An intellectual freedom blog with an emphasis on libraries and technology

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Deconstructing disinformation

As Brock explains in his article and forthcoming book (see Right-wing lie factory), Right wing publications, internet sites and radio shows repeat a baseless accusation and then chastise the "liberal" media for failing to cover the "story." Here is one example.

A recent (May 6, 2004) article by Larry Elder in features an interview with a "terrorism expert" who claims that Saddam Hussein snuck his weapons of mass destruction into Syria and Lebanon just prior to the war. Therefore, the President did not lie about the weapons of mass destruction and the imminent threat to the world they posed. The interviewer alleges that the media has "ignored" a major development. Notice the title of the article: The curious lack of curiosity about WMDs.

Let's start with basic logic:

1.) Their boy has the bully pulpit. Every conspiracy theory involving the allegedly left-wing media hits one big logical snag: if XYZ left-wing conspiracy to conceal information is true, the President can explode the "wall of silence" by calling a press conference. Why doesn't he? One would expect that if there were an Iraq WMD connection that the Bush administration would be howling about it from the rooftops like werewolves on steriods.

2.) How did the Iraqis sleep walk the weapons past arial surveillance? Both satellites and aircraft, including observation drones, somehow missed the truck convoys shipping tons of chemical and biological weapons across the Syrian border? How?! If not trucks then what? Bicycle messengers? Tourists?

The qualifications and credentials game. Let's take a careful look at the expert:

[From the Townhall article]: So, I interviewed terrorism expert John Loftus, who once held some of the highest security clearances in the world. Loftus, a former Army officer, served as a Justice Department prosecutor. He investigated CIA cases of Nazi war criminals for the U.S. attorney general. Author of several books, Loftus once received a Pulitzer Prize nomination.

What positions did this person hold? According to the first sentence, he held security clearances. So what. The government gives security clearances for a variety of reasons and applicable to a variety of jobs. Also, how old is that security clearance? They no longer remain in force after the person no longer holds the job that requires the clearance. We do not have a job title. Contrast this with people like Richard Clarke, John Stockwell and Philip Agee who can tell you what jobs they held and what sort of intelligence matters they dealt with.

Next sentence: He was an army officer and JD prosecutor.

Better, but not specific. Also not true. His qualifications receive a pretty devastating blow in a review of one of his books published in a peer-review journal, placed on the web with permission at

You can read how he was only a legal researcher, and not a prosecutor. The criticism by a career scholar of Loftus' research methods tells a very different story than Loftus' self-promotion. Also, in order to be a prosecutor he has to have a law degree. Can anyone find a bio of Loftus that tells where he received his J.D? Where did he pass the bar? You will not find his name in any bar association directories.

3rd sentence: He investigated CIA cases of Nazi war criminals...

What? Does this sentence even make sense? What CIA cases? Investigated how? This sentence is just Bizarre. According to the book review (link above) he did indeed work on prosecuting Nazi war criminals. But this is the only job that he had that required a security clearance. (No biographic information I could find on or by him mentioned anything else). What indication exists that his information about classified matters is at all current? Does his bio ever mention any anti-terrorist work? His security clearance expired ages ago.

Last sentence: He is the author of several books...Pulitzer Prize nomination.

And just what does he mean by "nominated" for a Pulitzer prize? Nominations are meaningless. Anyone can nominate anyone for a Pulitzer prize. It's fast and easy. Just fill out the form online at the Pulitzer prize committee's web site ( This web site also has an archive of winners and finalists. I did a search and his name turned up no results. Someone has to be one of the finalists in order to be in the archive. If you're not one of the finalists then your "nomination" fell into the round file. But technically if someone filled in the form correctly and sent it in with the $50 dollar fee then he can claim to be a nominee: instant credentials: just add BS!

Credibility of sources and "experts" has a fragile quality. Once you find one lie or distortion, you must ask yourself what else the person has falsified or misrepresented? People who claim to have inside information and special expertise are asking for your trust: "I have access to information you do not have access to, trust that I am telling you the truth as well as I understand it." Why believe someone whose biography contains one outright lie (he's not a lawyer), one distortion (anyone can claim to have a Pulitzer prize nomination after submitting the entry form), one exaggeration (His security clearance is so old it has dust on it), one glaring omission (No job experience related to the mid-east or terrorism) and only one truthful statement (author of several books)?

The Claim

Read the article and examine the sources. A Syrian journalist repeating second hand what his friends in Syrian intelligence told him. Loftus claims "The Israelis confirmed it" but does not give a source. A search of the Lexis-Nexis database did not find any reports that mention this. And remember the logic test: what possible motivation could the Bush administration have for keeping this quiet?!

My favorite sentence in the whole article: They know where the stuff is, but the problem is that the United States can't just go around invading Arab countries. Really? Since when!?!?

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