Stupid white lies

Why does Michael Moore keep saying the Bush administration gave $43 million to the Taliban -- months after that story was debunked?

By Ben Fritz

Published March 26, 2002 10:30PM (EST)

Trying to kill a political myth once it's been spread by the media is like a game of whack-a-mole -- as soon as you bust one source for getting it wrong, another pops up with the same misinformation.

So it is with the myth that the Bush administration gave $43 million to Afghanistan's Taliban government last year to reward it for banning opium production. That money actually paid for food aid and security programs run by nongovernmental organizations and agencies of the United Nations to help relieve a famine in Afghanistan. While the Taliban reportedly stole some of the aid, none of it was given directly to the oppressive regime. At the time, Secretary of State Colin Powell hinted that the aid was connected to recent moves by the Taliban to crack down on opium production, but made clear no money would be going to the government.

Working off a poorly phrased New York Times story, however, Robert Scheer repeatedly spread this falsehood in his syndicated column. It was later repeated in numerous other publications, including the Nation, the New Yorker and Salon (which later corrected its mistake).

By November, after articles in Spinsanity and the Boston Phoenix debunked the myth, this lie seemed ready to die. Yet it's back in the news again, most recently thanks to author and filmmaker Michael Moore. Moore repeated it in a recent appearance on "Politically Incorrect" to promote his new book, "Stupid White Men." Moore is a repeat offender in the spread of this myth, having repeated it in other media appearances, including on Fox News Channel's "Hannity and Colmes" in January.

It's not hard to imagine where Moore may have picked it up, however, as it has been found in several newspapers in the past few months. USA Today said in an infographic in January that "The United States gave the Taliban $43 million in aid last May as a reward for banning poppy cultivation in Afghanistan." Other publications printing it this winter include the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the Tampa Tribune and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which ironically cited it in a column criticizing the press for not asking difficult questions of political leaders.

Perhaps the real tough question is why, in cases such as this and the myth that Ken Lay slept over in the Clinton White House, the political media and commentators keep spreading discredited lies. Some stories, it seems, are too good not to be true, even after they've been proven false.

Ben Fritz

Ben Fritz is co-editor of Spinsanity.


Related Topics ------------------------------------------