Gibson and Campbell misrepresented NY Times article, with Gibson asserting, "The New York Times just said today Saddam had nukes"

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

Fox News' John Gibson repeatedly asserted -- falsely -- that because The New York Times reported that the United States had posted Iraqi documents related to constructing an atomic bomb, the Times "said today Saddam had nukes." Similarly, conservative radio host Pat Campbell falsely suggested that the Times reported Iraq was "a year away from making the atomic bomb" at the time of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. In fact, Iraq did not have nuclear weapons in 2003 or at any time -- including prior to the 1991 Persian Gulf War -- and Iraq did not have a nuclear weapons program in 2003.

On the November 3 edition of Fox News' The Big Story, host John Gibson repeatedly asserted -- falsely -- that The New York Times "said today Saddam had nukes," in its report that the United States had posted Iraqi documents related to constructing an atomic bomb Gibson asserted that "Saddam had nukes" in response to criticism by Young Democrats of America executive director Jane Fleming that "the war in Iraq is a complete mess," suggesting that the Times acknowledged that Iraq had nuclear weapons prior to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Gibson was referring to a November 3 article by New York Times senior writer William J. Broad, in which Broad wrote that "the government shut down" a website that contained Iraqi documents that "constitute a basic guide to building an atom bomb" "after The New York Times asked about complaints from weapons experts and arms-control officials." In fact, Iraq did not have nuclear weapons in 2003 or at any time -- including prior to the 1991 Persian Gulf War -- and Iraq did not have a nuclear weapons program in 2003.

Similarly, on the November 3 edition of MSNBC's Tucker, conservative radio host Pat Campbell falsely suggested that the Times reported Iraq was "a year away from making the atomic bomb" at the time of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, claiming the Times' report that Iraq was close to obtaining a nuclear weapon was inconsistent with the Times' repeated assertion that, in Campbell's words, "Bush lied, people died; there were no WMDs."

The claims by Gibson and Campbell appear to be based on several right-wing blogs, which suggested that the Times article may have been talking about 2003 -- not 1991 -- when it reported:

Among the dozens of documents in English were Iraqi reports written in the 1990s and in 2002 for United Nations inspectors in charge of making sure Iraq had abandoned its unconventional arms programs after the Persian Gulf war. Experts say that at the time, Mr. Hussein's scientists were on the verge of building an atom bomb, as little as a year away.

As progressive blogger Scott Lemieux noted, the phrase "at the time" refers to the prepositional phrase "after the Persian Gulf War" in the prior sentence. Indeed, Broad did not describe the documents as indications of a nuclear program at the time of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, but rather as "detailed accounts of Iraq's secret nuclear research before the 1991 Persian Gulf war."

As Media Matters noted, at least three different U.S. or U.K. government-sanctioned reports have found that before the 2003 invasion, Saddam was not in possession of illegal WMDs and did not have an active chemical, biological, or nuclear WMD program. Regarding Gibson's earlier claim that "Saddam Hussein was pursuing or had or was close to having nukes," even this was not true as of 2003. The Iraq Survey Group's final report -- more commonly known as the Duelfer report -- specifically addressed the state of Saddam's WMD programs at the time of the invasion, noting that "Saddam wanted to recreate Iraq's WMD capability -- which was essentially destroyed in 1991 -- after sanctions were removed and Iraq's economy stabilized," and that Iraq "had no formal written strategy or plan for the revival of WMD after sanctions."

Even if Gibson was discussing Iraq's weapons capabilities prior to 1991, his claim that Iraq "had nukes" is flatly false. In addition to the Times' report that Iraq was "as little as a year away" from developing an atomic bomb at the time of the Persian Gulf War, the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction's March 31, 2005, report (also known as the Robb-Silberman report) found that Iraq did not possess a nuclear weapon in 1991, although they were "much closer to a weapon than virtually anyone expected." At an October 7, 2002, speech, even President Bush acknowledged that Iraq did not have nuclear weapons "[b]efore the Persian Gulf War":

Before the Gulf War, the best intelligence indicated that Iraq was eight to ten years away from developing a nuclear weapon. After the war, international inspectors learned that the regime had been much closer -- the regime in Iraq would likely have possessed a nuclear weapon no later than 1993.

Moreover, Gibson repeatedly suggested that it would be unusual for the New York Times "of all organizations" to suggest that Saddam Hussein had developed weapons of mass destruction. But Gibson ignored the Times' pre-war reporting on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction. Then-New York Times public editor Daniel Okrent wrote in May 30, 2004, "[t]o anyone who read the paper between September 2002 and June 2003, the impression that Saddam Hussein possessed, or was acquiring, a frightening arsenal of W.M.D. seemed unmistakable." On May 26, 2004, the Times' editors wrote that about the Times' coverage of pre-war intelligence: "[W]e have found a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been. In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged."

