'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Friday, February 03, 2006

War With Iran? The Ghost of Judith Miller Files at the New York Times 

After all that embarrassment, after all those legal fees, after all that internal turmoil, you'd think that the New York Times would have learned its lesson. You'd think that it finally understood that it would have to repudiate Judith Miller's stenography, her willingness to exploit the prestige of the Times for the benefit of her neo-conservative friends and her abrasive self-righteousness in order to preserve its remaining credibility. And, most importantly, you'd think that the Times recognized that it must never, never again cloak disinformation in the guise of journalism in order to assist our leaders in their efforts to lead the country into war.

All quite reasonable assumptions, and all of them quite wrong. As with the war with Iraq, the Times has reported for duty. On Wednesday, readers stumbled upon a story with the following headline:

Atomic Agency Sees Possible Link of Military to Iran Nuclear Work

Channelling Miller, no doubt in the early morning hours, reporters Elaine Scolino and William J. Broad publish a story rife with sinuendo, but sparse on identifiable, attributable sources. Sinuendo is the technique of encouraging people to believe that something is true in the absence of evidence, while avoiding exposure for defamation, with the most skilled practicioners of the art employed by tabloids. In this instance, Scolino and Broad have the objective of persuading readers, with whatever remains of the Times prestige, that Iran does, in fact, have a program for developing nuclear weapons.

Operative terms common to the use of sinuendo have been highlighted:

The International Atomic Energy Agency says it has evidence that suggests links between Iran's ostensibly peaceful nuclear program and its military work on high explosives and missiles, according to a report from the agency that was released to member countries on Tuesday.

The four-page report, which officials say was based at least in part on intelligence provided by the United States, refers to a secretive Iranian entity called the Green Salt Project, which worked on uranium processing, high explosives and a missile warhead design.

The combination suggests a "military-nuclear dimension," the report said, that if true would undercut Iran's claims that its nuclear program is solely aimed at producing electrical power.

Upon close reading, there isn't much there, is there? ". . . evidence that suggests links . . . combination suggests a "military-nuclear dimension" . . . that if true would undermine Iran's claims . . ." Say, what? It took me about 2 or 3 minutes to stop my head from spinning like Max Headroom after encountering these passages.

And, surprise, surprise, "officials" say that the report was ". . based at least in part on intelligence provided by the United States . . . " But, only "in part", of course, because it was essential that Scolino and Broad imply that the US information, which might raise suspicions among the well-informed in light of the Iraqi WMD debacle and the Niger forgery, be supplemented or corroborated by other, more presumably reliable sources.

Naturally, there's more:

More broadly, the report states that the country has not been fully cooperative on all of the outstanding nuclear issues that the agency has questioned for years, and that formed the basis of a resolution by the agency's board last fall that Iran was not complying with its international obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

The Green Salt Project derives its name from uranium tetrafluoride, also known as Green Salt, which is an intermediate product in the conversion of uranium ore into uranium hexafluoride — a toxic gas that can undergo enrichment or purification into fuel for nuclear reactors or bombs.

The report suggests that the fuel project, the high explosives tests and the design of a missile re-entry vehicle "appear to have administrative interconnections."

It would seem to be the first time the agency has publicly suggested that the fuel production — which Iran has said is purely for civilian purposes — was linked to its military programs.

My personal favorite here is the combined use of suggest and appear in the same sentence: ". . The report suggests that the fuel project, the high explosives tests and the design of a missile re-entry vehicle "appear to have administrative interconnections." Can someone explain what this actually means? Indeed, the pervasive invocation of the word "suggest" or "suggests", well, it "suggests" that reporters at the Times are badly in need of a thesaurus.

Beyond close textual analysis, it is also essential to understand the means by which the IAEA report itself provides subconscious credibility to such amorphous information, inducing the reader to leap the numerous high hurdles of "suggest" and "appear" liberally sprinkled throughout the article, so as to believe that Iran must have a nuclear weapons program. Or, at least, legitimize the claims of the Bush administration to this effect:

While the Bush administration has long argued that Iran was using its civilian program to hide ambitions to build a nuclear weapon, the agency has always steered clear of that accusation. With the report, it has for the first time provided evidence directly suggesting that at least some of Iran's activities point to a military project.

Wow! ". . evidence directly suggesting . . " They must teach this vocabulary only in advanced courses in the most highly regarded journalism schools. I will leave it to commenters to excavate other nuggets of sinuendo from the article. One, however, must be addressed. The reference to a document in Iran's possession that describes procedures that can only be used for nuclear weapons has been known by the IAEA since 1987. Strangely enough, Scolino and Broad substitute the vague, antiseptic term ". . in the past . . ", without referencing the date. If, however, you are trying to persuade the public to launch another pre-emptive war, after the first one has been discredited, it pays to be as vague as possible.

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