So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits and the President Failed on Iraq
published: Jan. 28, 2013, recorded: May 2008, views: 15
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Greg Mitchell has found both comedy and tragedy in the shameless and near-universal complicity between the American press and the Bush Administration around the Iraq war and occupation. Mitchell’s amply documented account of the run-up to the invasion through the recent surge forms the basis of his new book, So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits and the President Failed on Iraq, and this talk.
The nation’s mainstream media flunked a basic test of journalism, according to Mitchell: displaying a healthy skepticism. “Even if you’re reporting for a tiny newspaper in Topeka, and interviewing the local garbage department official, don’t take what he says as gospel. Check it out with other people.” From the multiple rationales offered by the Bush Administration for the invasion, to their progress reports on the occupation, the news media gobbled up the official line, hook and sinker, as Mitchell recounts in detail.
Some examples from the early days: newspaper pieces about Colin Powell’s “slam dunk” case at the U.N. establishing Saddam Hussein’s nuclear ambitions, which proved to be a complete sham. Mitchell says, “If the press is still around 200 years from now, this will be in the text books.” And there’s The New York Times’ Judy Miller searching with the military to find weapons of mass destruction, which also “turned out to be bogus.” Americans bought, and according to polls, continue to believe, the Bush Administration’s linkage of Iraq to 9/11, and to Al Qaeda. “Whether this is the media’s fault, or the American people’s lack of interest…the media didn’t push the truth strongly enough,” says Mitchell.
In the five years following “mission accomplished” Mitchell finds a recurring theme of media self-censorship around using graphic images of war and documenting the grisly details, whether of Americans flown home in coffins, veterans suffering from physical and mental injuries, or civilian deaths in Iraq. He notes that in spite of mounting evidence that war efforts were foundering, no major newspaper came out for a change of course in Iraq.
This hasn’t ended, even with a majority of Americans against the war. The “media went sleepwalking into an abyss” when Bush enacted his plan for the surge. What’s worse, there’s a new absence of coverage, with attention focused on the economy and elections, and the threat of Iran. With the media neglecting the pursuit of truth, Mitchell worries that the relevance of mainstream journalism is fading, replaced by opinion-based blogs and partisan websites.
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