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NOVEMBER 18, 2003
Pentagon Questions Reports on Osama-Saddam Ties
Some Outlets Run With 'Weekly Standard' Story

By Seth Porges

NEW YORK -- Updated at 11 a.m. ET, Nov. 19

Several newspapers and other media outlets had egg on their face Monday after reporting or endorsing a Weekly Standard story revealing new evidence of an "operational relationship" between Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden.

Several outlets, including the New York Post, The Washington Times and FOX News, ran with the story. There was just one problem: On Saturday, the Pentagon issued a press release stating that "news reports that the Defense Department recently confirmed new information with respect to contacts between al-Qaida and Iraq ... are inaccurate."

Despite this, the New York Post on Monday titled its editorial on the subject: "Bush Was Right." [And on Wednesday, New York Times columnist William Safire endorsed the report, alleging that the secret memo "has gone relatively uncovered by the major media" only because it had surfaced in Weekly Standard. Oddly, his column is titled "Mistakes Were Made" and in it he suggests 10 different areas (but not this one) where corrections are due. ]

In the current Nov. 24 issue of the conservative journal The Weekly Standard, Stephen F. Hayes writes that Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein "had an operational relationship from the early 1990s to 2003 that involved training in explosives and weapons of mass destruction, logistical support for terrorist attacks, al Qaeda training camps and safe haven in Iraq, and Iraqi financial support for al Qaeda."

The magazine's revelations allegedly came from a "top secret U.S. government memorandum obtained by The Weekly Standard." The Pentagon press release, however, states that the classified sections of the document contained "raw reports" and "was not an analysis of the substantive issue of the relationship between Iraq and al Qaida and it drew no conclusions."

The Nov. 17 New York Post editorial made no mention of the Pentagon refuting the charge as "inaccurate."

Also on Monday, The Washington Times carried an editorial on the issue, using The Weekly Standard article as evidence. At the end of the editorial, the Times mentions the Pentagon release, but urges "readers to examine the Weekly Standard article and decide for themselves."

On Nov. 16, The Washington Post's Walter Pincus reported that the CIA has found "no evidence that Hussein sought to arm terrorists."

The New York Post editorial opens:

"As blood flowed freely again this weekend in the War on Terror, this time in Turkey as well as Iraq, a new report in The Weekly Standard suggests that events there may not be unrelated.

"In fact, the report by Stephen Hayes -- based on a top-secret government memo -- documents an even more profound linkage: between none other than Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

"The memo, provides enormous evidence that the Bush team was right all along about Saddam's terrorist ties -- despite charges to the contrary by the president's foes, particularly Democrats ..."


Source: Editor & Publisher Online

Seth Porges (sporges@editorandpublisher.com) is a reporter for E&P.

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