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Jewish World Review Oct. 23, 2001 /6 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Michael Ledeen

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Creative Reporting: Learning to appreciate press briefings -- I ALWAYS get a tingle of excitement when Bob Woodward writes something, because it always signifies more than it says.

A Woodward article is a coded message, not merely reportage. Indeed, given his astonishing record of creative writing - an "interview" with CIA Director William Casey at a time when Casey was incapable of speech, and another "conversation" with an Israeli official that was only published after his death, when no denial or correction could be issued, and yet another story published under his editorial supervision that featured the activities of a person who did not even exist - it is generally best to concentrate on the political message.

Sometimes he is used as a transmission belt from top policymakers (his book on the Gulf War was in essence Colin Powell's view of the events) or disgruntled underlings ("Deep Throat" of Watergate), while on other occasions he advances his own political causes.

Thus, his Sunday scoop in the Washington Post, according to which President Bush has authorized a "finding" that permits American forces in Afghanistan to kill Osama bin Laden, was particularly interesting. It may well be true that the president issued a finding, but it probably wasn't necessary. As Woodward points out, American forces in battle are entitled to take any and all action necessary to protect themselves, or to advance their mission, and given bin Laden's track record, he is certainly a legitimate target.

A "finding," a legal document that entitles American officials to take actions that would otherwise be forbidden, might be required for a specific clandestine operation by CIA targeting bin Laden, but, according to Clinton's last NSC adviser, Sandy Berger, they had already found a way to do that, and had in fact subcontracted the assassination to someone else. If that is true - and Woodward doesn't mention it - then the legal authorization was already in place, and Bush didn't have to take such a step.

So why was Woodward told about a "finding"? The article reads as if the information came from an interview with Vice President Cheney, which would suggest that the White House wants us to know, in advance, that the administration has taken careful steps to ensure that we are within the letter of the law to go after bin Laden. This may someday become an important matter, either before some insane congressional committee (like the Church and Pike committees that started the long list of legislation that crippled our intelligence community in the 1960s), or one of the various international tribunals that now assert their right to put anyone in the world on trial for "war crimes."

So far, so good. But then Woodward treats us to a repetition of some of his personal theories about the recent past, above all, the Reagan years. He asserts that Iran-Contra "involved secret arms sales to Iran and the illegal diversion of profits from those sales to the contra rebels supported by the CIA in Nicaragua." There were certainly secret arms sales to Iran, but the diversion of profits to the contras was not illegal. Not a single person was ever indicted, let alone convicted, of such a crime. Woodward here is advancing a personal political agenda instead of accepting the findings of one of the longest and most costly investigations in American history.

The diversion was stupid, but it wasn't illegal. He then claims, as he has in the past, that CIA Director Bill Casey colluded with the Saudis to organize an assassination attempt against the leader of the terrorist organization Hezbollah, a claim I have never believed, but which fits nicely into the theory that the Reagan presidency was rife with illegal activity.

The distortion of the past is a serious matter, because it greatly affects policy decisions now and in the future, and to portray Iran-Contra as a criminal endeavor instead of a policy blunder helps convince other policymakers to avoid risky undertakings, and, of course, it slimes Ronald Reagan, which is in keeping with the politics of publications such as the Washington Post.

Indeed, there is now a generation of journalists who constantly rewrite history in an effort to discredit conservative leaders, and they are proud of their mission, whatever the consequences for the national interest. Loren Jenkins, the senior foreign editor for National Public Radio, recently bragged to a Chicago Tribune columnist, "I don't represent the government. I represent history, information, what happened."

Loren Jenkins does indeed represent history, albeit a falsified version of it. Back in 1982, he won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting that he had watched while Israeli troops led Lebanese Christian forces into the "refugee camps" of Shabra and Shatila, where Palestinians were massacred. The problem with that Pulitzer was that Jenkins could not have witnessed it, because it did not happen. An exhaustive Israeli investigation concluded that General Ariel Sharon held "indirect responsibility" for the massacre, because he should have known it would happen, and should have prevented it. There was no evidence that he, or any other Israeli officer, had overseen the operation and actively abetted it, as Jenkins claimed.

"The best reporting is getting to a place and assessing it yourself," Jenkins tell us, and warns that the military "never tell you the truth." Frankly, I'd rather listen to Don Rumsfeld.

JWR contributor Michael Ledeen is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of Tocqueville on American Character . Comment by clicking here.


10/19/01: Not the Emmys: A Beltway award presentation
10/15/01: Rediscovering American character
10/11/01: Somehow, I've missed Arafat's praise of the first stage of our war on terrorism
10/04/01: What do we not know?
09/28/01: Machiavelli On Our War: Some advice for our leaders
09/25/01: No Room for the U.N.: Keeping Annan & co. out of the picture
09/21/01: Creative destruction
09/14/01: Who Killed Barbara Olson?
08/22/01: How Israel will win this war
08/15/01: Bracing for war
08/09/01: More Dithering Democrats
08/02/01: Delirious Dems
07/31/01: Consulting a legendary counterspy about Chandra and Condit, cont'd
07/19/01: Be careful what you wish for
07/17/01: Consulting a legendary counterspy about Chandra and Condit
07/05/01: Let Slobo Go
05/30/01: Anybody out there afraid of the Republicans?
05/09/01: The bad guys to the rescue
05/07/01: Bye-bye, Blumenthal
04/20/01: Handling China
04/11/01: EXAM TIME!
04/05/01: Chinese over-water torture
03/27/01: Fighting AIDS in Africa is a losing proposition
03/14/01: Big Bird, Oscar, and other threats
03/09/01: Time for a good, old-fashioned purge
03/06/01: Powell’s great (mis)adventure
02/26/01: The Clinton Sopranos
02/20/01: Unity Schmoonity: Sharon is defying the will of the people
01/30/01: The Rest of the Rich Story
01/22/01: Ashcroft the Jew
01/11/01: A fitting close to the Clinton years
12/26/00: Continuing Clinton's shameful legacy
12/21/00: Clinton’s gift for Bush

© 2001, Michael Ledeen