Skip to comments.Games People Play
Posted on 07/10/2003 3:39:47 PM PDT by William McKinleyEdited on 07/10/2003 5:27:44 PM PDT by Admin Moderator. [history]
The recent fiasco experienced by the New York Times over the creative writing exploits of Jayson Blair should have served as a warning to journalists to be careful over the information they publish. A news outfit depends upon its credibility, just as surely as our society depends upon news reporting in order for people to make judgments over their own governance. Yet it appears that some lessons are not easily learned, as was recently demonstrated by some events which are to this moment still unfolding.
Doug Thompson has been involved in journalism for decades. According to his biography, he has won awards for his reporting and his commentary, and he has worked as Press Secretary for a few members of Congress. He runs a news and commentary webzine called Capitol Hill Blue. Chris Betros is the editor of Japan Today, an English Internet news publication based in Tokyo. Both men find themselves in an uncomfortable position for a journalist, where the story becomes partly about them. I can best describe William Rivers Pitt as a propagandist and a left wing agitator. On July 8th, a sequence of events commenced involving all three that demonstrates that in the aftermath of Jayson Blair, the field of journalism still has not immunized itself from the ministrations of charlatans.
The article quoted a "CIA advisor" named Terrance J. Wilkinson, claiming he had been present at two White House briefings attended by the President. "The report had already been discredited," the story quoted Wilkinson as stating. "This point was clearly made when the president was in the room during at least two of the briefings" said Wilkinson, who claimed Bush responded in anger. "He said that if the current operatives working for the CIA couldn't prove the story was true, then the agency had better find some who could," the Capitol Hill Blue story continued Wilkinson's quote. "He said he knew the story was true and so would the world after American troops secured the country." Wilkinson claimed to have written "numerous memos" questioning the use of "intelligence information that we knew to be from dubious sources." While American troops continue to search Iraq for a smoking gun regarding weapons of mass destruction, these allegations, if true, would be the smoking gun the left wing of American politics has been searching for in their quest to discredit the Bush administration.
On Free Republic, a website where conservatives dissect and debate the news, some people (including this author) started to question the story. The White House admitted Bush lied? Where could such an admission be found? And who is Terrance J. Wilkinson? Searches using various Internet tools such as Google were coming up empty. Doug Thompson joined in the discussion to defend his work and his publication. "The use of the word 'lied' has also sparked some controversy on the Capitol Hill Blue forum as well. It was my decision to use the word. Wilkinson did not accuse the President of lying. I did, based on information from other sources (who would not go on the record) that Bush was told outright that the information had been discredited before the State of the Union address but that he chose to use it anyway. To me that was a lie and I chose to use it in the headline and the lead of the story." Thompson admitted that he chose such a strong accusation because "I'm mad. Bush didn't have to use a discredited claim to justify the war with Iraq." However, Thompson admitted, "The headline is technically incorrect because the White House made no such admission. I have edited the headline and the lead of the story to reflect that." Thompson republished the article with the word 'lied' changed to 'wrong' in the headline, and the lead-in changed similarly. But what about Terrance J. Wilkinson? Thompson stood by his man. "I've known Terry Wilkinson for 20+ years and his decision to go public was a painful one that I'm sure will bring recriminations."
The genie was out of the bottle at this point. On July 9th, Japan Today published the same exact story as Capitol Hill Blue, verbatim, crediting the story to TruthOut. Within hours, the Google News compilation service had it as the head story in its grouping of the news reports about the White House admission that the Niger intelligence was unreliable. I contacted Japan Today, and in a series of emails with Mr. Betros, I informed him that Capitol Hill Blue had backed off of some of the assertions in the article, and further that there was reason to doubt the existence of the Mr. Wilkinson quoted in the story. This information was news to Mr. Betros, as he was completely unaware of Thompson and of Capitol Hill Blue. He informed me that Japan Today had obtained the story from TruthOut, to which his organization subscribes, and which had presented the story as their own. Betros acted quickly to verify what I was telling him, apparently realizing that the credibility of his news organization could be impacted.
Meanwhile, Thompson was starting to have some doubts of his own. Responding to criticism from readers, he decided to pass along some questions to Wilkinson to start the process of substantiating some of the claims made. To his horror, he started to realize that he had been had. "I tried calling Terry's phone number. I got a recorded message from a wireless phone provider saying the number was no longer in service. I tried a second phone number I had for him. Same result" Thompson related. After checking with some other sources within the administration, the CIA, and Capitol Hill, according to Thompson, he realized "that someone has been running a con on me for 20 some years and I fell for it like a little old lady in a pigeon drop scheme." He published a complete retraction and apology, and contacted a lawyer to assist him in minimizing the damage. For several years, Thompson said, he had been using Wilkinson as an unnamed source in his reporting, sometimes as a single source: "over time, I came to depend on him as a source without additional backup."
