Jewish World Review Sept. 21, 2004/ 6 Tishrei, 5765

Wesley Pruden

Wes Pruden
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Blowing hard, glowing red | Blowing hard is risky business. Kofi Annan got a pie in his face last week, delivered by Colin Powell, and last night Dan Rather left the set at CBS News glowing red at both ends, his face from embarrassment and his bottom from a boot applied by a rascally Internet gang.

The timing was particularly embarrassing for Mr. Annan, because this is a big week at the United Nations, with major speeches by various biggies, including one by himself and others by President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

When the pastemaster general of the United Nations, ever eager to pass along and paste together rebukes and reprimands of the United States, told the BBC that the liberation of Iraq was "illegal" and a violation of international law, the secretary of state gave him a tutorial in how the world really works.

Mr. Annan has played this broken record for months, that the United States and the coalition of the willing — including everyone of consequence — should have sought still another resolution of the Security Council before it finally made good on the U.N.'s 17 earlier warnings to Saddam Hussein to straighten up or else. (The U.N. might even have adopted an 18th resolution.) "From our point of view," he told the BBC, "from the point of view [of the U.N. Charter), it was illegal."

This exhausted Colin Powell's patience. Noting that the Constitution gives an American president all the authority he needs to defend the United States from enemies "foreign and domestic," he said Saddam's repeated "material breaches" of all those U.N. resolutions gave the president ample authority to take him out.

"What we did was totally justified by international law," he told editors and reporters at an editorial-board luncheon at The Washington Times. Not only that, Mr. Annan's remark was "not a very useful statement to make at this point. What does it gain anyone? We should all be gathering around the idea of helping the Iraqis, not getting into these kinds of side issues. I'm sure I will have the opportunity to talk to Kofi about this."

Indeed he did, the very next morning. Mr. Annan himself called to make nice. "It was not the secretary-general's intention to stir things up in this way," his press agent told reporters. This is diplo-speak for, "I'll look for a better role model the next time I blow hard."

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One place he won't look for an example is at CBS News. Dan Rather and his network admitted yesterday what we've all been laughing about for a week. The memoranda from George W.'s Texas Air National Guard superiors, purportedly taking the young Lt. Bush to task for (gasp!) missing drills, were made up by a forger who was not very smart but who was smart enough to take Dan and CBS for a bumpy buggy ride down La-la Lane.

"We promised that we would let the American public know what [our further] examination turned up," Mr. Rather said in a statement framed in the equivocating language you can only learn in law school. "... After extensive additional interviews, I no longer have the confidence in these documents that would allow us to continue vouching for them journalistically. I find we have been misled on the key question of how our source for the documents came into possession of these papers.

"We made a mistake in judgment, and for that I am sorry. It was an error that was made, however, in good faith and in the spirit of trying to carry on a CBS News tradition of investigative reporting without fear or favoritism. Please know that nothing is more important to us than people's trust in our ability and our commitment to report fairly and truthfully."

If he can't any longer vouch for the memos "journalistically," whatever that means, he might still vouch for them "politically?" "Socially," maybe? He didn't say. But Dan's excellent adventure is not yet over. If he and CBS actually mean it that "nothing is more important to us than people's trust," the next chapter will be an identification of who typed up these "documents" and who aimed them at CBS. Everyone knows why.

Standing by a source no longer applies. There's no honor among crooks and thieves. Now we'll see whether there's honor among blowhards.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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