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July 15, 2005

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Come To Scenic Niger Boondoggle Department)

Hilzoy has some words about the gullibility of Washington Post reporters:

Obsidian Wings: Come To Scenic Niger!: Having made my views on the Plame/Rove matter as clear as I can... I thought I might mention instead one aspect of the whole thing that has always struck me as really funny, namely, this:

"On July 12, two days before Novak's column, a Post reporter was told by an administration official that the White House had not paid attention to the former ambassador's CIA-sponsored trip to Niger because it was set up as a boondoggle by his wife, an analyst with the agency working on weapons of mass destruction."

A boondoggle. To Niger.... [T]hese words alone should have sent you into gales of laughter.... Getting there is no fun. Travelocity tells me that to fly from JFK to Niamey takes over 38 hours (via London and Paris), but, oddly, only a little over 20 coming back (via Ouagadougou, Casablanca, and Paris)....

What do you find when you arrive? Sand, mostly. About 80% of Niger is the Sahara desert. If you google-image Niger, you will find a lot of photos of SUVs up to their axles in sand in the middle of a trackless waste, with titles like "and this is our off-road vehicle, stuck in the sand!" It's normally bone-dry, and getting worse because of desertification, about which the Lonely Planet Guide writes: "The ratio of desert to semi-desert is ever increasing, and there is a danger that the country may, one day, disappear under a blanket of sand." These days they are having not only a drought but a plague of locusts. I don't know whether Niger was having a drought when Joe Wilson went there, although, as a friend of mine asked me over dinner, in the Sahara, how could you tell?

Even without drought and locusts, Niger is desperately poor. According to the World Bank (Table 1.1), Niger's GDP was $200/year in 2003; alarmingly, there were ten countries that were even worse off. On the Human Development Index (pdf), which measures quality of life more generally, it's second to last, just ahead of Sierra Leone.

Second to last in the world. Think about it. According to the World Bank, life expectancy is 46.4 years (and that's without a serious AIDS problem); more than one in seven infants die; more than one in four children die by five; and the adult literacy rate is around 18%. That's not just poor; that's a disaster...

Posted by DeLong at July 15, 2005 12:15 PM