That 377 tons of high explosives went missing from an Iraqi munitions facility 30 miles south of Baghdad is a legitimate story.
But did it deserve to be the front-page, two-column headline lead in The New York Times? Did it merit being featured on "60 Minutes," 30 hours before Election Day, as CBS News planned? Or were these twin media mastodons colluding as conscious agents of the Kerry campaign?
These are not unfair questions -- for consider:
We now know that the explosives have been missing from Al Qaqaa for 18 months and that this was known by the U.S. government. We now know that the 377 tons represents less than one-tenth of one percent of the munitions U.S. forces have captured or destroyed.
We now know the explosives were probably moved before U.S. troops arrived. For it is hard to believe an organized theft of these explosives, involving hundreds of men and 40 trucks, each hauling 10 tons of high explosives, could have been carried out on Iraqi roads jammed with U.S. military vehicles after the fall of Baghdad.
Yet, thanks to CBS and the Times, Kerry was able, for three days of the last week of the campaign, to make a charge of presidential dereliction of duty that threw Bush off message and on the defensive.
According to Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post, CBS News' Jeff Fager pleaded with the Times' Bill Keller not to publish the story until 36 hours before voting began. Keller balked, saying this "wouldn't give the White House a fair opportunity to respond."
Which seems to be what CBS had in mind.
For the Los Angeles Times cites a CBS source as saying that Fager was "distraught" the story was not held until 30 hours before voting began. The CBS gang was out to finish off a president with an unanswerable charge on the eve of an election.
This is the second time this fall that CBS News and "60 Minutes" have used hyped or bogus stories to sink President Bush.
In September, Dan Rather and "60 Minutes" charged that Bush, while in the Texas Air National Guard, had been insubordinate, had refused orders to take a medical exam and had used influence to avoid being disciplined.
Within hours, it was shown that the "60 Minutes" exclusive was based on criminally fabricated and forged memos. Yet CBS has never retracted its story nor apologized to President Bush.