Offering the latest in a series (see here, here, and here) of smears by Fox News against United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, correspondent Jonathan Hunt cast Annan as dishonest for claiming that the recent interim report of the independent panel investigating the U.N. oil-for-food program was an "exoneration" and made baseless claims about supposed U.N. staff frustration with Annan.
In a report on the April 5 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume about a special meeting that Annan held with U.N. staffers earlier that day, Hunt selectively cited conclusions from the recent interim report of the Independent Inquiry Committee led by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, cherry-picking the single adverse finding against Annan in order to dispute Annan's claim that the report was an "exoneration":
HUNT: The latest report on that [corruption in the oil-for-food program] delivered by the Inquiry Chairman Paul Volcker directly faulted Mr. Annan for failing to adequately investigate a clear conflict of interest involving him and his son. But after the report's release, Mr. Annan claimed he had been exonerated....
Hunt never mentioned that the committee explicitly rejected the central suspicion concerning Annan -- that he had improperly intervened on behalf of Cotecna Inspection Services SA, a Swiss firm that employed his son, to help the firm win a U.N. contract in 1998. The committee found: "There is no evidence that the selection of Cotecna in 1998 was subject to any affirmative or improper influence of the Secretary-General in the bidding or selection process." Hunt also failed to mention that Annan was referring directly to this finding when he claimed "exoneration" at the March 29 press conference accompanying the release of the report:
ANNAN: After an exhaustive 12-month investigation, the report states clearly that "there is no evidence that the selection of Cotecna in 1998 was subject to any affirmative or improper influence of the Secretary-General in the bidding or selection process." After so many distressing and untrue allegations have been made against me, this exoneration by the Independent Inquiry obviously comes as a great relief.
Hunt reported that Annan's claim to exoneration is "a feeling not shared by many U.N. staff or by the Inquiry Committee members." But he quoted no U.N. staffers expressing this view and only a single committee member, who apparently didn't even see Annan's full comments. In fact, at his press conference accompanying the release of the report, Volcker himself explicitly declined either to defend or refute the characterization of the report as an exoneration:
QUESTION: Mr. Volcker, for seven days now, as leaks of this report have come out and even now with the full report, U.N. officials have said that it clears Kofi Annan, that it exonerates Kofi Annan.
I wonder, first, would you agree with that characterization of it --
VOLCKER: On the first point, I think I will let you characterize the report. We indicated that we feel that there was no evidence of any influence on the bidding process that was central to this. We found a problem in the fact that there was not sufficient diligence -- whatever word you want to use -- in following up the investigation inquiry, the short inquiry that took place when the question was raised about a conflict of interest.
Hunt quoted Judge Richard Goldstone, a member of the inquiry panel, criticizing Annan's reaction to the report, but it was unclear that he had even seen Annan's comments:
GOLDSTONE (clip): [If I were Annan,] I certainly would have said that that indeed in hindsight I should have launched the inquiry to which the committee referred.
In fact, Annan did acknowledge and accept the committee's criticism of him:
ANNAN: I also note, of course, that the committee does criticize me for not referring the matter to the U.N.'s Office of Internal Oversight Services, or its Legal Office, for a formal investigation after I became aware that Cotecna had been awarded a contract in January 1999. I accept that criticism.
Finally, Hunt reported that while Annan did "acknowledge" at the April 5 meeting that U.N. staff had endured a "painful time," "the secretary-general did not offer an apology or accept direct responsibility, something many staff had said they wanted to hear." Following this broad assertion about what "many staff" said, Hunt quoted only a single U.N. staffer, Mario Cianci (whom Fox identified in on-screen text simply as a "U.N. staff member"), whose statement was not a request for an apology. "He has been far too removed from the general staff," Cianci said of Annan.