Thursday, October 28, 2004
Why did the 'missing weapons' story become important all of a sudden?
Just about everyone knows by now that a whole bunch of explosives in Iraq have been reported missing. It's the story dominating the news headlines and, as a consequence, the US election campaign. What is less clear is why this has become the predominant story of the race just days before American voters are set to choose who they want to be their president for the next four years.
The event which seems to have triggered this controversy is an apparently leaked letter, sent from the Iraqi Interim Government to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which describes the explosives as having gone missing from the site as a result of a failure of US forces to secure it after the invasion. This development then triggered news outlets such as 60 Minutes and the New York Times to pursue the matter further, which led to the latter publishing the 'big story' in their Monday edition. John Kerry has run with it ever since.
I think the question which has to be asked is this: why this story now?
The letter was apparently sent October 10th. The IAEA has claimed concern over the site since well before that date. News about the missing weapons have been circulating for about a year. So, everyone seems to be wanting to make a big fuss over these missing weapons. Why is this fuss being made now? If the matter of missing explosives is so important, and their whereabouts a matter of investigation for many months now, why is it that very loud questions are being asked almost on the eve of one of the more important elections in recent American history?
In other words, this really can't be described as a new news story. Yet it sure is being sold that way by certain media outlets and the John Kerry campaign.
Was the October 10th letter such a surprising development that it warranted the front page headlines it's now getting? If so, why are we only hearing about it fifteen days after it was sent? Why didn't we hear anything about this before the October 10th letter? Why didn't we hear about it when the IAEA voiced concerns after the American invasion of Iraq? For that matter, why didn't we hear about it before the American invasion of Iraq? If these weapons are
considered to be such a vital threat now, why weren't they considered such a vital threat before the invasion? Why was Saddam even allowed to keep these weapons, if their now missing status is considered to be yet another indication of the incompetence of the Bush administration?
Yet John Kerry, with the help of the New York Times and others, doesn't seem to care about any of these questions. All they know, apparently, is that a few days before election day we have another example of a Bush blunder. If not that, then at the very least we have screaming headlines which read, "Missing Iraqi Weapons Under Bush's Nose."
To further illustrate the dynamics of this story breaking in this way at this time, one of the lead issues on tonight's Newshour with Jim Lehrer was the matter of the missing weapons. Note, the issue was not about the nature of this story breaking at this crucial moment in the campaign. The issue was one of a mystery to be solved as though Sherlock Holmes was being visited by a prospective client seeking answers to a seemingly unanswerable riddle. The narrative pursued by PBS was not one concerning political motivations for the breaking of this story now, but one of trying to find answers to what happened to the missing weapons and when. If the story is framed in this manner, then it forces Bush to explain the embarrassing mystery. If the story is framed in the way I'm doing with this article, then it forces everyone everywhere to ask obvious questions and demand serious answers about the timing and motives for this story. Even though PBS followed up with a historical look at 'October Surprises', I believe they failed to put this present 'October Surprise' in some proper context.
So, going into the final days of this crucial election campaign, where so much is on the line for so many people, the headlines are telling us that, "Tons Of Weapons Are Missing in Iraq!" Perhaps the more important concern ought to be, "Why do you people care about this only a week before the election?" And that election may in part be decided by how much importance the electorate gives to each of the two competing messages. If they think it's a legitimate issue for which Bush must answer, Kerry's message wins out. If they think it's an 'October Surprise', Bush's message will have won the day, and maybe even the election.
Either way, what we seem to know is that an ongoing story was dumped on us only days before American voters go to the polls. Why? I think that's a good question.