If it's not important news, they swarm like flies; if it's a vital topic, they duck and run as if they expect the shit to fly in their direction. I'm referring, of course, to the mainstream US press.
Cowardice is the only way to describe the recent coverage of George Galloway's hearing before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Not only did the nation's two major dailies get many of the facts wrong, they went out of their way to paint Galloway as guilty.
Let's pick on the Washington Post and the New York Times, the two newspapers whose stories have the most influence on local, daily newspapers around the country and what they decide to print. The New York Times syndicates its material for reprint and the Washington Post is the "newspaper of record" for the nation's capitol, where the workings of the Congress and White House are dissected daily for our perusal--or so the thinking goes.
Colum Lynch, the reporter assigned by the Washington Post to cover the Senate investigations of the UN's oil-for-food program, wrote an article on May 12 entitled "Panel Connects Oil Program to Europeans." The article repeated charges made by the Republican majority on the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations that several European politicians, including British MP George Galloway, had accepted bribes from Saddam Hussein in the form of oil-for-food program allotments. Galloway, by the way, is a long-time, vocal critic of the sanctions against Iraq and the ensuing US/UK war--as are all of the other European politicians named by the committee, a fact that should raise any self-respecting reporter's suspicions of a Republican witch hunt. Or a "mother of all smokescreens," as Galloway has called the investigation--one that takes our attention off the much more serious problems being unearthed by the UN special investigator in Iraq who's auditing how the Bush administration spent Iraqi oil-for-food program money after the invasion. Of course Lynch proves he has no instincts for the important story, and instead merely repeats the committee's accusations.
Lynch then wrote a follow-up article on May 18 about Galloway's hearing before the Senate committee, a story that was buried on page A11. Lynch goes out of his way to portray Galloway as a loose cannon, saying that he "unleashed a personal attack against panel Chairman Norm Coleman," "delivered a fiery attack on three decades of US policy toward Iraq," and that he "dispensed with the deference traditionally reserved for Senate leaders." Not content with that, Lynch goes on to say that "he described himself as a 'friend' of former Iraqi deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz, and said that he met twice with Hussein."
What Galloway actually said was this: "On the very first page of your document about me you assert that I have had 'many meetings' with Saddam Hussein. This is false. I have had two meetings with Saddam Hussein, once in 1994 and once in August of 2002. By no stretch of the English language can that be described as 'many meetings' with Saddam Hussein. As a matter of fact, I have met Saddam Hussein exactly the same number of times as Donald Rumsfeld met him. The difference is Donald Rumsfeld met him to sell him guns and to give him maps the better to target those guns. I met him to try and bring about an end to the sanctions, suffering and war, and on the second of the two occasions, I met him to try and persuade him to let Dr. Hans Blix and the United Nations weapons inspectors back into the country--a rather better use of two meetings with Saddam Hussein than your own Secretary of State for Defense made of his."
While Lynch purposefully omits the Donald Rumsfeld reference from his article, he does include the following: "The Senate subcommittee has not presented any bank records or other documentation showing that Galloway traded in Iraqi oil or paid kickbacks to the government." But this is in paragraph 8, exactly halfway through the article, instead of paragraph 1 or 2, where it could have been used to establish an all-important context for the Republicans' oil-for-food circus act.
In paragraph 15 of his article (the next-to-last one), Lynch mentions in passing the most important finding of the whole oil-for-food investigation: that the Texas petroleum company Bayoil paid $37 million in kickbacks to Saddam Hussein, an enormous and direct violation of the oil-for-food program rules by a US company that dwarfs anything Galloway is charged with. But Lynch somehow forgets to mention Bayoil by name, nor does he question why Senate Republicans are trying to crucify Galloway and other anti-war politicians, instead of siccing the US Treasury Department on Bayoil.
The New York Times report is equally bad, but in a different way. Written by Judith Miller, whose reports on Saddam's WMD capability amounted to uncritical stenography for right-wing neo-cons, the article is almost genteel in its careful phrasing. She uses flattering descriptive terms to describe Galloway, while framing her article in a way that gives credence to the oil-for-food investigations. Miller variously describes Galloway as "a maverick," "a flamboyant orator and skilled debator," and says he "more than held his own before the committee." But Miller also mentions the two meetings with Saddam: "He said he met with former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz many times, but met Mr. Hussein only twice--as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had." Aha, Rumsfeld mentioned at last! But Miller makes no mention of what Rumsfeld did with his time versus what Galloway did with his.
According to Miller, "the committee has produced no documents that show that Mr. Galloway or his charity actually received money." You can almost hear the tea spoon clink gently against the saucer. Where does this little bon mot appear? It was the last sentence of paragraph 14 in an 18-paragraph article. Of course, Miller makes no mention at all of Bayoil. That would be impolite.
As usual, if the US public wants the truth, we have to go to the original sources, in this case the transcript of Galloway's statement. Interestingly, the British newspapers were quick to offer up the transcript, while US papers decided it wasn't newsworthy. Kudos belong to the alternative press in the US, which widely reprinted Galloway's statement. You can find it at http://www.counterpunch.org/galloway05182005.html or at http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0517-35.htm, just to name a couple of fine sources.
in this analysis: "Panel Connects Oil Program To Europeans,"
Colum Lynch, Washington Post, 5/12/05, A16; "Briton Denies
Having Rights to Buy Iraqi Oil," Colum Lynch, Washington
Post, 5/18/05, A11; and "British Lawmaker Scolds Senators
on Iraq," Judith Miller, New York Times, 5/18/05, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/28/international/middleeast/18food.html.