In crediting Rep. Wolf with ISG's creation, NBC ignored differences between his findings and ISG report

NBC's Brian Williams said that Rep. Frank Wolf “came up with the idea for the Iraq Study Group after ... returning from his third trip to Iraq after having seen how much the situation there had deteriorated and how violent Iraq had become.” In fact, a September 2005 op-ed by Wolf written after that trip stressed that “real progress is being made [in Iraq]” and claimed the media were not giving sufficient attention to it -- a very different picture from the dire conditions described in the ISG's final report.

Reporting on the release of the Iraq Study Group's (ISG) final report on the December 6 broadcast of NBC's Nightly News, anchor Brian Williams said that Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) “might not get the credit he deserves,” as "[t]he whole Iraq commission was his idea." Williams added that Wolf “came up with the idea for the Iraq Study Group after, by the way, returning from his third trip to Iraq after having seen how much the situation there had deteriorated and how violent Iraq had become.” In fact, as Media Matters noted, in an op-ed by Wolf published in The Washington Post right after his September 2005 trip, he did not characterize the situation in Iraq as having “deteriorated”; he stressed that “real progress is being made [in Iraq],” progress to which, he said, the media were not giving sufficient attention. Indeed, in the op-ed, in which he advocated the formation on independent group to recommend a strategy for Iraq going forward, Wolf painted a very different picture of the situation from the dire conditions described by the ISG, writing that one area the panel could explore is the “underreported but significant successes” in Iraq and that the panel could as well “assure Americans -- no matter what their positions are on the war -- that every effort is being made to protect our troops and realize our goal of a secure and peaceful Iraq.”

Media Matters offers the following comparison of Wolf's findings, as described in his op-ed and the report he issued following his September 2005 trip, and the findings of the ISG report:

  • Wolf began his Post op-ed by writing:

Having just returned from my third trip to Iraq, I came away with three thoughts.

One, real progress is being made, despite the ongoing security concerns.

The ISG report began as follows: “The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating.”

  • In his report, Wolf listed some of “positive things” he claimed were “happening in Iraq.” According to Wolf's report (page 2):

I saw with my own eyes real progress being made on several fronts. Safe drinking water is available in places that have never had it before. Electricity is being restored. Oil pipelines are being repaired. Schools are being renovated. Hospitals and health clinics are being built.

The ISG offered a different assessment of the Iraqi reconstruction efforts:

The Iraqi government is not effectively providing its people with basic services: electricity, drinking water, sewage, health care, and education. In many sectors, production is below or hovers around prewar levels. In Baghdad and other unstable areas, the situation is much worse.


Oil production and sales account for nearly 70 percent of Iraq's GDP, and more than 95 percent of government revenues. Iraq produces around 2.2 million barrels per day, and exports about 1.5 million barrels per day. This is below both prewar production levels and the Iraqi government's target of 2.5 million barrels per day, and far short of the vast potential of the Iraqi oil sector.

  • Wolf also praised the progress made by the Iraqi police and army:

Police stations are being constructed. The Iraqi army is being reconstituted and will live and train in modern facilities built by Iraqis under the supervision and guidance of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Again, the ISG found less that was praiseworthy:

The Iraqi Army is making fitful progress toward becoming a reliable and disciplined fighting force loyal to the national government. By the end of 2006, the Iraqi Army is expected to comprise 118 battalions formed into 36 brigades under the command of 10 divisions. Although the Army is one of the more professional Iraqi institutions, its performance has been uneven. The training numbers are impressive, but they represent only part of the story.

Significant questions remain about the ethnic composition and loyalties of some Iraqi units--specifically, whether they will carry out missions on behalf of national goals instead of a sectarian agenda. Of Iraq's 10 planned divisions, those that are even-numbered are made up of Iraqis who signed up to serve in a specific area, and they have been reluctant to redeploy to other areas of the country. As a result, elements of the Army have refused to carry out missions.


Iraqi police cannot control crime, and they routinely engage in sectarian violence, including the unnecessary detention, torture, and targeted execution of Sunni Arab civilians. The police are organized under the Ministry of the Interior, which is confronted by corruption and militia infiltration and lacks control over police in the provinces.

  • Wolf claimed that one of the big problems facing Iraq and the U.S. efforts there was the underreporting of “good news” by the media -- indeed, one of the functions he envisioned for the independent commission was to examine and correct this alleged problem. He wrote in his op-ed:

While we still have a long way to go, positive things are happening. Regrettably, they are often overshadowed by the suicide attacks carried out by foreign fighters who have poured into Iraq in hopes of undermining our progress and turning the Iraqi people against us. Yes, security remains our biggest challenge. It also limits where reporters can safely go, leaving them with little option but to focus on the bloodshed and bombings. But in truth, all across Iraq, in regions rarely visited by the media, there are heartening, albeit less riveting, stories of measurable progress.

These underreported but significant successes could be explored by the group tasked with reviewing our efforts in Iraq.

The ISG, however, made a different finding -- that the Pentagon is “significantly underreporting” the level of violence in the country:

In addition, there is significant underreporting of the violence in Iraq [by the Defense Department]. The standard for recording attacks acts as a filter to keep events out of reports and databases. A murder of an Iraqi is not necessarily counted as an attack. If we cannot determine the source of a sectarian attack, that assault does not make it into the database. A roadside bomb or a rocket or mortar attack that doesn't hurt U.S. personnel doesn't count. For example, on one day in July 2006 there were 93 attacks or significant acts of violence reported. Yet a careful review of the reports for that single day brought to light 1,100 acts of violence. Good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals.

From the December 6 broadcast of NBC's Nightly News:

WILLIAMS: Finally tonight, after this day here in Washington that was dominated by the final report of the so-called Baker group on Iraq, we wanted to focus for a moment on a man that was there today but might not get the credit he deserves. There he was, though, this morning congratulating both Congressman Hamilton and Secretary Baker. He is Congressman Frank Wolf of nearby Virginia, a Republican about to start his 14th term. This whole Iraq commission was his idea, and today he was feeling grateful and hopeful.

Are we at our best when our best and brightest get together and hammer out a problem like this?

WOLF: The answer to that is just yes. I think that's the way that it used to be. That's the way it was during World War II. That's the way -- and I think if we can return to that, the answer to your question is yes.

WILLIAMS: So you feel good today?

WOLF: I feel good today.

WILLIAMS: Congressman Frank Wolf, the man who came up with the idea for the Iraq Study Group after, by the way, returning from his third trip to Iraq after having seen how much the situation there had deteriorated and how violent Iraq had become.