The Story That Wasn’t There

The New York Times today ran a fairly bizarre and windy piece of front-page speculation under the label “News Analysis.”

The only thing wrong with that tag line is the first word. There’s no news in David E. Sanger’s so-called analysis — at least not until we get to the very last paragraph.

Until then, the entire piece appears to be little more than the tossing around of various options open to a White House which finds itself trapped between rising calls for an inquiry into faulty prewar American intelligence on one side and election year politics on the other.

Sanger says the first option open to the President is — wonder of wonders — to actually order an inquiry, but cites Bush “aides” who fear that would be “politically damaging.”

The second option being considered by the Bushites, Sanger says, is to argue that the invasion was justified whether or not Saddam Hussein posed an immediate threat … but the same aides fear that doing so “could keep the issue alive through a long campaign.” Note to Sanger and to the anonymous aides chewing this over: You just described the policy the administration has been following for nearly a year.

Finally, Sanger says the President “could conclude that something went badly wrong during their long March to war” — but, he notes, “the White House does not make a habit of admitting error.”

More random speculation follows: Sanger summarizes a quote from a White House aide as being fearful that an inquiry could “spin out of control,” whatever that means. Yet other officials worry aloud that something has to be done, now that David Kay has spilled the beans to the Senate that “we were almost all wrong.”

Seen any news yet? Neither have we. But be patient; Sanger has hidden a juicy little item in the tail-end of his story which, all by itself, would seem worthy of a front-page headline.

Noting that Bush himself, along with Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice have already begun backing away from assertions that they repeated for months that Iraq posed a credible pre-war threat, Sanger concludes: “Only Mr. Cheney, the man who made the most extensive claims about Iraq’s readiness to strike out, has failed to back down publicly. Last Friday he was on the air again, talking about Mr. Hussein’s mobile biological weapons units, which now appear, Dr. Kay says, to have had no such purpose.”

And he then quotes one White House official who dryly remarks: “We’ll have to get Cheney the new memo. As soon as we write it.”

Now that’s news.

Thomas Lang

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Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.