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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

 
"Going to war, almost light"

by digby

Greg Mitchell had a nice piece this morning revisiting a Bill Moyers' Journal about the media's role in the run up to the Iraq war. It's a good time to take another look back, I think. Mitchell recapped the show at the time of the airing this way:
Among the few heroes of this devastating film are reporters with the Knight Ridder/McClatchy bureau in D.C. Tragically late, Walter Isaacson, who headed CNN, observes, “The people at Knight Ridder were calling the colonels and the lieutenants and the people in the CIA and finding out, you know, that the intelligence is not very good. We should’ve all been doing that.”

At the close, Moyers mentions some of the chief proponents of the war who refused to speak to him for this program, including Thomas Friedman, Bill Kristol, Roger Ailes, Charles Krauthammer, Judith Miller, and William Safire. But Dan Rather, the former CBS anchor, admits, “I don’t think there is any excuse for, you know, my performance and the performance of the press in general in the roll up to the war. We didn’t dig enough. And we shouldn’t have been fooled in this way.”

Bob Simon, who had strong doubts about evidence for war, was asked by Moyers if he pushed any of the top brass at CBS to “dig deeper,” and he replies, “No, in all honesty, with a thousand mea culpas, I don’t think we followed up on this.” Instead he covered the marketing of the war in a “softer” way, explaining to Moyers: “I think we all felt from the beginning that to deal with a subject as explosive as this, we should keep it, in a way, almost light—if that doesn’t seem ridiculous.”

Moyers replies: “Going to war, almost light.”

Walter Isaacson is pushed hard by Moyers and finally admits, “We didn’t question our sources enough.” But why? Isaacson notes there was “almost a patriotism police” after 9/11 and when the network showed civilian casualties it would get phone calls from advertisers and the administration and “big people in corporations were calling up and saying, ‘You’re being anti-American here.’”

Moyers then mentions that Isaacson had sent a memo to staff, leaked to the Washington Post, in which he declared, “It seems perverse to focus too much on the casualties or hardship in Afghanistan” and ordered them to balance any such images with reminders of 9/11. Moyers also asserts that editors at the Panama City (Fla.) News-Herald received an order from above, “Do not use photos on Page 1A showing civilian casualties. Our sister paper has done so and received hundreds and hundreds of threatening emails.”

Walter Pincus of the Washington Post explains that even at his paper reporters “do worry about sort of getting out ahead of something.” But Moyers gives credit to my old friend, Charles J. Hanley of The Associated Press, for trying, in vain, to draw more attention to United Nations inspectors failing to find WMD in early 2003.

The disgraceful press reaction to Colin Powell’s presentation at the United Nations seems like something out of Monty Python, with one key British report cited by Powell being nothing more than a student’s thesis, downloaded from the Web—with the student later threatening to charge U.S. officials with “plagiarism.”

It's important to remind ourselves of those days, not only because we are at the anniversary of the invasion but because we are seeing many of the usual suspects once again get overstimulated and seemingly desperate to "take action", regardless of the consequences or the obvious complications.

And the endless moral preening about the sanctity of international law is almost unbearable. Especially considering the past. (And not just Iraq.)

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