When asked recently to answer some questions about Iraq War coverage for an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, my instincts as an analyst for Accuracy in Media told me to be careful. Obviously, we know how people can be burned by the media. But we also try to work with the media, especially those who are supposed to offer intelligent critiques of media performance on various issues.
I offered to provide my answers in writing, providing a documented record of what was said to whom. Coverage of this exchange demonstrates how the media decide what they want to report in advance, and exclude information that contradicts their thesis. I was right in the middle of this one.
I answered all of the questions put forth by Matthew Stannard, and while I was accurately quoted, he left out what I considered by far my more important points. This is bias by omission. I will explain and expand on these points in this commentary.
As someone who has produced and directed documentaries and news magazine shows, I understand the danger of leaving most or all of interviews on the cutting room floor. Sometimes the material that is excluded is not critical to the piece. In this case, however, my points went directly to challenging the overriding theme of Stannard’s article.
About half of the article was on the issue of how questioning, or accepting, the media were of claims by the Bush administration in the run-up to the war, which began in March 2003. The overwhelming view by those interviewed was that the media had been too willing to believe what the Bush administration was telling them. This is one of the prominent themes of the Stannard article. But it has become stale.
According to one of the so-called experts, Theodore Glasser, of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Journalism, “The press treated the war at the beginning the way the press treated other wars at the beginning, and that was: There’s nothing to discuss. We’re off to war.” Added Glasser: “There was no debate among Democrats and Republicans (about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq), therefore there was no debate in the press. The press has always had a hard time covering debate outside the mainstream.”
According to Thomas Kunkel, dean of the Journalism school at the University of Maryland, there was a lack of critical coverage in the run-up to the war, but it wasn’t much different than in previous conflicts.
I argued that in fact there was plenty of questioning on whether or not we should have led the invasion of Iraq, particularly as the U.S. and Britain unsuccessfully attempted to get France, Germany, Russia and China to go along with one more U.N. Security Council resolution in the months prior to the start of the war. Months went by as the Bush Administration prepared for war.
The U.S. went to war for various reasons, including that Iraq had a documented history of military aggression, and that it was developing and had used weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Iraq had invaded two neighbors, gassed its own people, and created killing fields with hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis.
The current claim is that “Bush lied” about Iraqi WMD, but the fact is that U.S. intelligence, and the intelligence agencies of every other major country, believed that Iraq possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction that were forbidden under a series of 16 U.N. resolutions. We also know, despite claims to the contrary from Joseph Wilson, that Saddam had been trying to purchase the type of uranium that could be enriched to make nuclear weapons. He had also harbored and aided the worst and most ruthless terrorists in the world, including al-Qaeda operatives.
In the end, when President Bush and the U.N. gave Saddam one last chance to come clean, U.N. Security Council resolution 1441, he decided to ignore the world. We now know that he was counting on bribes to members of the U.N. Security Council to eventually lift economic sanctions against his regime. His strategy was working-until the U.S. and our allies invaded and overthrew him.
Under these circumstances, if Bush had NOT acted against Saddam Hussein, especially after 9/11, he could have been accused of putting U.S. national security at risk.
We have offered some of the evidence in past commentaries of examples of distorted media coverage today of the run-up to the war. But the notion that “Bush lied” about WMD is also being challenged by new evidence out of Iraq.
For example, this article from FrontPageMag describes what we have been finding out from reading documents that have been captured since liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical rule. Former Senator and 9/11 commissioner Bob Kerrey calls the findings a “very significant set of facts.”
Andrew McCarthy, the former federal prosecutor who successfully led the prosecution of the first World Trade Center bombers, has written about the evidence showing both that Saddam was trying to purchase uranium from Africa, and the links between Saddam and al Qaeda in an article for National Review online. McCarthy is critical of the Bush administration for failing to embrace this information to help rebuild support at home for the war in which we are engaged.
This comes on the heels of the book Saddam’s Secrets, co-written by Jim Nelson Black, a great researcher and author with whom I recently spent time, and General Georges Sada, one of Saddam’s top military advisors, who documents Saddam’s efforts to get his WMD out of the country shortly before the war began.
So the real story is not that the media didn’t do their jobs in the months before the war. The story is that the media are failing to do their jobs now, after evidence has emerged of Saddam’s WMD programs and ties to the terrorists who hit us on 9/11.
The media do not want to admit that Bush was right after all.
Now, if Bush would only make this case in his own defense. This will involve confronting-not courting-the media.