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Hullabaloo


Friday, August 30, 2013

 
"Iraq was a long, long time ago"

by digby

The New York Times ombudsman has been getting complaints from readers about the newspaper's coverage of Syria. Apparently quite a few people are hearing echoes of Iraq --- and they don't like it. She looked into it:
I talked with the managing editor Dean Baquet about this on Thursday, and to Andrew Rosenthal, the editorial page editor, on Friday. I asked both to what extent the work they are supervising – respectively, news stories and opinion pieces, including Times editorials – is influenced by an expressed desire to avoid past mistakes.

Mr. Baquet told me that the specter of Iraq is not something that has come up explicitly for discussion in meetings he has held among editors and reporters on the Syria coverage.

“I’ve never said, ‘Let’s remember what happened with Iraq,’” he told me. “I don’t think it’s necessary. I haven’t had to instruct the staff to ask hard questions. They are doing that.”

He added: “The press’s coverage of Iraq always lurks in the background. But it was a long, long time ago.”

Syria is not another Iraq, he said – one of the major differences, he said, is that the Obama administration has no enthusiasm for this conflict in the way that President George W. Bush’s administration did a decade ago.

“Nobody could read our coverage and say that The New York Times is trumpeting war,” Mr. Baquet added.
Hoookay. The paper that published Judy Miller's WMD propaganda certainly has no obligation to be especially mindful of its reporting about another "WMD" threat in the middle east. It was, after all, a "long, long time ago."

Sullivan weighs in:
I’ve been observing The Times’s Syria coverage and its editorials for many weeks, with an eye to this question. While The Times has offered deep and rich coverage from both Washington and the Syrian region, the tone cannot be described as consistently skeptical. I have noticed in recent weeks the ways that other major newspapers have signaled to their readers that they mean to question the government’s assertions. For example, although it may seem superficial, The Washington Post has sent a strong message when it has repeatedly used the word “alleged” in its main headlines to describe the chemical weapons attacks.

I have also found that The Times sometimes writes about the administration’s point of view in The Times’s own voice rather than providing distance through clear attribution. This is a subtle thing, and individual examples are bound to seem unimportant, but consider, for example, the second paragraph of Friday’s lead story. (The boldface emphasis is mine.)
The negative vote in Britain’s Parliament was a heavy blow to Prime Minister David Cameron, who had pledged his support to Mr. Obama and called on lawmakers to endorse Britain’s involvement in a brief operation to punish the government of President Bashar al-Assad for apparently launching a deadly chemical weapons attack last week that killed hundreds.
With the use of the word “apparently” – rather than directly attributing the administration, The Times seems to take the government’s position at face value. It’s a tiny example, of course, but in the aggregate it’s the kind of thing the readers I’ve quoted here are frustrated about.
I think this has been the usual approach of most of the big establishment papers for decades on these national security stories. They all comically cheered the run-up to Iraq, making their support so clear that it couldn't be ignored. You would think that would have made a difference, but it hasn't. Still, in my experience, the mainstream press identification with the government is these situations is always obvious.

When the government decides its going to war, most elite opinion falls in line and public opinion usually shifts, at least temporarily, as a result. Most pundits seem to think that being against a war that ends in victory is far more embarrassing than being against a war that ends up being a mistake, which has always struck me as very telling.

Still, this doesn't seem to be going as well for the government as one might have expected. The administration seems to have hoped they could get in and out quickly before anyone paid close attention and that hasn't worked out. And it seems not to have anticipated the reluctance on the part of politicians everywhere to stick their necks out again, which is downright puzzling. This product roll-out has been very bumpy and it's hard to see where it's going to end up at this point.


*In fairness, Sullivan does also point out that the editorial board has been more skeptical and that there has been some good, front page reporting that didn't have its thumb on the government's scales.




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