This post sets forth the exchange of e-mails between me and the L.A. Times “Readers’ Representative” regarding the paper’s misstatement of Bush’s famous “sixteen words” from his 2003 State of the Union speech.
The background is here. In short, the paper recently claimed:
In his January 2003 State of the Union address, President Bush said Iraq had sought uranium for nuclear weapons from Niger . . .
When it is indisputable, as a factual matter, that he did not say that.
Here is the exchange of e-mails. Enjoy.
An infobox to a story today (2-21-07) titled “Libby’s memory is at the heart of the case” says:
In his January 2003 State of the Union address, President Bush said Iraq had sought uranium for nuclear weapons from Niger, in West Africa.
No, he didn’t. The “sixteen words” were:
The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
The word “Niger” does not appear in that speech. And Africa has a lot of countries. Some, like the Congo, sell uranium.
Bush didn’t say Iraq sought uranium “from Niger.” The infobox claims he did. I think a correction is in order.
Thanks for the comment.
The events that have unfolded in the years since the president made that speech make clear what he was referring to with those 16 words. That sentence does not need correction.
Usually, I let it go with one e-mail, but I had to respond to that one.
1) Is it L.A. Times policy that it’s OK to claim somebody “said” something they didn’t really say . . . as long as you’re pretty sure you know what they meant?
It’s a relevant question because, in the months before Bush’s 2003 State of the Union speech, there was considerable speculation about other African countries (in particular the Congo) negotiating the sale of uranium to Iraq. I sent you the link in the first e-mail, but Bob Somerby quoted the Guardian as saying in September 2002:
Iraqi agents have been negotiating with criminal gangs in the Democratic Republic of Congo to trade Iraqi military weapons and training for high-grade minerals, possibly including uranium, according to evidence obtained by the Guardian.
It comes as the dossier unveiled by Tony Blair accused Saddam Hussein of trying to buy African uranium to give Iraq’s weapons programme a nuclear capability. The dossier did not identify any country allegedly approached by Baghdad but security analysts said the Congo was the likeliest, followed by South Africa.
Somerby quotes several other British papers making similar claims at the time.
2) If I may, let me explore how far you’re willing to take the “close enough” principle. Bush said in the 2003 SOTU: “The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” Would it also be okay to change “sought” to “may have purchased”?
Because your paper did that, in October 2005: “On July 6, Wilson wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times that cast doubt on President Bush’s statement that Iraq may have purchased yellowcake uranium from Niger.” (“Libby Allegedly Told a Whopper,” October 29, 2005.)
So “sought . . . from Africa” (Bush’s speech) becomes “may have purchased . . . from Niger” (LAT).
I have received no response, and somehow don’t think I will.