Bill Maher's Real Time | October 12 2007 | Paul Krugman, Naomi Klein, Tucker Carlson, Joy Behar And Vicente Fox

9/11, Bin Laden, Giuliani

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9/11, Bin Laden, Giuliani

One-sided rules of political debate

The “controversy” over the MoveOn ad is petty and vapid but nonetheless revealing of the double standards governing our political debates. 

Glenn Greenwald

Sep. 12, 2007 | (updated below – Update II)

Now that it is inescapably clear to everyone (rather than just bloggers) that we will remain in Iraq in full force through the end of the Bush presidency, and now that, according to a Fox News report this morning, “‘everyone in town’ is now participating in a broad discussion about the costs and benefits of military action against Iran, with the likely timeframe for any such course of action being over the next eight to 10 months,” what has attracted the righteous fury of Time‘s leading “liberal” pundit Joe Klein, who helped sell the Iraq invasion to the country in the first place?

The supremely important advertisement, of course, which Klein, eager as always to show the Right what a Good Liberal he is, flamboyantly condemns:

Just back from today’s hearings and just about Every Last Republican mentioned the idiotic MoveOn ad…also caught the beginning of Fox News, where — surprise, surprise –it played big. . . .This is going to put the Democrats on the defensive. . . . The ad was, on its face, morally and politically outrageous. . . . But the substance (or lack of it) will be subsumed by the slander: It is no small thing to accuse a military man of betraying his country. It is also palpably untrue in this case. Whoever cooked up this ad is guilty of a disgraceful act of malicious puerility. . . .

But for now, MoveOn has handed the Bush Administration a major victory — at a moment when all attention should be focused on whether we should continue to commit U.S. troops to this disaster. Just nauseating.

Klein’s fury over such rhetoric is extremely selective. Here is Joe Klein himself last year employing far more vicious accusations (against, among others, unnamed “many writers at The Nation“) which, in far more mild form today, he so disdains:

In his recent account of a breakfast book party at the home of Tina Brown and Harry Evans, Eric Alterman misquoted me slightly but significantly. What I actually said was “the hate America tendency of the [Democratic Party’s] left wing” had made it harder for Democrats to challenge Republicans on foreign policy. . . .

For those who think — for some indiscernible reason — that it is important enough to spend the energy developing an opinion on the MoveOn ad, there are, I suppose, reasonable arguments that can be made on both sides as to whether the “betray us” rhyme was rhetorically excessive, counter-productive, etc. But the shrill hand-wringing it has triggered is just bizarre in light of the fact that accusing Americans, including military veterans, of being unpatriotic, anti-American and betraying the country has, for decades, been a mainstream staple of the political rhetoric from our country’s pro-war Right — invoked most aggressively by those, such as Klein, now claiming such profound offense over the MoveOn ad.Here is Joseph Farah of World Net Daily in an October, 2004 column entitled “Questioning Kerry’s Patriotism”:

Think of what I am saying: A man who came to prominence and notoriety in American life, and who is now on the threshold of winning the White House, was actively aiding and abetting the enemy just 33 years ago. He was a tool. He was an agent. He was working for the other side.That’s why I say it is time to stop playing rhetorical games with respect to Kerry.

There is only one word in the English language that adequately describes what he was in 1971 — and what he remains today for capitalizing on the evil he perpetrated back then. That word is “traitor.”

The right-wing site “American Thinker” — proudly included on Fred Thompson’s short blogroll, among most other places on the Right — published an article in 2005 entitled “Is Jack Murtha a Coward and a Traitor?” (answer: “Any American who recommends retreat is injuring his own country and calling his own patriotism into question”). Here is John Hinderaker of Powerline — Time‘s 2004 Blog of the Year — on our country’s 39th President (and, unlike the non-serving Hinderaker, a former Naval officer): “Jimmy Carter isn’t just misguided or ill-informed. He’s on the other side.”When Howard Dean pointed out (presciently) in December of 2005 that the Iraq War cannot be won, Michael Reagan called for Dean to “be arrested and hung for treason or put in a hole until the end of the Iraq war,” and the next day, on Fox News, alongside an approving Sean Hannity, he said: “I have no problem at all, no problem at all, with what this guy is doing, taking him out and arresting him.” And here is Giuliani campaign advisor Norm Podhoretz on the Hugh Hewitt Show yesterday, as they explained how deeply anti-American “Democrats” are:

