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47 days ago
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Elon Starts Bribing His Biggest Fans As He Admits The Company Is Still Burning Cash (Despite His Earlier Claims To The Contrary)

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It seems to anger certain Elon Musk fans every time I mention it, but pre-Elon Twitter was generally doing okay. Not great. Not terrible. Just okay. It wasn’t printing cash like Meta or Google, but it had been steadily increasing revenue and was profitable in 16 of the previous 20 quarters before Elon took over. There was a big paper loss in the 2nd quarter of 2020 due to a single noncash deferred tax asset, and many people see that giant loss and mistakenly think it showed the company was deep in the hole. However, you can tell it was nothing given that most analysts basically ignored that single big loss and focused on the underlying advertising and user numbers.

Elon has admitted multiple times now that he basically set fire to Twitter’s value and what had been a growing revenue stream. So it’s little surprise that he admitted it once again over the weekend, tweeting an admission that the company had lost around 50% of its advertising revenue.

The more interesting bit here, though, was him admitting that the company was “still negative cash flow.” Remember, in February, he had said the company was “trending to breakeven” and in April had suggested that it was now there. That April statement included him claiming that “most” advertisers had returned to Twitter, which Musk is now effectively admitting was a lie. And, his prediction that the company would be “cash flow positive” in the 2nd quarter didn’t quite pan out, I guess.

Of course, both of the things he complains about are directly due to Musk’s own terrible decisions. Advertisers have bailed because of his terrible choices, setting fire to brand safety efforts and driving away top tier advertisers (and users), and the “heavy debt load” was entirely due to his decision to finance $13 billion of the takeover with debt, on which the company how has to pay interest.

Both of those moves could have been easily avoided.

On top of that, you have to wonder how a company that was effectively breakeven before all of this is still cash flow negative when he’s (1) fired somewhere around 80% of the employees, (2) stopped paying rent (3) refused to pay out owed severance packages (4) not paying lawyers and PR companies or (5) cloud computing bills. He’s also shut down one of the company’s three data centers and closed offices (or been evicted from them).

What expenses is he actually paying?

Well, it seems he’s paying out what can only be considered bribes to some of his favorite Twitter users. Back in February, Elon announced that the company would start sharing ad revenue with Twitter Blue subscribers.

But since then there had been not a peep, even as some users raised questions about such payments.

Then, finally, late last week, some users started tweeting about how they had received their first payments, though many noticed that these payments were basically only going to Elon Musk’s favorite reply guys. This left some others (including some other Musk stans) pissed off that they weren’t getting their share of the cash.

Among those in Twitter’s payout pool was Andrew Tate, who tweeted that he received $20,379 under the new program. Tate wrote that “every penny” of the proceeds will go toward his Tate Pledge charity initiatives. The former pro kickboxer, who once tweeted that women should “bare [sic] some responsibility” for being raped, last year claimed tech platforms had banned him for what he said were “traditional masculine values.” Tate has 7.1 million followers on Twitter; his Twitter account had been banned in 2017 and was reinstated after Musk acquired the social network. Last month Tate was charged with rape and human trafficking offenses in Romania. Earlier this week, Tate and his brother Tristan sued a Florida woman and others, alleging they conspired to falsely accuse the Tates in the Romania case, the AP reported.

Also getting Twitter payments were Brian Krassenstein ($24,305) and Ed Krassenstein ($24,877), entrepreneurs who originally rose to prominence on the platform with their relentless anti-Trump tweets. “Now I’m going to stop promoting border crossings and begin promoting Tesla vehicles,” Ed Krassenstein joked in a tweet. “I assumed I’d would be getting paid around $500 or so for the past 4-5 months. I thought, it would be pennies on the dollar compared to what George Soros pays me (sarcasm).”

In 2019, the Krassentein brothers were banned by Twitter for allegedly using fake accounts to amplify their reach (which they denied). Following Musk’s takeover of the company last fall, Twitter reinstated their accounts in December.

Other Twitter users who shared ad-revenue payouts included podcaster and political commentator Benny Johnson ($9,546), Ashley St. Clair, a writer for political satire site Babylon Bee ($7,153), and an anonymously run account called End Wokeness ($10,419).

One user, who was not included, emailed Twitter and heard back from the company confirming that those selected were not based on the criteria stated in Twitter’s blog post about the program, but rather the payouts went “to a selected group of people.”

