FOX's Jonathan Hunt trafficked in innuendo, vague allegations in oil-for-food coverageDecember 1, 2004 6:27 PM EST ››› GABE WILDAU
FOX News Channel correspondent Jonathan Hunt has been covering the United Nations oil-for-food scandal since May. Hunt's reporting has focused overwhelmingly on alleged misconduct by French politicians, even though only 15 percent of the program's beneficiaries were French, according to Charles A. Duelfer's comprehensive report on Iraq's weapons programs for the Central Intelligence Agency (volume 1). Corruption allegations also involve individuals and companies from Russia, China, Switzerland, Malaysia, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and the United States.
Hunt's reports are often thinly sourced, frequently relying on innuendo rather than evidence, and his report on the November 30 edition of Special Report with Brit Hume was a typical example. The report was not based on breaking news or a new revelation in the ongoing investigations of oil-for-food by the U.N., five separate U.S. congressional committees, the U.S. Treasury Department, or the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, but entirely on vague allegations by a single former French judge.
Hunt declared that "as a former French investigating magistrate, Eva Joly spent the best part of a decade looking into allegations of bribery by French oil companies and senior politicians," but he never explained how or even whether Joly claims specific knowledge about illicit French involvement in the oil-for-food scandal. Indeed, Joly left her post as an investigative magistrate for the High Court of Paris in 2002 and took a job with the Norwegian government. But the major scandal in the U.N. program came to light only after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003, when the U.S.-led coalition and the Iraqi governing council obtained millions of Iraqi documents related to the program.
The opening seconds of his November 30 report used unsupported charges and innuendo to cast suspicion on French President Jacques Chirac. Hunt said that "allegations have been made" about Chirac but didn't say who made them or whether evidence exists to support them:
HUNT: For three decades allegations have been made regarding French President Jacques Chirac's business relationships -- about whether he sought and took bribes. Now close business associates of Mr. Chirac are said in the CIA's Duelfer Report to have received millions of dollars worth of oil vouchers from Saddam Hussein.
So how high does political corruption in France really go?
(The Duelfer Report named Patrick Maugein, the chairman of the oil firm Soco International who has ties to Chirac, as the recipient of illicit oil vouchers from Saddam, but the report does not allege that Chirac himself took bribes or made political decisions as a result of Hussein's apparent efforts to bribe his associates, or even that Chirac was aware of those efforts.)
In introducing Joly, Hunt treated French politicians with a presumption of guilt. Hunt noted that Joly "spent the best part of a decade looking into allegations of bribery by French oil companies and senior politicians, including President Chirac and former Interior Minister Charles Pasqua" and won convictions "against more than 30 oil company executives." But, "thanks in part to France's immunity laws, the top targets escaped."
Hunt's use of "escape" implies that these politicians were guilty. But who were the "top targets"? Are Chirac and Pasqua among them? Does Joly have compelling evidence against them? Against others? Hunt didn't say.
In a succeeding sequence, Hunt suggested without evidence that Pasqua's recent election to the French Senate, which grants him some immunity from prosecution, is the result of political cronyism:
HUNT: Charles Pasqua could also not now be sent to jail, his recent elevation to the French Senate giving him immunity.
JOLY: [video] When he was elected, he was greeted by Chirac and his wife. They were very happy about his election.
HUNT [video]: So it may appear that it is friends helping each other for whatever reason?
JOLY: [video] Yes, I think so. I think that France has a very important problem as to network. They are protecting each other.
Hunt's reference to Pasqua's "elevation" to the Senate and to "friends helping each other" implied that Pasqua gained his seat through a suspicious favor from well-connected higher-ups. But as Joly said, Pasqua was elected. Moreover, though Hunt's question to Joly about "friends helping each other" directly followed Joly's remark about Chirac's satisfaction at Pasqua's election in Hunt's prepared report, the editing in this sequence makes it unclear if Hunt's live interview with Joly actually proceeded this way -- i.e., whether Joly intended to suggest that Chirac had helped Pasqua gain a Senate seat in order to help Pasqua avoid prosecution -- or whether Hunt imposed that interpretation through clever editing.
Finally, Hunt suggested that French politicians had created a climate of fearful silence among those who would investigate political corruption in France. Again, Hunt provided no names or specific details:
HUNT: Mrs. Joly also warns that anyone who pursues senior politicians in France faces real danger. No one has ever been charged with threatening Mrs. Joly, but she says her house was broken into, her telephones bugged, her secretary robbed.
HUNT: So you were pursuing senior French politicians --
HUNT: -- and as a result, your life was threatened?
HUNT: So it would be reasonable to assume that those senior French politicians may have had something to do with the threats on your life?
But how do we know the now-convicted oil executives weren't behind the threats? And why was Joly, a world-renowned investigator, unable or unwilling even to charge someone for the apparent intimidation? And how did Hunt make the leap from "her house was broken into" to "your life was threatened"?