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Posted at 3:20 PM ET, 05/29/2008

The Pot and the Kettle

By Michael Dobbs


Mouthpiece for the president.

"Through it all, the media would serve as complicit enablers. Their primary focus would be on covering the campaign to sell the war, rather than aggressively questioning the rationale for war or pursuing the truth behind it. ... The public should have been made much more aware, before the fact, of the uncertainties, doubts, and caveats that underlay the intelligence about the regime of Saddam Hussein. The administration did little to convey those nuances to the people, the press should have picked up the slack but largely failed to do so because their focus was elsewhere -- on covering the march to war, instead of the necessity of war."
--Scott McClellan, former White House press secretary, "What Happened."

Now he tells us. As deputy White House press secretary during the run-up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, Scott McClellan helped shape what he now describes as a "political propaganda campaign" to sell the war. Had he had any "uncertainties, doubts, and caveats" about the rationale for war, he could have found a way to share them with the American people at the time rather than five years later. But what of his criticism of the so-called "liberal media" which you can read in greater detail here? Were we "complicit enablers" for the Bush administration in its march to war?

The Facts

As a reporter who was part of the Washington Post's foreign policy team during the period 2002-2003, I have thought about this question a lot over the last five years. Many of my colleagues have dismissed McClellan's criticisms, insisting that they asked "all the right questions" during the run-up to the war, and it was hardly our fault if the administration failed to answer them honestly. I disagree. I think the American media--and that includes me, personally--failed to do its job properly during the run-up to the war.


Part of the problem was the conventions of American journalism, which can sometimes reduce thinking reporters to unthinking note-takers. As supposedly "objective" reporters, we were not permitted to question the rationale for war on our own authority, even if we had considerable experience in covering foreign policy and the Middle East. In order to counter the "propaganda" being churned out by McClellan and others, we had to find authoritative sources, preferably within the administration itself, to express "doubts and caveats" about the White House arguments. And that was not an easy task at a time when even the Democratic leadership in Congress had joined the chorus of support for war.

The senior administration officials who have since emerged as critics of the war, such as Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez and Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to secretary of state Colin Powell, were all singing a very different tune at the time. It is legitimate to ask why none of these people went public with their doubts much earlier. As I recall, the most senior U.S. official to actually resign in protest against the war was the political counselor in the U.S.embassy in Greece, John Kiesling. For a look at what a principled resignation letter looks like, click here.

None of this absolves the media of its share of the blame for uncritically relaying the administration's case for war, as articulated by the likes of Scott McClellan. As I look back on my own reporting during the runup to the war, there are articles to which I can point with pride and others I would prefer to forget. But the bottom line is that we spent too much time, as McClellan says, "covering the march to war" rather than "the necessity of war."

We devoted a lot of attention to the small questions--the counting of votes in Congress and the United Nations, the procedural disputes over weapons inspectors, the selling of the war--without addressing the big questions. Was the war necessary? Would it make us Americans, and the rest of the world, safer? How would it upset the balance of power in the Middle East between Shia and Sunni (terms that were unfamiliar to most Americans)?

As I saw it here at The Post, the media's failure went from top to bottom. Editors were reluctant to give front-page prominence to stories that challenged the administration's rationale for war, including one by Walter Pincus questioning the evidence about weapons of mass destruction that ended up on page A17. But reporters (including myself) often failed to display sufficient skepticism about the administration's claims. We should have pressed our editors harder to find a way of addressing the most important questions, even if it was very difficult to find dissenters within the administration.

I should make clear that I am not singling out The Post for special criticism. With a very few exceptions (the Washington bureau of Knight-Ridder comes to mind), the entire American media failed to aggressively challenge the administration's narrative.

I would like to think that the mainstream media is learning from its mistakes. There has certainly been some stellar reporting from and about Iraq during the last five years, in this and other newspapers. The rise of the Internet is forcing us to think about different ways of presenting and analyzing the news without abandoning basic journalistic principles, notably a rejection of political partisanship. The whole "fact checking" phenomenon in this election is perhaps a small straw in the wind.

