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The Newsweek-Fahrenheit Wars, Part 3

How many mistakes can Michael Isikoff make? In his zealous campaign to discredit Fahrenheit 9/11, Newsweek's star investigative reporter has already made at least seven errors, distortions and selective omissions of crucial information.

Let's take them one by one.
July 3, 2004 The Newsweek-Fahrenheit Wars, Part 3

How Many Mistakes Can Newsweek's Michael Isikoff Make?
by Craig Unger

How many mistakes can Michael Isikoff make? In his zealous campaign to discredit Fahrenheit 9/11, Newsweek's star investigative reporter has already made at least seven errors, distortions and selective omissions of crucial information.

Let's take them one by one.

1) In his first Newsweek piece attacking the movie, "Under the Hot Lights," which appeared in the June 28 issue of the magazine, Isikoff asserts that I claim "that bin Laden family members were never interviewed by the FBI." Isikoff proceeds to attack me for that claim. Unfortunately for him, I never made it. Isikoff's assertion is a complete fabrication.

2) The same article also erroneously reports that the Saudi evacuation "flights didn't begin until Sept. 14—after airspace reopened." As House of Bush, House of Saud notes, however, the first flight actually took place a day earlier, on September 13, when restrictions on private planes were still in place. Isikoff knew this. I even gave him the names of two men who were on that flight-- Dan Grossi and Manuel Perez-- and told him how to get in touch with them. Earlier, Jean Heller, a reporter for the St. Petersburg Times, took the time to follow up on my reporting(see article below). She called Grossi, and in her subsequent article wrote, "Grossi did say that Unger's account of his participation in the flight is accurate."

Rather than try to refute or corroborate my reporting, however, Isikoff omitted it entirely. The facts interfered with his argument.

It is worth noting that Jean Heller was also able to obtain verification of the September 13 flight from other sources as well. Heller reports that the flight from Tampa, Florida to Lexington, Kentucky, has finally been corroborated by authorities at Tampa International Airport--even though the White House, the FAA and the FBI repeatedly denied that any such flights took place.

3) A week after "Under the Hot Lights" appeared, Newsweek apologized for fabrication number one in its print edition of the magazine. But the error remains uncorrected online where it continues to be desseminated by other media.

Worse, in its "apology," Newsweek amplified the distortion it made the previous week. This time, the magazine admits that the September 13 flight did take place. But the editors again omit crucial information in order to suggest that the flight is a red herring, asserting that the flight "took off late on Sept. 13 after restrictions on flying had already been lifted," Newsweek says.

In fact, some restrictions had been lifted--but not all. Commercial aviation slowly resumed on September 13, but at 10:57 am that day, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a Notice to Airmen stating that private aviation was still banned. Three planes violated that order and were forced down by American military aircraft that day. (See House of Bush, House of Saud, p. 9) Yet the Saudis were allowed to fly on the ten passenger Learjet. Far from being irrelevant, the Tampa to Lexington flight is vital because it required permission from the highest levels of our government. Once again, all this information is in the book, and Isikoff told me he had read it. This relevant information contradicted Isikoff's thesis.

If you think about it, Isikoff's argument defies logic. Hundreds of thousands of planes fly each day. If the Tampa to Lexington flight was just another normal flight, why would anyone go to a crisis-stricken White House to get permission for the Saudis to fly? Yet thanks to Richard Clarke's testimony before the 9/11 Commission, we know that the White House did grant permission for the Saudis to fly.

4) On June 30, Isikoff was at it again, this time in an online story co-written with Mark Hosenball, "More Distortions from Michael Moore." (link).

If the basics of journalism are important to you, it is worth pointing out that Isikoff's story confuses Carlyle founding partner David Rubenstein with public relations legend Howard Rubenstein. This is just one of three names(William Kennard and Caterair are the others) Isikoff gets wrong in the story. (The article has since been corrected online.)

5)More to the point, Isikoff's chief target is the movie's assertion that $1.4 billion in Saudi funds went to businesses tied to the Bushes and their friends. As Isikoff notes, House of Bush, House of Saud is the chief source for this information.

