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God Directs Bush, Oba Calls the Tune

By Ben L. Kaufman · November 2nd, 2005 · Media, Myself & I
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For a second time in recent months, local news media have ignored a stunning story that raises serious questions about President Bush's decisions to commit Americans to war against Iraq.

In May, a pre-war "Downing Street Memo" was leaked to London's Sunday Times. The 2002 memo recorded what Britain's top spy told Prime Minister Tony Blair: "C reported on his recent talks in Washington. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

To many, that meant Bush willfully misrepresented intelligence to justify an attack, but the memo and British debate barely caused a ripple in Cincinnati's news media.

Recently another credible source said Bush claimed to have attacked Afghanistan and Iraq on God's explicit orders. Given the centrality of religion in Bush's public life and decisions, that should have been news. It suffered, instead, the same inattention as the Downing Street Memo. For a second time in recent months, local news media have ignored a stunning story that raises serious questions about President Bush's decisions to commit Americans to war against Iraq.

In May, a pre-war "Downing Street Memo" was leaked to London's Sunday Times. The 2002 memo recorded what Britain's top spy told Prime Minister Tony Blair: "C reported on his recent talks in Washington. ... Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

To many, that meant Bush willfully misrepresented intelligence to justify an attack, but the memo and British debate barely caused a ripple in Cincinnati's news media.

Recently another credible source said Bush claimed to have attacked Afghanistan and Iraq on God's explicit orders. Given the centrality of religion in Bush's public life and decisions, that should have been news. It suffered, instead, the same inattention as the Downing Street Memo.

The source was Nabil Shaath, then Palestinian foreign minister and over the years a credible negotiator and spokesman for his people. Appearing on BBC2, he said Bush told him in June 2003, "I'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me: 'George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.' And I did, and then God would tell me, 'George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq' ...

and I did. And now, again, I feel God's words coming to me -- 'Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security and get peace in the Middle East.' And by God I'm gonna do it."

Shaath was accompanied by then-Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who told BBC2 that Bush said, "I have a moral and religious obligation. So I will get you a Palestinian state."

White House spokesman Scott McClellan denied Bush said any of it.

More recently Abbas, now Palestinian president, told BBC Arabic service, "President Bush said that God guided him in what he should do, and this guidance led him to go to Afghanistan to rid it of terrorism after 9/11 and led him to Iraq to fight tyranny. ... We understood that he was illustrating his strong faith and his belief that this is what God wanted."

Curmudgeon notes
· The continuing ability of Michael Bailey (aka Gen. Kabaka Oba of the Black Fist) to arouse Cincinnati news media and bloggers is fascinating. It's been years since such a forceful local personality has called the tune to which others feel compelled to dance.

(Kabaka is the king of the Buganda people in East Africa; Oba was ruler of the West African kingdom of Benin until the late 19th century. "General" is the title Bailey took within the miniscule organization.)

Depending on one's racial or partisan politics, Bailey as Black Fist's Kabaka Oba is an irrepressible spokesman for marginalized blacks and/or a disruptive racist who, at best, speaks for a handful of professional victims. What I can't understand is why anyone cares about Bailey/Black Fist endorsements, even in the gotcha world of local election campaigns. Endorsement means the endorser supports someone, not that the endorsee endorses the endorser.

The furor recalls a liberal Democrat who joked that The Enquirer endorsed her for city council to undermine her chances for re-election.

· If The Enquirer finds enough bodies to revive enterprise and investigative reporting, I hope they'll tell me how similar cities cut crime. Or, if those cities have similar unresolved problems, swarm the story and critique Cincinnati mayoral and council candidates' stenographically reported promises to reduce crime.

· Once again The Dayton Daily News proves you don't have to be a big, rich paper to do fine journalism. The Military Reporters & Editors (MRE) gave the Dayton paper its top prize for 2005, the Joseph L. Galloway Award for Distinguished Journalism.

MRE (a wonderful pun) said reporters Jim DeBrosse, Russell Carollo, Larry Kaplow, Ken McCall, Mehul Srivastava and Mike Wagner worked for 10 months on their series, "The Toll of War." It reported American military non-combat deaths, including suicides of soldiers returning from combat duty, and civil claims filed by Iraqi citizens against the U.S. military. DeBrosse also is a mystery writer and a former Cincinnati reporter.

· Weeks ago I praised The New York Times' Judith Miller's willingness to go to jail as an exercise in principled civil disobedience. Now I know better. You can get the painful details from The Times, but Miller's publisher and editors admit they were trusting and/or inattentive eunuchs who failed to confine one journalistically promiscuous reporter who brought dishonor to herself, to them and to The Times.

In a similarly self-lacerating act, the national Society of Professional Journalists gave Miller its First Amendment Award. More heartening: About half the SPJ convention audience reportedly sat on its hands.

· My thanks to former colleagues and competitors who elected me to the local Society of Professional Journalists' Hall of Fame (not to be confused with national SPJ, which honored Judith Miller.) This is my first posthumous award and Greg Flannery, long a competitor but now my CityBeat editor, urged me to reflect on 45-plus years as a reporter, editor and photojournalist in this country and abroad. It's been more fun than anything else that pays and isn't criminal. I've been motivated by my ignorance, and daily journalism has been a lifelong seminar in the humanities, with a quiz every morning.

Flannery also asks what I'd have said if SPJ allowed long acceptance speeches. It's not complicated.

Be accurate and fair, correct mistakes and move on and remember that, whatever the medium, audiences require reliable, relevant information on which to base their public and private decisions. As Tony Benn, a friend and Britain's longest-serving Labour member of the Parliament, says, "Information is the oxygen of democracy."



Ben L. Kaufman teaches journalism ethics at Northern Kentucky University.
 
 
 
 

 

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