Friday, May 30, 2008

This Is What Journalism Looks Like

Atrios linked to a post in which some Knight Ridder reporters testily link to some of their pre-war journalism (as well as helpfully reminding some of those who need it about some of the history of deception leading up to the war). Now, I knew -- I'd read about, I'd seen quoted, I'd perhaps read snippets directly -- that Knight Ridder was much better pre-war than the craven bootlickers in the rest of the media. But clicking a few of those links, what gets me is not how skeptical... how hard-hitting... how god-damn journalistic their articles are, but how early they are.

Check this out:
Senior Pentagon officials who want to expand the war against terrorism to Iraq authorized a trip to Great Britain last month by former CIA director James Woolsey in search of evidence that Saddam Hussein played a role in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, U.S. officials told Knight Ridder....
Wolfowitz and several other officials have argued repeatedly in interagency meetings that the United States should bomb Iraq and topple Hussein after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Secretary of State Colin Powell and others have successfully deflected those arguments so far, arguing that such an attack would fracture the international coalition President Bush has assembled. Powell, Vice President Cheney and other U.S. and British officials have said there is no evidence linking Iraq to the Sept. 11 attacks.
That was from October 11, 2001. Think about that: October 11, 2001. One month after the 9/11 attacks. And more than a year before the major lead-up to the war -- the time when the craven roll-over of the press was due (as NBC's Brian Williams explained after the fact) to "the mind-set" of "post-9/11 America."

And it gets better. This is from February 13, 2002:
President Bush has decided to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from power and ordered the CIA, the Pentagon and other agencies to devise a combination of military, diplomatic and covert steps to achieve that goal, senior U.S. officials said Tuesday. No military strike is imminent, but Bush has concluded that Saddam and his nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs are such a threat to U.S. security that the Iraqi dictator must be removed, even if U.S. allies do not help, said the officials, who all spoke on condition of anonymity...The president's decision has launched the United States on a course that will have major ramifications for the U.S. military, the Middle East's future political alignment, international oil flows and Bush's own war on terrorism. Russia and most of America's European allies have expressed alarm about the administration's escalating rhetoric on Iraq.
Just think about that. February 2002. More than a year before the start of the war -- a year when Bush continued to lie about seeking peace, war being the last choice, etc, etc. Of course, some of us thought by, oh, say, the summer of 2002 that the administration was hell-bent on war. But who ever listens to the leftie peaceniks? Just because we happen to be, y'know, right and all.

Just imagine if we had an entire functioning media... rather than one bureau of journalists, and a large number of propagandists and cowed stenographers. We might have had a real debate on the war.

Someone should forward some of those Kinght Ridder links to the NY Times, in particular to the pusillanimous Elisabeth Bumiller, to remind them what their job is. This is what the reporters were doing while Judith Miller and Michael Gordon were stovepipping falsehoods from the white house to the front page of the "paper of record".

Bush made the criminal decision to launch an aggressive war. But he didn't do it alone. Even aside from his numerous aides and political allies, the craven media was a crucial accomplice in his crime. And it seems that one of the chief virtues of McClellan's memoir is to remind everyone of this.

Of course, they are now shocked, shocked that anyone would think they didn't do their job at the time -- and, since they decide what gets reported on, that's most of what will show up in the mainstream press, most likely. But maybe McClellan's calling them out will give just a bit of space to the contrary view.

Let's hope so. Because what we need is to get into the collective discourse -- the media discourse, the academic discourse, the popular discourse -- the truth that the media's behavior in the run-up to the war (hell, throughout most of the Bush presidency) was a massive failure of the highest magnitude. So that the next time someone in this country wants to start a war, journalists -- and citizens! -- will be telling themselves things like: we messed up last time by not questioning enough, let's make sure we question this time.

And: last time they lied to us. Let's think about whether or not they're lying now. (Since the last time we all learned this lesson didn't seem to have stuck, maybe we can this time...)

McClellan's been criticized for saying nothing new -- just stuff that everyone (or at least everyone who reads left-wing blogs) already knows. But I'm not sure if that's such a criticism. Because we have to keep saying it, over and over, until we get it right.

One final point. I've been saying -- yes, angrily: I know, Uncle John, I shouldn't blog angry, but what can I do, the world keeps conspiring against me on this point -- that the media was craven, fearful, cowed. But there is another side to this too: the media was also militaristic. Major voices in the media really wanted to wage more wars. It wasn't simply fear or deference to power, although of course there was a lot of that. But a lot of the media were really as gung-ho for war as most of the politicians were. (Starting from the top, with the corporate executives who ran it.) They believed because they wanted to believe -- wanted to be "strong", which meant, wanted to cheer as others fought wars.

Militarism must be eliminated from the American mind -- and our public culture. And the media which does so much to sustain and further it.

Update: Will Bunch uses a metaphor after my own heart (via):
If the Iraq War had been a botched bank robbery, the Bush administration would have been the triggerman, but the media drove the getaway car. And when the charges come down, those two are equally culpable in the eyes of the law.

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