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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Daniel Schorr: Conned or con man?

On National Public Radio on Wednesday afternoon, NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr had this to say (hyperlinks and emphasis mine):

[Elisabetta] Burba is a reporter for an Italian news magazine that provided the American embassy in Rome with one of the forged documents that the president relied on in 2003 to assert that Iraq was buying uranium from the African country of Niger ....

Her detailed story, with pictures of the principal documents, is contained in a book titled The Italian Letter: How the Bush Administration Used a Fake Letter to Build the Case for War in Iraq. From this book, excerpted in the Washington Post, it appears that the president had every reason to doubt the authenticity of the documents when he, in the State of the Union address, asserted that Iraq was buying significant quantities of uranium from the African country of Niger....

And the big question now: Was Mr. Bush conned? Or was he the con man?

Of course, conservative pundits and news sources (here and here, for example) have been grinding their teeth in frustration for months and months over the mainstream media's and the Angry Left's distortions about the famous "sixteen words" from the 2003 State of the Union Address. Maybe Mr. Schorr  doesn't read any conservative pundits or news sources.

It is simply amazing how so few words can be so badly, and consistently, twisted into a partisan lie. Regardless of the forged "Italian letter," the famous "sixteen words" were in fact accurate as of the time they were spoken, as documented in both the Butler Report (at page 123 (page 137 of the .pdf file), paragraph 499) from the U.K. and the bipartisan, joint section of the Senate Intelligence Committee Report from the U.S. (See generally this discussion at Factcheck.org (h/t Justin Levine), which is hardly a mouthpiece of the Bush Administration. And this seems to be a pretty thorough fisking of the WaPo excerpt on the new book.)

Nevertheless, Mr. Schorr absolutely, positively knew better than to say what he said yesteday — and that was not very long ago at all. Per Mr. Schorr in another NPR "news analysis" broadcast on July 13, 2005 (emphasis mine):

In 2002, President Bush, having decided to invade Iraq, was casting about for a casus belli. The weapons of mass destruction theme was not yielding very much until a dubious Italian intelligence report — partly based on forged documents, as it later turned out — provided reason to speculate that Iraq might be trying to buy so-called yellowcake uranium from the African country of Niger....

Of course, the famous sixteen words did not claim that Iraq "was buying" or "had bought" uranium, nor even that Niger or any other African government or company had agreed to sell uranium to Iraq. Rather, the President actually said (emphasis mine):

The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

That Mr. Schorr once got it right — that he once was an accurate reporter of this particular critical fact, the difference between "bought" and "sought" — is what distinguishes Daniel Schorr from, for example, the authors of the (equally misleading) WaPo piece. Their stupidity is patent, but perhaps not demonstrably inconsistent with things they've said before.

But even if there could still be a reasonable debate about whether the "sixteen words" were true, or weren't true, or were some sort of lie — even if we reject the Butler Report and the Senate Intelligence Committee Report — there is not, and there never has been, and there never could have been, any good-faith dispute as to what the sixteen words actually were. Yet yesterday, Mr. Schorr badly misled the American public (twice!) on that very subject. If the misstatement cannot be said to have been in "good faith" — and it simply cannot be,  given what Daniel Schorr's distinctive, sonorous, recorded voice may still be heard having said on the exact same topic less than two years ago — then what choice does that leave? At best, it is an inexcusable mistake, a grossly negligent mistake, a mistake so reckless and without regard for its consequences that outside observers may treat it, for all practical purposes, as having been an intentional act of bad faith. If a newsman can't get this sort of basic fact right, then how is he distinguishable, for practical purposes, from a deliberate liar?

Daniel SchorrNevertheless, for impractical purposes, for moral culpability purposes, the distinction between merely blameworthy and wholly corrupt depends on the actual cause of Mr. Schorr's misstatement. So what range of causes could there possibly have been?

It's possible, I suppose, that Mr. Schorr is growing absent-minded or even senile, and that he simply forgot yesterday what he'd said in 2005. It's possible that he just relied yesterday on the WaPo article, trusting it over his own memory. I suppose it's also possible that Mr. Schorr just reads whatever someone else writes and sticks in front of him, retaining little or nothing, and that this is someone else's deliberate misrepresentation or inexcusable mistake. In any of these three events, NPR's fact-checkers have no such excuse; and given his own breakdown in reliability between 2005 and now, Mr. Schorr himself should be gently retired.

Or it could be that Mr. Schorr has become a partisan hack masquerading as a "news analyst," someone who's lost all objectivity, someone who's entirely betrayed the journalistic principles of which he was considered an exemplar when he was at CBS, someone who no longer gives a damn about easily verified, undisputed, and indisputable facts, and someone whose overriding goal is to do or say anything (including the telling of outrageous lies on NPR that are inconsistent with what he himself has earlier said), just so long as that will reflect badly on the Bush Administration. Gentle retirement would be inappropriate in that instance, and as with Dan Rather, no cure but what effectively amounts to firing would do.

We, the listening public, are left to wonder which one or more of these possible explanations applies. And so, here we are.

The big question now: Was Mr. Schorr conned? Or was he the con man?

(I have, of course, emailed NPR with the particulars of my complaint. We'll see if they issue a correction or otherwise respond. I am not entirely without hope that they might.)

Posted by Beldar at 03:21 AM in Global War on Terror | Permalink


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(1) Mark Alger made the following comment | Apr 5, 2007 11:50:46 AM | Permalink


From my perspective, Schorr ALWAYS HAS been a partisan hack. That he has, on occasion, gotten his facts straight doesn't mitigate that.


(2) Mark L made the following comment | Apr 6, 2007 8:20:46 AM | Permalink

I agree with the first Mark. Schorr has a convenient memory that remembers only the facts to fit his theory, and discards anything else.

Problem is this does not answer your question. If you "con" yourself does that make you a con man, the conned, or both?

(3) pst314 made the following comment | Apr 7, 2007 6:58:36 AM | Permalink

I've been listening to NPR since the 70's, and as far as I remember Schorr has always been a purveyor of left-wing spin and propaganda.

(4) Punditarian made the following comment | Apr 8, 2007 8:08:49 PM | Permalink


Count me as one who also believes you are too kind to Mr. Schorr.

Later on in the same broadcast, Schorr claimed that Joe Wilson's escapade in Niger refuted the Italian forgery; but Wilson was in Niger in February, 2002, and the forgery was presented to US authorities in October.

Another example of the left's fantasyland approach to history.

We have more up at:

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