Tuesday, January 3, 2006

In the war on terror, rumor and hearsay can quickly develop into myth. Today, tomorrow and Friday in this section, we excerpt three chapters from Richard Miniter’s excellent “Disinformation: 22 Media Myths That Undermine the War on Terror,” which demonstrates that myths can be debunked.

In our excerpts, Mr. Miniter, a former editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal Europe and a sought-after terrorism analyst, demolishes three of the most persistent myths: that Osama bin Laden is on dialysis; that U.S. forces killed 100,000 civilians in Iraq; and that Halliburton is a war profiteer. In each case, a few unalloyed facts deflate the sensational claims and bring common sense back to the debate.

Why do the myths persist? Part of the reason must be how elusive the real facts of the war on terrorism are. Who really knows the true state of bin Laden’s health? Who can count casualties accurately across a massive, war-torn country? Another answer, as Mr. Miniter writes, is disinformation: Falsehoods planted in the media by political operatives, self-promoters or sometimes even agents of foreign powers. The Internet has tended to enable agents of disinformation to spread their message far and wide. Another explanation must be sloppy, biased or otherwise inadequate reporting, which Mr. Miniter calls for a much-needed improvement.

We recommend that our readers survey Mr. Miniter’s edifying book; surely there is a need for clarity and myth-debunking in the public sphere over the war on terror. Anyone who doubts that errors are alive and well — even proliferating — should survey the confusion over President Bush’s warrantless domestic wiretaps, which could fill a sequel to Mr. Miniter’s book. Every court to address the wiretap issue and every president since and including Jimmy Carter have agreed that a president has inherent constitutional authority to order wiretaps without a court order — even the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court itself agrees — but the myth has persisted in spite of it all.

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