Where's the Media on Saddam's Payoffs?

One of the most interesting post-war stories for liberal journalists - who love to deplore how Big Money distorts politics - ought to be the way the deposed Iraqi regime bought influence with politicians and journalists. Last week, the London Daily Telegraph began reporting that George Galloway, a Laborite member of Parliament and an anti-war voice featured by several American media outlets, received hundreds of thousands of pounds in the past few years from Saddam's coffers.

In the May 5 Weekly Standard, Stephen F. Hayes summarized the story and added that American politicians also received cash: Rep. Jim McDermott, so memorably featured from Baghdad attacking President Bush as a liar last fall on ABC's This Week, accepted $5,000 for his legal defense fund from Shakir al-Khafaji, a Saddam supporter (and contractor with the Ba'athist regime) who arranged his Baghdad trip. Where are the national media on this developing storyline?

George Galloway Although the Telegraph began reporting on documents showing Galloway's payoffs on April 22, it's been blacked out at ABC, CBS, NBC, as well as CNN, NPR, Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report. But the outlets most responsible to follow the money trail to Galloway and other anti-war voices are the outlets who promoted them on American airwaves.

ABC has publicized Galloway the most on American TV, starting on the February 13, 1991 World News Tonight, as he decried the Allied bombing of Iraq. On the August 12, 2002 World News Tonight, reporter John McWethy reported on his Saddam visit: "Galloway, who vehemently opposes U.S. efforts to overthrow the Iraqi leader, said he found Saddam Hussein to be quote, 'radiating a Zen-like calm.'"

Saddam's Soft Hands...and Bags of Cash The January 20, 2003 Nightline featured Galloway (see box), and on February 27, Good Morning America co-host Diane Sawyer highlighted a soundbite of Galloway's House of Commons remarks as "a wake-up call for me, listening about the view of Americans." Galloway denounced how "this born again, right-wing, Bible-belting, fundamentalist, Republican administration in the United States wants war."

CBS: On the August 14, 2002 Early Show, then-co-host Jane Clayson interviewed Galloway, introducing him as "an outspoken supporter of Hussein." He protested: "I am an opponent of Saddam Hussein, but an opponent also, of the sanctions that have killed a million Iraqi children and an opponent of the United States' apparent desire to plunge the Middle East into a new and devastating war." Clayson asked Galloway if "you feel used in any way" by Saddam, to which he said, "no...not remotely."

NBC: On September 24, 2002, an "In Their Own Words" segment on NBC Nightly News spotlighted several British leaders debating Iraq, which included Galloway's take on Bush: "The British people have seen the President, heard the President, and they think they're estimating him just about right as not a man that we would want to be at the wheel of the car as we drive along the edge of a cliff with ourselves sitting in the back seat." On February 26, 2003, Nightly News also used Galloway's "born-again, right-wing, Bible-belting" crack.

No one faults the networks for featuring arguments from British anti-war leaders as Britain debated the war. But the new bribery revelations show Galloway was a tyrant-paid flack, not a sincere anti-war spokesman. Continued silence suggests journalists care more about protecting what's left of the anti-war activists' appeal than they do about investigative journalism in the war's aftermath. - Tim Graham