Almost two decades later, the name that first comes to mind whenever the phrase “aluminum tubes” enters the conversation is that of Judith Miller. Again and again Miller returned to the well of war whisperers, eagerly reporting what were ultimately proven over and over to be false rumors and outright lies. For those who have been around Daily Kos from the early days, Judy Miller is an extremely familiar name (that link, BTW, is to a 2003 post by Steve Gilliard). Miller also infamously played a role in outing CIA agent Valarie Plame after Plame’s husband, diplomat Joe Wilson, authored an op-ed indicating that some of the theories Miller had played up in her reporting were nonsense.
But it wasn’t Miller’s name listed as the lead author on that 2002 catalog of reasons to get in there and get Saddam. The lead author was actually military and diplomacy correspondent Michael Gordon. That September 2002 story featuring the “aluminum tubes” would become a reliable prop in the runup to war. Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and Don Rumsfeld all cited the article as evidence that Iraq was in the process of building nuclear weapons, and that an immediate military strike was necessary.
Once the war was well underway, Gordon authored a number of stories promoting the idea of a troop surge in 2006. That included a number of doomsday-themed articles that posited the surge was the last possible defense in determining whether America would “stand or fall.”
In 2007, Gordon authored another New York Times story claiming that “the deadliest bomb in Iraq is made in Iran,” and claiming that there was “broad agreement among American intelligence agencies” that a type of IED capable of penetrating American vehicles was being imported by Iraqi insurgents, even though the majority of the IEDs in question were actually being deployed by Sunni fighters who certainly weren’t being supplied by Shiite-dominated Iran.
In the end, while Miller took much of the blame for inaccurate reporting, it was hard to say that Gordon didn’t get his war’s worth from Iraq—he went on to write two books about the conflict, both of which promised “the inside story” of the war.
In 2017, Gordon moved to The Wall Street Journal, where he is listed as national security correspondent. Once there, he continued to write about the war in Iraq, about weapons systems that President Biden might choose to cancel, and about how the Marines are retooling for a potential war with China. For the most part, these articles seem straightforward. It’s also worth pointing out that Gordon’s books on the Iraq war have received praise for being detailed and well-researched.
So does Michael R. Gordon’s name at the top of The Wall Street Journal article that’s being frequently cited as evidence in favor of the “lab escape” theory mean it should be discredited? Not really. But then, the article never really contained anything new to begin with. Other than the claims about the “exquisite quality” of the intelligence, there was nothing that hadn’t already appeared in the fact sheet.
Gordon has since parlayed the article into some media appearances, including a CNN visit where he hinted that the intelligence information came from an allied nation. It might be easy to find one source for that; Australian news agencies had reported the “three researchers getting sick” story back in March (though it’s unclear if their source was also that “fact sheet,” which was posted in January, just days before Trump left office). Australian news sites were quick to make that connection, but the Australian scientist who was part of the WHO team has defended the original conclusion that a lab leak was “extremely unlikely.”
Gordon’s name on The Wall Street Journal article doesn’t discredit the possibility that the virus might have escaped by infecting workers at the WIV. However, the article also contained no new information making that possibility more likely.
What’s disappointing about the whole affair is how that article, like the 2002 article about “aluminum tubes,” was quickly seized on as if it were evidence, and how it’s already affected the shape of public opinion. Even the demands by President Joe Biden that an investigation be conducted are being treated as a “win” for the lab theory.
What’s equally disappointing is how the revelation of Gordon’s role in both stories is almost certain to end up being the source of propaganda blasts from Chinese state media and from Fox News, OAN, etc. Gordon’s presence or absence from this story shouldn’t make a difference—especially when the article in question added so little.
The conversation isn’t helped by pieces like this one from Marc Thiessen in the Thursday Washington Post that deliberately misstates the theory of how many researchers believe COVID-19 made the transition from animals to humans, to create a straw man easily set on fire.
Finding the truth about this has value. It was already difficult. Now it’s harder.