That email is all kinds of hilarious. In case you can’t see the image, it says:

Thanks for reaching out about being unable to receive your payment from Creator Ads Revenue Sharing on Twitter. We have information for you.

Currently, creator ad revenue sharing is only available to a selected group of people.

We hope this clarifies your concern.

Indeed, you do have information.

So… to sum up: Elon’s own decisions destroyed the company’s revenue and saddled it with way more expenses in the form of debt interest/repayment. The company is bleeding users and revenue, and despite promising a large group of users payouts if they joined his failed “Twitter Blue” program, the company is only paying that money to a small handpicked group which seems to consist almost entirely of accounts that suck up to Musk on the platform.

I might not be an intergalactic business genius, like many people assure me Musk is, but I fail to see how this strategy succeeds.

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71 days ago
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Disney Gets A Nice Fat Tax Break For Making Its Streaming Catalog Worse

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We just got done discussing how, as the streaming video space consolidates and grows, it’s starting to behave more and more like the unpopular, consolidated cable and broadcast companies they once disrupted. Cory Doctorow’s theory of enshittification has come to streaming, in a big way.

Netflix now thinks password sharing is the devil. Streaming catalogs are shrinking because hugely profitable companies are increasingly too cheap to pay residuals. Writers are striking because executives making billions of dollars don’t want to pay creatives a basic living wage. Prices and restrictions are increasing at the same time the quality of the streaming service you’re paying for deteriorates.

Mindless mergers and consolidation, and Wall Street’s inevitable need for improved quarterly returns at any cost (even if it profoundly harms long term company and brand health) are taking a sector that was just hitting its stride competitively and innovatively, and turning it inside out. All overseen by upward-failing execs who seem to have no idea what they’re doing (looking at you Time Warner Discovery).

We’ve noted repeatedly how these companies keep pulling shows from their lineups in a bid to save money. Often because they’re just too cheap to pay residuals. Following on the heels of HBO Max, last week, Disney+ pulled more than 100 titles from its lineup, including some (like Willow) it had only just produced. Why? Because it netted them a giant tax break:

According to an SEC filing from late Friday, Disney’s set to write off about $1.5 billion following this streaming purge. It was previously known this was a way for Disney to cut costs, and the filing notes that this will be reflected in the company’s fiscal third quarter. But if you thought this would be a one-and-done affair, that is not the case. Towards the end of the filing, the SEC wrote that Disney is “continuing its review and currently anticipates additional produced content will be removed.” Those removals equate to an additional estimated $400 million. But as far as when these removals may happen (or what canceled shows may be caught in the crossfire), that isn’t touched on in the filing, and Disney hasn’t yet said.

Users were given a week’s notice that this content would be disappearing. Media bean counters, myopically fixated on “growth for growth’s sake,” have begun the enshitification process of making you pay more money for an increasingly worse product. Even if that means harming the company’s long term success, brands, and employee and customer relationships.

Lost in the conversation is the fact that these companies burned through hundreds of billions of dollars on completely pointless megamergers that were supposed to deliver untold synergies, broad resiliency, and untold consumer benefits. These same companies also spent billions more on bloated executive compensation packages, or luxury resorts nobody could afford.

That these companies would have saved untold billions (far more money that it costs to host Willow on a server) by avoiding bloated executive compensation packages, leadership incompetence, or completely pointless mergers (see the $200 billion AT&T set on fire for its disastrous Time Warner and DirecTV deals) is curiously either footnoted or not mentioned at all in the broader conversation.

The MBAs who defend these kinds of decisions as cold calculus, are incapable of stepping back and acknowledging that the entire process of mindless consolidation and enshittification is violent, unpopular, senseless, often completely purposeless, results in untold layoffs and ill will, and actually harms these companies longer term. Because, and this is the gist, the stupidity benefits them personally.

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112 days ago
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Elon Musk Is Full Of Shit, Again. No, Federal Agencies Did Not Have ‘Full Access’ To DMs

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Elon Musk went on Tucker Carlson this week and spewed some utter nonsense, claiming that one thing he discovered upon taking over Twitter was that federal agencies had full access to everything at Twitter, including DMs.

“The degree to which various government agencies effectively had full access to everything that was going on at Twitter blew my mind,” Musk says in video posted ahead of the Monday night interview. “I was not aware of that,” Musk adds, claiming that his predecessors even allowed those agencies access to infiltrate users’ direct messages.