Most of this figure comes from defense contracts to companies owned by the Carlyle Group in the mid-nineties, and according to Isikoff, therein lies the problem. "The movie clearly implies that the Saudis gave $1.4 billion to the Bushes and their friends," Carlyle public relations executive Chris Ullman tells Newsweek. " But most of it went to a Carlyle Group company before [former president George H.W.] Bush even joined the firm."

Isikoff accepts Ullman's explanation almost uncritically, leaving the reader with the impression that the Bush family and its allies had little or no relationship with the Carlyle Group until 1998. If that were true, he might have a point.

But in fact, the Bush-Carlyle relationship began eight years earlier when the Carlyle Group put George W. Bush on the board of one of its subsidiaries, Caterair, in 1990. In 1993, after the Bush-Quayle administration left office and George H. W. Bush and James Baker were free to join the private sector, the Bush family's relationship with the Carlyle Group began to become substantive.

By the end of that year, key figures at the Carlyle Group included such powerful Bush colleagues as James Baker, Frank Carlucci, and Richard Darman. Because George W. Bush's role at Carlyle had been marginal, the $1.4 billion figure includes no contracts that predated the arrival of Baker, Carlucci and Darman at Carlyle. (These figures are itemized in the appendix of House of Bush.) With former Secretary of Defense Carlucci guiding the acquisition of defense companies, Carlyle finally began making real money from the Saudis, both through investments from the royal family, the bin Ladens and other members of the Saudi elite, and through lucrative defense investments.

6) In addition, Isikoff erroneously dismisses the relationship between the Bushes and the House of Saud at the Carlyle Group as a distant one. "Six degrees of separation" is the term he uses. Yet according to a December 4, 2003 email from Carlyle's Chris Ullman, James Baker and George H. W. Bush made four trips to Saudi Arabia on Carlyle's behalf, and that does not include meetings they had with Saudis that took place in the U.S. During the course of these trips, Ullman says, former president Bush sometimes met privately with members of the Saudi Binladen Group. At times, Carlyle officials have characterized these meetings as "ceremonial." But in fact, at least $80 million in investments came from the House of Saud and allies such as the bin Laden family. It would be unseemly-- and unnecessary-- for former president Bush or James Baker to actually ask for money from the Saudis at such meetings. Instead, David Rubenstein's team did that after Bush and Baker spoke. For a more complete account of this, see Chapter Ten in House of Bush, House of Saud.

7) In the same article, Isikoff tries to pit me against Michael Moore by asserting that my book, unlike the movie, concludes that the role of James Bath, a Texas businessman who represented Saudis and was close to George W. Bush, was not terribly significant. Isikoff writes, "The movie—which relied heavily on Unger's book—fails to note the author's conclusion about what to make of the supposed Bin Laden-Bath-Bush nexus: that it may not mean anything."

Isikoff is wrong again. It is true that no conclusive evidence has yet answered the specific question of whether or not bin Laden money actually went from the bin Ladens to Bath and then into George W. Bush's first oil company, Arbusto. But beyond that unresolved issue, the bin Laden-Bath-Bush nexus is crucial to the birth of the Bush-Saudi relationship. Even if bin Laden money did not go into Arbusto, Bath introduced Salem bin Laden and his good friend Khalid bin Mahfouz to Texas. A host of contacts between them and the House of Bush ensued. Bin Mahfouz shared financial interests with James Baker. His associates bailed out Harken Energy, where George W. Bush made his first fortune. Money from both the bin Ladens and the bin Mahfouzes ended up in Carlyle. This relationship is what House of Bush is about. Isikoff cherry-picks information that suits his agenda and leaves out the rest.

In his assault against Fahrenheit, Isikoff does raise one provocative question, one that many other people have asked. If the Saudi evacuation flights are so wrong, how is it that former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke, a fierce critic of the Bush White House, has not had any problems with them. "I thought the flights were correct," Clarke said. "The Saudis had reasonable fear that they might be the subject of vigilante attacks in the United States after 9/11. And there is no evidence even to this date that any of the people who left on those flights were people of interest to the FBI."