He was not the only one working to undo things. Betros contacted Thompson, and decided to pull from their publication the story. "We had [been deceived] too," said Betros, "because we subscribe to truthout.org and publish their stuff from time to time and being over here in Japan, we don't have the resources to check the veracity of articles we take from overseas... I will however think twice before using any more truthout.org stories after today." He stated that Japan Today would be publishing Thompson's mea culpa.
Despite all the efforts, as of midday July 10th, Google News searches were still turning up the original story's headline and lead in.
|How The Google News Search Appeared at 11:00 EDT, July 9|
White House admits Bush lied about Iraqi nukes
The story also managed to get discussed on CNN. As CNS News noted, Aaron Brown mentioned the news story circulating "that there was at some point a conversation between the president and a CIA consultant where the consultant directly told the president that this African uranium deal was bogus." David Ensor told Brown the story sounded suspect to him, but millions of ears had the seed planted in their heads by the mention. [As an addendum, the Media Research Center points out that Brown's comments were made over four hours after Thompson's retraction.] TruthOut was undoubtedly pleased.
Meanwhile, TruthOut was apparently working to cover some tracks. They removed a copy of the story they had posted on their website, putting in its place at the exact same URL a copy of a Washington Post article. As was captured over at Free Republic, however, their search engine's cache provided evidence that they did have the story up at one time. Later, they published a copy of Thompson's retraction, with the following editorial note provided by William Rivers Pitt:
Yesterday, truthout's lead story carried an article by Capitol Hill Blue that quoted a 'CIA insider.' This insider, a Terrance J. Wilkinson, was reportedly present at two briefings when Bush was informed of, and then dismissed, evidence that his Iraq WMD claims were false. Capitol Hill Blue has run a retraction of that story, which we have printed below. According to Doug Thompson, author of the original story, Terrance J. Wilkinson does not exist, and Thompson has been getting scammed for over 20 years. Something about this story is decidedly strange, but in light of Thompson's retraction, we would be remiss not to run it. I am running down my contacts at CIA and Capitol Hill Blue to find out how all of this took place. We will let you know when we know. - wrp
On TruthOut, Pitt made no mention of how they came to possess the Capitol Hill Blue article to begin with, or why they had sold it to Japan Today without attribution. However, he was not silent on the issue, stating "Japan Today got it from us. I guess they 'stole' it, too since they never asked permission." Something clearly is "decidedly strange" about this story, especially considering that it deals with the run-up to the war with Iraq and since Pitt co-authored a book with former weapons inspector Scott Ritter titled War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You To Know. Ritter was vocal throughout the media attempting to discredit the Bush administration's Iraq positions in the run up to the war.
The fact that Thompson allowed himself to be used to spread false propaganda regarding the administration is somewhat surprising. Earlier this year, Thompson had broken a story prior to the commencement of hostilities in Iraq that he claimed detailed plans by Democrats for undermining the administration after the war:
"Writers and broadcasters friendly to the Democratic cause have already been provided talking points... Capitol Hill Blue obtained a copy of the talking points... The talking points outline a strategy to raise public doubts of the President's real intentions, including: ...--Claiming the Bush administration has "manufactured" evidence against Saddam Hussein and used that evidence to encourage Britain and other allies to join the American fight against Iraq;"
So who is Terrance J. Wilkinson, and does he even exist? Doug Thompson claims that the person who identified himself as Wilkinson approached him first when he worked for former Congressman Manuel Lujan of New Mexico. "He seemed to know a lot about the nuclear labs in New Mexico and said he had conducted 'security profiles' for both Los Alamos and Sandia National Labs", Thompson related. Congressman Lujan served on the committee charged with oversight of both labs, and according to Thompson, Wilkinson offered to be involved in assisting them in briefings. "He said he had helped other Republican members of Congress I called some friends in other GOP offices and they said yes, they knew Terry Wilkinson. 'You can trust him, he's one of the good guys,' one chief of staff told me." said Thompson.
If Thompson's claims are accurate, then this paints some disturbing pictures. Which members of Congress were using Wilkinson, and for what purpose? To what information was this person gaining access, and what information was he injecting into the process along the way? At this point, Thompson has become mum, declining to assist me further in finding out more about the identity of Wilkinson, at the advice of his attorney.
