Iraq: What was the media's role?
Posted by Mary
Joe Conason remarks on an article in the Nation today that says knowledgeable readers would have known that the rational for war on Iraq was based on false premises. Some of the writers for the WaPo wrote excellent articles that questioned the White House's story, but readers would have needed to be very dedicated to follow it since the articles in the WaPo were buried deep in the bowels of the paper.
The Nation piece points out that Walter Pincus, Dana Milbank and some other WaPo reporters did exactly what you would hope good reporters would do: dig into the story and report what you find, even if it doesn't agree with the message of the day from the RNC or isn't accepted Common Wisdom (CW).
First of all, because I've been reading Steve's pieces on this blog, I actually know who Walter Pincus is and what stories he's been reporting. And yes, the WaPo has some great coverage for this story.
The Nation article quotes both Leonard Downie Jr, the executive editor of the WaPo and Michael Gelman, the ombudsman, as well as Walter Pincus on how the WaPo did covering the story. One thing that is evident from this article is how the story about the lead up to the Iraqi war is now an orphan, loved by none and certainly not indictative of any policy within the WaPo.
Downie attempts to justify the paper's prewar shortcomings on the grounds of lack of sufficient clarity and resources. "We had so much to report on all at once in the buildup to war," he says. "Now, we have an ability to focus on fewer issues because many prewar issues [such as military deployments, UN resolutions, etc.] are no longer timely."
The Berman article says, according to Leonard Downie, Jr, that the WaPo is just as agressive and a "reliable" source today as it was in February.
Oh yeah? According to my memory, the WaPo was one of the more excitable cheerleaders for the administration in going to war. Just last month, the WaPo editors complained that Al Gore was wrong to insult people that supported the administration on this war.
What was the role of the media in bringing this war? Berman believes that there wasn't much of anything that would have derailed this war, and I hate to say I agree with that. Nothing was going to stop Bush's war.
It's doubtful whether the Post or any other press outlet could have stopped a war the Administration was so determined to wage. But the what-ifs in Pincus's case are hard not to contemplate: Had his February-March reporting been given its proper due, political and public support for unilateral war might have dropped.
This is certainly true, and the media is also played a big part in convincing 70% of the American public that Saddam was personally involved in 9/11.
In my opinion, a number of reporters, pundits, editorialists and cable channels, including the WaPo editorial staff, were actively promoting war because they were enamored of power, the excitement of battle and because they personally would gain from a war. They looked at war as something exciting, saw only the upside and so rallied around the administration and did their utmost to create war fever in the US public.
Today as we look at the reasons we are stuck in Iraq and we try to find ways to prevent this type of mistake in the future, we should look long and hard at our media and what causes it to be more apt to be a patsy for the warmongers. A strong and healthy democracy needs to have an independent and fearless press to help people have the information they need to affect policy. We are certainly a long way from that ideal now.