Columbia Journalism Review (Vol. 32, No. 6, pg 48)
March-April, 1993


Who Chased it -- and Who Didn't

By Russ W. Baker

ABC News Nightline opened last June 9 with words to make the heart
stop. "It is becoming increasingly clear," said a grave Ted Koppel,
"that George Bush, operating largely behind the scenes throughout the
1980s, initiated and supported much of the financing, intelligence,
and military help that built Saddam's Iraq into the aggressive power
that the United States ultimately had to destroy."

Is this accurate? Just about every reporter following the story thinks
so. Most say that the so-called Iraqgate scandal is far more
significant then either Watergate or Iran-contra, both in its scope
and its consequences. And all believe that, with investigations
continuing, it is bound to get bigger.

Why, then, have some of our top papers provided so little coverage?
Certainly, if you watched Nightline or read the London Financial Times
or the Los Angeles Times, you saw this monster grow. But if you
studied the news columns of The Washington Post or, especially, The
New York Times, you practically missed the whole thing. Those two
papers were very slow to come to the story and, when they finally did
get to it, their pieces all too frequently were boring,
complicated,and short of the analysis readers required to fathom just
what was going on. More to the point, they often ignored revelations
by competitors.

The result: readers who neither grasp nor care about the facts behind
facile imagery like The Butcher of Baghdad and Operation Desert Storm.
In particular, readers who do not follow the story of the Banca
Nazionale del Lavoro, which apparently served as a paymaster for
Saddam's arms buildup, and thus became a player in the largest bank-
fraud case in U.S. history.

Complex, challenging, mind-boggling stories (from Iran-contra to the
S&L crisis to BCCI) increasingly define our times: yet we don't appear
to be getting any better telling them. In the interest of learning
from our mistakes, this reporter examined several hundred articles and
television transcripts on Iraqgate and spoke to dozens of reporters,
experts, and generally well-informed news consumers.

Before evaluating the coverage, let's summarize the Iraqgate story


The United States and its European allies have laws and policies
designed to prevent arms and military technology from getting into the
hands of developing countries, especially where there is a likelihood
of their reckless deployment. If these controls were aimed at anyone,
certainly they were aimed at the highly repressive, swaggering Iraqi
regime, with its history of threatening both its neighbors and its

Still, when Saddam went to war against Iran, becoming the world's
chief practitioner of chemical warfare, U.S. realpolitikers dubbed him
the lesser of two evils, and the one less likely ti disrupt the oil
flow. The essence of Iraqgate is that secret efforts to support him
became the order of the day, both during his long war with Iran and

Much of what Saddam received from the West was not arms per se, but
so-called dual-use technology -- ultra sophisticated computers,
armored ambulances, helicopters, chemicals, and the like, with
potential civilian uses as well as military applications. We've
learned by now that a vast network of companies, based in the U.S. and
abroad, eagerly fed the Iraqi war machine right up until August 1990,
when Saddam invaded Kuwait.

And we've learned that the obscure Atlanta branch of Italy's largest
bank, Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, relying partially on U.S. taxpayer-
guaranteed loans, funneled $ 5 billion to Iraq from 1985 to 1989. Some
government-backed loans were supposed to be for agricultural purposes,
but were used to facilitate the purchase of stronger stuff than wheat.
Federal Reserve and Agriculture department memos warned of suspected
abuses by Iraq, which apparently took advantage of the loans to free
up funds for munitions. U.S. taxpayers have been left holding the bag
for what looks like $ 2 billion in defaulted loans to Iraq.

All of this was not yet clear in August 1989, when FBI agents raided
U.S. branches of BNL, hitting the jackpot in Atlanta. The branch
manager in that city, Christopher Drogoul, was charged with making
unauthorized, clandestine, and illegal loans to Iraq -- some of which,
according to the indictment, were used to purchase arms and weapons
technology. Yet three months after the raid, White House officials
went right on backing Saddam, approving $ 1 billion more in U.S.
government loan guarantees for farm exports to Iraq, even though it
was becoming clear that the country was beating plowshares into

At the time, inquiring minds wondered whether Drogoul could possibly
have acted alone in such a mammoth operation, as the U.S. government
alleged. Was there a formal, secret plan to arm Iraq? And did the U.S.
government engage in a massive coverup when evidence of such a plan
began to emerge?

