Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Where Did the Bentonite Claim Come From?

In my post below, I link to Kevin Drum, who links to a NY Daily News story demonstrating the Bush administration's eagerness to link the 2001 Anthrax attacks to Al Qaeda (as if 9/11 alone wasn't pretext enough for war, but whatever.) Of course, the Anthrax attacks are in the news lately, what with the suicide of Bruce Ivins, a government scientist at the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Ft. Derick who had become the FBI's prime suspect in the attacks. Although his suicide presents circumstantial evidence of a guilty conscience, there exist considerable doubts as to whether or not he was behind the attacks. Glenn Greenwald does a good job of documenting those doubts, but another story that's receiving more attention involves a news item that ABC reported in the wake of the attacks, the claim peddled to ABC News by "well-placed sources" that the anthrax used in the attacks was marked by the chemical bentonite, a marker used exclusively in anthrax produced by Saddam Hussein's bio-weapons facilities. The problem with that claim, as Greenwald demonstrates, is that there never was any indication that the anthrax contained bentonite, and the White House denied the claim repeatedly (though of course there were those who were gleeful at the prospect of a link to Hussein.) This claim was reported repeatedly by ABC News for days, and has never been officially retracted (though it's been long discredited, as Greenwald explained in a post he wrote in early 2007.) It's been assumed that ABC's "well-placed" sources were government scientists at USAMRIID investigating that attacks, a suspicion that the original reporter on the story, Brian Ross, confirmed over the weekend. So...it's now apparent that ABC News' sources for the story were scientists working at the very facility that Ivins' worked at as well who, despite the fact that no testing ever revealed the presence of bentonite, peddled that claim to ABC News, who in turn trumpeted it daily, cementing in the minds of many Americans (conveniently for the Bush administration) that Saddam Hussein had something to do with the attacks. Consequently Greenwald, and others, are calling for ABC News to reveal who their sources were and thus unmask the peddlers of blatantly false claims. I strongly support such a call. Greenwald goes to great length to demonstrate the state of fear that the anthrax attacks put Americans in, coming as they did on the heels of the horrific attacks on 9/11. He also demonstrates how the attacks have largely dropped down a memory hole, with many even forgetting the crucial role they played in exaggerating the case for war in Iraq. I have to admit that I'm one of those who has largely forgotten the dread the attacks caused for many. This is in all likelihood because I always assumed the attacks were the result of a lone nut, and being something of a skeptic I never quite accepted initial claims that any nation or entity was behind the attacks. But important people thought otherwise, and said so repeatedly on the news night after night, convincing many Americans of the threat of Hussein and laying the ground work for the even more fabulous WMD claims used to justify the war. In light of the grave consequences of such lies, it is simply inexcusable that ABC News continues to protect sources who peddled manifestly false claims, whatever their purpose was. Kevin Drum explains why he thinks ABC News should reveal the sources:

In practice, most journalists refuse to identify their sources under any circumstances at all, even when it's clear that those sources deliberately lied to them. But should that be the standard? Or is the profession — and the rest of us — better off if sources know that they run the risk of being unmasked if their mendacity is egregious enough to become newsworthy in its own right? I'd say the latter.

Why reporters go to great lengths to conceal their sources is obvious; without such protection, many whistleblowers and the like will never come forth to reveal government wrongdoing if they cannot be protected from retaliation. However, the period leading up to the war in Iraq was marked by numerous false claims being "leaked" to sources in the news, claims that could not be challenged because their origin was uncertain and the sources risked no shame, humiliation, or criminal punishment for telling lies to the public trough the media. Clearly, the defensibility of a source's privacy can and should rest upon the veracity of the claim they make. Media sources should know that if their claim is revealed to be an obvious and malignant lie, they will not be protected from the harsh light of public opinion or the possible sanction of criminal punishment. This is so completely obvious a conclusion to arrive at from the lessons of 9/11 and the Iraq war that it's impossible to imagine members of the media agreeing, but thus far, they do not, and ABC News continues to refuse to out their sources.

1 comment:

Torrance Stephens - All-Mi-T said...

under the jail would be the right place for them