HH: Norman Podhoretz, before the last break, we were talking about the intellectual class in America that is so deeply anti-American from the Vietnam years, and how it did not take them long to find in America the cause for 9/11, and to begin what has been a very poisonous attack on America over the last six years. How can they be that successful?NP: Well, what I try to explain in my book is that a lot of these people were working out of the anti-war movement playbook of the Vietnam era. . . .

Well, what I think is that that is correct, and I think that the Democrats are committing political suicide, at least for the 2008 presidential election. I mean, you know, the Democrats suffered from the disability of the McGovern years, when they were rightly considered soft on national defense, not to be trusted to protect us against foreign threats. They worked very heard to overcome that reputation, especially under Clinton. And now what they’ve done is to resurrect it. And they’ve gone even further than they did under McGovern. I mean, embracing defeat, calling for American defeat, rooting for American defeat.

Insinuating that Democrats and/or other opponents of various American wars are “betraying” America — and worse — has been the central argumentative tactic on the Right for decades. So says no less of an expert on (and past purveyor of) such tactics than Pat Buchanan, in his column today explaining why Congressional Democrats will never end the war:

As Petraeus testifies, the antiwar movement appears broken. Reid has said his party will not try to de-fund the war or impose new deadlines. . . .What happened to the party of Speaker Pelosi and Reid, which was going to end U.S. involvement in the war and not permit Bush to pursue victory the way Richard Nixon pursued it in Vietnam for four years?

Answer: Terrified of the possible consequences of the policies they recommend, Democrats lack the courage to impose those policies.

When it comes to issues of war, Democrats are an intimidated lot. Sens. Clinton, Edwards, Biden, Dodd and Reid were all stampeded by Bush into voting him a blank check for war in October 2002. Why? Because they feared Bush would declare them weak or unpatriotic if they denied him the authority to go to war, at a time of his choosing, until he had made a more compelling case for war.

Now they regret what they did. But, in a showdown, they will do it again. For Democrats have been psychologically damaged by 60 years of GOP attacks on them as the party of retreat and surrender.

It really is the height of strangeness to witness the shrieking and self-righteous rage over the MoveOn ad as though such insinuations are prohibited in American political debates, the Line that Cannot be Crossed. That line is crossed routinely, and has been for decades, including when directed at a whole array of American combat veterans. Ask George McGovern about that. The only difference this time — the sole difference that has so upset Joe Klein and his fellow media mavens — is that it is being directed at the side that typically wields such accusatory rhetoric, rather than by them.Indeed, just a few months ago, Gen. Petraeus himself toyed with exactly such rhetoric at the prompting of the incomparably odious Joe Lieberman, whose entire political career is now devoted (ironically) to impugning the patriotism of any Americans who oppose Lieberman’s desire to wage one war after the next against Israel’s enemies. As The Washington Post‘s Thomas Ricks reported regarding a Senate hearing in May:

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) asked Army Lt. Gen. David H . Petraeus during his confirmation hearing yesterday if Senate resolutions condemning White House Iraq policy “would give the enemy some comfort.”Petraeus agreed they would, saying, “That’s correct, sir.”

Though subsequent reports suggested that Lieberman used the phrase “give the enemy some encouragement” (rather than the treasonous term of art “comfort”), the point was the same: those who condemned the President’s war policy were, pursuant to Petraeus’ toxic accusations, helping America’s Terrorist Enemies. Petraeus’ comments were so disturbing, and obviously inappropriate (though hardly uncommon), that it led GOP Sen. John Warner to admonish him as follows:

I hope that this colloquy has not entrapped you into some responses that you might later regret. I wonder if you would just give me the assurance that you’ll go back and examine the transcript as to what you replied with respect to certain of these questions and review it, because we want you to succeed.

