The Toronto Star
Sep. 12, 01:00 EDT

CNN's hatchet job on Scott Ritter

Media smear ex-Marine for seeking answers on Iraq

By Antonia Zerbisias
To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.

-Theodore Roosevelt

OF COURSE it was just coincidental that, on Sunday, as CNN was discrediting former United Nations weapons' inspector Scott Ritter, it was running promos for the remake of Four Feathers, A.E.W. Mason's tale of the coward who would not go to war.

Ritter, who had that day urged Iraq's National Assembly to let in weapons inspectors or face annihilation, is no chicken hawk. After his 12-year turn as a U.S. Marine intelligence officer, he faced down Saddam Hussein's goons as chief inspector of the United Nations Special Commission to disarm Iraq (UNSCOM). In 1998, he quit in protest over differences between what Washington wanted and what Iraq allowed.

Ever since, he has been very vocal about what really led to UNSCOM's failure to complete its mission - a failure Ritter largely blames on Washington - and how weapons' inspectors must be allowed back in to avert what will certainly be a brutal, bloody war. He insists that, if the Bush administration has evidence showing that Saddam is building nukes, then the American people have a right to see it before they sacrifice their lives.

So, naturally, CNN talking head Miles O'Brien on Sunday questioned Ritter on his loyalty.

"As an American citizen, I have an obligation to speak out when I feel my government is acting in a manner, which is inconsistent with the - with the principles of our founding fathers," said Ritter. "It's the most patriotic thing I can do."

Not in this climate. Not when there's the ironically named U.S.A. Patriot Act which abrogates civil rights. Not when those who criticize the administration are considered to be "with the terrorists." Not when the U.S. media let President George Bush's advisers - who, with the exception of Secretary of State Colin Powell, have never served their country as Ritter has - gallop all over the airwaves.

You couldn't flip a channel on Sunday without catching one of the Bush bunch, including wife Laura, Powell, vice-president Dick Cheney, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and National Security adviser Condoleeza Rice, promoting an attack on Iraq as if they were actors flogging their latest project on Leno and Letterman.

Certainly, the line of questioning was no more tough. Nowhere was any of them asked seriously, if at all, about such trivia as the costs of a war, or what, if anything, is known about connections between Al Qaeda and Saddam, or what proof there is that Iraq has the ability to make and deliver nuclear weapons, or why that country as opposed to others, or what oil has to do with it, or how Cheney justifies his former business dealings with the regime he now so desperately wants to change ...

Still the demonization of Ritter continued.

First CNN had on its own news chief, Eason Jordan, who had just returned from Baghdad where he was bagging the rights to cover the war. (Imagine the ratings!) He dismissed Ritter with a "Well, Scott Ritter's chameleon-like behaviour has really bewildered a lot of people..." and a "Well, U.S. officials no longer give Scott Ritter much credibility..."

The network followed up with more interviews vilifying Ritter, neither of which cut to the heart of the matter: Why declare war? On what grounds? At what cost? Ritter was characterized as "misguided," "disloyal" and "an apologist for and a defender of Saddam Hussein."

By Monday, professional hairdo Paula Zahn told viewers Ritter had "drunk Saddam Hussein's Kool-Aid."

Over on MSNBC, Curtis & Kuby co-host Curtis Sliwa compared him to "a sock puppet" who "oughta turn in his passport for an Iraqi one." But the nadir came later on CNN when makeup job Kyra Phillips interrogated him, implying that he was being paid by Iraq -and all but calling him a quisling.

"Ha! Excuse me; I went to war against Saddam Hussein in 1991. I spent seven years of my life in this country hunting down weapons of mass destruction. I believe I've done a lot about Saddam Hussein," he replied. "You show me where Saddam Hussein can be substantiated as a threat against the United States and I'll go to war again. I'm not going to sit back idly and let anybody threaten the United States. But at this point in time, no one has made a case based upon facts that Saddam Hussein or his government is a threat to the United States worthy of war."

Maybe today, in his speech to the United Nations, Bush will make that case.

Maybe not.

Whatever happens, the list of cowards and traitors here won't include Scott Ritter.

Antonia Zerbisias' column appears every Thursday. You can reach her at