FOX News Responds to U.N. Comments

FOX News offered a response to a United Nations letter that raised questions about a series on the U.N. Oil-for-Food program that aired Sept. 19 on "Breaking Point."

The FOX News response follows. To read United Nations' response, click here.

FOX News producers of the documentary “United Nations Blood Money” defended the show against U.N. criticism and stood firmly behind the accuracy and fairness of their “Breaking Point” investigation.

The FOX investigation looked at the ways the $100 billion Oil-for-Food scheme had been fleeced by Saddam Hussein, possibly influenced U.N. Security Council decisions to refuse to wage war against Saddam and might have funneled money to current Iraqi insurgents and perhaps to Al Qaeda.

Brian Gaffney, executive producer of the hour-long show, declared that “our sole objective was to prepare and broadcast a fair and balanced report, and U.N. accusations that it wasn’t are without foundation. We never made any effort to attack the United Nations for its sincerity in fighting terrorism or a number of other accusations that the U.N. has subsequently made about the television report.”

Nor, Gaffney said, were the questions raised in the FOX investigation limited to the U.N. Secretariat alone, but covered the Security Council and its members, including the United States, France, Russia and China.

“In many cases, the U.N. is attacking us for things that we never said, arguing that we somehow implied them,” he added.  And in many other cases, the United Nations is objecting to FOX reporting the views of  critics who had nothing to do with the network.

United Nations officials refused to appear on the taped “Breaking Point” program, which ran on FOX News Channel at 9 p.m. EDT on Sept.19. Instead they said they would respond in a live broadcast immediately after the show. That did not fit into the format of a documentary investigation, but FOX was and is prepared to have U.N. officials appear on any number of  hours of regularly scheduled live broadcast.

Shashi Tharoor, U.N. Under-Secretary General for Communications and Public Information, sent his letter of complaint 10 days after the show aired..

Among other things, Tharoor accused “Breaking Point” of ignoring the value of the Oil-for-Food program as a relief effort, underestimating the amount of money that was actually spent on humanitarian aid, and argued that FOX incorrectly called the program “secret” because all of its details were known to members of the U.N. Security Council.

“The report repeatedly stated that Oil-for-Food did provide humanitarian aid to the Iraqi people,” Gaffney declared, noting that the “Breaking Point” show included footage of the U.N. program’s chief administrator, Benon Sevan, asserting that Oil-for-Food had “doubled the so-called food basket” for ordinary Iraqis.

“The issue,” Gaffney continued, “was at what price?”

The “Breaking Point” producers also conducted an on-camera interview with former U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Denis Halliday, "the most forceful and eloquent defender of the U.N. we could find," said Gaffney, who added that Halliday's views appear throughout the program.

The same effort, Gaffney said, was made when the U.S. State Department refused to take part in the program unless FOX met unacceptable conditions. FOX interviewed Richard Williamson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Oil-for-Food years, to present the State Department view, and took him — and the U.S. government — to task for failing to better police the Oil-for-Food effort.

The program also stated that other defenders of Oil-for-Food noted that the program supplied the Iraqi people with $15 billion in aid on $67 billion of sales.  Though “Breaking Point” did not name any such  supporters, in March 2002,  Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., praised Oil-for-Food for "providing the Iraqi people with $15 billion in food and medicine."

Many of the other points that FOX raised in the documentary, Gaffney observed, were based on the U.N.’s own documentation.

The U.N. objected to FOX airing interviews with Iraqi health officials who declared that many supplies of medical and other goods were substandard, but, Gaffney noted, the United Nation’s own confidential internal audit — obtained by FOX — declared that U.N. border inspectors were only looking at 7 percent to 10 percent of shipments to Iraq.

The United Nations also argued that FOX had incorrectly implied that the world body had somehow endorsed the Olympic sports program run by Saddam’s notorious son Uday, when a $20 million Oil-for-Food appropriation appeared on no more than a “wish-list of sorts.” In fact, Gaffney noted, the $20 million appeared on an official U.N. distribution plan that was formally approved by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan as a mandatory part of the Oil-for-Food approval process. (Specific contracts on the distribution plan were described in the document itself as “classified.”)

Gaffney observed that the United Nation’s criticism contained nothing about the show’s major points, that Oil-for-Food money could be in the hands of Iraqi terrorists killing U.S. soldiers, or that ties may exist between Oil-for-Food suppliers and Al Qaeda.

Gaffney also took issue with Under-Secretary-General Tharoor’s assertion that “we have had some rather unpleasant experiences of selective editing of our comments by some sections of FOX in the past.” Fox News has asked the U.N. to provide examples.

The last senior U.N. official to appear in a taped broadcast on FOX was Annan himself, in a five-part FOX series on U.N. reform. The United Nations made no subsequent complaints about editing of the series, and in private, U.N. officials commended FOX producers for the series’ “fairness.”