What all of this really reflects is the underlying and pervasive premise that those who advocate American wars are inherently patriotic and “pro-American,” while it is always appropriate to impugn the patriotism and allegiances of those who oppose such wars (even when such war opponents are life-long civil servants or even military veterans).It also is reflective of this completely backward notion that our highest government and military officials ought to be free to use the most scurrilous smears of their political opponents, but should never be the target of that same rhetoric, because their High Positions of Importance entitle them to Great Respect, which should shield them from such attacks (hence, it is fine to smear unnamed Nation writers and other all-powerful members of the “Left,” but not our Supreme Generals or our Commander-in-Chief).

The whole MoveOn “controversy” is, of course, nothing more than a petty and worthless distraction. We’re going to occupy Iraq indefinitely; Israel just bombed Syria, to the delight of Liebermans’ comrades seeking full-scale U.S./Israel regional war; and very influential factions in the Bush administration are planting stories with Fox News that we are planning for an attack on Iran. And yet all one hears from the Joe Kleins and Chris Matthews is deep concern over whether an ad from MoveOn was a naughty thing. In one sense, it’s just the John Edwards Haircut Story of this week from our vapid chattering class.

But as petty as the story is, it is also revealing. It has been perfectly fine for decades to impugn the patriotism of those who think the U.S. should stop invading and bombing other countries (how could anyone possibly think such a thing unless they hate America?), while it is strictly forbidden to do anything other than pay homage to the Seriousness and Patriotism of those who advocate wars. Hence, the very people who routinely traffic in “unpatriotic” and even “treason” rhetoric towards the likes of Jack Murtha, John Kerry and war opponents generally feign such pious objection to the MoveOn ad without anyone noticing any contradiction at all.

UPDATE: John Cole points to the lengthy Enemies List compiled by the always-vigilant Michelle Malkin, who exploits photographs of the 9/11 victims to urge “resistance” against America’s Terrorist Enemies and their domestic allies:

But remembrance without resistance to jihad and its enablers is a recipe for another 9/11. This is what fueled my first two books, on immigration enforcement and profiling. This is what fuels much of the work on this blog and at Hot Air.Not every American wears a military uniform. But every American has a role to play in protecting our homeland — not just from Muslim terrorists, but from their financiers, their public relations machine, their sharia-pimping activists, the anti-war goons, the civil liberties absolutists, and the academic apologists for our enemies.

Depending on how one defines “anti-war goons” and “civil liberties absolutists,” it sounds like Michelle’s Enemies List is composed of roughly 65% of the American population. Those are some rather large internment camps Michelle and her Homeland-Protecting Comrades will need to build. MoveOn crossed a terrible rhetorical line this week with its ad.

UPDATE II: As I tried to make explicitly clear, this post actually has nothing to do with whether the “Betray Us” rhyme in the MoveOn ad was smartly worded, counter-productive, etc. As I indicated, there are probably reasonable arguments to make on both sides of that issue if one actually thinks (for reasons I cannot discern) that debating the phraseology of a single MoveOn ad merits such contemplation. Here, for instance, is criticism of the ad from Klein’s colleague, Jay Carney, which I find perfectly sober and reasonable (whether I agree with it or not).The issue here is the depiction of this ad as some sort of unique transgression and the intensity of the condemnation it has received, particularly from those who themselves are enthusiastic and frequent purveyors of similar though far worse rhetorical tactics. Whether one thinks the MoveOn ad was well-done or not — and, again, who really cares? — has little or nothing to do with that issue.

— Glenn Greenwald


9/11, Bin Laden, Rove

A Time for Grace
America needs unity in dealing with Iraq. That means the president must lead.

Friday, August 31, 2007 12:01 a.m.