From everything that’s been discussed so far, and the way that the old Twitter regime handled requests for information from Twitter (i.e., repeatedly fighting the government in court when it requested DM info, and that includes when Democrats on the January 6th Committee subpoenaed info) this sounded highly unlikely to be true. Given how frequently Twitter was seen directly and publicly challenging demands for information, and revealing how often it rejected government requests for information in its transparency reports (that Elon no longer issues), this whole claim seemed highly questionable.

Certainly, none of the Twitter Files revealed anything like this.

Given the bizarre claim, I reached out to three separate former Twitter employees who would be in positions to know how the company handled federal government requests for information. Two out of the three actually started off their responses with swear words out of anger that Elon is flat out making shit up. All insisted he’s absolutely, categorically wrong about this claim.

From one:

This is completely false. Pre-Elon Twitter worked tirelessly to protect users from overreaching government requests for information. The idea that Twitter was somehow fighting the US government in courts, while giving the US government access to DMs, is simply absurd. Moreover, it’s dangerous rhetoric.

Another former exec called it a “shocking lie” and noted:

DMs were exceedingly locked down. The FBI needed a search warrant to get that kind of content…. There were tools in place to be able to respond to valid legal process – but [it] would go through EXTREME scrutiny.

The third also noted that DMs were “specially locked down” and also pointed out that the company had made specific promises to the FTC regarding who had access to DMs (remember the consent decrees?) and that execs at the company knew full well that lying to the FTC would be very, very bad.

Of course, I would surmise that the company’s executives used to know that. I doubt it’s true today. However, given Elon is making those claims publicly, I’m guessing the FTC may be sending over more requests for information.

Honestly, this seems like typical Elon, where he makes claims based on what he thinks his audience wants to hear rather than anything connected to reality. As per usual, he’s playing to the Fox News audience (he did the same thing when he did his BBC interview last week). But as some of the people quoted above note, this is not just absolute bullshit, it’s a dangerous lie that implies things about the former management team that are simply not true.

If confronted on this, I’m sure he’d claim that he meant the kind of access they got through valid legal process, which is not even remotely “full access to everything that was going on at Twitter.” Alternatively, as one person I spoke to noted, there’s a reading of this (that I’m sure Elon didn’t mean) that what actually blew his mind was that the government did not, in fact, have full access to everything. But there’s no way that’s actually what he meant.

Instead, he’s just making shit up without realizing the consequences. Because he’ll never face them. He never does.

Now, after that clip, he does talk about encrypting DMs, which he’s been promising for a while, and which we applauded. Because it would be a big and important step. But it’s also incredibly difficult to do well, and easy to screw up. And given how things have been working at Twitter lately, I wouldn’t trust the DM encryption until it’s been audited. So, really, a lot of this seems to be Elon’s warped understanding of why he needed to encrypt DMs. Doing so definitely makes it much more difficult for government to ever get access to anyone’s DMs, but that doesn’t mean that “various government agencies” had “full access” to people’s DMs. That’s just utter bullshit.

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161 days ago
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Mehdi Hasan Dismantles The Entire Foundation Of The Twitter Files As Matt Taibbi Stumbles To Defend It

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So here’s the deal. If you think the Twitter Files are still something legit or telling or powerful, watch this 30 minute interview that Mehdi Hasan did with Matt Taibbi (at Taibbi’s own demand):

Hasan came prepared with facts. Lots of them. Many of which debunked the core foundation on which Taibbi and his many fans have built the narrative regarding the Twitter Files.

We’ve debunked many of Matt’s errors over the past few months, and a few of the errors we’ve called out (though not nearly all, as there are so, so many) show up in Hasan’s interview, while Taibbi shrugs, sighs, and makes it clear he’s totally out of his depth when confronted with facts.

Since the interview, Taibbi has been scrambling to claim that the errors Hasan called out are small side issues, but they’re not. They’re literally the core pieces on which he’s built the nonsense framing that Stanford, the University of Washington, some non-profits, the government, and social media have formed an “industrial censorship complex” to stifle the speech of Americans.

As we keep showing, Matt makes very sloppy errors at every turn, doesn’t understand the stuff he has found, and is confused about some fairly basic concepts.

