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The "Stinky Inky," Part IV: More Incompetence, Bias and Dishonesty at the Philadelphia Inquirer?

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Readers of Frank Rich's new book, The Greatest Story Ever Sold, understand quite well the crisis of confidence that justifiably afflicts America's mainstream news media today, due to its largely uncritical (if not enthusiastic) reporting of the exaggerations and lies by the Bush administration during the run-up to its illegal, immoral invasion of Iraq.

During the past two years, I've written three articles addressing the failures of my local newspaper, the Philadelphia Inquirer. They can be found at , , and Unfortunately that deterioration has continued apace, as the two examples below indicate.

In its 23 September 2006 edition, The Philadelphia Inquirer ran a faux news story by Carlin Romano titled "Premature obit sends book's sales soaring." Mr. Romano's article addressed both the speech recently given by Venezuela's President, Hugo Chavez, at the United Nations and his post-speech news conference. During that news conference Mr. Chavez touted a book by the world's most formidable intellectual, Noam Chomsky, but mistakenly asserted that Mr. Chomsky was no longer among the living. Thanks to Mr. Chavez's advertisement and mistake, Chomsky's book "shot to No. 1 on Amazon."

For a so-called news article (after all, Romano's article neither contained the warning, "news analysis," nor did it appear in the Inky's editorial pages), I found his send-up of Mr. Chavez to be quite amusing, but opinionated. Moreover, even if Mr. Chavez is "never one to get his facts completely straight," he certainly was correct to assert that Americans would do better to read Chomsky's book, Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance, than to watch Superman movies that "make people stupid."

But Romano's good humor commenced ringing discordant notes, when he turned from Mr. Chavez to Mr. Chomsky. First, Romano surely erred when he suggested that the 77-year old self-effacing Chomsky, "must be careful not to swagger." Swagger? Perhaps Mr. Romano might be given to swaggering, were a book of his to become No. 1 on Amazon, but not Mr. Chomsky.

More serious, however, is Romano's outrageous assertion that, in Chomsky's book is "a world in which, chronology be damned, 9/11 seems like an understandable response, if not justified one, to our attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq." Yet, after checking the book for such evidence, I found nothing in Hegemony or Survival to suggest that Mr. Chomsky is either so illogical or dishonest as to assert that two events occurring after 9/11 - America's attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq - make the horrible attacks on 9/11 "understandable."

Consequently, readers who recall his scathing review of Chomsky's book, 9/11 -- in which he called Chomsky a "pop-off" and "Noam the Foam" -- now have greater reason to question Romano's own integrity. Thus, I challenge Mr. Romano to clear his name and reassure his readers (including this reader) by providing evidence to support his seemingly vile "chronology be damned" accusation. Moreover, I remind Mr. Romano of Henry David Thoreau's famous observation: "It is not all books that are as dull [or dishonest!] as their readers."

In fact, in light of recent news reports that: (1) "Nearly 7,000 civilians were killed in Iraq in the past two months [The Guardian UK, 22 Sept. 2006] (2) "Torture in Iraq may be worse now than under Saddam Hussein," [AP, 21 Sept. 2006] and (3) "A stark assessment of terrorism trends by American intelligence agencies has found that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks," [New York Times, Sept 24, 2006] what one reads in Hegemony or Survival seems quite accurate.

Consider the following from page 2: "Aid organizations with extensive experience in Iraq and studies by respected medical organizations warned that the planned invasion might precipitate a humanitarian catastrophe. The warnings were ignored in Washington and evoked little media interest. A high-level US task force concluded that attacks with weapons of mass destruction (WMD) within the United States are 'likely,' and would become more so in the event of war with Iraq. Numerous specialists and intelligence agencies issued similar warnings, adding that Washington's belligerence, not only with regard to Iraq, was increasing the long-term threat of international terrorism and proliferation of WMD."

Moreover, I challenge the Philadelphia Inquirer to improve upon its "truth in labeling" practices. Mr. Romano's article was not hard news, but news analysis or commentary.

Unfortunately, Romano's highly questionable assertion about Chomsky was not the only significant shortcoming to be found in the Inky that day. The "Local News" section contained a seriously deficient article mistakenly equating the negative campaigning by challenger Bob Casey Jr. with that of sleazy Senator Rick Santorum.

True, an earlier Inky article did highlight an egregiously despicable commercial by the campaign to elect Santorum, which depicted - via bogus visuals of Casey campaign planning from a jail cell - Mr. Casey's campaign team as "a bunch of shady characters with serious legal problems." ["Santorum ad impugns ethics of Casey 'team,'"Philadelphia Inquirer, Sept. 14, 2006] Moreover, the article correctly noted that "none" of the individuals mentioned in Santorum's despicable commercial "has taken a formal role in the Casey organization or has contributed money to his senate campaign."

Yet, the Inky's article on 23 September 2006 ["Santorum and Casey fire low in ad warfare"] not only equated Mr. Casey's negative response to Santorum's first mudslinging commercial with Santorum's second negative salvo - presumably because both were issued on the same day - it also failed to report very pertinent findings about Mr. Santorum, which were recently released by "CREW," Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

CREW's "2nd Annual Most Corrupt Members of Congress Report," contains the names of the twenty most corrupt members of Congress. Although this writer was surprised to find Maxine Waters (Dem., CA) on the list of twenty and John Murtha (Dem., PA) among the five Congressmen to watch, I wasn't surprised to learn that two specific Pennsylvania Republicans made the notorious list of twenty - Senator Rick Santorum and Congressman Curt Weldon.

Most surprising of all, however, was the Philadelphia Inquirer's failure to include CREW's nonpartisan findings in its reporting about the Santorum-Casey contest.
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Walter C. Uhler is an independent scholar and freelance writer whose work has been published in numerous publications, including The Nation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Journal of Military History, the Moscow Times and the San (more...)
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