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Oil-for-Food Blackout

The national media usually presents themselves as dedicated debunkers of every item of political pomposity, ready to milk the ratings out of exposing every sacred cow. But that has never been true of its coverage of the U.N., which represents for liberals the deeply idealistic notion of a harmonic convergence of governments, united to saving the world for humanitarian ends. Some news media may attempt to force the unfolding reality that the U.N. is deeply corrupt, but that would not include America’s liberal media elite.

In April, September and November, investigative reports revealed an increasingly massive scandal, involving billions of dollars (now estimated at over $20 billion), Saddam Hussein was able to steal from under the nose of the U.N. officials managing the Oil-for-Food program. This might seem like a big news story in an election year in which John Kerry’s stump speech constantly pounded on the need for greater multilateralism and greater American deference to the wishes of the U.N. bureaucracy. So how many stories did the Big Three networks air from January 1 to November 2? NBC was the leader, with three stories. ABC had one, on April 21, the day the U.N. announced its own internal probe into the scandal. CBS did not air one story.

Despite nine ongoing probes, the network watchdogs barked after anti-Bush angles. ABC, CBS, and NBC combined for more than 75 stories on George W. Bush's National Guard service, more than 50 stories on "skyrocketing" gasoline prices, and hundreds on prison abuse at Abu Ghraib. After liberal media stars denounced American allies as "the coalition of the bribed," where were they on the U.N.'s bribery scam?

Unfortunately, that same pattern continued after the election, even as Congress spoke out and held hearings. On November 30, CBS did its first story, a strange report which began with Dan Rather introducing the Oil-for-Food fiasco as an "alleged scandal." Is Dan trying to say that Saddam bilking the U.N. for billions should be seen as an acceptable method of international business?

Some news outlets, from the Wall Street Journal to Fox News, have taken the story more seriously and dug in deeply. But they have been dismissed by other journalists as partisan, eager to make trouble for the U.N. Shouldn’t so-called hard-bitten journalistic debunkers who revere the ideal of a functional U.N. be the most outraged by a corrupt bureaucracy that mocks the ideal?

Tim Graham is director of media analysis at the Media Research Center in Alexandria, VA, and author of the book, "Pattern of Deception: The Media’s Role in the Clinton Presidency."

Tim Graham is director of media analysis at the Media Research Center and co-author (with Brent Bozell) of "Collusion: How the Media Stole the 2012 Election and How to Stop Them From Doing It In 2016."