Despite all evidence to the contrary, media conservatives continued to hype Santorum's “weapons of mass destruction”

Fox News' Brit Hume, John Gibson, and Jim Angle, as well as nationally syndicated radio hosts Rush Limbaugh and Janet Parshall, continued to ignore conclusive assertions of intelligence officials that the degraded chemical munitions found in Iraq and hyped by Sen. Rick Santorum and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra were not, in fact, in the category of “weapons of mass destruction” that the U.S. was looking for at the time of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

In reporting and commenting on Sen. Rick Santorum's (R-PA) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra's (R-MI) June 21 claim that a recently declassified intelligence report found that there were “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq prior to the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion, Fox News' Brit Hume, John Gibson, and Jim Angle, as well as nationally syndicated radio hosts Rush Limbaugh and Janet Parshall, continued to ignore conclusive assertions of intelligence officials that the degraded chemical munitions found were not, in fact, in the category of “weapons of mass destruction” that the U.S. was looking for at the time of the invasion. They also ignore the Iraq Survey Group's (ISG) September 2004 final report (also known as the Duelfer report), which noted that degraded chemical munitions had already been found in Iraq, and that they were not proof of an existing chemical weapons stockpile or of a renewed Iraqi chemical weapons program. Indeed, former ISG head Charles Duelfer stated that the munitions hyped by Santorum and Hoekstra do not qualify as weapons of mass destruction, though they may still pose a local threat.

Nevertheless, Hume reported that "[t]op administration officials said today that chemical and biological weapons have indeed been found in Iraq," and a report by Angle uncritically aired a statement by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld that these munitions “are weapons of mass destruction.” Further, Angle's report mischaracterized a statement by Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, to suggest that she downplayed the danger of these munitions.

As Media Matters for America documented, nearly every June 21 Fox News program between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. ET touted Santorum and Hoekstra's disclosure. Santorum and Hoekstra's claims, however, had been quickly dismissed by Pentagon officials and the intelligence community. As CNN national security correspondent David Ensor reported on CNN's The Situation Room shortly after the announcement, “Charles Duelfer, the CIA's weapons inspector, tells us the weapons are all pre-Gulf War vintage shells, no longer effective weapons. Not evidence, he says, of an ongoing WMD program under Saddam Hussein.” The Washington Post also reported June 22 that "[n]either the military nor the White House nor the CIA considered the shells to be evidence of what was alleged by the Bush administration to be a current Iraqi program to make chemical, biological and nuclear weapons."

The Duelfer report concluded that “old, abandoned chemical munitions” found in Iraq -- such as the ones hyped by Santorum and Hoekstra -- are not part of a “chemical weapons stockpile.” According to the report [emphasis in original]:

While a small number of old, abandoned chemical munitions have been discovered, ISG judges that Iraq unilaterally destroyed its undeclared chemical weapons stockpile in 1991. There are no credible indications that Baghdad resumed production of chemical munitions thereafter, a policy ISG attributes to Baghdad's desire to see sanctions lifted, or rendered ineffectual, or its fear of force against it should WMD be discovered.

  • The scale of the Iraqi conventional munitions stockpile, among other factors, precluded an examination of the entire stockpile; however, ISG inspected sites judged most likely associated with possible storage or deployment of chemical weapons.

Duelfer also appeared on the June 22 broadcast of National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation, where he stated that these munitions are not weapons of mass destruction:

NEAL CONAN (host): The report says hundreds of WMDs were found in Iraq. Does this change any of the findings in your report?

DEULFER: No, the report -- the findings of the report were basically to describe the relationship of the regime with weapons of mass destruction generally. You know, at two different times, Saddam elected to have and then not to have weapons of mass destruction. We found, when we were investigating, some residual chemical munitions. And we said in the report that such chemical munitions would probably still be found. But the ones which have been found are left over from the Iran-Iraq war. They are almost 20 years old, and they are in a decayed fashion. It is very interesting that there are so many that were unaccounted for, but they do not constitute a weapon of mass destruction, although they could be a local hazard.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. So these -- were these the weapons of mass destruction that the Bush administration said that it was going into Iraq to find before the war?

DEULFER: No, these do not indicate an ongoing weapons of mass destruction program as had been thought to exist before the war. These are leftover rounds, which Iraq probably did not even know that it had. Certainly, the leadership was unaware of their existence, because they made very clear that they had gotten rid of their programs as a prelude to getting out of sanctions.


