Sunday, March 31, 2013

How the News Media Betrayed Us on Iraq

How the News Media Betrayed Us on Iraq:
The tenth anniversary of the start of America’s illegal and
aggressive war against Iraq should not pass without recalling that
the mainstream news media eagerly participated in the Bush
administration’s dishonest campaign for public support. It is no
exaggeration to say that most news operations were little more than
extensions of the White House Office of Communications. Abandoning
even the pretense of an adversarial relationship with the
government, the media became shameful conduits for unsubstantiated
and outright false information about Saddam Hussein’s alleged
threat to the American people. Included among the falsehoods were
reports that Saddam had a hand in the 9/11 attacks, had trained
al-Qaeda fighters, and had attempted to obtain uranium ore and
aluminum tubes for nuclear bombs.
Put bluntly, the disastrous invasion of Iraq, which was sold on
the basis of lies told by President George W. Bush, Vice-President
Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary
Donald Rumsfeld, national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice, and
others might not have happened without the enthusiastic help of
The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall
Street Journal
, ABC, NBC, MSNBC, CBS, CNN, Fox News, and
others. The blood of more than a hundred thousand — perhaps more
than a million — Iraqis and 4,500 Americans is on their hands
Today, like the Bush administration alumni attempting to duck
responsibility, the media blame “bad intelligence” for their
conduct. But that will not wash. The dissenting reports of Knight
Ridder’s Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay, along with a very few
others, show definitively that in 2002–03 solid intelligence
information undermining every propagandistic administration claim
was readily available to anyone willing to use traditional
reporting techniques. Strobel and Landay were mostly ignored. On
the rare occasions when The New York Times or The
Washington Post
reported on the doubts intelligence personnel
had about the Bush narrative, the stories were buried deep in the
paper. (See Bill Moyers’s special “Buying the War” and Greg
Mitchell’s book Wrong for So Long.)
The media did not merely pass along baseless assertions; the
television channels also attempted to shape public opinion with a
biased selection of guests. Prowar voices abounded, while informed
war skeptics were scarce. Even when an opponent of war was
featured, he or she had to share the time with a prowar advocate,
yet the prowar side was often featured unchallenged. As the war
became regarded as inevitable, the cable news channels shifted
almost exclusively to military analysis, as though the question was
no longer whether the nation ought to go to war, but rather
how it would be fought. Many of the retired generals who
were presented as objective experts had seats on the boards of
defense contractors and were getting Pentagon briefings.
What motivated those who covered the run-up to the Iraq invasion
this way? Several factors were surely at work. Groupthink and the
fear of going out on a limb must have played a large role. The
vaunted courage of journalists is more pose than fact. (This makes
the work of Strobel and Landay, Phil Donahue of MSNBC until he was
cancelled, and Bob Simon of CBS’s Sixty Minutes all the
more admirable.) “Pack journalism” is reinforced by a fear that
reports suggesting skepticism about a military action will be
interpreted as unpatriotic. The smear factories run by militarist
right-wing media watchdogs ensure this will be the case. Moreover,
being branded un-American for doubting a president’s case for war
may lead to viewer or reader boycotts, which in turn may lead to
pressure from advertisers. Thus, the corporate bottom line played a
Another factor is the simple truth that war makes better news
than peace. No one wins a Pulitzer Prize for being a peace
correspondent. We must not underestimate this as a motive for
favoring war.
Finally, we can’t overlook that many in the media were simply
motivated by nationalism and deference to the state with its
dazzling war technology.
This story of media malfeasance would be bad enough if it were
just history. Unfortunately, even as media figures now issue mea
culpas about their shameful Iraq “coverage,” they are engaged in
precisely the same shoddy business with respect to Iran and its
alleged but unproven nuclear-weapons program.
This article
originally appeared
at the Future of Freedom