- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 22, 2004

At a press conference on Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered an extraordinary statement that might explain why President Bush felt such a great sense of urgency about driving Saddam Hussein from power. Mr. Putin said that Iraq was planning some kind of attack against the United States. Unfortunately, the same major media that have erroneously suggested that the September 11 commission’s report debunks any linkage between al Qaeda and Iraq have shown little interest in Mr. Putin’s revelation.

According to Mr. Putin, sometime between the September 11 attacks and the start of the Iraq war, Russia’s intelligence service “received information that officials from Saddam’s regime were preparing terrorist attacks in the United States and outside it against the U.S. military and other interests.” The Russians passed this information on to the United States, and Mr. Bush personally thanked a Russian intelligence official for the information.

This story is a potential blockbuster for manifold reasons — not least of which is the fact that Moscow had long been one of Saddam’s closest allies and Mr. Putin was staunchly opposed to the war. Given Saddam’s history of supporting terrorism — and his attempt in 1993 to assassinate the first President Bush — one would think that the American media would take this story seriously, and be deluging American and Russian officials with questions about the specifics of the Iraqi plot.

But the reaction has been subdued. While ABC’s “World News Tonight” covered the story on Friday, other networks felt that they had more important things to talk about than a possible attack on America by Saddam . According to the Media Research Center, Friday’s CBS “Evening News” didn’t mention Mr. Putin’s revelation, even though it spent more than two minutes on the debate over ties between Iraq and al Qaeda. (Dan Rather thought that a more important story was Bill Clinton’s statement, in his new book, that he warned President-elect Bush about Osama bin Laden, but Mr. Bush didn’t care.)

NBC “Nightly News” skipped the Putin story and focused on something else: a story undermining the Bush administration’s contention that arch-terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — given refuge by Saddam — is linked to al Qaeda. On “Today” the next morning, NBC buried the Putin story behind excerpts of Mr. Clinton reading a passage from his book about how Martin Luther King Jr. had inspired him. On Saturday, The Washington Post relegated the story to Page A11.

The public is poorly served by such coverage. The fact that the president of Russia effectively is taking Mr. Bush’s side on the question of whether Saddam posed a threat to this country is a major news story and should be treated as such. That it is not getting this kind of coverage suggests that many journalists do not have their priorities straight.

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