Al Qaqaa Chronology and Key Facts

I appreciate Ronan’s diversion into trans-Atlantic sporting issues, and I’ll get there shortly. First I need to correct a couple of date-related factual claims of my own from yesterday. Here is the official chronology.

April 10, 2003–The 101st comes to Al Qaqaa. It’s mandate is to move on into Baghdad and it makes only a cursory check of storage bunker, makes no record of seeing any explosives.

May 8, 2003–The 75th arrives at the site and makes a thorough inspection. NOTHING is found. NBC’s embedded reporter confirms the date and the search.

October 24, 2004–The New York Times pre-empts CBS in recycling the story as if it was only recently discovered that the explosives were missing. Their front-page story contains no references to the on-record NBC reports from Al Qaqaa nearly 18 months earlier.

Other Key Information:

  • The 380 tons of explosive material would have taken 38 industrial truckloads to remove.
  • The likelihood of this happening between April 10 and May 8 of 2003 is, according to the military personnel present, nil. Al Qaqaa sits on a heavily trafficked stretch of road with US military caravans coming and going regularly in that period and always engaging any unauthorized vehicles.
  • The obvious conclusion is that the materials were removed before US soldiers ever arrived.
  • The US has confiscated 400,000 tons of explosive materials in the last 18 months, making the Al Qaqaa cache 1/10 of a percent of the total taken. However careful your planning has been, you’re likely to miss on .001.

I think that the Bush administration has badly mismanaged many aspects of the post-war environment. But as long as the emphasis is constantly diverted to hysterical claims like “Bush lied!!!!” and “Bush let the terrorists steal explosives” we will be unable to have a serious discussion about those problems and what they mean.

There was a time, about three months ago, where John Kerry could have won my vote. If he had seriously engaged the real issues facing us in Iraq, and veered away from the cheap opportunism that has characterized most of his campaign. But his response to this piece of flagrant misinformation is all-too-telling–even as his head FP man, Richard Holbrooke, is on TV saying ‘actually we don’t know the real situation with the Al Qaqaa materials’, JK and his team have no shame in running manipulative TV ads featuring the now discredited claims. If the claims are not discredited, they are at the VERY least totally uncertain. For Kerry to use them at this stage is utterly dishonest. But he doesn’t mind.



  1. Stuart, great analysis. Thanks a lot. I was also slightly put off by the fact that the media can select and create its news without accountability (until now, the age of blogging). I also find it incredible that CBS has gotten their hands dirty twice in so short a period of time in the run-up to this election. I also think that the others on this blog are dismissing this information a little too easily, in conformance with their own political leanings, apparently.

    Ronan, are you really maintaining that the NYT doesn’t have a left-wing bias?

    Anonymous on your other thread made some really good points. First of all, the conservative media that you are pointing out doesn’t really count in this equation because it has its target audience and everyone knows its bias. The “mainstream” media, with its more than 80% leftist leanings, decides what is news behind the scenes and presents it with an air of objectivity. Unfortunately, most Americans have no idea what the agenda of many of these news outlets is, although awareness has heightened in the last decade, which has also contributed to the rise of “conservative” media.


  2. May I take this time to point out the reasonable contention of Al Franken (an admittedly liberal source) that although the vast majority of reporters polled are self-described liberals, the majority of publishers and editors polled are conservative. My guess is that both ultimately have a say in what gets published or broadcast and that this is what contributes to the generally non-partisan stance of most American news outlets.

    Another factor to consider is the often quoted contention by Rush Limbaugh (an admittedly conservative source) that what he produces is intended to be entertainment and that it is ratings that have driven his success. Partisan (especially right-wing) outlooks seem to make good money in the marketplace (left wing partisans’ effect on the marketplace has yet to be effectively determined). I believe him. Rush is on so many stations not because of the “right-wing conspiracy” but because what he pushes sells. And since he doesn’t claim journalistic ethics, he has no need to subscribe to them.