What will be needed this autumn is a new bipartisan forbearance, a kind of patriotic grace. This is a great deal to hope for. The president should ask for it, and show it. Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, will report to Congress on Sept. 11. From the latest metrics, it’s clear the surge has gained some ground. It is generally supposed that Gen. Petraeus will paint a picture of recent decreases in violent incidents and increases in safety. In another world, that might be decisive: It’s working, hang on.

At the same time, it’s clear that what we call Iraq does not wholly share U.S. objectives. We speak of it as a unitary country, but the Kurds are understandably thinking about Kurdistan, the Sunnis see an Iraq they once controlled but that no longer exists, and the Shia–who knows? An Iraq they theocratically and governmentally control, an Iraq given over to Iran? This division is reflected in what we call Iraq’s government in Baghdad. Seen in this way, the non-latest-metrics way, the situation is bleak.

Capitol Hill doesn’t want to talk about it, let alone vote on it. Lawmakers not only can’t figure a good way out, they can’t figure a good way through.

But we’re going to have to achieve some rough consensus, because we’re a great nation in an urgent endeavor. The process will begin with Gen. Petraeus’s statement.

Particular atmospherics, and personal dynamics, are the backdrop to the debate. People are imperfect, and people in politics tend to be worse: “Politics is not an ennobling profession,” as Bill Buckley once said. You’d better be pretty good going in, because it’s not going to make you better. Politicians are individuals with a thirst for power, honors, and fame. When you think about that you want to say, “Oh dear.” But of course “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

All sides in the Iraq debate need to step up, in a new way, to the characterological plate. From the pro-war forces, the surge supporters and those who supported the Iraq invasion from the beginning, what is needed is a new modesty of approach, a willingness to admit it hasn’t quite gone according to plan. A moral humility. Not meekness–great powers aren’t helped by meekness–but maturity, a shown respect for the convictions of others.

What we often see instead, lately, is the last refuge of the adolescent: defiance. An attitude of Oh yeah? We’re Lincoln, you’re McClellan. We care about the troops and you don’t. We care about the good Iraqis who cast their lot with us. You’d just as soon they hang from the skids of the last helicopter off the embassy roof. They have been called thuggish. Is this wholly unfair?

The antiwar forces, the surge opponents, the “I was against it from the beginning” people are, some of them, indulging in grim, and mindless, triumphalism. They show a smirk of pleasure at bad news that has been brought by the other team. Some have a terrible quaking fear that something good might happen in Iraq, that the situation might be redeemed. Their great interest is that Bushism be laid low and the president humiliated. They make lists of those who supported Iraq and who must be read out of polite society. Might these attitudes be called thuggish also?

Do you ever get the feeling that at this point Washington is run by two rival gangs that have a great deal in common with each other, including an essential lack of interest in the well-being of the turf on which they fight?

Not only hearts and minds are invested in a particular stand. Careers are, too. Candidates are invested in a position they took; people are dug in, caught. Every member of Congress is constrained by campaign promises: “We’ll fight” or “We’ll leave.” The same for every opinion spouter–every pundit, columnist, talk show host, editorialist–all of whom have a base, all of whom pay a price for deviating from the party line, whatever the party, and whatever the line. All this freezes things. It makes immobile what should be fluid. It keeps people from thinking. What is needed is simple maturity, a vow to look to–to care about–America’s interests in the long term, a commitment to look at the facts as they are and try to come to conclusions. This may require in some cases a certain throwing off of preconceptions, previous statements and former stands. It would certainly require the mature ability to come to agreement with those you otherwise hate, and the guts to summon the help of, and admit you need the help of, the other side.

Without this, we remain divided, and our division does nothing to help Iraq, or ourselves.

It would be good to see the president calming the waters. Instead he ups the ante. Tuesday, speaking to the American Legion, he heightened his language. Withdrawing U.S. forces will leave the Middle East overrun by “forces of radicalism and extremism”; the region would be “dramatically transformed” in a way that could “imperil” both “the civilized world” and American security.


