On Iraq war fifth anniversary, NBC and ABC failed to point out that administration's original justifications for war have been debunked

››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN

In their coverage of the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq war, Nightly News and World News did not mention once that the Bush administration's original justifications for going to war -- including its assertions that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and that Iraq had operational links to Al Qaeda -- have been repeatedly debunked or discredited.

The March 19 broadcasts of NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams and ABC's World News with Charles Gibson reported on the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq war without mentioning once that the Bush administration's original justifications for going to war -- including its assertions that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and that Iraq had operational links to Al Qaeda -- have been repeatedly debunked or discredited.

Nightly News aired four separate reports about the war, but at no point did anchor Brian Williams or any NBC contributor note that numerous pre-war claims by the administration have been debunked. Further, Nightly News did not report that a recently released Pentagon-sanctioned study of over 600,000 Iraqi government documents seized since the war began "found no 'smoking gun' (i.e., direct connection) between Saddam [Hussein]'s Iraq and al Qaeda." The report, titled "Iraqi Perspectives Project: Saddam and Terrorism: Emerging Insights from Captured Iraqi documents," was released March 12. Not only did Nightly News not report on the Pentagon-sponsored study in its fifth-anniversary coverage, a review* of the Lexis-Nexis database shows that NBC News does not appear to have mentioned the report at all on Nightly News or any of its other news programs.

Similarly, during the March 19 broadcast of World News, anchor Charles Gibson also aired no reports on the Iraq war anniversary noting that numerous claims the administration made in its case for war have been discredited, although ABC News did previously report on the Pentagon study. For instance, on the March 11 broadcast of World News guest anchor Elizabeth Vargas reported: "ABC News has learned that for the first time, the U.S. military will acknowledge there is no evidence Saddam Hussein had ties to Al Qaeda. The comprehensive Pentagon study obtained by ABC News is being released tomorrow. It concludes Saddam used terrorism routinely as a tool of state power, targeting mainly Iraqi citizens, but had no direct connection to Al Qaeda." But in World News' reporting on the five-year anniversary, Gibson did not mention the Pentagon report. Rather, he said: "In five years, we have seen horror in a prison; a landmark election; the capture and execution of Saddam Hussein; and the so-called surge of forces to improve security."

By contrast, during the same night's broadcast of the CBS Evening News, anchor Katie Couric noted: "As for a link between Iraq and 9-11, a just-completed study of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi documents captured after the U.S. invasion found no evidence of any operational ties between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda." Couric also reported that "a National Intelligence Estimate in 2006 said the Iraq war had actually led to more terrorism."

As Media Matters for America has noted, the administration's claims about the connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda have been repeatedly discredited. Most recently, the U.S. Joint Forces Command released the results of the Pentagon-sanctioned study, which "screened more than 600,000 original captured documents and several thousand hours of audio and video footage archived in a US Department of Defense (DOD) database called Harmony." Of the Iraqi government's ties to Al Qaeda, the report's Executive Summary states: "This study found no 'smoking gun' (i.e., direct connection between Saddam's Iraq and al Qaeda." It added: "The Iraqi regime was involved in regional and international terrorist operations prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom. The predominant targets of Iraqi state terror operations were Iraqi citizens, both inside and outside Iraq."

Neither Nightly News nor World News mentioned the administration's debunked pre-war WMD claims. As Media Matters has noted, not all of the available intelligence supported the Bush administration's claims about Saddam's purported WMD. For example, both President Bush and then-Secretary of State Colin Powell claimed that Iraq had attempted to purchase aluminum tubes that, as Bush put it in an October 7, 2002, speech, are "needed for gas centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons." The government's "foremost nuclear experts," however, "seriously doubted that the tubes were for nuclear weapons." The Energy Department and the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research found that the tubes were ill-suited for uranium enrichment, and their findings were included in the classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) provided to Congress in October 2002 and, reportedly, in a one-page summary of the NIE that was presented to Bush.

Similarly, Bush claimed during his October 5, 2002, radio address that "Iraq has stockpiled biological and chemical weapons, and is rebuilding the facilities used to make more of those weapons," even though the available intelligence did not justify such an unequivocal statement. A September 2002 Defense Intelligence Agency report found "no reliable information" to substantiate the claim that Iraq was producing or stockpiling chemical weapons. Moreover, while the intelligence community believed Iraq possessed biological agents that could be quickly produced and weaponized, the October 2002 NIE made clear that the agencies lacked hard evidence to back up this assumption: "We had no specific information on the types or quantities of weapons, agents, or stockpiles at Baghdad's disposal."

From the March 19 edition of CBS' Evening News with Katie Couric:

COURIC: In five years of war, nearly 4,000 American servicemen and women have been killed, more than 29,000 wounded. Iraqi civilian deaths are estimated to be 85,000. As for the financial cost, the price tag for American taxpayers has gone from an early estimate of 50 to 60 billion dollars, to an actual 600 billion and counting.

With that, our poll tonight found more than half of Americans believe going to war in Iraq was a bad idea.

The president said today the war has opened the door to what he called a major strategic victory in the broader war on terror. But a National Intelligence Estimate in 2006 said the Iraq war had actually led to more terrorism.

As for a link between Iraq and 9-11, a just-completed study of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi documents captured after the U.S. invasion found no evidence of any operational ties between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda.

There are 155,000 troops in Iraq right now, and today, protesters in Washington and other U.S. cities reflected our poll. Nearly half the respondents said most U.S. troops should be pulled out within a year.

From the March 11 edition of ABC's World News with Charles Gibson:

VARGAS: ABC News has learned that for the first time, the U.S. military will acknowledge there is no evidence Saddam Hussein had ties to Al Qaeda. The comprehensive Pentagon study obtained by ABC News is being released tomorrow. It concludes Saddam used terrorism routinely as a tool of state power, targeting mainly Iraqi citizens, but had no direct connection to Al Qaeda.

Today, President Bush stated that the decision to remove Saddam was and always will be the right one.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
NBC, ABC
Person
Elizabeth Vargas
Show/Publication
ABC World News Tonight, NBC Nightly News
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