Failed by the Fourth Estate

How wrong the media got it on Iraq, and how little consequence they faced for it

by , April 04, 2013

In a recent op-ed entitled "Blunders to Remember" David Ignatius of the Washington Post apologized for his shortcomings in "being wrong on the overriding question of whether the [Iraq] war made sense." The op-ed’s recognition of the media frenzy that accompanied the invasion and occupation of Iraq reminded me once again of just how the Fourth Estate has failed the American people over the past twelve years. I can recall a number of significant stories that appeared in the alternative media that were deliberately avoided by the mainstream, including the false narrative established to justify invading Iraq. If Ignatius had been reading the pieces appearing on antiwar.com in early 2003, for example, he would have learned in some detail from credible commentators why the impending Iraq war was unjustified, unnecessary, and doomed to fail. Instead, he was embedded with the U.S. Army which gave him wonderful access and his reporting consequently reflected the hokum that he was being fed.

Unfortunately, Ignatius was not alone and today’s corporate media continue to work towards their apparent goal to provide less and less information and more and more opinion. Recent coverage of the President’s visit to the Middle East invariably referred to the militarily occupied West Bank as "disputed," a usage that has also become common over at the State Department and which obscures the injustice being committed against the Palestinians. Iran is regularly referred to as having a nuclear weapons program and it is even frequently suggested that it is developing ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Which means to the average reader that Iran is a serious threat, poised to attack the United States with nuclear weapons. That both the CIA and Mossad would disagree, having publicly stated with confidence that Iran currently has no weapons program, far less a system to deliver the bomb if it should change its mind and decide to construct one, appears irrelevant. No one at CNN, Fox News or the Washington Post appears to be listening.

Back in 2002-2003, the U.S. media fed the public with a steady diet of misinformation, much of it emanating from Judith Miller of the "newspaper of record" New York Times. Judith spent a brief time in exile when her duplicity was revealed before picking up some new gigs and she is now back on television at FOX. Another media talking head who has been prominent in his support of perpetual war is Max Boot, who has provided his own reminiscence of Iraq for the Los Angeles Times. It is priceless, with the wistful title of "The what if’s of Iraq," a neocon’s version of "Dover Beach." That Saddam Hussein did not have WMD ("this was an error, not a lie" per Boot) is only part of the fun as the Iraqi government "crumbled" through other vaguely acknowledged bad decisions by the Bushies, only to be saved through the "near-miraculous turnaround engineered by Generals David H. Petraeus and Ray Odierno, during the 2007-8 surge." Boot appears unable to associate the god awful disaster that Iraq had become by 2007 with the U.S. policies leading up to it, including the invasion itself. "Thank God for the Surge!" has become the new neocon mantra to find some silver lining in what was the greatest foreign policy disaster ever for the United States.

Boot also recounts how U.S. forces withdrew from Iraq in December 2011, though he blames it on an antiwar Obama and does not appear to accept that the American presence was unpopular among Iraqis of all political persuasions and the soldiers were forced to leave. And per Boot their departure permitted the Iraqis to behave badly, engaging in the worst forms of sectarian in-fighting, which has led to the resurgence of al-Qaeda and the chaos in Iraq that we see today. But hey, it wasn’t our fault. If only the White House had continued to listen to Max and the other neocons everything would have worked out just fine.

The current drumbeat in the media about Iran sounds suspiciously like what we once heard about Iraq. Iraq was depicted wrongly by nearly all the mainstream media as a threat to the United States and as complicit in 9/11, with hardly anyone challenging the assumptions that were being made to justify the war. We now know that much of the bogus information that was being fed to the Bush White House was produced in the Pentagon at Doug Feith’s Office of Special Plans. So what is Feith doing these days? Is he in jail because he lied to get the United States involved in a war, possibly to benefit Israel? No, he is a Senior Fellow at the Center for National Security Strategies at the Hudson Institute and he has just popped up as a co-author of a featured op-ed in the Washington Post called "Obama’s ‘nuclear zero’ rhetoric is dangerous." The piece is co-authored by interesting bed fellows, even for Feith: Frank Gaffney, noted Islamophobe, and James Woolsey, former CIA Director who should be best known for his appearance on television within hours of 9/11 to claim that Saddam Hussein was behind the attack. Woolsey, Gaffney and Feith are all associated with the usual neocon "think tanks" (was there ever a more misleading expression?) and all check under their beds every night to make sure that Sharia Law has not crept into the room uninvited.

So you might well ask why this collection of clowns and false prophets should be turned loose to opine on a featured page of a leading newspaper so long after they have been wrong about everything? One would have to ask the editorial page editor Fred Hiatt for the answer to that one, but scaremongering about Muslims and Islamic radicalism is par for the course at the Washington Post, all part of the "Iran/Radical Islam threat" which as we all know is soon coming to a city near you.

All of which returns us to our discussion of the media. Why did the media buy into the war narrative and ignore the credible case being made that attacking Iraq made no sense on any level? Many journalists and former government officials were surely aware that the intelligence was being cooked. I was at CIA at that time and many working level officers were walking the halls shaking their heads and wondering what was going on, so it wasn’t as if no one knew. But the mainstream media refused to touch the alternative story in any serious way. And why is the collective memory so short that the public is again being fed the same narrative by the same people to enter into a new war or series of wars that will produce an even worse result? If we attack Syria to weaken Iran and then bomb Iran to satisfy Israel, why does anyone expect an outcome that will be any better that was has happed recently in Libya? Shouldn’t someone have the courage to write how invading Iraq has introduced al-Qaeda to several countries where it previously had no presence? Or how overthrowing Moammar Gaddafi has done more-or-less the same to Central Africa?

There are a number of possible reasons for the reluctance to seek the truth about America’s zest for war as a tool for resolving the world’s problems. First, the media post 9/11 has become inclined to substitute access to government and to political personalities for doing its own independent investigative reporting. Journalists are increasingly part of the story as they integrate seamlessly with policy makers. This shift away from an independent role is partly driven by monetary concerns as newspapers, magazines and network news channels work on tighter and tighter budgets, but it is also due to much of the media becoming part of large corporations that have a vested interest in good relations with those who have regulatory authority. This has created a situation in which the government has been enabled to increase its ability to manage information to its benefit, including through the embedding of journalists in war zones. And then there the less tangible beltway consensus about the underlying American myth of "we are the good guys" that the media is inclined to support in an age when the country is falsely and deliberately perceived as drowning in a sea of bearded terrorists and ungrateful foreigners. Confidence in America’s public institutions can be criticized but must not be seriously damaged. If one were to read about the high level corruption and official mendacity that has brought us to this sorry point in our history it would make people lose hope while undermining confidence in the American Way, and we can’t have that, can we?

Read more by Philip Giraldi