Saturday, April 15, 2006


How the media learned to stop worrying and love the bomb

Last weekend, The New Yorker and The Washington Post both reported that the Bush administration is considering the use of nuclear weapons against Iran.

Near the end of an 1,800-word front-page article about the administration's consideration of "options for military strikes against Iran," the Post reported:

Pentagon planners are studying how to penetrate eight-foot-deep targets and are contemplating tactical nuclear devices. The Natanz facility consists of more than two dozen buildings, including two huge underground halls built with six-foot walls and supposedly protected by two concrete roofs with sand and rocks in between, according to Edward N. Luttwak, a specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"The targeteers honestly keep coming back and saying it will require nuclear penetrator munitions to take out those tunnels," said Kenneth M. Pollack, a former CIA analyst. "Could we do it with conventional munitions? Possibly. But it's going to be very difficult to do."

The New Yorker went into greater detail:

One of the military's initial option plans, as presented to the White House by the Pentagon this winter, calls for the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against underground nuclear sites.


The lack of reliable intelligence leaves military planners, given the goal of totally destroying the sites, little choice but to consider the use of tactical nuclear weapons. "Every other option, in the view of the nuclear weaponeers, would leave a gap," the former senior intelligence official said. " 'Decisive' is the key word of the Air Force's planning. It's a tough decision. But we made it in Japan."

He went on, "Nuclear planners go through extensive training and learn the technical details of damage and fallout -- we're talking about mushroom clouds, radiation, mass casualties, and contamination over years. This is not an underground nuclear test, where all you see is the earth raised a little bit. These politicians don't have a clue, and whenever anybody tries to get it out" -- remove the nuclear option -- "they're shouted down."

The attention given to the nuclear option has created serious misgivings inside the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he added, and some officers have talked about resigning. Late this winter, the Joint Chiefs of Staff sought to remove the nuclear option from the evolving war plans for Iran -- without success, the former intelligence official said. "The White House said, 'Why are you challenging this? The option came from you.' "

The Pentagon adviser on the war on terror confirmed that some in the Administration were looking seriously at this option, which he linked to a resurgence of interest in tactical nuclear weapons among Pentagon civilians and in policy circles. He called it "a juggernaut that has to be stopped." He also confirmed that some senior officers and officials were considering resigning over the issue.

On Monday, President Bush responded to the reports, declaring: "I read the articles in the newspapers this weekend. It was just wild speculation, by the way. What you're reading is wild speculation, which is -- it's kind of a -- happens quite frequently here in the nation's capital."

Bush did not, however, directly deny that his administration is considering the first use of nuclear weapons against another nation in more than 60 years. Nor have any of his spokespeople.

Perhaps more stunning than the administration's apparent consideration of the military use of nuclear weapons is the reaction some in the media have had to the news.

Fox News anchor Bill O'Reilly, for example, accused his colleagues in the media -- "the anti-Bush media," he called them -- of "phony and political" outrage over the administration's military planning. But O'Reilly didn't bother to mention that the planning includes the possible use of nuclear weapons.

Fox News national security correspondent Bret Baier likewise somehow managed to discuss the Post and New Yorker articles without ever mentioning that both reveal the Bush administration's openness to using nuclear weapons.

New CNN hire and nationally syndicated radio host Glenn Beck, meanwhile, asked, "Why do we have these weapons? Why have we developed these weapons if we're afraid to use them?" and suggested referring to nuclear weapons by alternate names to make their use more palatable.

Of course, few people turn to Bill O'Reilly or Glenn Beck for thoughtful, informed discussions of the news.

Amazingly, the editorial boards of The New York Times and The Washington Post have stayed silent on the topic. The Post, in an April 13 editorial, suggested that a military strike against Iran might not be effective. And the Times, in an April 11 editorial, went further, arguing that "war with Iran would be reckless folly." But neither even addressed the administration's reported consideration of nuclear strikes against Iran -- much less denounced such planning.

Regular readers know we've long argued that a major flaw in the media's coverage of the Bush administration has been a shortage of news stories exploring the consequences of the president's handling of the Iraq war:

And it is important to assess the consequences of the administration's lies about, and mishandling of, the Iraq war. Is the public less likely to believe the administration if it says we need to use force against Iran because of their false claims about Iraq? That's a question we've repeatedly asked; why don't reporters? Perhaps the third anniversary of the Iraq war would be a good time to finally include the question in a poll.

The Los Angeles Times took a step in the right direction with a poll released this week. The L.A. Times didn't directly measure whether Bush's false statements about Iraq hurt his credibility on Iran, but it did ask whether the Iraq war has made people more or less supportive of military action against Iran; "less supportive" won by a greater than two-to-one ratio. And the L.A. Times asked: "Generally speaking, do you trust George W. Bush to make the right decision about whether we should go to war with Iran, or not?" Only 42 percent of Americans, according to the poll, trust Bush to make the right decision; 54 percent do not. Among independents, the disparity was even greater -- 40 percent trust Bush, while 54 percent do not.

In short: the American people have lost confidence and trust in their commander in chief ... at a time when we're already fighting one war ... and considering the use of nuclear weapons in another.

Shouldn't this be the dominant news story of our time, rather than something that gets mentioned in bits and pieces -- and only in passing?

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