The traditional "he said, she said" style of reporting certainly has its place in American journalism. But we should not allow it to supersede an even more important journalistic goal, which is to determine the truth as best we can. As a reporter who was part of The Washington Post's foreign policy team during the period 2002-2003, I have thought about this question a lot over the past five years. Many of my colleagues have dismissed McClellan's criticisms, insisting that they asked "all the right questions" during the run-up to the war, and it was hardly our fault if the administration failed to answer them honestly. I disagree. I think the American media -- and that includes me, personally -- failed to do its job properly during the run-up to the war.

The Pinocchio Test

As a former operator of the White House "propaganda machine", Scott McClellan lacks credibility as a critic of the press. But on the question of whether the American press did its job properly during the run-up to the Iraq war, it is difficult to argue with his conclusions. We failed you.

(About our rating scale.)

By Michael Dobbs  | May 29, 2008; 3:20 PM ET
Categories:  Geppetto's Checkmark, History, Iraq, MSM Watch  
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Next: McCain, the Surge, and 'verb tenses'

Comments

I don't usually comment here, and I certainly was no supporter of the war. The problem is that you are ignoring the prevailing public sentiment at the time. The country wanted some justice for 9/11 and the war was it. Cooler heads did not and I don't think could have prevailed. In fact, I think even more tenuous reasoning would have worked to send us to war regardless of the reporting.

Posted by: horton | May 29, 2008 3:38 PM | Report abuse

If the press were truly "doing its job" the CIA would have been queried, both at top levels and through secretive lower-level contacts close to Iraq intel.

And the press would've found the CIA truly believed Saddam was a threat, a sponsor of terror, a cruel and inhumane dictator, and in possession of WMDs and WMD programs, including a nuclear weapons program (as Joe Wilson's report described).

And the "march to war" would have continued with even more sound reporting behind it.

Posted by: The Angry One | May 29, 2008 3:51 PM | Report abuse

Horton, that is a very good point. And journalists became rock stars the closer they got to the administration line, so what incentive did they have to do otherwise?

Posted by: Anonymous | May 29, 2008 3:55 PM | Report abuse

From: Head of State
http://headofstate.blogspot.com/2008/05/ah-scotty.html

Thursday, May 29, 2008
Et Tu, Scotty...

From the Post:

"Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan writes in a new memoir that the Iraq war was sold to the American people with a sophisticated "political propaganda campaign" led by President Bush and aimed at "manipulating sources of public opinion" and "downplaying the major reason for going to war."

McClellan includes the charges in a 341-page book, "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception," that delivers a harsh look at the White House and the man he served for close to a decade. He describes Bush as demonstrating a "lack of inquisitiveness," says the White House operated in "permanent campaign" mode, and admits to having been deceived by some in the president's inner circle about the leak of a CIA operative's name."

It would be utterly inconsistent to praise McClellan for his revelations, now that he needed to find something sensational from his anxiously subservient, painful-to-watch tenure as Press Secretary, which at best could only evoke sympathy for his agonized predicament. It might have helped in eliciting such praise if these revelations had emerge at some point between the end of his tenure and the beginnings of promotion for the book.

Ironically, in now falling to the likely demands of his current masters for something to add spice and sales power to an otherwise agonizing episode, one might posit that he is repeating the same pattern that occurred during his work in the Administration. Nevertheless, this is a man who has demonstrated beyond doubt his characteristic fear of censure. That he comes forward with these accusations, despite putative motive, is of considerable note.

The claims that McClellan makes have the benefit of being supported by numerous contemporary and highly confirming reports (Woodward, Suskind et al). Now, the fact that even McClellan, the truest of camp followers, endorses them, gives them an additional bottom line power--the fearful, sweaty, anxious party line stalwart, who was also among those closest to the action, now confirms what all but the most deluded now must know.

McClellan, like other Press Secretaries before him, could have downplayed, soft pedaled, or diffused these critiques--as they did, in their books, which also had sales imperatives. He does not. Instead, he emphasizes and confirms the critical through-line narrative--a war, driven and unvetted by a lack of necessary curiosity regarding likely effects on our nation, our citizens and the world; a sales campaign yoked to this poorly vetted effort in the most cynical ("one doesn't unveil new products in August") fashion, and, overall, a brutal narrowness of vision, combined with the excitedly combative anti-intellectualism, masked by a shallow pose of ideological self-certainty (i.e. half-blindness) that characterized this administration.