Forgive me, but Americans who oppose the war do not here understand the president to be saying: Precipitous withdrawal will create a vacuum that will be filled by killing that will tip the world to darkness. That’s not what they hear. I think they understand him to be saying, I got you into this, I reaped the early rewards, I rubbed your noses in it, and now you have to save the situation.

His foes feel a tight-jawed bitterness. They believe it was his job not to put America in a position in which its security is imperiled; they resent his invitation to share responsibility for outcomes of decisions they opposed. And they resent it especially because he grants them nothing–no previous wisdom, no good intent–beyond a few stray words here and there.

And here’s the problem. The president’s warnings are realistic. He’s right. At the end of the day we can’t just up and leave Iraq. That would only make it worse. And it is not in the interests of America or the world that it be allowed to get worse.

Would it help if the president were graceful, humble, and asked for help? Why, yes. Would it help if he credited those who opposed him with not only good motives but actual wisdom? Yes. And if he tried it, it would make news. It would really, as his press aides say, break through the clutter. I don’t see how the president’s supporters can summon grace from others when they so rarely show it themselves. And I don’t see how anyone can think grace and generosity of spirit wouldn’t help. They would. They always do in big debates. And they would provide the kind of backdrop Gen. Petraeus deserves, the kind in which his words can be heard.

Ms. Noonan is a contributing editor of The Wall Street Journal and author of “John Paul the Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father” (Penguin, 2005), which you can order from the OpinionJournal bookstore. Her column appears Fridays on


9/11, Scaife

tullycast1.jpg commentbutton.jpg

Good Stuff StoogeWatcher!
You managed to get all the Dollar Store talking points in -Soros, Homosexuality, Manliness, Fear of a woman with a viewpoint, (“Gosh -I don’t know what it is about my lizard frat-boy brain that there’s just SOMETHING that bothers me, no, more like gnaws at me, about Hillary Clinton. She’s a no-good forgiver of her murdering husband Jeff Gerth told me. John Edwards makes airplanes stop on the runway and makes the stewardesses give him $1000 haircuts

[John Tully]


9/11, Bin Laden, Rove



9/11, Bin Laden, MSNBC, Rove




9/11, Bin Laden

I’m going to remain calm.

But I get physically ill at the thought of this weasel;

cute language columns vs. 625,000 Iraqis dead…

I know I know,,,but we have to start calling the Joe “turning a corner!”Liebermans and William (uh) Safires and Thomas (next 6 months!) Friedmans and David “Mealy Mouthed” Brooks’ on their complete and utter full-of-shitness/wrongness/assness… They were wrong about everything and are still wrong….wrong!

But they’ve just numbed us out with all their antics and just last week the President used the Iraq-Al-Qaeda connection yet AGAIN!

I mean WTF!?







International Herald Tribune

The disc of terror : LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Friday, February 13, 2004

I must take issue with William Safire’s contention that an intercepted document, allegedly written by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, establishes a clear link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. (“Saddam’s links to terror, on disc,” Views, Feb. 12) This highly suspect message refers to ongoing and future operations to maintain a destabilized Iraq. It suggests, if anything, that the U.S. invasion and occupation has encouraged terrorist networks to team with Iraqi nationalists in order to focus on a common enemy.

To claim that because Al Qaeda may now be operating in Iraq confirms that the terror network was there under Saddam’s regime is yet another poor attempt to justify President George W. Bush’s pre-emptive war.

Buck Rutledge, Knoxville, Tennessee


International Herald Tribune

Follow our plans : LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Thursday, January 22, 2004


Thomas Friedman tells the Europeans to let Turkey join the European Union, or else (“Turkey, the EU and history,” Views, Jan. 12). William Safire solves the Kurdish question by telling the Kurds this and the Turks that. (“How to answer the Kurdish question,” Views, Jan. 15).

.There seems to be agreement between the two columnists: The world needs to be told what to do, or else.

Fons van Mourik, Tannay, Switzerland

William Safire, minister of disinformation

The New York Times runs corrections when reporters get a middle initial wrong. So why does its conservative columnist get away with glaring errors that shape world affairs?