It is a fair question and it deserves a serious answer.

If there is a hero in House of Bush, it is Richard Clarke, a man who understood Al-Qaeda's new transnational form of terrorism and developed a forceful strategy against it, but who was thwarted in both the Clinton Administration (thanks to the Lewinsky scandal) and in the Bush administration(by being left out of the loop by the Bush team).

But Clarke is also a brilliant and savvy bureaucrat who is unlikely to characterize decisions in which he played a role as stupid or wrong. And much as I admire him, I disagree with him on this issue.

When first interviewed on this subject in 2003, Clarke said that his approval for evacuating the Saudis had been conditional on the FBI' s vetting them. "I asked [the F.B.I.] to make sure that no one inappropriate was leaving. I asked them if they had any objection to Saudis leaving the country at a time when aircraft were banned from flying." He noted that he assumed the F.B.I. had vetted the bin Ladens prior to September 11.

Then he added, "I have no idea if they did a good job. I'm not in any position to second guess the FBI."

And there's the rub. Given the long history of errors made by the FBI in investigating counterterrorism, how can one possibly accept their infallibility as unquestioningly as Isikoff does. I interviewed two FBI agents who participated in the Saudi evacuation and they made it clear that they did not subject the passengers to a formal criminal investigation. One rather astonishing finding of the 9/11 Commission is that though the rubble was still very much ablaze at the World Trade Center a few days after the attacks, the FBI did not even bother to check the Saudi passenger lists against its terror watch lists.

There are many other unanswered questions. "It is clear that the Saudi charities were being used as cover for Al Qaeda, but it is unclear how far up the chain of authority that went," Clarke said. Do we know for certain none of the Saudis on the flights could have shed light on that crucial question? Were any of them tied to the charities in question? Did any of them have any information on bin Laden? Did we let a treasure trove of intelligence leave?

Finally, it is still unclear whether other people in the White House had knowledge. Do the president and his men bear no responsibility for leading a thorough criminal investigation into the worst crime in in American history?

Perhaps we will never know the answers to all these questions. But American journalists have a responsiblity to try to uncover the facts rather than muddy the waters-- and that includes Michael Isikoff.

homepage: homepage: http://houseofbush.com/

'Fahrenheit 9/11' misses mark on conspiracies 11.Jul.2004 19:22

repost of Hussein Ibish

Special to The Daily Star
Monday, July 12, 2004

 http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=10&categ_id=2&article_id=6169#

WASHINGTON: The first-week run in the United States of Michael Moore's polemical documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11" has shattered all box office records for a documentary, redefining the commercial possibilities of the genre. It has already earned $80 million, more than twice the total made by the second most profitable American documentary, Moore's last film, "Bowling for Columbine." But Moore has much broader ambitions for his new film than simply to increase his already considerable fortune. He says his intention is to damage President George Bush's chances of re-election. Although much of "Fahrenheit 9/11" is devoted to attacking the Bush administration's foreign policy - especially the invasion and occupation of Iraq - the film may only add additional layers of confusion about the Middle East in American popular culture, and reinforce crude stereotypes and broad generalizations.

Moore has presented a detailed account of the Iraq war without mentioning Israel in any way, without using the word neoconservative and without any reference to the massive paper trail demonstrating a pre-existing agenda, which placed the overthrow of the Iraqi regime at the center of both US and Israeli policies.

Moore's audience never hears about the 1996 "Clean Break" paper presented to then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by several people who are now influential policymakers in the Bush administration, including Douglas Feith and David Wurmser, and their guru, Richard Perle. Nor are they told about many other key documents, such as the 1998 Project for a New American Century letter to then-President Bill Clinton demanding "military action" from the US to overthrow Saddam Hussein. The letter was signed by current administration figures Donald Rumsfeld, Elliott Abrams, Richard Armitage, John Bolton, Zalmay Khalilzad and, of course, Paul Wolfowitz.

Rather than investigating the actual and well-documented agenda that led to the rapid shift away from a war against Al-Qaeda to a war against Iraq, Moore proposes an implausible and extremely confused conspiracy theory.

