[Mb-civic] CBS Cancels '60 Minutes' Story on Rationale for War The Associated Press
michael at michaelbutler.com
Sat Sep 25 14:16:14 PDT 2004
Also see below:
Valerie Plame and the "60 Minutes Story" that Didn't Run
Go to Original
CBS Cancels '60 Minutes' Story on Rationale for War
The Associated Press
Saturday 25 September 2004
NEW YORK - CBS News has shelved a "60 Minutes" report on the rationale for
war in Iraq because it would be "inappropriate" to air it so close to the
presidential election, the network said on Saturday.
The report on weapons of mass destruction was set to air on Sept. 8 but
was put off in favor of a story on President Bush's National Guard service.
The Guard story was discredited because it relied on documents impugning
Bush's service that were apparently fake.
CBS News spokeswoman Kelli Edwards would not elaborate on why the timing
of the Iraq report was considered inappropriate.
The report, with Ed Bradley as the correspondent, has long been in the
works. Originally scheduled for June, it was first put off because of new
developments, Edwards said.
CBS said no other reports on the presidential election have been
The network last week appointed former U.S. Attorney General Dick
Thornburgh and retired Associated Press chief executive Louis Boccardi to
investigate what went wrong with the National Guard report and recommend
The controversy has put CBS News officials squarely on the fire line,
particularly anchor Dan Rather, who narrated the National Guard report.
Meanwhile, the network announced that Rather would anchor the network's
coverage of all three presidential debates, starting Sept. 30.
Go to Original
The Story that Didn't Run
By Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball
Wednesday 22 September 2004
Here's the piece that '60 Minutes' killed for its report on the Bush Guard
In its rush to air its now discredited story about President George W.
Bush's National Guard service, CBS bumped another sensitive piece slated for
the same "60 Minutes" broadcast: a half-hour segment about how the U.S.
government was snookered by forged documents purporting to show Iraqi
efforts to purchase uranium from Niger.
The journalistic juggling at CBS provides an ironic counterpoint to the
furor over apparently bogus documents involving Bush's National Guard
service. One unexpected consequence of the network's decision was to wipe
out a chance-at least for the moment-for greater public scrutiny of a more
consequential forgery that played a role in building the Bush
administration's case to invade Iraq.
A team of "60 Minutes" correspondents and consulting reporters spent
more than six months investigating the Niger uranium documents fraud, CBS
sources tell Newsweek. The group landed the first ever on-camera interview
with Elisabetta Burba, the Italian journalist who first obtained the phony
documents, as well as her elusive source, Rocco Martino, a mysterious Roman
businessman with longstanding ties to European intelligence agencies.
Although the edited piece never ended up identifying Martino by name,
the story, narrated by "60 Minutes" correspondent Ed Bradley, asked tough
questions about how the White House came to embrace the fraudulent documents
and why administration officials chose to include a 16-word reference to the
questionable uranium purchase in President Bush's 2003 State of the Union
But just hours before the piece was set to air on the evening of Sept.
8, the reporters and producers on the CBS team were stunned to learn the
story was being scrapped to make room for a seemingly sensational story
about new documents showing that Bush ignored a direct order to take a
flight physical while serving in the National Guard more than 30 years ago.
The story has since created a journalistic and political firestorm,
resulting in a colossal embarrassment for CBS. This week, the network
concluded that its principle source for the documents, a disgruntled former
Guard official and Democratic partisan named Bill Burkett, had lied about
where he got the material. CBS anchor Dan Rather publicly apologized for
broadcasting the faulty report. Today, CBS named a two-person team comprised
of former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and former Associated Press
chief Louis Boccardi to investigate the network's handling of the story. .
"This is like living in a Kafka novel," said Joshua Micah Marshall, a
Washington Monthly contributing writer and a Web blogger who had been
collaborating with "60 Minutes" producers on the uranium story. "Here we had
a very important, well-reported story about forged documents that helped
lead the country to war. And then it gets bumped by another story that
relied on forged documents."
Some CBS reporters, as well as one of the network's key sources, fear
that the Niger uranium story may never run, at least not any time soon, on
the grounds that the network can now not credibly air a report questioning
how the Bush administration could have gotten taken in by phony documents.
The network would "be a laughingstock," said one source intimately familiar
with the story.