By Barry Lando

Pages 1 2

February 21, 2004 | With daily revelations of how the White House made use of faulty intelligence to bolster its political agenda, the media is also beginning to examine its own role in the affair. There’s plenty to examine: Take, for instance, William Safire and the New York Times, frequently cited as a conduit for official disinformation.

A recent example was his trumpeting of the sensational charges published last November in the Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine. The article proved, according to Safire, “that Saddam Hussein’s spy agency and top al-Qaida operatives certainly were in frequent contact for a decade, and that there is renewed reason to suspect an Iraqi spymaster in Prague may have helped finance the 9/11 attacks.” Those charges were based on the leak of a secret memorandum from Douglas Feith, a senior Pentagon official, to the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee.

Safire had been pounding on the Prague connection since November 2001, two months after the 9/11 terror attacks. Fired anew by the Weekly Standard’s story, he fired off two imperious columns of his own, demanding action from FBI Director Robert Mueller and the Senate Intelligence Committee. “I’d also assign new agents to follow up leads in Prague,” he advised.

“Intrepid journalists,” Safire assured his readers, “will ultimately bring the full story of the Saddam-bin Laden connection to light. In the meantime, the F.B.I. should stop treating 9/11 as a cold case.”

Sounds pretty sensational indeed, except for the fact that the Pentagon immediately issued an unusual statement declaring that reports claiming that the new information proved there had been contacts between al-Qaida and Iraq “are inaccurate.”

Further, the Pentagon continued, the leak “was deplorable and may be illegal.”

The memo consists mainly of 50 excerpts drawn from raw intelligence reports from four U.S. agencies from 1990 to 2003. They are vague, mostly unsourced and far from conclusive. Indeed, according to several retired intelligence officers, the memo represents the same kind of ideological cherry-picking of intelligence that led to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in the first place.

In short, the original headline-making conclusions are now seen by most to be threadbare. But not to Safire, who has made no mention of the Pentagon denials and remains incredulous that anyone might doubt the charges.


That, of course, is vintage Safire. Which might be fine if he were writing for a small town paper in Northern Maine. But the fact is that, whether Times editors like it or not, for most readers, Safire’s charges also carry the weighty validation of the planet’s most important newspaper of record. It’s a problem the Times has yet to face.

I speak from the experience of looking into three Safire columns attacking France.

Countries cannot sue for libel. Otherwise, France would have quite a case against Safire and the Times. Safire’s wild charges in a three-column barrage last year helped to deepen the war-related alienation between the U.S. and France. And though erroneous, they have entered the realm of historical verity — and remain there to this day, thanks to the Times.

What is particularly outrageous is that Safire and his sources were allowed to continue their campaign using the Times and the International Herald Tribune as their podium — even though the editors of both papers had been advised that the charges didn’t hold water.

Further, according to Times policy, neither Safire nor his editors are under any obligation whatsoever to correct those errors.

Safire’s main accusation was that French companies, with the knowledge of French intelligence services, helped supply vital rocket fuel components to Saddam.

As a former producer for 30 years with CBS’ “60 Minutes,” I looked into Safire’s claim. I concluded that his story was based more on Francophobia than fact, built on flimsy evidence and biased reporting.

Safire’s case has two parts. The first is that a French trader, CIS Paris, was the key intermediary enabling a Chinese company, Qilo Chemicals, to ship a product known as HTPB to Iraq. HTPB is used as a “binder” for solid rocket propellants. His charge is based on quotes from an exchange of e-mails, leaked to Safire from “an Arab source.” The most damning message was sent Sept. 4, 2002. In that e-mail, James Crown of Qilo Chemicals wrote, “Thank you for your order to our HTPB-III! We just have sent a 40′ container to Tartous (Syria) last month.”

According to Safire, the chemical was received there by a trading company that was an intermediary for the Iraqi missile industry, the end user. The HTPB was then trucked across Syria to Iraq. According to Safire, it was the French connection — CIS Paris — that made the whole deal possible.