The errors that Hasan highlights matter a lot. A key one is Taibbi’s claim that the Election Integrity Partnership flagged 22 million tweets for Twitter to take down in partnership with the government. This is flat out wrong. The EIP, which was focused on studying election interference, flagged less than 3,000 tweets for Twitter to review (2,890 to be exact).

And they were quite clear in their report on how all this worked. EIP was an academic project to track election interference information and how it flowed across social media. The 22 million figure shows up in the report, but it was just a count of how many tweets they tracked in trying to follow how this information spread, not seeking to remove it. And the vast majority of those tweets weren’t even related to the ones they did explicitly create tickets on.

In total, our incident-related tweet data included 5,888,771 tweets and retweets from ticket status IDs directly, 1,094,115 tweets and retweets collected first from ticket URLs, and 14,914,478 from keyword searches, for a total of 21,897,364 tweets.

Tracking how information spreads is… um… not a problem now is it? Is Taibbi really claiming that academics shouldn’t track the flow of information?

Either way, Taibbi overstated the number of tweets that EIP reported by 21,894,474 tweets. In percentage terms, the actual number of reported tweets was 0.013% of the number Taibbi claimed.

Okay, you say, but STILL, if the government is flagging even 2,890 tweets, that’s still a problem! And it would be if it was the government flagging those tweets. But it’s not. As the report details, basically all of the tickets in the system were created by non-government entities, mainly from the EIP members themselves (Stanford, University of Washington, Graphika, and Digital Forensics Lab).

This is where the second big error that Taibbi makes knocks down a key pillar of his argument. Hasan notes that Taibbi falsely turned the non-profit Center for Internet Security (CIS) into the government agency the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). Taibbi did this by assuming that when someone at Twitter noted information came from CIS, they must have meant CISA, and therefore he appended the A in brackets as if he was correcting a typo:

Taibbi admits that this was a mistake and has now tweeted a correction (though this point was identified weeks ago, and he claims he only just learned about it). I’ve seen Taibbi and his defenders claim that this is no big deal, that he just “messed up an acronym.” But, uh, no. Having CISA report tweets to Twitter was a key linchpin in the argument that the government was sending tweets for Twitter to remove. But it wasn’t the government, it was an independent non-profit.

The thing is, this mistake also suggests that Taibbi never even bothered to read the EIP report on all of this, which lays out extremely clearly where the flagged tweets came from, noting that CIS (which was not an actual part of the EIP) sent in 16% of the total flagged tweets. It even pretty clearly describes what those tweets were:

Compared to the dataset as a whole, the CIS tickets were (1) more likely to raise reports about fake official election accounts (CIS raised half of the tickets on this topic), (2) more likely to create tickets about Washington, Connecticut, and Ohio, and (3) more likely to raise reports that were about how to vote and the ballot counting process—CIS raised 42% of the tickets that claimed there were issues about ballots being rejected. CIS also raised four of our nine tickets about phishing. The attacks CIS reported used a combination of mass texts, emails, and spoofed websites to try to obtain personal information about voters, including addresses and Social Security numbers. Three of the four impersonated election official accounts, including one fake Kentucky election website that promoted a narrative that votes had been lost by asking voters to share personal information and anecdotes about why their vote was not counted. Another ticket CIS reported included a phishing email impersonating the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) that was sent to Arizona voters with a link to a spoofed Arizona voting website. There, it asked voters for personal information including their name, birthdate, address, Social Security number, and driver’s license number.

In other words, CIS was raising pretty legitimate issues: people impersonating election officials, and phishing pages. This wasn’t about “misinformation.” These were seriously problematic tweets.

There is one part that perhaps deserves some more scrutiny regarding government organizations, as the report does say that a tiny percentage of reports came from the GEC, which is a part of the State Department, but the report suggests that this was probably less than 1% of the flags. 79% of the flags came from the four organizations in the partnership (not government). Another 16% came from CIS (contrary to Taibbi’s original claim, not government). That leaves 5%, which came from six different organizations, mostly non-profits. Though it does list the GEC as one of the six organizations. But the GEC is literally focused entirely on countering (not deleting) foreign state propaganda aimed at destabilizing the US. So, it’s not surprising that they might call out a few tweets to the EIP researchers.

