Associated Press – Thursday August 12, 2004
WASHINGTON – Editors at The Washington Post acknowledge they underplayed stories questioning President Bush’s claims of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein in the months leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
In the story published Thursday in the newspaper, Post media critic Howard Kurtz writes that editors resisted stories that questioned whether Bush had evidence that Saddam was hiding weapons of mass destruction.
“We did our job but we didn’t do enough, and I blame myself mightily for not pushing harder,” assistant managing editor Bob Woodward says in the story. “We should have warned readers we had information that the basis for this was shakier” than many believed.
Pentagon correspondent Thomas Ricks told Kurtz, “There was an attitude among editors: Look, we’re going to war, why do we even worry about all this contrary stuff?”
Executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. said, “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.”
In his more-than-3,000-word story, Kurtz writes, “The result was coverage that, despite flashes of groundbreaking reporting, in hindsight looks strikingly one-sided at times.”
A number of critics have faulted the American news media for not being more skeptical about the Bush administration’s claims before the beginning of the war in March 2003. In the year and a half since Saddam was toppled, U.S. troops have yet to discover any weapons of mass destruction.
In a study published in March by the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland, researchers wrote: “If the White House acted like a WMD story was important, … so too did the media. If the White House ignored a story (or an angle on a story), the media were likely to as well.”
In May, The New York Times criticized its own reporting on Iraq, saying it found “a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been” and acknowledging it sometimes “fell for misinformation” from exile Iraqi sources.
Rixon Stewart — August 13, 2004
Admitting that coverage “was not as rigorous as it should have been” is all very well. It gives the impression that the mainstream media makes mistakes sometimes, but when alerted is honest about them and accountable. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
What Woodward fails to acknowledge is that errors in reporting in the run up to the invasion were not confined to that one particular topic. They apply to media coverage across the whole spectrum, it is indeed the very nature of the beast. Thus it is used to shape and condition public perception on behalf of the media owners and a small, hidden ruling elite.
Even if the media is ostensibly publicly owned, it still follows the same rules. For example there is no real difference in coverage between the British Broadcasting Corporation and any of its commercial rivals. They might have different priorities and reporters and slight nuances in tone and emphasis. But essentially the same picture is presented: be it of Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction or the latest terrorist outrage. In other words, there might be different media outlets but their coverage is all but interchangable.
So the media has been caught out over Iraq and Bob Woodward says, in essence, “I’m sorry, we’ll learn from our mistakes”. But his apologies are meaningless and only divert attention from the media’s role in the whole debacle, which was to prepare public opinion for the invasion of Iraq.
Woodward’s apologies notwithstanding, his admission is also an attempt to restore the media’s beleaguered credibility. Now that it’s served its purpose it will, given time, be able to perform a similar function in future. Or it will until people realise how the press and media in general are used to influence the public’s perception of events.
Here it is worth quoting from The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. Despite being dismissed as an “Anti-Semitic forgery”, they have nonetheless prefigured events long before they happened. So regardless of their origin, they are worth taking note of.
According to The Protocols: the press “serves to excite and inflame those passions which are needed for our purposes.” Like the threat posed by Saddam Hussein and his Weapons of Mass Destruction, which were prior to the invasion, a staple topic of the mainstream media.
Protocol 12 continues: “I beg you to note that among those making attacks upon us will also be organs established by us, but they will attack exclusively points that we have pre-determined to alter.”
Like Woodward’s Watergate reports and their role role in ending Nixon’s presidency.
Protocol 12 continues: “Methods of organisation like these, imperceptable to the public eye but absolutely sure, are the best calculated to succeed in bringing the attention and confidence of the public to the side of our government. Thanks to such methods we shall be in a position as from time to time may be required, to excite or tranquillize the public mind on political questions, to persuade or confuse, printing now truth, now lies, facts or their contradictions, according as they may be well or ill recieved … We shall have a sure triumph over our opponents since they will not have at their disposition the organs of the press…”
Quotes from The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion