Thursday, August 12, 2004

WaPo Out-times the Times

In the last quarter of 2002 and the first quarter of 2003, you couldn't buy a legitimate media outlet report that questioned the Bush administration's claims regarding Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Never mind that the saber rattling consisted of some of the most specious arguments ever presented to influence the jury in the court of public opinion (me and you). It was clear from early 2002 that BushCo was hell-bent-for-leather to take unilateral action in Iraq, regardless of the cost.

The media was a willing participant - let me rephrase that - the media was an unquestioning conduit and accomplice for the BushCo / PNAC Rhetorical Blastfax Machine® in the runup to the war.

Not a single one of the largest 10 or so newspapers in the country took a front page alternate view of the crap being spewed by the agents of the Bush administration during the fall of 2002. And now they're all "oh-so-sorry, we let down our readership, yada, yada, yada".

Wrong. They let down the country. In not sifting through the transparent bullshit being blasted out by the Bush administration during 2002 and early 2003, in not demanding better proof of egregious (and immediate) danger posed to the U.S. by Saddam, in not invoking an ounce of critical editorial thinking prior to simply parroting the day's White House press release, they betrayed (and are still betraying) any semblance of a journalistic code of ethics.

Mea culpa from the Washington Post this morning:

The Post on WMDs: An Inside Story

...The paper was not front-paging stuff,' said Pentagon correspondent Thomas Ricks. 'Administration assertions were on the front page. Things that challenged the administration were on A18 on Sunday or A24 on Monday. There was an attitude among editors: Look, we're going to war, why do we even worry about all this contrary stuff?'

In retrospect, said Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr., 'we were so focused on trying to figure out what the administration was doing that we were not giving the same play to people who said it wouldn't be a good idea to go to war and were questioning the administration's rationale. Not enough of those stories were put on the front page. That was a mistake on my part...
Damn right, Mr. Downie. So, to the NY Times, Washington Post, and all the others...the looting of the national treasury, the blood of tens of thousands, and the destruction of America's standing in the world rests as much with you as the BushCo liars and thieves, because you didn't do your job.

Given The Post's reputation for helping topple the Nixon administration, some of those involved in the prewar coverage felt compelled to say the paper's shortcomings did not reflect any reticence about taking on the Bush White House. Priest noted, however, that skeptical stories usually triggered hate mail "questioning your patriotism and suggesting that you somehow be delivered into the hands of the terrorists."
Oh, so now hate mail drives editorial decisions and short-circuits the critical thinking process. How damn sad is this? Katherine Graham is rolling over in her grave.


From August 2002 through the March 19, 2003, launch of the war, The Post ran more than 140 front-page stories that focused heavily on administration rhetoric against Iraq. Some examples: "Cheney Says Iraqi Strike Is Justified"; "War Cabinet Argues for Iraq Attack"; "Bush Tells United Nations It Must Stand Up to Hussein or U.S. Will"; "Bush Cites Urgent Iraqi Threat"; "Bush Tells Troops: Prepare for War."...

...In October 2002, Ricks, a former national security editor for the Wall Street Journal who has been covering such issues for 15 years, turned in a piece that he titled "Doubts." It said that senior Pentagon officials were resigned to an invasion but were reluctant and worried that the risks were being underestimated. Most of those quoted by name in the Ricks article were retired military officials or outside experts. The story was killed by Matthew Vita, then the national security editor and now a deputy assistant managing editor.
Matthew Vita gets promoted for editorial incompetence. Moses Daniel Rocha gets dead because of Vita's incompetence.

The Washington Post's ass covering mea culpa is 4 online pages long. It bears reading and dissection to understand what drove this country into the mess and quagmire we now face - a quagmire that, regardless of who's running the show after inauguration day in 2005, is going to continue. Most importantly, you need to read the whole thing to get the story behind Walter Pincus.

Pincus was trying to act as the voice of sanity in an insane time. So I'll close with this:

A white-haired curmudgeon who spent five years covering the Iran-contra scandal and has long been an expert on nuclear weapons, Pincus sometimes had trouble convincing editors of the importance of his incremental, difficult-to-read stories.
There's that pesky "nuance" thing again. George Bush doesn't do nuance. And neither did the U.S. media, who by not doing nuance, enabled the PNAC and the Bush administration to realize their dreams beyond all imagination. No media outlet questioned the legitimacy and legality of preemptively invading a sovereign nation that posed no direct demonstrable threat to the U.S.

In the final analysis, the Soviet-era news agency, TASS, and its primary media outlet, Pravda, could not have done a better job of selling propaganda in 2002 and 2003 than the White House communications team and The Washington Post.

And now the world is stuck with the results of their shoddy work. I hope the editorial leadership of the Washington Post can sleep well at night.