Journalistic Bomb

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 23, 2005; 10:21 AM

Every once in awhile, someone reports a story that just seems way out there.

And you wonder: Could this possibly be true ? Or is it plain old media sensationalism?

That's how I felt about this British tabloid report that President Bush considered bombing al-Jazeera.

Let's say that Bush despised the Arab satellite channel, notwithstanding the fact that some administration officials have granted interviews to al-Jazeera. Let's say he considered al-Jazeera to be a hotbed of al-Qaeda sympathizers. Could the president of the United States have conceivably believed it would have been a good idea to blow up the offices of a news organization that is respected in much of the Arab world, killing innocent people in the process? Would he have sent American fighter planes into Qatar, a Middle East ally? Could he have thought this would somehow advance U.S. foreign policy at a time when we're trying to persuade Iraqis of the virtues of democracy?

I'm sorry, it just doesn't add up. (Yes, I know the U.S. bombed al-Jazeera's Kabul office during the 2001 war, but I have no reason to disbelieve the explanation that it was an accident.)

In any event, judge for yourself. Here's the Daily Mirror story:

"President Bush planned to bomb Arab TV station al-Jazeera in friendly Qatar, a 'Top Secret' No 10 memo reveals.

"But he was talked out of it at a White House summit by Tony Blair, who said it would provoke a worldwide backlash.

"A source said: 'There's no doubt what Bush wanted, and no doubt Blair didn't want him to do it.' Al-Jazeera is accused by the US of fuelling the Iraqi insurgency.

"The attack would have led to a massacre of innocents on the territory of a key ally, enraged the Middle East and almost certainly have sparked bloody retaliation.

"A source said Monday night: 'The memo is explosive and hugely damaging to Bush. He made clear he wanted to bomb al-Jazeera in Qatar and elsewhere. Blair replied that would cause a big problem.' "

So what the Mirror has is a source. No memo. A Cabinet Office staffer, however, has been charged with illegally leaking the memo to a former aide to a member of Parliament.

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