Thursday, April 26, 2007

Iraqgate Hall of Shame

On PBS last night, Bill Moyers produced a new-century remake of “All the President’s Men,” this time with an unhappy ending, featuring a Woodward and Bernstein who got the story right but had it published only in the flyover country between Washington and LA.

In counterpoint to the young Knight-Ridder reporters who dug out the Bush-Cheney plot to go to war in Iraq with factoids, pseudo-facts and flatout lies, there were the pillars of American journalism confessing their failures in "Buying the War."

There was Dan Rather, racked by guilt, saying there was no excuse for “my performance and the performance of the press in general in the rollup to the war,” citing only the trauma of 9/11 in mitigation.

Walter Isaacson, then head of CNN: “There was a patriotic fervor and the administration used it so that if you challenged anything you were made to feel that there was something wrong with that.”

Howard Kurtz, media critic: “I went back and did the math. From August 2002 until the war was launched in March of 2003 there were about 140 front page pieces in the Washington Post making the administration's case...only a handful of stories...making the opposite case, raised questions.”

The dishonor roll included Judith Miller of The New York Times giving credence to Ahmed Chalabi’s Pentagon-backed lies, Tim Russert amplifying them on “Meet the Press” because there was no “opposition party,” 60 Minutes pulling its punches on exposing the falseness of the Saddam Hussein-Al Qaeda link.

Craven fear is too easy an explanation. Dan Rather, The New York Times and the Washington Post stood up against the Nixon Administration during Watergate. But that was not a time when most Americans felt personally threatened and any opposition could be tarred as unpatriotic.

If there is a lesson for the future, media critic Norman Solomon may have put it best. Journalists, he pointed out, “want to be ahead of the curve but not out on a limb. And, if you took seriously the warning flags that were profuse before the invasion of Iraq, that the administration's story was a bunch of nonsense about WMDs, you would not just be ahead of the curve a little, you would have been way out on a limb.”

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