Okay, okay, you say, but even so this is still problematic. It was still, as a Taibbi retweet suggests, these organizations who are somehow close to the government trying to silence narratives. And, again, that would be bad if true. But, that’s not what the information actually shows. First off, we already discussed how some of what they targeted was just out and out fraud.

But, more importantly, regarding the small number of tweets that EIP did report to Twitter… it never suggested what Twitter should do about them, and Twitter left the vast majority of them up. The entire purpose of the EIP program, as laid out in everything that the EIP team has made clear from before, during, and after the election, was just to be another set of eyes looking out for emerging trends and documenting how information flows. In the rare cases (again less than 1%) where things looked especially problematic (phishing attempts, impersonation) they might alert the company, but made no effort to tell Twitter how to handle them. And, as the report itself makes clear, Twitter left up the vast majority of them:

We find, overall, that platforms took action on 35% of URLs that we reported to them. 21% of URLs were labeled, 13% were removed, and 1% were soft blocked. No action was taken on 65%. TikTok had the highest action rate: actioning (in their case, their only action was removing) 64% of URLs that the EIP reported to their team.)

They don’t break it out by platform, but across all platforms no action was taken on 65% of the reported content. And considering that TikTok seemed quite aggressive in removing 64% of flagged content, that means that all of the other platforms, including Twitter, took action on way less than 35% of the flagged content. And then, even within the “took action” category, the main action taken was labeling.

In other words, the top two main results of EIP flagging this content were:

  1. Nothing
  2. Adding more speech

The report also notes that the category of content that was most likely to get removed was the out and out fraud stuff: “phishing content and fake official accounts.” And given that TikTok appears to have accounted for a huge percentage of the “removals” this means that Twitter removed significantly less than 13% of the tweets that EIP flagged for them. So not only is it not 22 million tweets, it’s that EIP flagged less than 3,000 tweets, and Twitter ignored most of them and removed probably less than 10% of them.

When looked at in this context, basically the entire narrative that Taibbi is pushing melts away.

The EIP is not part of the “industrial censorship complex.” It’s a mostly academic group that was tracking how information flows across social media, which is a legitimate area of study. During the election they did exactly that. In the tiny percentage of cases where they saw stuff they thought was pretty worrisome, they’d simply alert the platforms with no push for the platforms to take any action, and (indeed) in most cases the platforms took no action whatsoever. In a few cases, they added more speech.

In a tiny, tiny percentage of the already tiny percentage, when the situation was most extreme (phishing, fake official accounts) then the platforms (entirely on their own) decided to pull down that content. For good reason.

That’s not “censorship.” There’s no “complex.” Taibbi’s entire narrative turns to dust.

There’s a lot more that Taibbi gets wrong in all of this, but the points that Hasan got him to admit he was wrong about are literally core pieces in the underlying foundation of his entire argument.

At one point in the interview, Hasan also does a nice job pointing out that the posts that the Biden campaign (note: not the government) flagged to Twitter were of Hunter Biden’s dick pics, not anything political (we’ve discussed this point before) and Taibbi stammers some more and claims that “the ordinary person can’t just call up Twitter and have something taken off Twitter. If you put something nasty about me on Twitter, I can’t just call up Twitter…”

Except… that’s wrong. In multiple ways. First off, it’s not just “something nasty.” It’s literally non-consensual nude photos. Second, actually, given Taibbi’s close relationship with Twitter these days, uh, yeah, he almost certainly could just call them up. But, most importantly, the claim about “the ordinary” person not being able to have non-consensual nude images taken off the site? That’s wrong.

You can. There’s a form for it right here. And I’ll admit that I’m not sure how well staffed Twitter’s trust & safety team is to handle those reports today, but it definitely used to have a team of people who would review those reports and take down non-consensual nude photos, just as they did with the Hunter Biden images.

As Hasan notes, Taibbi left out this crucial context to make his claims seem way more damning than they were. Taibbi’s response is… bizarre. Hasan asks him if he knew that the URLs were nudes of Hunter Biden and Taibbi admits that “of course” he did, but when Hasan asks him why he didn’t tell people that, Taibbi says “because I didn’t need to!”

Except, yeah, you kinda do. It’s vital context. Without it, the original Twitter Files thread implied that the Biden campaign (again, not the government) was trying to suppress political content or embarrassing content that would harm the campaign. The context that it’s Hunter’s dick pics is totally relevant and essential to understanding the story.