DEULFER: Sarin agent decays, you know, at a certain rate, as does mustard agent. What we found, both as U.N. and later when I was with the Iraq Survey Group, is that some of these rounds would have highly degraded agent, but it is still dangerous. You know, it can be a local hazard. If an insurgent got it and wanted to create a local hazard, it could be exploded. When I was running the ISG -- the Iraq Survey Group -- we had a couple of them that had been turned in to these IEDs, the improvised explosive devices. But they are local hazards. They are not a major, you know, weapon of mass destruction.

Even Angle, Fox News' chief Washington correspondent, and Hume, Fox News' Washington bureau chief, were apparently aware that the chemical weapons touted by Santorum and Hoekstra were not in the category of WMD sought by the U.S. During the June 21 edition of Special Report, Hume reported on the Defense Department's reaction to Santorum and Hoekstra's revelations, noting: “the Defense Department is saying tonight about all this, well, yes, they were found, and yes, they were, though degraded, weapons of mass destruction, but they were not the weapons of mass destruction that we believed where there.” Fox News host Alan Colmes noted during an interview with Santorum on the June 21 edition of Hannity & Colmes that at least one “defense official” informed Angle that the weapons “could not have been fired ... because they'd already been degraded,” and “that these are not the WMDs this country and the rest of the world believed Iraq had and not the WMDs for which this country went to war.”

Nevertheless, on the June 22 edition of Special Report, Hume and Angle ignored this evidence in reporting that “chemical weapons” had been found in Iraq, and repeating Rumsfeld's claim that they are “weapons of mass destruction”:

HUME: Top administration officials said today that chemical and biological weapons have indeed been found in Iraq, and they now worry what this could suggest about other hidden weapons there and the possible dangers to U.S. troops. As Fox News chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle reports, the administration tried to strike a balance, not minimizing but not exaggerating what has been found.

ANGLE (video): Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is the first administration official to comment publicly on the declassified report that some 500 chemical weapons have been found in Iraq.

RUMSFELD: They are weapons of mass destruction. They're harmful to human beings. And they have been found and they had not been reported by Saddam Hussein as he inaccurately alleged he had reported all of his weapons, and they're still being found and discovered.

ANGLE: U.S. intelligence officials believe the weapons were made prior to the Gulf War in 1991, and officials say they have seriously degraded over time. But the declassified report says they are still lethal, and Secretary Rumsfeld said that is a concern for all those in Iraq.

RUMSFELD: It's dangerous to our forces and it's a concern, so obviously to the extent that we can locate these and destroy them, it's important that we do so. I'm sure General [George W.] Casey [Jr., commanding general of the Multinational Force-Iraq] or anyone else in that country would be concerned if they got in the wrong hands.

ANGLE: In fact, the declassified report said, “Pre-Gulf War weapons could be sold on the black market. Use of these weapons by terrorists or insurgent groups would have implications for coalition forces in Iraq. The possibility of use outside Iraq cannot be ruled out.”

Angle also misattributed a statement on the alleged danger of the munitions to Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. Angle claimed that “Harman argued wouldn't be any more toxic now than what one might find under the kitchen sink, but U.S. intelligence officials insisted today the materials are still lethal.” In fact, Harman called the munitions “old, fairly toxic stuff.” According to a June 22 Associated Press article, it was former ISG head David Kay who claimed that the degraded chemicals in the weapons were “less toxic than most things that Americans have under their kitchen sink at this point.”

On the June 22 edition of Fox News' The Big Story, host John Gibson, introducing an interview with Hoekstra, stated flatly that Saddam Hussein “did have weapons of mass destruction, at least 500 of them, according to Republican Senator Rick Santorum and Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra.” Gibson did not reference any of the evidence undermining Hoekstra's claim, and asked Hoesktra if the munitions “qualify as Saddam having current weapons that posed some kind of threat.” Gibson also dismissed the “rejection of these as any sort of validation as a reason to go to ... war” as “laughter coming from the left”:

GIBSON: A breakthrough report says coalition forces have found chemical weapons in Iraq. That would mean Saddam Hussein lied. He did have weapons of mass destruction, at least 500 of them, according to Republican Senator Rick Santorum and Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra. Congressman Hoekstra is the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and he joins us now. Congressman, thanks.

HOEKSTRA: Hey, thank you.

GIBSON: I'm really confused about this. You had to pry this information out of the Department of Defense, evidently. And they're in the business of trying to convince us that Saddam did have WMD, so why was it like pulling teeth?

HOEKSTRA: Well, I'm not sure of that. That's one of those questions. Obviously, what is happening here, John, is that they see that WMD is a threat to our front-line troops. So perhaps the answer to that question is buried in -- we need to make sure we get a hold of all of these weapons. We have found 500, and we need to get a hold of all the other ones that we think may still be in Iraq, because they do pose a threat to our front-line troops.

GIBSON: You know, there's a -- the 500, were they all found together in one cache, one pile, or is this here and there?

