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Sunday, November 5, 2006
Getting It Wrong: NY Times and Iraq Nukes
Topic: Media Research Center

Media Research Center writers were eager to deliberately misinterpret a Nov. 3 New York Times article as claiming that Iraq was close to having a nuclear bomb at the time the Iraq war started in 2003:

-- Al Brown, in a NewsBusters post, excitedly claimed that "Saddam Hussein's regime was perhaps only a year away from developing nuclear weapons at the time of the US invasion," calling the Times article "a stunning November Surprise to the Democrats."

-- A Times Watch item by Clay Waters doesn't specifically assign the nuke claim to pre-2003 invasion but claims that it "suggests Bush was right to consider Saddam Hussein a threat," adding that "many [conservatives] think the Times has unwittingly proved Bush right on the matter of the threat dictator Saddam Hussein posed to the world."

Here's the graf in question from the Times article:

Among the dozens of documents in English were Iraqi reports written in the 1990s and in 2002 for United Nations inspectors in charge of making sure Iraq had abandoned its unconventional arms programs after the Persian Gulf war. Experts say that at the time, Mr. Hussein’s scientists were on the verge of building an atom bomb, as little as a year away.

It's not very clearly written -- the writer drops three different time periods to which "at the time" could apply -- but it appears that given the order of the paragraph, "at the time" applies to "the Persian Gulf war." It makes even more sense when you consider that at least three U.S. or U.K. government reports concluded that Saddam did not have an active WMD or nuclear program at the time of the 2003 invasion; in fact, those reports also conlcuded that Saddam's nuclear capability was destroyed in the 1991 Gulf War. While Saddam may certainly have wanted WMDs, desire and capability are two different things.

By downplaying or misinterpreting the most logical date that Saddam was "on the verge of building an atom bomb," MRC writers like Brown and Waters do their readers a disservice. Or is their version of attacking "liberal bias" not supposed to be based in fact?

Posted by Terry K. at 1:11 AM EST

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