In reporting his story, Taylor learned how dogged an intellectual adversary Waas could be. After apprising Waas of his findings, says Taylor, “he was very unhappy with me and said things that made me unhappy with him, and I don’t want to go into the details beyond that.” Lots of calls? “Yeah, in a general sense, yeah,” replies Taylor, who now works with Waas at National Journal and emphasizes that he considers him a valued colleague.
At the end of his piece, Taylor invites scandalmongers such as Waas to refute his conclusions. No one has taken him up on the offer, says Taylor. His argument, however, did help persuade the custodians of the Goldsmith Prize to reconsider their choice of honorees, according to Marvin Kalb, a senior fellow at the Kennedy School center that administers the award. In the end, the Goldsmith people decided to let the award stand.
A report released by the Clinton administration’s Justice Department in 1995 further debunked the Iraqgate scandal, finding no evidence that “U.S. agencies or officials illegally armed Iraq.” The report delivered a special blow to Frantz and Waas, attacking a piece that the two had written in March 1992 alleging that Iraq bartered U.S. food aid for Soviet tanks. Federal prosecutors had followed up on this bit of reporting, according to the Justice report, but came up with “negative results.”
Such revelations have bruised Iraqgate’s reputation over the years, and with it the resonance of the Frantz-Waas stories. Peter Mantius, author of a 1995 book titled Shell Game: A True Story of Banking, Spies, Lies, Politics—and the Arming of Saddam Hussein, believes the Bush administration did scheme to assist Hussein and credits the Los Angeles Times team for bringing attention to a big story. But he writes via e-mail that Waas and Frantz “made some sloppy mistakes that undercut the authority of their effort.”
Former ABC News correspondent Robert Zelnick has a harsher recollection of the story. A Pentagon reporter for ABC at the time of the Frantz-Waas collaboration, Zelnick prided himself on minimizing coverage of Iraqgate on the network’s World News Tonight (his influence didn’t extend to Nightline, an Iraqgate proponent). “It was a nonscandal and some of the worst investigative reporting that I observed during my career,” says Zelnick, a journalism professor at Boston University.
Waas’ Iraqgate contributions to the Los Angeles Times petered out in late 1992. But his calls to the paper’s Washington bureau didn’t. At the root of Waas’ blitz, current and former staffers say, was his disappointment in not getting a full-time job at the paper. The calls became part of the bureau’s routine. “People’s eyes would roll to the ceiling and say, ‘Oh my God, Murray Waas is calling again,’” recalls Jack Nelson, a former bureau chief.
Though Nelson and other staffers say Waas was never promised a full-time position, Waas seemed to think that somebody, possibly Nelson, had tried to sabotage his employment prospects. “He called me up. Something about he had e-mails that somebody in the bureau was trying to get him,” Nelson explains. “He was telling me this was so. If this was so, I don’t know a damn thing about it.…It was almost as if I had done something, which was totally untrue. I think he was accusing me of [being] out to get him. It wasn’t true.”
Senior Washington correspondent Dick Cooper says he got similar calls from Waas. “Murray did feel that way sometimes—people plotting against him,” he recalls.
Editor’s Note: Months ago, when this article was still a draft, it got Washington City Paper and its staff nominated as finalists for “Worst People of 2006” by Daily Kos. Our subject, Murray Waas, has complained publicly and privately that the authors are prejudiced against him, are incapable of writing fairly and accurately about him, and have acted unprofessionally and unethically in gathering their material. He has also disputed many of the facts presented in the article.