Now, we are seeing the counterattack, the essential message being that they are "puzzled" that this does not "seem to be the Scott" they knew.

Presumably, this "Et tu, Scotty?" translates as an attack on his unwillingness to continue to faithfully toe the party line, in the face of significant evidence to the contrary--to maintain the fantasied walls of the court dominion--a change to be welcomed.

His willingness to express, in print, Bush's tendency to convince himself of what he wanted to believe, and this Administration's embrace of secrecy is a genuinely noble and a brave act.

But, ah, Scotty. The wreckage.

Cite:
Head of State
http://headofstate.blogspot.com/2008/05/ah-scotty.html

Posted by: Anonymous | May 29, 2008 3:58 PM | Report abuse

The "caveats" McLellan refers to don't support the case to keep Saddam Hussein in power.

The bipartisan Robb-Silverman report, with former Dem. Senator Robb as a cochair, found that the raw intelligence the president was privy to was equally or more supportive of the case for war than the summary reports available to Congress. The "Bush Lied" argument should explain why and how Robb, a decorated former Marine, reached an opposing conclusion. I have yet to hear that explained.

In the UK, the Lord Butler report reached a similar conclusion. So much for US bias.

The decision to go to war was not a political one, rather it was based on the best intelligence available. No responsible president could have read the CIA's assessments and concluded there was no danger.

Posted by: The Angry One | May 29, 2008 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Don't beat yourself up too much over it, Dobbs ; )

Posted by: JakeD | May 29, 2008 4:14 PM | Report abuse

"rather it was based on the best intelligence available."
AngryOne

Apparently Cheney had a deep mistrust of the CIA due to their failure to detect Sadaam's invasion of Kuwait leading to Op Desert Storm. Cheney developed his own sort of intelligence agency that came to the conclusions that Sadaam possessed WMD's.

Posted by: JR | May 29, 2008 4:53 PM | Report abuse

"No responsible president could have read the CIA's assessments and concluded there was no danger."
AngryOne

You must be talking about 9/11?

Posted by: Anonymous | May 29, 2008 4:54 PM | Report abuse

I find it funny how reluctant people, who fell for this nonsense back then, are to accept they were misled or "duped" into this war. The intelligence was there, the itnelligence did come out but was ignored. It is up to the President to RISE ABOVE public sentiment and review ALL intelligence. Not just the stuff that supports his "Gut." People will do and say anything to not have to admit that they were wrong and this is evident by some people posting on this and many articles on Scott's book.

You want a time line of how badly you were lied to, buy the book: "The Greatest Story Ever Sold - The Fall and Decline of Truth in Bush's America"

This information has been out there for years people, it just requires turning off the TV and reading a book!

Posted by: Anthony | May 29, 2008 5:26 PM | Report abuse

While the media certainly had its place and lacked courage to question the administration in its (ridiculous) claims, my feeling is that it is being used as a scapegoat.

The reality, as many reporters are now (finally) publicly admitting, is that the Bush Administration created an environment in which any questioning was considered "unpatriotic" and shunned. I understand that this occurred to such an extent that the most passive and "patriotic" of reporters were granted access to the administration and those "deviants" who (god forbid) questioned them were flatly denied such access.

Posted by: lulu | May 29, 2008 5:32 PM | Report abuse

From: Head of State
http://headofstate.blogspot.com/2008/05/tactical-woundedness.html

Thursday, May 29, 2008
Tactical Woundedness

I was just mulling over the response of the White House and former associated figures over the past 24 hours, and realized that there is a phenomenon, used in the past by this and other Administrations, which can be culled out, newly defined, that I shall call "Tactical Woundedness":

Tactical Woundedness: The use of an apparent sense of betrayal, often portrayed through the use of euphemistic insinuation, such as the word "puzzled" and "this isn't the ----- we knew", that is meant to serve as a form of indirection--to draw viewers of an event away from a damaging factual disclosure and towards an implication of personal disloyalty. This relies on the known effect of people to be influenced in the direction of attending to interpersonal conflict over factual inaccuracy--even when the factual inaccuracy may have a considerable impact on their own lives.

See also: Mock outrage; Captain Renault in Casablanca: "shocked, shocked".