HOEKSTRA: My understanding is that they were found in numerous different sites in various parts of Iraq.

GIBSON: Is 500 a lot? I mean, if the president said Iraq has WMD, is 500 enough to make that argument?

HOEKSTRA: Well, I think you have got to put this in context of everything else that we knew that was going on in Iraq. We knew Saddam had weapons of mass destruction at one time, because he used them and killed thousands of his own people and thousands of Iranians. The Duelfer, the -- Duelfer report from the Iraqi Survey Group, they said that there were obviously weapons programs in development, including anthrax in dual-use facilities that could start producing chemical weapons within six months after sanctions were lifted. This is just one more piece in a very complicated puzzle of a very, very notorious and evil regime.

GIBSON: If these are pre-'91 weapons, do they qualify as Saddam having current weapons that posed some kind of threat?

HOEKSTRA: Well, I think the secretary of defense said it very, very well. These weapons continue to pose a threat to our troops. They continue to pose a threat to the people in Iraq. And perhaps, if these weapons were ever transported somewhere else, they would pose a threat to citizens of other countries. These materials are still very, very deadly. It doesn't matter when they were manufactured, if they were manufactured in '88 or whether they were manufactured in '98 or 2002. They were still in Iraq, and they still have the capability today of killing people.

GIBSON: What do you think of the laughter coming from the left about this, I mean, just this kind of rejection of these as any sort of validation as a reason to go to the -- to go to war?

HOEKSTRA: Well, I think -- I'm not going to respond to the left. I mean, first, they said there were weapons of mass destruction. You know, you've got a lot of Democrats on the record saying, you know, very forcefully, there were weapons and this is why we need to go and get rid of Saddam Hussein. The Duelfer report came out, and they said, “Wow, see, there were no weapons of mass destruction.” And now that we have found quantities -- but I think the other thing that is implied here, John, is that Secretary Rumsfeld has also said there are many, many more WMD in Iraq. We don't know how many more there are. It is not a WMD-free zone.

On the June 22 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show, Limbaugh announced his intention to “get out the truth on weapons of mass destruction” and denounced the “three-year propaganda program on 'no weapons of mass destruction' ”:

LIMBAUGH: It is going to be up to us, ladies and gentlemen, to get the truth out on weapons of mass destruction and overcome the obdurate stubbornness and blindness of the Democrats and the drive-by media. It's going to be up to us to give courage and backbone to our own people on our side of the aisle.


If you're like me, you have a mixture of anger and frustration at a whole lot of people over the discovered news of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And you're very frustrated over what some of the reaction to this has been.


We've had a three-year propaganda program on “no weapons of mass destruction, none have been found.” This is just settled in now as fact. It is not fact. It is propaganda. The facts are coming out, and there's probably a lot more to be unclassified if somebody will just do it.

On the June 22 edition of Salem Radio Network's Janet Parshall's America, Parshall interviewed counterterrorism consultant and Weekly Standard contributor Daveed Gartenstein-Ross* , and both Parshall and Gartenstein-Ross attacked the media reports undermining Santorum as “misrepresentation” and “spin”:

PARSHALL: Daveed Gartenstein-Ross wrote a piece with Richard Miniter called “Making Victory Rhyme with Defeat” -- I love this piece -- “The Three Media Myths of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.” The piece is fabulous. We thank Daveed so much for being with us. This is a man who understands terrorism, and by the way, his book is going to be coming out next year, called My Year Inside Radical Islam. I cannot wait to read it. Daveed, thank you so much for being with us.

You know, I go back to the inspired Scripture that says, “Be angry and sin not.” But I come awful close when it comes to the major press and the misrepresentation. Classic example: Rick Santorum gives a press conference at about 5:30 last night and says, “Guess what, we found weapons of mass destruction.” And now finding that story is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. It is amazing.

GARTENSTEIN-ROSS: Yeah, it certainly is amazing the degree to which the media has the notion as to the way they want to spin any events that are occurring in Iraq or events occurring around the war on terror.

*Daveed Gartenstein-Ross responds: I want to alert you to the fact that I believe you misrepresented my views in the above-mentioned item. My comment on Janet Parshall's show about media spin in Iraq was meant to segue into the three media myths discussed in my Weekly Standard piece: It was not intended to endorse Santorum's comments, about which I have no opinion at this point.

The distinction is fairly important to me because, unlike many conservative analysts, I believe that the Iraq war has proven to be a mistake (although I am deadset against withdrawing from the country too hastily). Thus, I tend to be skeptical of claims that WMD's have been discovered there.

I'd appreciate it if you could clarify your entry. Although my response was somewhat vague, it was not intended as an endorsement of Santorum's remarks.