The lessons here are plentiful. The news is full of stories, every day, which contain unnamed sources. People gobble up such details at face value, assuming that reporters have exercised due diligence. As Mr. Betros admitted, however, many publications do not have the resources to perform such verifications, and as the Jayson Blair situation demonstrated, those that do can sometimes fail to do so adequately. Publishers are also human, and despite their claims of impartiality bias can impact decisions, as clearly occurred with Mr. Thompson. I wonder how much of Mr. Thompson's anger at the Bush administration was formed by incorrect information being funneled to him by people like the vaporous Mr. Wilkinson. I do not wonder, however, if publication decisions are made, every day, based on information being peddled actively by propagandists with agendas. Clearly, this is a game some people play. We have to take it, or leave it.
William McKinley is a pseudonym. He can be found blogging away on the Internet every day.
BREAKING: Conned big time "CIA Witness" to White House Lying about Intel story found to be FRAUD
Capitol Hill Blue ^ | July 9, 2003 | Doug Thompson
Posted on 07/09/2003 4:04 PM PDT by Doug Thompson
Damn, I hate it when I've been had and I've been had big time...
To: Pan_Yans Wife
The six stories that quoted this individual as an unnamed source have been removed from our article database. A search of other news sources through the Internet and on Nexis finds no evidence that any of those six stories were published elsewhere. If a further search uncovers evidence of those stories appearing on any web site or in any publication, we will contact that web site or publication and instruct them to remove the stories.
Why such an effort to get rid of these articles?
Seems like more effort has been put into cleaning hard drives then there was in actually verifying the information
-- snip --
If nothing appears on Nexis, and the media doesn't pick up the story, then it will be left to people like Freepers, to expose the story. A year from now, when looking for the articles, they won't appear. And, no one will remember the true facts. An apparent coverup.
Are Jayson Blair's articles still available? Is it normal to erase all evidence?
If all evidence is erased, what else is hidden? That is what is bothering me. Will anyone ever get to the bottom of this, other than Mr. Thompson? Do the hard drives contain clues about who Mr. Wilkinson is or isn't?
-- snip --
To: Pan_Yans Wife
Were the articles posted on FR?
-- snip --
Madman at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave
Writer apologizes for "Madman at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave" column
White House admits Bush wrong about Iraqi nukes
Did Captial Hill Blue Post an Article with Fabrications?
Thanks for the ping, RonDog!
Posted on 07/10/2003 3:29 PM PDT by Registered
My sense is that the Jayson Blair fiasco, the Capitol Hill Blue fiasco, and Ann Coulter's discovery of the amazing Man-On-Every-Street, one Greg Packer, might be the opening bars of a very long symphony.
Packer and Blair are instances of people who like to see their name in the paper. Blair went so far as to actually worm his way onto the staff, but when you listen to the noises he makes, his motivations are not all that different from Packer's. He just loved waking up in the morning to see those Jayson Blair bylines on the front page of the New York Times. Where Greg Packer would place himself where he knew he could get interviewed, Blair made stuff up to make sure his stories would get placed.
This "Wilkinson" character sounds to me like the same kind of guy, except he got his jollies being taken seriously by Important People. To get into the room with the Big Shots, he would make up any damned thing: CIA agent, NSA spook, former Green Beret... who knows what else he's told other people over the years.
There are thousands of such people out there. In any society with 300 million people, you're going to get some nuts of every kind.
Seymour Hersh is a guy who probably has four or five of these clowns feeding him absolute crap. He has no clue. Robert Novak probably has some. Every one of these well-known pundits and reporters is a target for this kind of nut. We may have even had our own right here on FR, the mysterious Quidam. Our media could be full of quotations from absolute frauds.
What makes Doug Thompson so special that he's the only guy who has collected one of these bogus 'experts' among his trusted sources? I'll bet journalism is full of them. Matt Drudge probably gets 50 emails a week from 'secret whistleblowers' telling him the inside scoop from deep inside the Pentagon or the White House... all of it crap. But you can bet that there are one or two that he's never published, but that have been right about a couple of things, and if they keep that up, one of these days....
One would like to think that the Jayson Blair thing scared the bejeezus out of editors across the country. If it could happen at the New York Times, they probably have one or two in their place.
And now they need to start looking for this, too. My fear is that because Capitol Hill Blue is not exactly the epitome of mainstream journalism, the story of what happened here could sink before it has a chance to do some good. Doug Thompson knows far better than I where the platforms are where he should be screaming about this, but I hope he will do so. There's no reason to believe that he's the only person in journalism that has a publicity-seeking nut in his Rolodex.