    The contention here has been that Rush and cohorts should not be brought up because they are not “real journalists”. You are right. But they are members of the media who comment on what is reported and, as such, their opinions and commentary carry weight (for better or for worse). Other broadcasters and media outlets know the effect that outspoken, partisan demogogues (sp?) have on their news; they increase ratings. People, for some reason, seem to prefer the black and white outlooks of the partisans to the more nuanced positions that were once found in print, television, and radio journalism.

    Why do I say once? Because the media has taken notice of the success of Rush and co. Sixty Minutes is being turned on by fewer and fewer people. Hannity’s audience is growing. As broadcast (or print) providers, whose income is reliant upon people staring at your ads, who are you going to emulate?

    Why did those stories (Wilsongate, Bergergate, etc.) not get coverage? Because the public did not care. If the networks’ polls had indicated that the public found these issues important (or, more likely, interesting) 24-hour coverage would have ensued. The issues of legality involved have either already been settled in most people’s minds or they are so esoteric as to be useless. It doesn’t matter if this is true or not, it is the public perception that drives the news thereon.


  3. John C., by reducing the activities of the media to a purely market-oriented function, you are dismissing too easily the power of the media to achieve its own agenda, whatever that happens to be. Your analysis works for “entertainers” like Rush and others like him, but not so well for the mainstream news. Yes, to a certain extent, the media is selling what the public is buying. But the media is also <>creating<> news in accordance with its conscious or subconscious agenda. I recommend Ayn Rand’s <>The Fountainhead<> for a provocative exploration of this theme of the power and misuse of media.


  4. I understand that market forces have not traditionally been the only forces at work. But they are becoming more and more important to how news is done (for better or for worse). The Insider is supposed to be a good examination of these issues.

    One might argue that the problem is that if a given media outlet appears to be too heavily biased one way or the other, it used to be perceived that it would lose readership. People would be less likely to trust it and, therefore, less likely to pay attention to it. However, the ratings of shows like Rush and stations like Fox seem to indicate that this supposition has turned out to be untrue (Again, the only reason I pick on right-leaning news outlets here is that there are not enough explicitly left leaning outlets yet (nor have the ones we now have been around for very long)). By providing a substantially one-sided take on the news, Rush and such have demonstrated that people appear to be looking for news that confirms what they already think and that sensation is what sells.

    John-Wayne Bobbitt, Joey Buttafucco, and Monica Lewinsky are factors in our cultural history because the lurid details of their lives were understood to be the sort to draw in audience. Elizabeth Smart and Jon-Benet Ramsey are known to the whole nation, but the several young black girls in poor areas of the nation who are daily raped and disappear are far off our radar. News producers give us the news that we respond to, people are more likely to respond well to ideas that confirm what they know, not ideas that challenge it.

    I don’t deny that media outlets seek to turn news to their own agenda. But, in this race, I believe their agenda is to have a close race. A tight race means: controversy, political uncertainty, and the need for more news and more commentary. This leads to more money flowing into the coffers of news organizations (how is that for a news conspiracy!).

    Why are the screw-ups of the Clinton administration not being brought up in this election? Because Kerry has successfully distanced himself from Clinton and because Bush doesn’t want to answer questions about why his administration did not catch Clintonian screw-ups or listen to Clintonian whistle-blowers? Yes and no. Yes, these motivations on the part of the candidates may be true, but more important is that the public no longer cares how Clinton contributes or detracts from the national political agenda (no polls to back this up, just an unfounded intuition). Any mention of Bill may bring up a host of important, unresolved issues, but the public’s apathy has indicated to the press that, if it wants to be paid attention, it too should ignore it, lest it be labelled shrill and partisan.

    Imagine, in the wake of the Hannity/Moore controversy in Utah valley, what would have happened if noone had attended either event? I think we can all agree that it would have been possible for both sides to have found more articulate (and perhaps more intelligent) spokespersons for their cause. So, imagine if we had simply ignored them as is their due. If a pundit speaks and no one listens, who does he influence? But they did speak and quite a few did listen. And it was arguably a good thing, if one cares to relate the record voter registration to the controversy (perhaps a tenuous link). Media notices who is listened to and seeks to emulate those people. If you had a news channel and no one tuned in, who can you influence? Media outlets know the answer to that question.


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