In fact, we now know that in February 1990, then Attorney General Dick
Thornburgh blocked U.S. investigators from traveling to Rome and
Istanbul to pursue the case. And that the lead investigator lacked the
basic financial know-how to handle such an investigation, and made an
extraordinarily feeble effort to get to the bottom of things. More
damningly, we know know that mid-level staffers at the commerce
department altered Iraqi export licenses to obscure the exported
materials' military function -- before sending the documents on to
Congress, which was investigating the affair.

Eventually, it would turn out that elements of the U.S. government
almost certainly knew that Drogoul was funneling U.S.-backed loans --
intended for the purchase of agricultural products, machinery, trucks,
and other U.S. goods -- into dual-use technology and outright military
technology. And that the British government was fully aware of the
operations of Matrix Churchill, a British firm with an Ohio branch,
which was not only at the center of the Iraqi procurement network but
was also funded by BNL Atlanta. (Precision equipment supplied by
Matrix Churchill was reportedly a target this January when the Western
allies renewed their attack on Iraq).

It would later be alleged by bank executives that the Itallian
government, long a close U.S. ally as well as BNL's ultimate owner,
had knowledge of BNL's loan diversions. It looked to some like an
international coalition. As New York Times columnist William Safire
argued last December 7, "Iraqgate is uniquely horrendous: a scandal
about the systematic abuse of power by misguided leaders of three
democratic nations to secretly finance the arms buildup of a

Safire had been on the case since 1989, turning out slashing op-ed
pieces. But readers of the Times's news pages must have wondered where
Safire's body-blows were coming from, since the news columns contained
almost nothing about Iraqgate for the longest time.


Not everyone was slow to spot trouble. The coverage might be said to
have begun in 1987, when Alan Friedman, a correspondent in Italy for
the London Financial Times who was writing a book -- Agnelli: Fiat,
and the Network of Italian Power -- learned of a European-based arms-
procurement network that had gathered equipment for Iraq. In the book,
published in 1988, he explored a five-year-old joint Argentine-
Egyptian-Iraqi effort to build a ballistic missile capable of carrying
a nuclear warhead, code-named CONDOR 2. Friedman's claims that Iraq
was developing a nuclear weapon were shrugged off by colleagues in the

In August 1989, while working in Milan, Friedman noticed a four-line
press release from Banca Nazionale del Lavoro. "Irregularities," it
seemed, had been uncovered at BNL's Atlanta branch. (Later, Friedman
would learn that this was the bank's way of acknowledging something
troubling that had just transpired, unnoticed by the press: the FBI
raids on BNL's U.S. branches.) Shortly thereafter, a London tipster
told Friedman to look at a seemingly unrelated story -- the possible
role of a British company, Matrix Churchill, in secretly arming Iraq.
When Friedman phoned a source in Rome and mentioned both firms, he was
told to get on a plane and come down for a little chat. It lasted all

Beginning in September 1989, a Financial Times team, reporting from
Milan, Baghdad, and London, laid out the first charges that BNL,
relying heavily on U.S. government-guaranteed loans, was funding Iraqi
chemical and nuclear weapons work. Led by Friedman, who relocated to
New York City in early 1990, the reporters went on to produce about
300 articles over three years, painting a compelling portrait of a
massive -- and seemingly coordinated -- international effort to aid
Iraq. For the next two and a half years, the Financial Times provided
the only continuous newspaper reportage on the subject.

The London paper tied CONDOR 2 to BNL Atlanta -- which had just been
publicly identified as the source of $ 3 billion in unauthorized loans
to Iraq. And in one 1989 article it warned that the BNL story was more
than just another dull tale of banking malfeasance: "The CONDOR story
raises questions about the effectiveness of the commitment of Western
governments to preventing military technology transfer." It pointed
out that, while U.S. intelligence had long bragged about aggressively
monitoring the transfer of military technology, Washington had fallen
down on the job. The paper noted that if government sleuths had been
serious about stopping the arms flow, they could have followed either
the money trail or the technology trail. "In each case, they appear to
have slipped up," it concluded.

