Safire, and Washington Times chief political correspondent and columnist Donald Lambro joined other conservative members of the media in echoing the Bush administration's misleading attempt to downplay the explosives that went missing from the Al Qaqaa military facility in Iraq. Each drew a false comparison between the reported 377 tons of missing explosives and the 405,944 tons of munitions that have reportedly been secured in Iraq thus far.
As Media Matters for America has noted, this is a misleading comparison. The missing explosives -- many of which were reportedly in the form of white powder -- weigh far less than some other types of "munitions," a category that includes explosives, but also "rockets, guided and ballistic missiles, bombs ... grenades, mines, torpedoes ... and devices and components thereof," according to the Department of Defense Explosives Safety Board.
Moreover, one pound of C-4 plastic explosive -- of which missing explosives HMX and RDX are key ingredients -- was enough to blow up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, as an October 25 Associated Press article noted.
In drawing this false comparison, administration officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, as well as conservative members of the media, overlook a more legitimate comparison -- between the munitions secured and the hundreds of thousands of tons of munitions that are thought to exist but have not been secured.
On the October 30 edition of CNN's Capital Gang, O'Beirne not only downplayed the missing explosives by comparing the amount of explosives missing from Al Qaqaa to the amount secured, but also went a step further, falsely asserting that "of the 600,000 tons [of weapons] Saddam Hussein has -- had -- 99 percent ... are in American hands." In fact, as the Associated Press reported on October 29, while more than 400,000 tons of munitions have been captured, "at least another 250,000 tons from Saddam's regime remain unaccounted for, and some has undoubtedly fallen into the hands of insurgents."
In an interview with Kerry-Edwards '04 campaign adviser Robert M. Shrum on the October 31 edition of FOX Broadcasting Company's FOX News Sunday, host Chris Wallace repeated the talking point and then asked Shrum: "Is that really the best you've got?"
WALLACE: What we're talking about here -- even if it is 300, 400 tons -- is one one-thousandth of all the weapons that the U.S. forces have destroyed in Iraq. Is that really the best you've got? ... How about the fact that U.S. forces did destroy 400,000 -- 400,000 tons, not 400 tons?
In his November 1 op-ed column in The New York Times, Safire wrote: "[T]he Pentagon was able to show that the 400 tons possibly missed by our advancing troops was one one-thousandth of the 400,000 tons found, secured or destroyed by the coalition."
Lambro, in his November 1 "Commentary" column in The Washington Times, also downplayed the significance of the amount of missing explosives, writing, "Left unsaid in all of this was the fact that American military forces, after toppling Saddam Hussein, destroyed or captured more than 400,000 tons of Iraqi munitions." In addition, Lambro repeated the discredited argument that Russian special forces removed the explosives from Al Qaqaa prior to the U.S. invasion. That argument first appeared in an October 28 Washington Times article, as MMFA noted. Lambro wrote:
The Washington Times, quoting John A. Shaw, the deputy undersecretary of defense for international technology security, reports they [the explosives] were likely removed by Russian special forces just before the U.S. military operation.
Left unsaid in all of this was the fact that American military forces, after toppling Saddam Hussein, destroyed or captured more than 400,000 tons of Iraqi munitions.