CIS Paris president Jean-Pierre Pertriaux makes no secret of his long-term relationship with Iraq, including brokering materials destined for military ends, like HTPB. He also admits having contacted the Chinese company, Qilo Chemicals. Like many such brokers, he skirts the law. By acting only as a go-between, strictly speaking, he would not be breaking any French or European export regulations, if the HTPB were not exported from France.

But the key point is that, according to Pertriaux, he was never able to consummate the deal for HTPB. When contacted by phone, James Crown of Qilo also claimed he’d never completed the sale.

What about the e-mails cited by Safire?

Read in their entirety, they make no sense, one sentence contradicting the next. Indeed, carefully analyzed, the whole convoluted exchange of e-mails quoted by Safire doesn’t hold together, which may be why Safire quotes sparingly from them.

Safire also noted that Pertriaux claimed the deal with Qilo Chemicals was never consummated, but there was no way that denial would blunt his attack.

His target wasn’t a single French trader but the government of France. CIS Paris, he charged, would never have been able to pursue its trade without the knowledge of French intelligence. “French intelligence has long been aware of it,” he wrote.

Safire was right on that point, but totally wrong on his conclusions. In July 2002, both the U.S. State Department and the Defense Intelligence Agency warned France of CIS Paris’ attempts to purchase various products for Iraq’s arms industry. The French immediately investigated CIS’s activities but found nothing illegal. They requested more information from the United States — information that might permit France to intercept any eventual delivery.

The U.S. authorities never replied.

“We’re still waiting,” says a French source close to the investigation.


So why did the deal between Qilo Chemical and CIS Paris never go through? Because, despite the lack of response from the U.S., the French continued to monitor CIS Paris’ activities and, in August 2002, when it looked as if CIS Paris was about to make a firm order, the authorities warned CIS Paris to back off. “There are many different ways to exert pressure,” says the French source.

It wasn’t just one private French broker involved with Saddam’s rocket program, Safire continued, but firms controlled by the French government itself.

“I’m also told,” he wrote, again with no attribution, “that a contract was signed last April in Paris for five tons of 99 percent unsymmetric dimethylhydrazine, another advanced missile fuel, which is produced by France’s Societe Nationale des Poudre [sic] et Explosifs (SNPE). In addition, Iraqi attempts to buy an oxidizer for solid propellant missiles, ammonium perchlorate, were successful, at least on paper.”

The Times’ columnist concluded his vitriolic attack: “Perhaps a few intrepid members of the Chirac Adoration Society, formerly known as the French media, will ask France’s lax export-control authorities about these shipments.”

The French government immediately investigated Safire’s charge. The conclusion: SNPE exported neither product to Iraq, nor to any Middle Eastern country — other than the state of Israel.

I submitted an Op-Ed piece to the Times ticking off the many serious flaws in Safire’s column. Within hours, editor David Shipley replied that under Times policy, the Op-Ed page did not run pieces that quarrelled with its own columnists. He didn’t question the points I made in my article. He suggested I write a brief letter to the editor.

Fine, I thought, can’t argue with New York Times policy, but at least they’d been advised of the errors in Safire’s report. I also e-mailed Safire saying I’d found problems with his column and would like to talk with him. There was no reply.

Just a few hours later, though, the Times published another vitriolic Safire salvo, “French Connection II,” continuing the same erroneous blather about the French and Saddam’s rocket fuel, this time targeting President Chirac.

Now the Times, like most newspapers, maintains that pieces on its Op-Ed page represent the personal views of their columnists. Their relationship is with the publisher, Op-Ed editor David Shipley told me, not with the editors. They are not subject to the same meticulous checking as more mortal Times reporters.

That lack of editorial oversight may make for provocative columns, but most readers don’t recognize such fine distinctions, which is understandable. Particularly when, as in the case of those Safire columns, we were not presented with opinion but opinion disguised as investigative reporting — in reality a pretense, a caricature of investigative reporting. One would expect such explosive charges to be subject to the Times’ famous editorial checks and balances.