The Financial Times extensively quoted top former officials at the
International Monetary Fund, the Pentagon, and elsewhere, who
expressed alarm over Export-Import Bank loan guarantees to Iraq. Some
asserted that Washington had, as one of them put it, "allowed and
abetted the development and stockpiling of a major chemical warfare
capability" in Iraq. Among the companies shipping militarily useful
technology under the eye of the government, according to the Financial
Times, were Hewlett-Packard, Tektronix, and Matrix Churchill, through
its Ohio branch.

The most striking thing about the paper's revelations is that they
were published before Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990. Douglas
Frantz of the Los Angeles Times, who deserves a lot of credit for his
own reporting on Iraqgate, nevertheless says the Financial Times was
without question the early leader on the story. "Events subsequent
have shown inmost cases they were on the money," he says.

By early 1990 the Financial Times was no longer alone. Representative
Henry Gonzalez, chairman of the House Banking Committee (who also had
noticed the four-line BNL press release back in 1989), began a long,
lonely crusade to expose the affair. Soon he would be entering related
documents into the Congressional Record in late-night speeches before
an empty chamber. Attorney General Thornburgh even wrote to him,
demanding that he stop looking into BNL in the interests of "national
security." He didn't. Meanwhile, many reporters, accepting the
administration's line that it was shocked -- shocked! -- to discover
the BNL subterfuge, treated Gonzalez as a crank.

On August 2, 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and the debate began
in the U.S. over an appropriate response. But only a handful of
reporters bothered to ask where he had acquired the military muscle
for the invasion. One who did, Thomas L. Flannery of the Intelligencer
Journal, a 45,000-circulation paper in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, warned
in November: "If U.S. and Iraqi troops engage in combat in the Persian
Gulf, weapons technology developed in Lancaster and indirectly sold to
Iraq will probably be used against U.S. forces.... And aiding in
this... technology transfer was the Iraqi-owned, British-based
precision tooling firm Matrix Churchill, whose U.S. operations in Ohio
were recently linked to a sophisticated Iraqi weapons procurement
network." Flannery, who wrote in impressive string of stories
identifying Pennsylvania companies that supplied Iraq, had been hired
by the Financial Times as an occasional stringer the year before.

Meanwhile, The Village Voice published a major investigation by free-
lancer Murray Waas in its December 18, 1990, issue. Under the headline
massive amount of information, ranging from senior White House
officials' accounts that George Bush was a behind-the-scenes advocate
of a pro-Iraq tilt, to an accounting of U.S. trade with Iraq that had
a potential military application. "That American troops could be
killed or maimed because of a covert decision to arm Iraq," Waas
wrote, "is the most serious consequence of a U.S. foreign policy
formulated and executed in secret, without the advice and consent of
the American public."

The gulf war began shortly after, on January 16, 1991, and the media
went wild. But when it ended six weeks later, most Americans knew
little more about the war's root causes then they did before.

There would, however, be more to the story. Within hours after
hostilities ceased on February 27 -- and nine-teen months after the
FBI had raided BNL -- the government indicted Drogoul, painting him as
a lone-wolf financier of the Iraqi war machine. He was charged with
defrauding his Rome employers of billions of dollars.

Nightline, which had been looking at Iraqgate for some time, hooked up
with the Financial Times in an unusual and productive arrangement. On
May 2, 1991, the team reported the secret minutes of the President's
National Advisory Council, at which, despite earlier reports of
abuses, an undersecretary of state declared that terminating Iraqi
loans would be "contrary to the president's intentions."

