The Evolution of a News Story

Last night, we noted an Associated Press story about a report that was to be delivered today to the Senate Armed Services Committee. The report, by the Pentagon’s Inspector General, related to Douglas Feith’s Office of Special Plans and the intelligence analysis that it carried out for the Defense Department prior to the Iraq war. As initially reported by the AP, the Inspector General’s report concluded that there was nothing illegal or unauthorized about Feith’s group, but that it was somehow “inappropriate” for that group to draw conclusions from intelligence data that were different from the CIA’s conclusions.
This morning, Fuzzilicious Thinking pointed out that the AP story was in a state of flux: a later version of the story, by the same reporter, included these two seemingly inconsistent statements:

Some Democrats also have contended that Feith misled Congress about the basis of the administration’s assertions on the threat posed by Iraq, but the Pentagon investigation did not support that.


A “very damning” report by the Defense Department’s inspector general depicts a Pentagon that purposely manipulated intelligence in an effort to link Saddam Hussein to al-Qaida in the runup to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, says the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Fuzzilicious concludes that the AP finally settled on a version of the article that was well-balanced. This raises obvious questions about the practice of putting out news stories and then changing or correcting them on the fly. Like: how are newspapers who rely on the Associated Press supposed to know when a story is actually finished and accurate? I assume that many newspapers may have gone to press with an early, susequently-revised or corrected version of the story.
Beyond the journalistic issues here is the absurdity of the whole flap. The declassified two-page summary of the report by the IG makes little sense. It says Feith’s actions were sometimes “inappropriate” because they “did not clearly show the variance with the consensus of the intelligence community.” It isn’t possible to improve on Feith’s rejoinder:

Mr Feith, who left the government in 2005, said he welcomed the finding that his activities were legal and authorized, but said it was “an absurd position” to say his activities were inappropriate.
“It, of course, varied from (the) consensus. It was a criticism of that consensus. That is why it was written,” he said in a statement.

We are living in a topsy-turvy world in which 1) it is acknowledged that the CIA’s performance in the months leading up the Iraq War was dreadful, but 2) it is also claimed that disagreeing with the CIA’s assessments was somehow “improper.”
Well, it could be worse. Senator Levin would have welcomed the conclusion that it is illegal to disagree with the CIA, no matter how wrong that agency might be.
UPDATE: Michelle Malkin records the humiliation of the Washington Post, which printed excerpts from Levin’s “report” on page one as though they were from the Inspector General’s document. Levin, not surprisingly, juiced up the IG’s conclusions considerably. The Post’s correction is abject. All of this would be funny if no serious issues were involved.
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