And this is exactly what the rest of Hasan’s interview (and what I’ve described above) lays out in great detail: Taibbi isn’t just sloppy with facts, which is problematic enough. He leaves out the very important context that highlights how the big conspiracy he’s reporting is… not big, not a conspiracy, and not even remotely problematic.

He presents it as a massive censorship operation, targeting 22 million tweets, with takedown demands from government players, seeking to silence the American public. When you look through the details, correcting Taibbi’s many errors, and putting it in context, you see that it was an academic operation to study information flows, who sent the more blatant issues they came across to Twitter with no suggestion that they do anything about them, and the vast majority of which Twitter ignored. In some minority of cases, Twitter applied its own speech to add more context to some of the tweets, and in a very small number of cases, where it found phishing attempts or people impersonating election officials (clear terms of service violations, and potentially actual crimes), it removed them.

There remains no there there. It’s less than a Potemkin village. There isn’t even a façade. This is the Emperor’s New Clothes for a modern era. Taibbi is pointing to a naked emperor and insisting that he’s clothed in all sorts of royal finery, whereas anyone who actually looks at the emperor sees he’s naked.

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172 days ago
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New York Times Makes Glaring Error About Iraq War — Then Corrects It Incorrectly

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For the 20th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, the New York Times published an article by Max Fisher headlined “20 Years On, a Question Lingers About Iraq: Why Did the U.S. Invade?”

The article is a fairly cogent summation of the evidence. However, when it was first published, it was undermined by an extremely significant and extremely funny mistake. After inquiries from The Intercept, the paper has changed the original mistake into a fresh, new mistake.

Here’s how the article originally read:

Mr. Hussein had ejected international weapons inspectors, which was seen in Washington as a humiliating policy failure for Mr. Clinton.

When the American war leader was weakened by scandal later that year [in 1998], congressional Republicans pounced, passing the Iraq Liberation Act …

One reason this is so funny is because in 1998 the Times accurately reported what happened. The United Nations inspections team, called UNSCOM, was not expelled by Saddam Hussein, but rather was withdrawn by Richard Butler, the head of UNSCOM, after he consulted with the U.S. — about the fact that the U.S. was about to start bombing Iraq, in a campaign called Operation Desert Fox.

Even funnier is that the Times went on to claim erroneously that Iraq had expelled UNSCOM in 1998 at least five times, twice in 1999 and then in 2000, 2002 and 2003. It issued corrections on the three latter articles.

Two decades later, the paper apparently wanted to recapture its youth by being wrong again. The paper has now issued its fourth correction on this subject. Its present-day story currently reads:

Hussein had ejected international weapons inspectors in 1997, which was seen in Washington as a humiliating policy failure for Mr. Clinton.

Then, when Mr. Clinton was weakened by scandal in 1998, congressional Republicans pounced, passing the Iraq Liberation Act …

Wonderfully enough, this is also wrong. Iraq did expel the American members of the U.N. inspections team in 1997. But the rest remained in Iraq until they were withdrawn by the United Nations. All, including the Americans, returned to Iraq eight days later.

You can find this information in a story published when it happened, by a little-known paper called the New York Times.

The corrected text in the 2023 story also leaves out the reason Iraq expelled the (American) inspectors in 1997: Because some of the Americans were conducting espionage against Iraq. Again, you can read about this in the New York Times.

If you just want to chuckle morosely about the inability of America’s most prestigious newspaper to get this story right — even now, after two decades, after the death of hundreds of thousands of human beings in Iraq because of the 2003 invasion — you can stop here. But if you want the details about why this mistake truly matters, please continue reading.

In the run-up to the Iraq War, one of the favorite talking points of its proponents was that Saddam Hussein had expelled the UNSCOM team in 1998. This claim appeared in numerous media outlets, not just the Times.

This little bit of propaganda was popular because of its obvious implication. What possible reason would Iraq have to throw out the U.N. weapons inspectors unless it was hiding something?

Telling the story accurately, however, makes clear why Iraq’s behavior was congruent with having no banned weapons.

The UNSCOM inspections protocol was created by U.N. Security Council Resolution 687, which ended the 1991 Gulf War following Iraq’s retreat from Kuwait. UNSC 687 demanded that Iraq disclose all its chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons programs. Harsh sanctions would remain on Iraq until it had verifiably done so. At that point, however, the sanctions would be lifted. Also, Iraq’s disarmament would “represent steps towards the goal of establishing in the Middle East a zone free from weapons of mass destruction.”