Nightline/Financial Times also cited intelligence reports that Iraq
was using U.S. government farm credits to procure military technology.
On July 3, 1991, the Financial Times reported that a Florida company
run by an Iraqi national had produced cyanide -- some of which went to
Iraq for use in chemical weapons -- and had shipped it via a CIA

In another unusual and productive partnership, Douglas Frantz of the
Los Angeles Times teamed up with The Village Voice's Murray Waas. The
Times published the first of their three-part series on February 23,
1992. "Classified documents obtained by the Times show... a long-
secret pattern of personal efforts by Bush -- both as President and as
Vice-President -- to support and placate the Iraqi dictator," the
paper reported. It cited a top-secret National Security decision
directive signed by President Bush in 1989, ordering closer ties with
Baghdad and paving the way for $ 1 billion in new aid. Although the
directive had been briefly described in other publications, the Times
put it in context. Assistance from Washington was critical for Iraq,
Frantz and Waas pointed out, since international bankers had cut off
virtually all loans to Baghdad because Iraq was falling behind on
repayments -- precisely because it was busily pouring millions into
arms purchases.

And it emphasized the striking fact -- buried deep in a 1991
Washington Press piece -- that Secretary of State James Baker, after
meeting with Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz in October 1989,
intervened personally to support U.S. government loan guarantees to

"Nobody responded to that [February 1992] series," says Frantz. "That
week, Gonzalez went onto the house floor to deliver another speech,
and nobody followed that either." The Los Angeles Times went on to
publish 100 articles exploring the history of U.S.-Iraq relations
before and after the war. The reportage was, admirably, light on
anonymous sources and heavy on information from internal documents,
shared with the paper by government employees troubled by what they
had seen.

Still, the top national papers ignored most of the Financial
Times/Nightline and Los Angeles Times revelations. In fact, when in
March an obscure Italian newspaper reported Drogoul's claim that both
the Italian and U.S. governments had known and approved of his lending
operation, only the Financial Times picked up the story.

Things began to heat up last June when, in an abrupt turnabout, the
feds suddenly agreed to drop 287 of 347 charges against Drogoul in
return for a guilty plea and pledge of cooperation. Drogoul, who had
asked for an opportunity to explain his actions fully, suddenly
decided to go mute. A troubled Judge Marvin Shoob, presiding over
Drogoul's case, wrote to the head of the House Judiciary Committee:
"[Drogoul] decided not to provide a statement until sentencing, after
debriefing over a two-month period by the government."

By July, five other congressional committees had joined Gonzalez's
banking panel in launching probes into various aspects of the Iraqgate
affair, and Democrats were demanding that an independent prosecutor be
named to investigate it.

Since Drogoul had made a deal, the fall sentencing hearings were
expected to be brief. But they turned into a major show when, in
October, Drogoul's lawyer suddenly began introducing new evidence that
the head office of the Italian-government-owned bank had known all
along what Drogoul was up to. He also produced testimony suggesting
that figures with ties to U.S. intelligence may have been involved.
The prosecution quickly asked to withdraw its plea bargain, and agreed
to a trial (which had the net effect of postponing public airing of
the affair until after the November election).

Earlier, The Village Voice's Robert Hennelly had assembeled a massive
timeline documenting a pro-Saddam U.S. tilt dating back a full decade.
He concluded: "At worst, that support was a frightening exercise in
capitalistic opportunism (we made money both supporting and attacking


Drogoul's plea bargain and sentencing hearing provided a perfect new
peg, and everyone finally jumped in. With the Financial Times far in
the lead and the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall
Street Journal -- got into Iraqgate late, leaving beat reporters
struggling to untangle the story's many complex international strands.

The Journal set the pace. Chiefly through reporter John Fialka, the
paper made up for its late awakening by demystifying technicalities
through striking headlines and crystal-clear prose. Despite a small
general news hole, the Journal constantly found space for explanatory
Iraqgate pieces.

The Post's early coverage had a protective tone. In July, reporter
John Goshko wrote about Bush administration actions that "unwittingly
bolstered" Iraq's military. And he asserted: "The record suggests that
Bush... Baker and other senior foreign policy advisers were not
paying much attention to Iraq...."

The Post's R. Jeffrey Smith, whose Iraqgate coverage included the
Drogoul hearing, produced several exclusives from Washington sources.
Yet the paper did not significantly advance the story. "It was a story
with high political content, and a paucity of hard evidence to back up
charges of conspiracy," Smith says. "Some papers allowed themselves to
be manipulated, acting almost as agents of the Democratic opposition.
Some people made this a crusade."

