Posted on June 26, 2007 in Washington Watch

The Iraq war is a growing mess, and it is appropriate to hold accountable those who got us into it. Fingers can rightly be pointed at the Administration, of course. They used fabricated intelligence to make their case for the war. They preyed off the fear of a shocked and confused public, and they ridiculed opponents and critics. Relying on ideology and ignoring reality, they acted on the grossly misinformed conviction that by force and will alone they could reshape the Middle East.

In this effort, the Administration was aided and abetted by the elected Congress, too many of whose members made the cowardly calculation to take the path of least resistance. Afraid of being considered “weak,” they acted in a self-serving way, seeking to inoculate themselves against the Administration’s attack on their patriotism. They thus abdicated their Constitutional responsibility and deserve criticism.

This much is clear, and has been the subject of significant debate among Democrats and Republicans who are asking tough questions of themselves and challenging their leaders for decisions that have placed our nation in peril.

But there are other culprits responsible for this debacle. In particular, there are those in the media who behaved as mouthpieces and cheerleaders in making the Administration’s case for the war.

Here, however, there is no self-criticism, and no accountability.

The pundits and analysts who knew so little about Iraq, but became instant experts when the cameras rolled, hold themselves to a different standard than the elected officials they so frequently criticize. They, too, share blame – but who is there to accuse them? In the lead-up to the war and in the early days of the conflict, it was frustrating to listen to banal and uninformed pronouncements which, because they were delivered by media icons, took on the aura of being profound truths. Instead of informing the public, these personalities simply regurgitated the pronouncements ground out by the White House’s or Pentagon’s public relations shops. Operating as echo chambers for Administration talking points, they validated those talking points. In doing so, they failed in their responsibility to their viewers and their professions.

Now that a national debate has begun in earnest, it is important that we demonstrate just how wrong-headed these characters have been. Certainly, they won’t remind us of their own failings, nor will they challenge each other. And so, I am thankful for the fine work done the media watchdog group FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting). Each month, FAIR examines the work of the major media and provides in-depth analysis of the media’s failure to get the story right.

I was particularly pleased to see in this month’s issue of FAIR’s magazine Extra! an analysis by Peter Hart cataloguing some of the major media’s most disturbing statements about the war, and a political cartoon by Tom Tomorrow that nicely compliments Hart’s piece. Examples follow:

“I will bet you the best dinner in the gaslight district of San Diego that military action will not last more than a week,” said FOX’s Bill O’Reilly. Then-journalist and current White House Press Secretary Tony Snow observed on April 13, 2003 that “The three week swing through Iraq has utterly shattered skeptics complaints.” Three days earlier, Fred Barnes had made the amazing statement: “The war was the hard part…. And it gets easier. I mean, setting up a democracy is hard, but not as hard as winning a war.” The always “expert” Bill Kristol informed us that “There is a certain amount of pop psychology in America that the Shi’a can’t get along with the Sunni…. There’s almost no evidence of that at all.”

And while the media today regularly derides Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech on the USS Abraham Lincoln, that was not the view at the time. “He looked like an alternatively commander in chief, rock star, movie star and one of the guys,” said CNN’s Lou Dobbs. Chris Matthews offered this tribute: “Americans love having a guy as President, a guy who has a little swagger…. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our President…. We’re not like the Brits.” The following day Gwen Ifil of PBS offered this description: “The war winds down, politics heats up …Picture perfect. Part Spider-man, part Tom Cruise, part Ronald Reagan. The president seizes the moment on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific.”

On the subject of weapons of mass destruction, NBC’s Tom Brokaw began a March 2003 segment by saying, “Word tonight that U.S. forces may have found what U.N. inspectors spent months searching for, a facility suspected to be a chemical weapons plant, uncovered by ground troops on the way North to Baghdad.” Rather than questioning why that report turned out to be false, the next month ABC’s World News Tonight gave this “exclusive” report: “U.S. troops discover chemical agents, missiles and what could be a mobile laboratory in Iraq.” The always wrong but always hopeful Dick Morris opined, “Over the next couple of weeks when we find the chemical weapons this guy was amassing… the Left is going to have to hang it’s head for three or four more years.”

Given this, it is ironic that more members of the U.S. Senate have publicly regretted their votes to authorize the war, than have journalists for their part in perpetuating the deception.

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