If these individuals are indeed wounded, it is more likely an understated wounded pride at their "misunderestimation"--that such a receptive servant of the message, no doubt hired for his unquestioning fealty, would now actually remove the curtain from the proceedings that they expected that he would obediently continue to conceal.

Cite:
Head of State
http://headofstate.blogspot.com/2008/05/tactical-woundedness.html

Posted by: Anonymous | May 29, 2008 5:38 PM | Report abuse

Factchecker,
I posted yesterday for the first time in regards to your Obama articles and heavily criticized you. I stand by those criticisms, but appreciate your willingness to do what few in the media have done and accept that a not insignificant part of the lead-up to war can be laid at your feet. Bravo

Posted by: James C | May 29, 2008 5:51 PM | Report abuse

Yes, the media was carried away with the romance of the idea of another three-month, no-casualty war and failed to closely look at the substantial opposition to the war at home and abroad and the shaky grounds (WMD) for it. The sad thing is it is happening all over again with the Democratic campaign for the presidential nomination. That story is wrapped up---she should quit: he's the new Camelot. Maybe he could be. But let's look for some substance this time around: He's been in politics---Chicago politics at that---for 20 years. Chicago is Democrat---downstate Illinois is GOP. Have we met the colleagues on the other side of the aisle? Have we reviewed the legislation he helped mold using his significant persuasive skills? He's old enough to have a history----and I'd feel better about his being the candidate if I could take a look at his tracks. Aside from his interesting upbringing, I'm not getting much of a picture. Please MSM, do your job on this one, so that 5 years from now someone else isn't writing the column bemoaning the bandwagon enthusiasm that drove Obama to become the nominee. There are some real problems that need tackling.

Posted by: midwest | May 29, 2008 6:00 PM | Report abuse

The problem is you guys were too busy selling advertising space to defense contractors. If you want the law to accord the media some kind of special watchdog status in our democracy, you had better bark a lot louder next time.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 29, 2008 6:13 PM | Report abuse

Ad space was sold not just to defense contractors, but also to MoveOn.org, at discount prices in the NYT, to slander General Petreaus. The MSM had it's snout in the anti-war trough too.

JR, the CIA was of course anti-war in general, but nonetheless assembled WMD and other reports whose general assessment was that Saddam's Iraq was dangerous. See the Robb-Silverman report or Lord Butler report. And no, I wasn't talking about 9/11. Those reports, presumably the NIE that Michael Moore complained Bush didn't read (which Presidents don't read, they have it read TO them), contained warnings that were not believed to be highly credible. Thus the case for bombing Afghanistan before 9/11 was weak.

Posted by: The Angry One | May 29, 2008 7:11 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, I give "Fact Checker" three Pinocchios for his weaseling on taking responsibility. Any sentient human knows the press dropped the ball. Here's what he says: "As I saw it here at The Post, the media's failure went from top to bottom. Editors were reluctant to give front-page prominence to stories that challenged the administration's rationale for war ... I should make clear that I am not singling out The Post for special criticism. With a very few exceptions (the Washington bureau of Knight-Ridder comes to mind), the entire American media failed to aggressively challenge the administration's narrative."

Who are these editors? Why didn't the reporters fight for space? What about the editorial page's endorsement? And when EVERYONE is to blame, is really ANYONE to blame? Also, the Post wins Pulitzers every year (pretty much). It is NOT the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. The paper is STILL coasting on its Watergate reputation. It has a responsibility to lead, not to hide within the crowd.

If the Fact Checker should exist to expose instances when politicians twist facts to serve their ends, then the "Fact Checker" here has clearly twisted facts to suit his end -- namely, that while the press was culpable, he and the WaPo were not PARTICULARLY culpable or blameworthy. And that is simply not true.