Although acknowledging that it was "frustrating" to have his story
bounced, David Gelber, the lead CBS producer on the Niger piece, said he has
been told the segment will still air some time soon, perhaps as early as
next week. "Obviously, everybody at CBS is holding their breath these days.
I'm assuming the story is going to run until I'm told differently."
The delay of the CBS report comes at a time when there have been
significant new developments in the case-although virtually none of them
have been reported in the United States. According to Italian and British
press reports, Martino-the Rome middleman at the center of the case-was
questioned last week by an Italian investigating magistrate for two hours
about the circumstances surrounding his acquisition of the documents.
Martino could not be reached for comment, but his lawyer is reportedly
planning a press conference in the next few days.
Burba, the Italian journalist, confirmed to Newsweek this week that
Martino is the previously mysterious "Mr. X" who contacted her with the
potentially explosive documents in early October 2002-just as Congress was
debating whether to authorize President Bush to wage war against Iraq. The
documents, consisting of telexes, letters and contracts, purported to show
that Iraq had negotiated an agreement to purchase 500 tons of "yellowcake
uranium from Niger, material that could be used to make a nuclear bomb. (A
U.S. intelligence official told Newsweek that Martino is in fact believed to
have been the distributor of the documents.)
Burba-under instructions from her editor at Panarama, a newsmagazine
owned by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi-then provided the
documents to the U.S. Embassy in Rome in an effort to authenticate them. The
embassy soon passed the material on to Washington where some Bush
administration officials viewed it as hard evidence to support its case that
Saddam Hussein's regime was actively engaged in a program to assemble
But the Niger component of the White House case for war quickly
imploded. Asked for evidence to support President Bush's contention in his
State of the Union speech that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa, the
administration turned over the Niger documents to the International Atomic
Energy Agency. Within two hours, using the Google search engine, IAEA
officials in Vienna determined the documents to be a crude forgery. At the
urging of Sen. Jay Rockefeller, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence
Committee, the FBI launched an investigation into the Niger documents in an
effort to determine if the United States government had been duped by a
deliberate "disinformation" campaign organized by a foreign intelligence
agency or others with a political agenda relating to Iraq.
So far, the bureau appears to have made little progress in unraveling
the case. "The senator is frustrated by the slow pace of the investigation,"
said Wendy Morigi, the press secretary for Senator Rockefeller, who was
recently briefed on the status of the FBI probe.
One striking aspect of the FBI's investigation is that, at least as of
this week, Martino has told associates he has never even been interviewed by
the bureau-despite the fact that he was publicly identified by the Financial
Times of London as the source of the documents more than six weeks ago and
was subsequently flown to New York City by CBS to be interviewed for the
"60 Minutes" report.
A U.S. law-enforcement official said the FBI is seeking to interview
Martino, but has not yet received permission to do so from the Italian
government. The official declined to comment on other aspects of the
The case has taken on additional intrigue because of mounting
indications that Martino has longstanding relationships with European
intelligence agencies. Martino recently told the Sunday Times of London that
he had previously worked for SISMI, the Italian military-intelligence
agency, a potentially noteworthy part of his resume given that the
conservative Italian government of Berlasconi was a strong supporter of the
Bush administration's invasion of Iraq. A French government official told
Newsweek that Martino also had a relationship with French intelligence
agencies. But the French official rejected suggestions from U.S. and British
officials that French intelligence may have played a role in creating the
documents in order to embarrass Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The French never disseminated the documents because they could not establish
their authenticity, the French official said.
Martino has told Burba and others that he obtained the phony documents
from an Italian woman who worked in the Niger Embassy in Rome. He was in
turn put in touch with the woman by yet another middleman who, according to
Burba's account, had directed Martino to provide the documents to "the
Egyptians." Some press reports have suggested the still unidentified
middleman who put Martino in touch with his Niger Embassy source was in fact
a SISMI officer himself.
Burba, who has twice been interviewed by the FBI but never gave up
Martino's name, said she had been cooperating with the CBS team on the story
in hopes of getting to the bottom of the matter. But now, with the "60
Minutes" broadcast postponed, she is no longer confident that can ever
happen. Meanwhile, she said she is fed up with Martino who has "lied" to her
and provided contradictory accounts to other journalists.
"I'm disappointed," she told Newsweek. "In this story, you don't know
who's lying and who's telling the truth. The sources have been both
discredited and discredited themselves."
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