The New York Times, meanwhile, shifted into high gear -- and promptly
crashed into a pile of charges and countercharges. To cover BNL and
the Drogoul sentencing, the Times brought in Elaine Sciolino, the
national security correspondent, who had returned to daily reporting
after writing a book about Iraq. She had other credentials that might
have been helpful: she had served as Newsweek's Rome bureau chief
before coming to the Times, and had covered intelligence matters for

She came in cold, and her sudden coverage was almost without context,
since, aside from columnist William Safire, the newspaper had failed
to follow up on the massive amount of evidence already gathered by
others in the greater Iraqgate story. When much of the Financial
Times's early scoop material resurfaced during the trial, the Times
reported some of it -- without noting who had originally unearthed it.
Safire, on the other hand, cited the Financial Times often in his
early crusade to rise above his paper's seeming indifference to the
larger scandal. During Drogoul's hearings, the Times brought in Martin
Tolchin, an old Washington hand. He had covered the Neil Bush S&L
affair, and seemed adept at telling this story clearly, but he made
only a cameo appearance.


The Times largely ignored Representative Gonzalez, meanwhile, as he
made his allegations and entered supporting documents into the
Congressional Record. Sciolino got around to a close look at the man
making the charges on July 3. Her piece, headed ECCENTRIC STILL BUT
OBSCURE NO MORE, cast Gonzalez as something of a buffoon, and included
charges that his disclosure of sensitive information was a threat to
national security -- without explaining why it would be. The piece
could almost be read as a justification for the Times's failure to
follow Gonzalez's earlier charges.

The Journal, which regularly reported Gonzalez's steady flow of
documents and pronouncements, was far more charitable in Fialka's July
31 profile of the congressman. Headed LONER GONZALEZ TOILS TO EXPOSE
presented a tough, uncorruptible maverick.


Many incendiary allegations reported by the Journal, the Los Angeles
Times, and The Atlanta Constitution (covering the Drogoul hearing in
its home town) were simply ignored by The New York Times, and
sometimes by The Washington Post, as well. A few of many examples, all
from 1992:

Intelligence Connections?

On October 3, the Journal reported Drogoul's assertion that the
director general of Iraq's Ministry of Industry and Military
Production had told him "We are all in this together. The intelligence
service of the U.S. government works very closely with the
intelligence service of the Iraq government." Three weeks later, the
Journal reported that Gonzalez "produced a phone-book-sized packet of
documents" showing the involvement of U.S. exporting firms. The
documents mentioned one, RD&D International of Vienna, Virginia --
which designed parts for Iraq's howitzers and was financed through BNL
-- that was run by a man with reputed connections to U.S.
intelligence. The Times and the Post missed the first story and failed
to follow up on the second.

Quayle involvement?

On three separate occasions it was reported (first by Representative
Gonzalez, then by The Atlanta Constitution, and finally by the
Journal) that BNL bankers claimed that companies seeking Iraqi
business had come to the Atlanta branch at the urging of Vice-
President Dan Quayle. One such corporation was owned by a man with
close personal and business ties to the Quayle family; he built a
brass refinery that recycled spent Iraqi artillery shells. Neither the
Times nor the Post reported this.

Scuds and Superguns?

September 16: the Journal, in a piece headed IRAQ FUNDED SCUDS WITH
prosecution testimony that Drogoul had toured an Iraqi military
facility, was shown a drawing of a missile, and was told that it had
been financed through BNL Atlanta. The Atlanta Constitution reported
this, as did the Los Angeles Times, whose lead stated: "Loans from an
Italian bank branch here paid for improving Iraqi Scud missiles like
the one that killed 28 Americans in the Persian Gulf War, a top
federal investigator testified Tuesday." The Times and Post didn't
report the story.

How high does it go?

September 23: The Constitution reported that Judge Shoob, complaining
in open court about the prosecution's failure to call BNL officials to
testify, actually sought to call his own witness. The Journal quoted
Shoob: "I've read all the secret documents, and I can't believe
[Drogoul] was the sole actor or principal actor in the enterprise."
The Times and Post were AWOL on this story.

A question of bribery?

