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Friday, September 19, 2003

More on Mylroie and Manufacturing Consent

Note: this post was updated and edited on the same day.

I'm sorry that this post doesn't have many links, but you'll see why and will hopefully forgive me.

I'm returning to the question of the moment: why, according to an August 2003 poll by the Washington Post, do "seven in 10 Americans continue to believe that Iraq's Saddam Hussein had a role in the attacks" of September 11, 2001?

Yesterday, after I blogged, I looked on Lexis-Nexis to see just how often (and when) Laurie Mylroie has appeared or been referenced on national television since 9/11.

What I found was remarkable.

First, the raw numbers. I entered only "Iraq" and "Mylroie" as my search terms in the "News Transcripts" data base, searching "All Transcripts." In the past 5 years, that returned 136 entries. All but 11 of those entries are since September 11, 2001. So Mylroie and her thesis barely got any attention for years, but in the last 2 years, she's averaged an entry per week.

Much of that was right after 9/11, however, with over 40 appearances between September 11 and December 31, 2001.

To me, that seems like a lot of national TV time -- and a lot of attention to her ideas.

I clicked on many of the individual entries and invariably each referred to an appearance by Mylroie on a national television program -- and she delivered the message I quoted yesterday: Iraq was behind the first World Trade Center bombing, she thinks that bin Laden directs a "front organization" (her words) for "Iraqi and, perhaps, other intelligence agencies," and she concludes regularly that Iraq was behind both the attacks of 9/11 and the anthrax attacks.

Shortly after 3 pm on September 11, 2001, James Woolsey, the neocon former CIA Director I quoted yesterday, was live on ABC News with Peter Jennings. Remember, by this time all TV stations had eliminated commercials and were covering the attacks full-time.

Woolsey said this about the events that were then so alien:

"It's important that we realize there is a real possibility, when you have something this devastating and well-coordinated, that there could be state action of some sort behind it.

Now, I don't know that that's the case, and I won't say that it's the case. But there is at least a plausible case that there was Iraqi government involvement in the World Trade Center bombing back in 1993. This all has to do with the identity, the true identity of Ramsey Yousef, who was the mastermind, who's in prison out in Colorado now. At his sentencing the judge said, 'We still don't really know who you are.' And if there was a chance that there was Iraqi government involvement in that, since Yousef was the mastermind of the World Trade Center and of a bombing plot in the Pacific which he was working on when he was caught, to have a lot of American Airlines in the Pacific blown up, what happened today is a sort of amalgam of the earlier two Ramsey Yousef plots. It's at least, I think, interesting that that's the case. And--and if some of the observers, Laurie Mylroie and others, are correct that there's a reasonable chance that he was, in fact, involved with the Iraqi government, there could also be a chance the Iraqi government is involved here, even if bin Laden or other terrorist groups are as well."

The very next day, September 12, Mylroie herself appeared on a CBS News Special Report in prime time. hosted by Dan Rather. Since the show ran 7 though 11 pm, and her interview was just over half-way through the text, I'm guessing she was on national TV around 9:30 pm.

She said this: "I learned that Iraq was behind that bombing, which was an attempt to topple New York's tow--tallest tower onto its twin, and that, in fact, Iraq has been involved in a campaign of terrorism which is more like war. And, in my view, yesterday's events were the latest step in Saddam's war against the United States."

Later in the interview, she blamed Iraq for the attacks on the USS Cole and the embassies in Africa, and called bin Laden the leader of a "front organization." Still later that night (but near prime time in the West), Woolsey appeared on CBS and repeated his claims and made reference to Mylroie and her ideas.

Also, on September 12, Woolsey again mentioned Myrloie on ABC national TV. Peter Jennings asked Woolsey, "why do you keep bringing up Iraq?" Woolsey replies: "Because I think there has started to be rethinking of the World Trade Center operation of 1993, mainly under the influence of a fascinating new book by Laurie Mylroie called Saddam's Study of Revenge. It suggests that the government may have been involved in the World Trade Center may turn out that Saddam made a second and this time successful try at what he failed to bring off in 1993."

On Friday night, September 14, Mylroie appeared on Fox New's "The O'Reilly Factor" in prime time TV. She repeated her claims about Iraq bombing the Trade Center in 1993 and her theory that a state (like Iraq) is behind the latest attacks. She added that Saddam Hussein "absolutely does" have WMD and that "we can reasonably assume that he is making those weapons better, more lethal, and that it's extremely dangerous."

She concluded by saying Iraq is "target number one because the real -- the direction and the expertise for these attacks are coming from Iraq. It would be good to get rid of Bin Laden, I agree completely, but it won't solve the problem. It wouldn't be as meaningful as getting rid of Saddam Hussein's regime."

On these occasions, neither Woolsey or Mylroie was ever followed, so far as I can tell, by experts pointing out possible flaws in the argument. For example, no one appeared to say that bin Laden and Hussein are natural foes. That notion was mentioned in passing once, attributed to the subject of a different interview -- but no point/counterpoint was broadcast. In short, they got to deliver their message and were generally unopposed.

I'd submit that this helped generate the idea, whether embraced by the American population or neocon elements within the Bush administration, that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11.

On September 15th, Mylroie was on CSPAN and on the 19th, she was on CBS again and was even quoted on NPR's "All Things Considered" just after 8 pm. She was very busy the next month or so, adding Canadian TV, CNN (multiple appearances), additional appearances on ABC, Fox, C-SPAN, NPR and CBS. In October she was on Fox again and again and again.

I didn't find any appearances for her on NBC stations until December, but she made up the difference quickly with multiple appearances on MSNBC and CNBC.

The problem with my analysis is that it is difficult to ascertain the causality. Ultimately, members of the public were probably influenced by the President's repeatedly referencing 9/11 when justifying war against Iraq. But people like Mylroie and Woolsey made that assertion more credible with the American public -- thanks to a compliant media.

OK, I'll provide a link to a March 2003 Christian Science Monitor story about this, to help demonstrate what was apparently at work:

"In his prime-time press conference last week, which focused almost solely on Iraq, President Bush mentioned Sept. 11 eight times. He referred to Saddam Hussein many more times than that, often in the same breath with Sept. 11.

Bush never pinned blame for the attacks directly on the Iraqi president. Still, the overall effect was to reinforce an impression that persists among much of the American public: that the Iraqi dictator did play a direct role in the attacks. A New York Times/CBS poll this week shows that 45 percent of Americans believe Mr. Hussein was 'personally involved' in Sept. 11..."

The Washington Post story cited above mentions a September 13, 2001 Time/CNN poll that found 78% of the public suspected Iraq's involvement in 9/11. That result certainly suggests that the early work by Woolsey and Mylroie had a great influence. Everybody was watching TV, they received this message on a number of occasions, it went unchallenged, and they bought it.

By later that fall, news media were openly talking about whether Iraq should be either the first or next (after Afghanistan) target.

In any case, US foreign policy leaders manufactured consent for the Iraq war. And if the rationales altogether disappear (no WMD, no Iraq connection), the consent for the occupation could evaporate.

Interestingly, the Christian Science Monitor piece linked above speculated this back in March:

"In the end, will it matter if some Americans have meshed together Sept. 11 and Iraq? If the US and its allies go to war against Iraq, and it goes well, then the Bush administration is likely not to face questions about the way it sold the war. But if war and its aftermath go badly, then the administration could be under fire.

'Going to war with improper public understanding is risky,' says Richard Parker, a former US ambassador to several Mideast countries. 'If it's a failure, and we get bogged down, this is one of the accusations that [Bush] will have to face when it's all over.'"

This story isn't over.

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