You'd think the New York Times would have learned by now. But long after squeezing out its star, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Judith Miller in part for writing stories that helped drag us into a foolish war with Iraq's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, they're at it again.
The A1, above the fold, right-hand column story from David E. Sanger and Mark Mazetti on Sunday insisted that 'Analysts' believe Israel struck a mystery Syrian nuclear reactor.
Who were these analysts? Well, that would be "government officials and nongovernment experts interviewed in recent weeks in the United States and the Middle East [who] insisted on anonymity." So that could range from Condoleezza Rice to John Bolton to Benjamin Netanyahu to the puppets in the Israel-Palestine version of Sesame Street.
Even more, this so-called nuclear reactor, which may or may not be of North Korean design, is described as a "partly constructed Syrian reactor...detected earlier this year by satellite photographs." So, for all we know, this could range from a concrete shell with a control room to a cement truck sitting on a piece of land that was recently graded by bulldozers.
And where is the comment from another side who believes that the Israelis struck something other than a mystery Syrian nuclear power program?
It just isn't there.
No alternative theory is proffered for what Israel struck - all we hear is that some phantom analysts believe that phantom Israeli fighters destroyed a phantom nuclear reactor which was "partly constructed." We don't hear anything about the alternative intelligence that says Israel struck a shipment of North Korean ballistic missiles, or parts for such missiles, sent to Syria. That wouldn't be nearly as sexy.
But it's not just the funny papers that are playing "Second Life" with Middle Eastern geopolitics. In Friday's edition of Slate's Podcast/XM Satellite radio show, the Gabfest, the website's crack editorial team of John Dickerson, Emily Bazelon, and David Plotz talked Syria. They took up the strike on this maybe nuclear program with so much consternation that I could hear them furrowing their brows over my headphones.
"There's no chance that Israel is going to do something to hit an empty warehouse," Plotz declared. "It seems very clear, the Israelis have all but leaked it, they've said that this has some nuclear element. I don't know, it's really weird, I'm not sure what to make of it all."
"I was taken by surprise - I didn't know that the Syrians were anywhere near, I just hadn't..." Bazelon added, failing to finish her thought before switching to Iran.
As Plotz gave us a chemistry lesson and Bazelon demonstrated the length of her attention span, Dickerson changed gears. The three pundits turned from whether or not Syria has nukes to whether or not Iran's nuclear program will play a big part in the 2008 presidential election. It shows us once and for all that to most pundits, policy and facts are just joyful things to be taken out of a toybox during their daily political playdates. So what if your source material doesn't go any deeper than what you read in the Times before your morning coffee finished brewing? If this kind of casual talk gets us on a road to tens to hundreds of thousands killed in a war like the one in Iraq, that's just too bad.
Of course, you can't just pile on the reporters at the Times or the pundits at Slate. After all, look at what Senator Hillary Clinton had to say in the last Democratic Presidential debate [emphasis added]:
SEN. CLINTON: Because we don't have as much information as we wish we did. But what we think we know is that with North Korean help, both financial and technical and material, the Syrians apparently were putting together, and perhaps over some period of years, a Nuclear facility, and the Israelis took it out. I strongly support that.
We don't have any more information than what I have just described. It is highly classified; it is not being shared. But I don't want to go a step further and talk about what might or might not happen down the road with Iran.
MR. RUSSERT: My question was --
SEN. CLINTON: But I think it is fair to say what happened in Syria, so far as we know, I support.
Senator Clinton supports a military strike based on "what we think we know," and information that hasn't been shared with her to date. Is that the best leadership and decision-making we can expect beyond '08? Will senior Democratic politicians be expressing their regrets for any more votes five more years down the line?
There are people out there with messages to deliver for frightful agendas they hope to advance. That's why we hear with such haughty certitude that Syria has a nuclear program. And if our media and our leaders can't get their heads above all that noise, get ready for a long generation of sorrow.
So listen up, and start paying attention. When you talk about rumors of nuclear threats, from Iran, Syria, or anyone else, you'd better not be playing around. You're either with the facts, or you're against them.