Even when the Times raised startling facts, it often failed to follow
up on itself. On October 17 the newspaper noted that the CIA had
"uncovered a document suggesting the possible payoff of government
officials in the United States and Italy in the elaborate bank-fraud
case." Readers of the Times never learned more about this development.


In other cases, the Big Two -- but particularly The New York Times --
simply muddled matters.

In October, it was revealed that the CIA had withheld from Congress --
and possibly from prosecutors -- crucial documents showing what the
government knew about BNL. The Justice department blamed the CIA the
CIA blamed the Justice department; and Senator David Boren, chairman
of the Senate intelligence committee, got angry at everyone.

Sciolino did her most energetic work covering this turf battle, often
using unnamed sources, which made it difficult to discern whose agenda
was being advanced. And although the Times finally started producing
exclusives in its coverage of this matter, its daily revelations over
the finger-pointing were hard to follow and did little to foster
understanding of the bigger story. (In the end, evidence suggested
that the CIA had withheld the documents at the request of Justice. If
so, in retrospect, the story was the collusion, not the feud.)

Readers' comprehension suffered when this complex story was reported
as a he said-she said exercise. Here's Sciolino on October 11, writing
about the intergovernmental feud: "The unusual finger-pointing over
the case came after reports that CIA officials had disclosed to
Congress on Thursday that, at the urging of the Justice Department,
they had deliberately withheld information about the bank fraud from
federal prosecutors in Atlanta.... CIA and Justice Department
officials denied those reports today.... But their denials came
amid a new disclosure by lawmakers that the Justice Department also
had withheld information that the CIA wanted to make public.... The
CIA, the Justice Department, and the Bush Administration have all
denied wrongdoing in the case.... In a sharply worded statement
today, the CIA denied that its officials had told the Senate Committee
that it had deliberately withheld information from Federal prosecutors
in Atlanta at the urging of the Justice Department."

Wording like this, one television producer who has followed Iraqgate
observed, "makes The New York Times responsible for gross public

Dean Baquet, who had earned a reputation as a formidable investigative
reporter during his years with the Chicago Tribune, worked to advance
the story on several occasions, especially covering Matrix Churchill
developments in a separate trial in London. But he was only
sporadically assigned to the story.

On October 18, Sciolino and Baquet wrote an overview piece, a belated
effort to advance the story, although they appeared hesitant to state
what, for others, had been all but proven long ago. Notice the
qualifiers: "Some Congressional Democrats say the recent revelations
are only a tiny part of a two-pronged Government-wide cover-up; to
protect and conceal its dealings with Mr. Hussein, and to accommodate
the Italian government. Even more ominously, these critics, without
any real proof, have begun to suggest that the administration knew
about the loans all along."

Six congressional committees was hardly "some" Democrats; the
revelations were hardly "recent"; the evidence of administration
knowledge was, by now, fairly overwhelming. As even the national-
security minded columnist Jim Hoagland, writing a week earlier in The
Washington Post, put it, "That Bush is tolerating a coverup on Iraq
conducted by others on his behalf can no longer be seriously doubted.
That Bush has lied about his knowledge of shipments of U.S. arms to
Iraq can no longer be seriously disputed."

On November 2, Representative Gonzalez announced that the Agriculture
department, which had approved BNL loans, had learned back in 1990 for
the CIA that BNL Rome was involved in the alleged Atlanta fraud. This
revelation not only challenged the government's assertion that Drogoul
had acted alone, but also implied that a coverup was under way.

Gonzalez's disclosure represented another news peg. The Journal
covered the disclosure in a piece headed FARM AGENCY KNEW SCOPE OF BNL
FRAUD. Working from the same material that same day, the Times, in a
CASE, chose to emphasize the CIA-Justice turf battle, obscuring the
main point: that the Agriculture department was in the BNL loop. (And
while the Journal cited Gonzalez in the second paragraph, the Times
waited until they very last sentence to credit the congressman.)

Times deputy national editor Philip Taubman, who was deputy bureau
chief in Washington until late last year and supervised much of the
reporting on Iraqgate (except when it was assigned to the paper's
business or foreign desk), sees the Times's heavy coverage of the CIA-
Justice fight as a plus. "I don't think it's inside baseball when two
major branches of government are involved in a donnybrook, both
accusing each other of malfeasance," he says.