Posted by: gbooksdc | May 29, 2008 7:58 PM | Report abuse

McClellan sure was slow to grow a conscience.
In light of the fact that every one in any way connected to the Bush Administration has parroted the same script, shocked and disappointment in replying to McClellan's newly grown conscience seems to suggest that there is a nerve somewhere waiting to be exposed.
McClellan hardly exposed it, but he did infer its existence.
McClellan was correct about the medias' willingness to buy anything from this administration in spite of all the flaws that were ever becoming apparent as time wore on.
And unfortunately the media still is playing that same game, as evidenced more recently its coverage of the debate about whether or not Obama should engage with Ahmadinejad. A position McCain opposes totally. Did the media ask the right questions, no! For days the headlines seemed to suggest that Obama singularly would negotiate with Ahmadinejad. That was not the truth at all!
In fact just a few months ago the President of Iran was invited to Iraq by the Iraqi government. When Ahmadinejad arrived
Maliki hugged and kissed, calling Iran a good friends and brothers. Subsequently Maliki scheduled a visit by him to Iran September 8, 2008.
This meeting has all the soldiers that died in Iraq crying for justice and reason.
Isn't this the same Ahmadinejad who has gone on tirades about Israel and has supplied the Iraqi militia with bombs to kill our soldiers according to U.S.Intelligence?
The media seemed to suggest that for Obama,
this same kind of engagement was outrageous without preconditions, parroting McCains' stance on meeting with the enemies of our nation.
But how does the media reconcile itself for not reminding us all of our inconsistencies in policy especially in Iraq?
The media must report news in its total context to have any credibility.
There is no excuse in leaving this piece of history out considering that this historic meeting happened just weeks ago any more than not having asked the hard questions when this war began.
Charles Slakan


Posted by: Charles Slakan | May 29, 2008 8:02 PM | Report abuse

This newspaper remains one of the leading voices for this aggressive war. It's endearing of the Grahams to give you a stage. I want their signed apology burnt into it.

Posted by: Carter Nicholas, Charlottesville | May 29, 2008 8:06 PM | Report abuse

Does anyone honestly think that these revelations will:
1) lead to the GOP Congressional leaders Boehner or McConnell to call for Mr. Bush's resignation for the good of the country?
2) open the hearts of the conservative Supreme Court justices to reconsider their frosty, callous, unjust decisions?
3) release political prisoners that 52 US Attorney Generals say should never been prosecuted?
4) lead to the sworn testimonies before Congress of executive-privilege-hushed staff?
5) separate the reasons for going to war in Afghanistan (terrorists) from Iraq (oil)?
and
6) create a non-partisan, unified American agenda to regain United States' world standing as a just, moral, and benevolent society?

Posted by: With Bated Breath | May 29, 2008 8:31 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Dobbs,

I appreciate both your candidness, and McClellan's.

I look forward to reading the book, but I'm afraid I'll have to get it from the library. I can't bring myself to reward him for lying to me all those years.

Posted by: mikeinmidland | May 29, 2008 9:04 PM | Report abuse

So it was all just a great big mistake?
A couple of questions here. If you recall there was a weapons inspection program going on at the time of the Iraq invasion. We, in fact, told the weapons inspectors to stop because our assault was imminent. Why wasn't that allowed to finish before we "Shocked and Awed" our way to aggressor nation status? Hans Blix told us two months before the invasion that Hussein was cooperating and they had found no evidence of the programs we claimed existed. If we really were acting for the stated purpose, why didn't that give us pause?
Then there is the question of why we've never taken any action against the individuals who came to us with the false stories of Iraqi capability. Their were dozens of Iraqis, most of whom with ties to a single organization, the Iraqi National Congress, who brought us fairy tales of nuclear programs and bio weapons labs. Have any of them ever been prosecuted? Has their leader, Chalabi, ever been investigated (other than for bank fraud in Jordan and for spying for the Iranians)?
There is an old rule of thumb in the intelligence business, one guy with a crackpot story is just a crackpot. Ten guys with the same crackpot story is a counter intelligence operation. We had dozens, why haven't we ever gone back to figure out who mounted that operation and why?
Why did the administration set up a cluster of political "intelligence operations" in the government? DoD was rife with them, Dougie Feith being the lackey-in-charge of the largest and most error prone one.
It doesn't take an intelligence analyst to figure this one out. The only reason a government official wouldn't have investigated this kind of operation is because he was involved in it. It's an ugly conclusion but since that operation has cost us the lives of over four thousand of our citizens as well as nie on to a trillion dollars, what other explanation is there for the lack of mandated follow through? This isn't oral sex in the white house pantry, (which was investigated much more thoroughly than our mistaken invasion ever will be), this is actually important.
The Downing Street memos were spot on, Robb Silberman was a poor attempt at white wash. The administration was fixing intelligence in support of the policy and the American people were being taken for a ride by their own president. Even Scotty knows this, though he offers the lame explanation of "maybe he convinced himself it was true."
There is little question that this will be the history of the Iraq war, if one concentrates on the string of events instead of the speeches posturing and partisan spin.
Just a note to Scott, if he's reading. Sorry about your career but once you kiss the devils rump, you can never get the smell off your breath.