But President George H.W. Bush immediately announced that the U.S. would ignore all of this, and maintain the sanctions — whether Iraq was or wasn’t disarmed — until Saddam Hussein was forced from power. (You can read about this in the New York Times.) In fact, the sanctions were seen as a way to make life in Iraq so miserable that Iraqis would be motivated to overthrow Saddam.

This stance was later reiterated by President Bill Clinton, as well as his secretary of state, Madeleine Albright. What UNSC 687 said didn’t matter; sanctions would remain until Saddam was gone.

Thus Saddam Hussein’s regime had little incentive to cooperate with UNSCOM to begin with. Nevertheless, UNSCOM did an excellent job. We now know Iraq was largely disarmed by the end of 1991. It concealed extensive documentation and some equipment from its WMD programs until 1995, when it was forced to divulge all of it. But by that point, eight years before the U.S.-led invasion, Iraq was essentially clean.

The Iraqi regime understandably believed sanctions should be lifted. As the CIA’s final report on Iraq’s WMD programs put it, “Iraq considered [turning over its remaining material] to be a measure of goodwill and cooperation with the UN.” Internally, the government required WMD scientists to sign a declaration that they wouldn’t hide anything from the U.N., on pain of execution.

At the time Richard Haass, now the head of the Council on Foreign Relations, spoke on a Washington, D.C., panel about the problem Iraqi disarmament presented. “We have to guard,” Haass said, “against the possibility that one day we may not be able to keep the French and Russians in line, that Saddam does comply with so much of the resolutions that the United States can’t sustain the policy … We are clearly in favor of regime change … [but] there’s no reference anywhere in any UN resolution to regime change.”

Meanwhile, the Clinton administration had grown tired of passively hoping Saddam would be overthrown and turned to more active measures to encourage a coup. This included putting American spies on the UNSCOM team who would purportedly be helping to look for WMD, but were actually there to conduct espionage aimed at Saddam’s removal.

Iraq figured this out fairly quickly. Naturally, Saddam and his regime weren’t enthusiastic about it, given that this would inevitably end in his death. Moreover, they now felt there would never be an end to the sanctions. This led to several famous standoffs between UNSCOM and Iraqi security.

For instance, on December 9, 1998, UNSCOM showed up unannounced at Saddam’s Baath Party headquarters and was denied entry. The CIA WMD report found that Saddam was actually there at the time, and that he “issued orders not to give them access. Saddam did this to prevent the inspectors from knowing his whereabouts, not because he had something to hide.”

The U.S. used this type of noncompliance as justification for the Desert Fox strikes, which took place from December 16 to December 19, 1998. Following this, Iraq refused to allow UNSCOM to return until forced to in the fall of 2002.

Providing an accurate history like this makes clear that the WMD issue was always irrelevant to the U.S. government. When we were helping Iraq in its war with Iran in the 1980s, Iraq’s use of chemical weapons was an embarrassing PR problem but otherwise of no significance. During the Clinton administration, it became a useful PR pretext to keep the sanctions on Iraq and try to overthrow Saddam. Then by 2003, it became a rationale for war.

That’s why the “Saddam threw out the inspectors” error is so pernicious. It leads to other conclusions in the Times article, such as that Saddam “concealed the paltry state of his weapons programs to appear strong at home and deter the Americans.” The evidence for this is, let’s say, extremely dubious. Saddam’s behavior can’t be called wise or good, but it wasn’t some kind of mysterious bluff. Iraq didn’t have WMD, and it kept saying that, over and over again. But Saddam had higher priorities than cooperating with UNSCOM, such as staying alive for the next 20 minutes.

The Times coverage of Iraq and its purported weapons of mass destruction was so atrocious in the lead-up to war in 2003 that the paper eventually had to issue an extensive mea culpa. So you’d like to believe that it now would concentrate on getting it right, at long last. However, that’s clearly a vain dream. It’s inevitable that for the rest of our lives, the Times will intermittently claim Saddam threw out the inspectors. Our only hope to prevent this would be to get reporters at the Times a subscription to the paper.

The post New York Times Makes Glaring Error About Iraq War — Then Corrects It Incorrectly appeared first on The Intercept.

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