John Leo

David Kay?s exit interview was odd. In resigning as chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, he made news. ?I don?t think they existed,? he said of the WMD supposedly stockpiled by Saddam Hussein. But this announcement came not in a Washington press conference but in a phone interview with a London-based news outlet (Reuters). Then he declined to answer phone calls and E-mails from the New York Times and talked to the London Telegraph instead.

Reuters said Kay ?fired a parting shot at the Bush administration.? This wasn?t true and may have reflected the journalistic expectation (or hope) that Kay would slam the door on the way out. Reuters eliminated the ?parting shot? from its copy a couple of hours later.

The right-leaning Telegraph, possibly with an opposite expectation, ran its story under a sensational headline: ?Saddam?s WMD hidden in Syria, says Iraq survey chief?. Kay was quoted as saying that interviews with former Iraqi officials established that ?a lot of material went to Syria before the war, including some components of Saddam?s WMD program.? The story was tamer than the headline. Kay?s account grew tamer still when he got around to talking to U.S. media and the Senate: Whatever had been shipped to Syria (satellites and on-the-ground reports established ?a constant stream of trucks, cars, rail traffic?) could not have amounted to much, since no significant, telltale evidence of production of weapons of mass destruction has been found anywhere in Iraq.

The first reports on Kay?s comments, based solely on  the brief and thin Reuters dispatch, stuck to the simple failure to find WMD. But once Kay started adding qualifiers and nuances, the story seemed less damaging to the Bush administration and less helpful to the ?Bush lied? constituency. The stark no-weapons reporting (Iraq illicit arms gone before war, inspector insists, said the first New York Times article) faded from certainty to the finding that the weapons ?probably? were gone when the United States invaded. Kay is personally convinced that Iraq had no WMD, but he acknowledged a dwindling chance that such forbidden weapons might
still be found.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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