But one would be wrong.

With the imprimatur of his august paper, Safire’s charges were picked up by newspapers and Internet sites around the globe, and consecrated as fact “reported in the New York Times.” They fueled the firestorm against the French — and they continue to do so.

I wrote a rebuttal that was published in Le Monde and by The Times bureau in Paris immediately asked for a translation of the Le Monde article and I thought that ended the matter. I had demonstrated that Safire’s charges were seriously flawed, if not completely false. At the very least, I had given the Times editors the specific facts behind my charge that they were giving Safire’s wild fiction a totally undeserved platform. No one from the Times contacted me or questioned my article.

Incredibly — at least as I saw it — a few days later, the Times published yet another column by Safire, continuing his same fabricated charge; this time, he challenged the CIA to reveal what it knew about France’s role in shipping rocket fuel to Iraq. (Why won’t the CIA tell all? Aha, another government coverup!)

The next day, Safire’s column ran in the International Herald Tribune, as had the first two Safire attacks against France. The editors there also knew Safire’s charges had gaping holes, but they had no choice in the matter. Since the paper is owned by the Times, its editors are required to republish the Times’ star columnists without question.

As Walter Wells, the managing editor of the IHT wrote me: “It’s apparent that Safire — like Krugman or Friedman — has free rein in his columns, even when he’s dead wrong.”

This is not the first time William Safire has been accused of mistaking fiction for fact, floating charges based on information leaked by unnamed high-level sources. After the World Trade Center attack, it was Safire who claimed as “undisputed fact” that, just five months prior to 9/11, Mohamed Atta had met secretly in Prague with a top-ranking Iraqi intelligence officer. In the supercharged months following 9/11, that accusation was the journalistic equivalent of tossing a lighted match into a powder keg, bolstering the case of those pushing for the U.S. to topple Saddam.

Over the following months, however, other more serious reporters found that Safire’s reporting was, once again, flimsy at best. It was based on erroneous information from Czech intelligence, and was finally denied by Czech President Vaclav Havel himself. But the best evidence of Safire’s ongoing error was that Colin Powell, desperate to demonstrate even the shakiest link between al-Qaida and Saddam, made no mention of that supposed Prague meeting to build the U.S. case before the United Nations

Safire, typically, has never backed down, inventing one conspiracy after another to explain away the Czech denials. The truth about Atta, Safire promised — and the French rocket fuel companies — would be uncovered once U.S. forces had taken Baghdad and had access to all those secret files and Iraqi officials. Well, the U.S. forces have been there now for months, and we’re still waiting. Now, he announces, he’s found proof of the Atta-Iraq connection in the memo leaked to the Weekly Standard. The memo, you’ll recall, that the Pentagon called inaccurate.

And this is the New York Times, mind you, a paper that regularly runs a “Corrections Box” to fess up to the most picayune of inaccuracies, from an incorrect middle initial to the misspelling of a company name — but not to innuendo and error on its Op-Ed page.

Recently, editor David Shipley wrote a piece attempting to explain the makeup of the Times Op-Ed page. I thought that was an ideal opening to submit another article. Using the Safire anti-French diatribes as case in point, I suggested it was a bit too much to expect the average reader to comprehend that while the Times stands behind the facts on its news pages, it can set a much lower standard for the “facts” presented by its columnists.

Shipley suggested I send the piece instead to Times ombudsman, Dan Okrent. Okrent, in reply, said I raised some interesting points which, one day, he might deal with.

On Feb. 15, in an astonishing admission, Okrent wrote that one issue that has attracted his attention is “whether columnists should be free, as they are now, to decide whether and when to publish corrections of their own mistakes.”

Is all of this old history? Not really. Just Google “Safire” and “France.” You’ll find scores of sites around the world that still carry Safire’s venomous opinions as indisputable fact, backed by the credibility of the New York Times.