We journalists are environmentally friendly. We recycle. We've been recycling old news all
weekend, without, of course, telling you it's old news.
"A senior administration official confirmed for the first time on Sunday that President Bush
had ordered the declassification of parts of a prewar intelligence report on Iraq in an effort
to rebut critics who said the administration had exaggerated the nuclear threat posed by Saddam
Hussein," reported David Sanger and David Johnston in the New York Times Monday.
For the first time? Here's the AP's Tom Raum on July 20, 2003: "The White House declassified
portions of an October, 2002 intelligence report to demonstrate that President Bush had ample
reason to believe Iraq was reconstituting a nuclear weapons program."
"The unusual decision to declassify a major intelligence report was a bid by the White House to
quiet a growing controversy over Bush's allegations about Iraq's weapons programs," wrote Dana
Milbank and Dana Priest in the Washington Post the day before.
Mr. Sanger and Mr. Johnston must have slept through that month.
Why the recycling? In a court filing April 5, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald reported
that I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, told the grand jury
that Mr. Cheney had authorized him to disclose portions of the National Intelligence Estimate
to Judith Miller of the New York Times a couple of weeks before its general release.
The NIE was declassified to rebut charges by Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV that President Bush
lied when he said in his 2003 State of the Union address that "the British government has
learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium in Africa."
Mr. Libby has been indicted by Mr. Fitzgerald for lying to the grand jury about whether he told
Ms. Miller that Mr. Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, worked at the CIA, and was responsible for
dispatching him on his now famous trip to Niger.
Dafna Linzer and Barton Gellman of the Washington Post should be grateful no legal jeopardy is
attached to lying to their readers. In their story Sunday they said: "the evidence Cheney and
Libby selected to share with reporters had been disproved months before."
The opposite is true. In July of 2004, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence concluded
unanimously that it was Mr. Wilson who was lying. He had been sent to Niger by his wife, and
he told the CIA officers who debriefed him that Iraqi officials had approached Nigerien
officials about buying "yellowcake."
Also that month, a parliamentary panel which investigated British claims about Iraqi WMD, the
Butler Commission, concluded that the statements that Saddam had tried to buy uranium in Africa
were "well founded."
Perhaps Ms. Linzner and Mr. Gellman slept through that month.
Most of the recycled stories this weekend described the release of portions of the NIE as a
"leak," a word that was not used in July of 2003 when the NIE was made public. For good
reason. A leak is an unauthorized disclosure of classified information.
"President Bush was right to approve the declassification of parts of a National Intelligence
Estimate about Iraq three years ago in order to make clear why he had believed that Saddam
Hussein was seeking nuclear weapons," said the Washington Post in an editorial Sunday, one
which noted the holes in Mr. Wilson's story which Ms. Linzner and Mr. Gellman somehow
overlooked. "Presidents are authorized to declassify sensitive material, and the public
benefits when they do."
The weekend's feeding frenzy was based on the little bit of news that Judy Miller had been
briefed on the NIE before its general release. Hardly earth shattering or uncommon stuff. But
many journalists saw an opportunity to imply the president had done something wrong, and to
repeat charges made years ago which subsequently were proven false.
We're more reluctant to reexamine old news even when there are new developments, if the new
developments run counter to journalistic memes.
Here's a story you didn't read on the front page: Among the captured Iraqi documents recently
released to the public is a March 17, 2001 memo from an Iraqi air force brigadier general
soliciting volunteers from his command for a suicide mission to "strike American interests."
Gee, in what sort of suicide mission would pilots have been useful?
Another document, released Friday, has not yet been translated from Arabic, but notations on it
indicate it describes the movement of chemical and biological weapons.
But Saddam had no ties to terror groups, and he had no WMD. We told you so.