Ignore The Media: Al-Maliki Did Not Embrace Obama's Withdrawal Plan

It's an established fact that the drive-by media is supporting Barack Obama's candidacy this election cycle (just ask previous media fave Hillary Clinton). But in the last few weeks, as Obama attempts to redefine himself before the voting masses begin to pay attention in September, the media has gone from being merely biased to advancing false propaganda on behalf of the Obama campaign.

The latest incident has to do with the apparently fictional article published in yesterday's Der Spiegel magazine in Germany: Iraq Leader Maliki Supports Obama's Withdrawal Plans. The piece, released to coincide with Obama's trip to Iraq, purported to 'quote' Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as saying that he supported Barack Obama's plan to withdraw troops from Iraq within 16 months after Obama assumes office. In addition, al-Maliki was 'quoted' as saying that he "apparently" opposed John McCain's "open ended" Iraq policy. The article goes on to claim that al-Maliki complained about President Bush's reluctance to agree to a withdrawal timeline, and also points out that the comments allegedly said by al-Maliki come immediately after the two countries released a statement Friday agreeing on a "general time-horizon" for removing troops from Iraq - thus suggesting that even the Bush Administration has seen the error of its ways and is beginning to see the world through Obama's majestic eyes.

As soon as the Der Spiegel article hit our shores, it was the top news story on all the news outlets. This morning, predictably, reports on the article made it onto the front pages of newspapers around the country: New York Times - Maliki Backs Obama's Troop Withdrawal Plan, Chicago Tribune - Maliki backs Obama troop pullout plan, Los Angeles Times - Iraq President Maliki embraces Obama withdrawal plan. Notice anything similar about the headlines, although all of the articles are by different reporters?

Then something remarkable happened. The Iraqi government came out Sunday morning, after the Sunday newspapers were printed and delivered, and issued a statement of their own announcing that the Der Spiegel article and its allegations about statements made by the Iraqi Prime Minister were false. Not that it matters much - in general, American news consumers remember the first, original news accounts, especially those concerning a story as topical as this. Unless readers are intimately involved in the subject matter, most such news consumers aren't even aware of subsequent corrections to a false story, unless the media gives those corrections as wide a play as the original report. With something like this, where the original story was so obviously beneficial to Barack Obama, this entire affair will probably vanish by Monday morning.

This incident is virtually a duplicate of another that happened a little more than a week ago, after the drive-by media breathlessly reported that the Iraqi Prime Minister was demanding that any bilateral security agreement between Iraq and the United States include a firm date for withdrawal: NPR - Al-Maliki Demands Timetable For Iraq Withdrawal. The only problem with that story was that it was false, as well. The BBC's Baghdad bureau reported that when they listened to their recording of what al-Maliki actually said, they discovered that he never mentioned withdrawal at all - and that all subsequent reports in the Western media were based on a "mistranslation".

The drive-by media in the United States didn't think that such a mistake on their part was worth a correction - they just ignored the new development from the BBC calling their original reporting (and methods of verification) into question. The equation for the drive-by media was simple. Original story = benefit for Obama. Correction = benefit for McCain (and President Bush). Therefore, no widespread dispersal of a correction is warranted.

Even though the domestic media didn't correct their accounts on the al-Maliki withdrawal mistranslation, as the primary correction of the story was put out by the liberal BBC, I'm certain that American journalists were well aware of it. With that in mind, I'm stunned that the US media wasn't more careful about going with yesterday's reports of the de facto endorsement of Obama (or at least of his plans) by the Iraqi Prime Minister. Two simple and basic facts should have given the media ample reason to pause - first, that there was a translation error less than two weeks earlier, and second, the fact that Der Spiegel, a virulently anti-Bush and anti-Iraq War publication, didn't link to or provide either a transcript of the interview with al-Maliki or - taking into consideration how the original "mistranslation" was discovered - a recording of the interview. At the very least, other media outlets should have verified the substance of the report with the Iraqi Prime Minister or his office before going with the story at the top of the news. The media, however, saw this story as a perfect accompaniment to Barack Obama's Middle East Victory Tour - so they went with it before checking it out, again.

It appears as if another reliably liberal media outlet, CNN, was the first to report on the problems with the Der Spiegel article: Iraqi PM disputes report on withdrawal plan. Ironically, that should lend credibility to the correction, since Obama supporters and the left will not be able to claim that this latest "mistranslation" incident is another right-wing plot by Fox News:

A German magazine quoted Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki as saying that he backed a proposal by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq within 16 months

...But a spokesman for al-Maliki said his remarks "were misunderstood, mistranslated and not conveyed accurately."

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the possibility of troop withdrawal was based on the continuance of security improvements, echoing statements that the White House made Friday after a meeting between al-Maliki and U.S. President Bush.

Surprisingly, CNN does not acknowledge that this is the second serious problem with a mistranslation of remarks made by the Iraqi Prime Minister appearing in the Western media over the past few weeks. But as both mistranslations obviously benefited Barack Obama and his campaign, perhaps CNN doesn't really want to point that out at this time.

For the record, here is an excerpt from the official statement from the White House, released jointly by Iraq and the United States on Friday, concerning points in the bilateral security agreement between the countries that have already been settled:

In the context of these improving political, economic, and security conditions, the President and the Prime Minister discussed the ongoing negotiations to establish a normalized bilateral relationship between Iraq and the United States. The leaders agreed on a common way forward to conclude these negotiations as soon as possible, and noted in particular the progress made toward completing a broad strategic framework agreement that will build on the Declaration of Principles signed last November, and include areas of cooperation across many fields, including economics, diplomacy, health, culture, education, and security.

In the area of security cooperation, the President and the Prime Minister agreed that improving conditions should allow for the agreements now under negotiation to include a general time horizon for meeting aspirational goals -- such as the resumption of Iraqi security control in their cities and provinces and the further reduction of U.S. combat forces from Iraq. The President and Prime Minister agreed that the goals would be based on continued improving conditions on the ground and not an arbitrary date for withdrawal. The two leaders welcomed in this regard the return of the final surge brigade to the United States this month, and the ongoing transition from a primary combat role for U.S. forces to an overwatch role, which focuses on training and advising Iraqi forces, and conducting counter-terror operations in support of those forces.

This transition and the subsequent reduction in U.S. forces from Iraq is a testament to the improving capacity of Iraq's Security Forces and the success of joint operations that were initiated under the new strategy put in place by the President and the Prime Minister in January 2007.

Pay careful attention to the highlighted sentence above. The drive-by media also attempted to claim (before the Der Spiegel story hit the wires yesterday) that since Friday's official White House statement included the words "time horizon", it meant that President Bush had flip-flopped on his long-term position on troop withdrawals from Iraq. Obviously, the subsequent line destroys that line of reasoning by the media. The position of both President Bush and Senator John McCain has remained the same throughout this entire war. Reduction of our troop presence, including that of combat troops, is predicated on the improving security situation on the ground. And Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki agrees with that, no matter what propaganda the media distributes suggesting otherwise.

In fact, we've always had "time horizons" in Iraq - we just completed one involving the drawdown of the surge forces that was originally planned and shown to Congress (in an easy-to-read slide format!) by General Petraeus back on September 11th, 2007. We were able to complete that drawdown within the "time horizon" plan from ten months ago because the security conditions on the ground created by our new strategy - a strategy promoted by President Bush and Senator McCain but opposed by Senator Obama - permitted it. If the security situation hadn't improved, the drawdown would not have been completed as planned, as it just was.

The media should be ashamed of itself. They won't be.