At the heart of Moore's film lies the malevolent influence of "the Saudis," a phrase that in the US is increasingly spat out with utter contempt, reminiscent of the tone reserved for "the Jews" in anti-Semitic discourse, ascribing to millions of otherwise heterogeneous people the same menacing and hostile essence. In a great deal of contemporary American discourse, any group of Saudis - including the government, security services, and any collection of citizens, not to mention Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda and the hijackers of Sept. 11, 2001 - all represent "the Saudis."

Moore depicts the invasion of Iraq as essentially a cover-up designed to hide the Bush family and its supporters' deep financial links to "the Saudis." Among the more disturbing passages of the film is a long segment featuring a succession of unidentified Arabs in traditional Gulf attire shown in friendly diplomatic and commercial encounters with associates of the two Bush family presidencies; as if these encounters and the political and business dealings they represent were by definition unwholesome.

Moore repeatedly asserts that the Saudi royal family, the bin Laden family and others, over the past 30 years invested $1.4 billion in the Bush family and its business interests.

This is the only explanation proffered by "Fahrenheit 9/11" for the invasion of Iraq. The film's logic is as clear as mud, but the implications are unmistakable: a parade of sinister Saudis purchased the president and his cronies and, somehow or other, are behind both the attacks on the United States and the attack on Iraq.

As for the Iraqis, they are portrayed, not to say objectified, simply as innocent victims, yearning for revenge. Pre-invasion Iraq is depicted as a happy, peaceful land, and there is a notable absence of any Iraqi perspective on the conflict other than howls of suffering and rage.

If the villains are Bush and his supposed Saudi masters, the film's victims are the American soldiers sent to die in a needless war. Its most powerful emotional punch comes from the story of a once-idealistic mother whose son's death in Iraq leads her to question her patriotic illusions. Moore comes close to emotional pornography in his extended depiction of her pain, but these are exactly the passages that have given the film much of its appeal to a vast and receptive audience in the American heartland.

Using a heady mix of skillful humor and anti-establishment demagoguery of the kind normally monopolized by right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh and FoxNews Channel's Bill O'Reilly, Moore seems to have found a formula which allows blistering criticism to come across as not only acceptable but even patriotic to a public accustomed to trusting their leaders' motivations when it comes to international affairs.

Moore may or may not affect the election, but he has certainly succeeding in bringing to a great many Americans the most powerful critique of US foreign policy they have already heard, albeit one that rests on a bizarre and incoherent conspiracy theory and which confuses at least as much as it enlightens.

details not important 12.Jul.2004 23:00

the pigs just want to keep everybody confused

NEWSWEEK is under pressure to discredit Moore and his movies.

All they need is headlines that say Moore got stuff wrong.

That's enough to reassure conservatives that they can trust their boy in the White House and ignore everything Moore says.

The details aren't important. Thus the lack of fact-checking, and the continued publication of these articles despite the triviality of Moore's alleged mistakes.

It reminds me of the backlash campaign against DANCES WITH WOLVES when that film seemed to actually stir up some popular sympathy about various American Indian grievances. HA HA HA, oh those Hollywood wackos, don't mind them. Here, rent "Girls Gone Wild" again instead. Like Bush said three days after 9-11-01, "Enough thinking! Everybody get back to normal already!"

Debate vs Emotional Group Think 19.Jul.2004 19:49

Spiderman

Let's face it, Moore has made some bold claims in his movie. I think debate is justified and provides me and other Americans with an opportunity to decide what is the truth. So, let's get all the facts and continue the debate. Isn't that what is important. Isn't that America. The truth is important. If "you can't handle the truth", you might want to stay out of the debate. Let these guys keep digging. The truth will rise to the surface. I want history to be recorded with the facts for me and my children. Besides, maybe there will be more evidence that Moore is right on. Or maybe we will find out that Moore was somehow motivated in some way to create a fictitious movie for political and financial reasons. Anyway...I want to know the truth. And I would like to get the truth in a way that is not emotional group think (like the CIA's big WMD mess). Peace Brother!