From the November 3 edition of Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson:

CATHERINE HERRIDGE (Fox News national correspondent): The bottom line here is that the government website that posted the documents has been taken down, after independent experts who specialize in weapons of mass destruction suggested that it provided too much information about assembling an atomic bomb.

Saddam Hussein, who is on trial in Iraq for crimes against his own people, was obsessed with developing a nuclear weapons program. He felt it was his insurance policy, guaranteeing he would be in power for life -- a U.S. official telling Fox today that Saddam's program, at the very least, had done broad research on building a bomb, adding that it was far enough along to pursue weapons components.

After the war, U.S. teams who specialize in document exploitation went to Saddam's palaces and other government facilities to search for evidence of WMD. In March of this year, the director of national intelligence did authorize the release of some of the documents onto the website. Those are the documents that have now been pulled down.

A U.S. official who is familiar with [director of national intelligence John] Negroponte's position said that he was under extreme pressure from Congress to release those documents, even though advice from his inner circle had warned him against it. John.

GIBSON: Catherine, wait a minute. It sounds to me like the lead is buried. Has the U.S. government confirmed that Saddam Hussein had nukes? And The New York Times, of all -- of all organizations, is now confirming that Saddam Hussein was pursuing or had or was close to having nukes?

HERRIDGE: Right. I -- I don't want to think that I buried the lead, but that's always possible. I think what's happened here is that [Rep. Peter] Hoekstra (R-MI) and others are saying -- and Secretary [of State Condoleezza] Rice said also today, look, these documents show that Saddam Hussein may have been further along in the nuclear weapons process than we had believed. It was alleged in the Times that the documents included information on firing plugs. This is a very specific type of technology, which is not freely available on the Internet. So, that's -- that's one aspect of the story.

GIBSON: Catherine, I wasn't accusing you of burying the lead -

HERRIDGE: No.

[laughter]

GIBSON: -- but The New York Times, of all organizations.

[...]

GIBSON: Jane, what about the Kerry factor? That's what I'm asking about. Is there a Kerry factor that's going to, you know, wash over until Tuesday?

FLEMING: Not at all. People looked at the Kerry --

GIBSON: Why -- well, let me put it this way, then, Jane. Why not? Considering the huge stink over the last few days, why do you think this won't have -- be a factor on Tuesday?

FLEMING: Because I think the war in Iraq is a complete mess. We haven't found Osama bin Laden yet.

GIBSON: The New York Times just said that --

FLEMING: The economy --

GIBSON: -- that Saddam had nukes.

KEVIN MADDEN (Republican strategist): But what -- what happened -- here's what happened. What happened is --

FLEMING: The economy for -- the economy for middle-class America is not going in the right direction.

GIBSON: Jane, The New York Times just said today Saddam had nukes.

FLEMING: Let me also just say one thing to Kevin, my -- my co-guy here.

GIBSON: Wait a second. Jane --

MADDEN: Well, John, I'll tell you what. What John Kerry did --

GIBSON: The New York Times today, Jane, said, Saddam had nukes.

FLEMING: Well, I haven't heard that. And I don't think we have seen any, you know, concrete proof that Saddam has had weapons of mass destruction, since none have been found yet.

MADDEN: Well, I mean, Democrats --

FLEMING: And is that going to be --

MADDEN: Democrats have the --

FLEMING: -- some surprise that the Republicans now come up with, because they don't have anything else to go on?

GIBSON: I guess you're missing the front page of the paper today. Kevin --

MADDEN: No, I will -- I tell what you --

[crosstalk]

GIBSON: -- what can you do with this story the Times reported today?

MADDEN: I'll tell you what, John. I said, "Democrats always -- they are always for The New York Times, before they are against it." It happens to be a -- be a theme here.

From the November 3 edition of MSNBC's Tucker:

TUCKER CARLSON (host): Pat, are you surprised by this?

CAMPBELL: No. What, what I was surprised by is The New York Times this morning. I -- I was expecting their November surprise, a hit piece on Bush. I think they outsmarted themselves. They actually wind up making the case for Bush.

For -- for the last three years, The New York Times has repeatedly told me that Bush lied, people died; there were no WMDs. Now, this morning, I pick up the newspaper and I find out, wait, they had a very advanced nuclear program; in fact, far more advanced than we`ve been led to believe, and they were just a year away from making the atomic bomb. And that these plans were so detailed, so advanced, that -- that other countries could use them.

You're right. The irony is that The New York Times in their article this morning, they're adamantly opposed, I guess, to publishing classified information, unless of course, it's them doing it. This past week they published classified information from the U.S. generals talking about Iraq, the situation there moving toward chaos. I guess it's OK if they do it.

CARLSON: Yeah, it's a good point. Since when are they opposed to printing classified information?

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel, MSNBC
Person
John Gibson, Pat Campbell
Show/Publication
The Big Story with John Gibson, Tucker
Stories/Interests
Prewar Intelligence/WMD
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