Many reporters from other newspapers criticize the Time's coverage of
Iraqgate, and much of its coverage in general, for a bias toward
authority, an unwillingness to challenge power. Taubman, however, sees
his newspaper as properly cautious. "I think it's off base to suggest
that our coverage was somehow deficient because we attempted to lay
out what charges were confirmed and which might still fall short of
being confirmed," he says. "We try in all our stories to make clear
what we don't know, as well as what we know. And in a complicated
story of this type I think it's good journalism to clue the reader in
where inflammatory accusations are not yet, and may never be,
confirmable or provable."

Sciolino, who recently moved on to become the paper's chief diplomatic
correspondent, admits that coming in late to such a complicated story
was tough. "I couldn't summarize the story in one sentence," she says.
"That's what made it so difficult to explain -- to an editor, to
people at a cocktail party. It's even more complicated than Iran-

In retrospect, she says, "I think our paper could have done a better
job, especially in the beginning. One spinoff could be to look at the
whole arms procurement network around the world, how independent arms
dealers, banks, and governments who own weapons-production facilities
promote arms proliferation." Yet, Sciolino adds, arms proliferation
"is not a sexy story."

She praises the Los Angeles Times for putting two people on the story,
and for treating it as an investigation rather than as a beat story.
She says her paper was hobbled because the story affected several
sections of the paper -- foreign, national, and business -- and was
parceled out to them. So no one editor was in charge of coordinating


With Dragoul's new trial set for October, there is still time for news
organizations to wise up. Some things everyone agrees on: besides
exploring the proliferation of weapons into unstable or dangerous
hands, a serious Iraqgate investigation would look at the power of
America's largest corporations to sway foreign policy in ways that
help them make sales. The Los Angeles Times, the Financial Times, and
others did explore this, but there was little follow-up. One exception
was the Journal, which led an October 12 piece this way: "In the
unfolding drama of how the U.S. financed and supplied Saddam Hussein's
Iraq, there's more than a walk-on part for corporate America." The
Journal's John Fialka cited a list of major U.S. corporations that
"saw Iraq as a gusher of business -- so long as credits were wrung out
of government agencies such as the Agriculture department, Commodity
Credit Corp., and the Export-Import Bank."

Serious coverage would also examine geopolitical arrangements between
countries like the U.S. and Italy, the place of banks in global
scandals, and the role of American and foreign intelligence agencies
in secretly carrying out policies that the American people have not
endorsed. And to do this it would also seem necessary to report this
story with some distance from partisan sources, whether Robert Gates
or Henry Gonzalez, and not just count on leaks alone.

As it was, for a long time reporters couldn't even count on partisan
political warfare to generate scoops. In Congress, both parties had
repeatedly backed legislation authorizing farm credits to Iraq --
despite warnings from Kurdish representatives that the funds would end
up being used against them, in the form of poison gas. With no one to
hand the story to the media on a platter, unraveling it required
following hunches, and spending time and money -- serious
investigative reporting that roams far afield from the constraints of
the conventional beat.

For ABC, which broke plenty of stories in concert with London's
Financial Times, only to watch them sink, covering Iraqgate has been a
sobering experience. "It's been very frustrating for us," says Gordon
Platt, a Nightline producer. "We'd put it on the air, but there would
be no follow-up by the other press. We'd expect the Times or Post
would pick up on it. But until this last summer, they didn't."

As for why much of the press fears this kind of story, perhaps Ted
Koppel put it best. "There's a good reason why we in the media are so
partial to a nice, torrid sex scandal," he said as he opened yet
another Nightline Iraqgate report last July. "It is, among other
things, so easy to explain and so easy to understand. Nothing at all,
in other words, like allegations of a government coverup, which tend
to be not at all easy to explain, and even more difficult to


Russ. W. Baker, a member of the adjunct faculty at Columbia
University's Graduate School of Journalism, is a free-lance writer who
regularly contributes to The Village Voice. Research assistance was
provided by Julie Asher in Washington and Daniel Eisenberg in New

Copyright 1993 Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University