Posted by: dijetlo | May 29, 2008 9:21 PM | Report abuse

"... The country wanted some justice for 9/11 and the war was it. Cooler heads did not and I don't think could have prevailed. In fact, I think even more tenuous reasoning would have worked to send us to war regardless of the reporting."

Unfortunately, this is all too rrue. The time has long since passed when willful and duplicitous rulers can lead nations into a 100 years war and still leave the bulk of humanity largely unaffected. In today's interdependent world, we can no longer afford reflexive, self-indulgent spasms manipulated by ideologues dictate our actions. And yet, 'Remember 9/11' carries the same irrestible siren song as 'Remember the Maine' dis in its ouw era. History and technology have rendered our basest instincts toward nationalism and religious fanatacism not only toxic but potentially lethal to our species. We can only hope that some other intelligence will learn from our failure as the sift through the dust of what was our 'civilization.'

Posted by: LarryM | May 29, 2008 10:15 PM | Report abuse

Scott McClellan in his fine book is not really saying anything new in his discussion about how most of the media failed to adequately or fairly cover the Bush-Cheney propaganda leading up to the invasion of Iraq. PBS had a very good documentary about this subject, about a year or two ago.

The Bush-Cheney administration played a role in the failure of the media by using McCarthyite tactics to denigrate any journalist or anyone who questioned their foreign policies, especially toward Iraq. Their loyalty and patriotism were cast in doubt by various persons in the administration. This led to an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, whereby most journalists were silenced into compliance with the Bush-Cheney party line.

This happened before during McCarthyism and I thought it was not supposed to reoccur. Two reasons why the war was initially supported by most Americans: a majority were duped by Bush-Cheney rhetoric into thinking the 9/11 tragedy was instigated by Iraq and it was believed the war would be an easy American victory with no costly aftermath.

Posted by: Independent | May 29, 2008 10:26 PM | Report abuse

One failing of the press that you neglect to mention is the tendency of some reporters to trade access to "unnamed high government officials" for their souls. The high government officials then hide behind the tradition of reporters refusing to reveal anonymous sources to provide disinformation and lies and scurrilous ttacks on their enemies.

A stellar example of that process was Judith Miller at the NY Times. She was beguiled by her access, and her articles (many think) were very persuasive in moving those who ought to have known better into supporting the war. Not to mention the Valerie Plame fiasco.

I don't know if any mainline reporters for the Washington Post are in that same situation. It wouldn't surprise me. All I know for sure is that Robert Novak's op-ed pieces sometimes give me the impression of having been cloned from the Bushies' talking points. Coincidence? Like minds? Perhaps. And he certainly has the access.

I was a bit surprised that the motivation for Deep Throat included (or so it seems) a desire for revenge at being passed over for promotion. But the good thing that happened with Deep Throat's information is that it was corroborated BEFORE it was published. I get the feeling that corroboration is a dying art in journalism today.

Posted by: WillytheKorn | May 29, 2008 10:35 PM | Report abuse

Cooler heads should have prevailed. That's what they get payed for. Our Government (Bush) and our military Generals failed us miserably.

Posted by: Dave | May 29, 2008 11:56 PM | Report abuse

An interesting article, if off the usual beat of the fact checker. Ultimately, the drum beat of war was not struck by the press. The inspectors were there and would not have been there if not for the case that was pressed.

Congress was right to give the President the authority to use force. If that hadn't happened, the inspectors would not have been allowed in. To America's everlasting shame, this authority was abused at the cost of many thousands of deaths.

BB

Posted by: Fairlington Blade | May 30, 2008 12:23 AM | Report abuse

He can criticize you. I think sitting on the side of the fence that he was, it gives him a good vantage point to criticize you the media because he was fielding questions from you. You the media are more interested in preserving your access to power than you are in keeping our leaders accountable. If the battle comes to choosing to keep your channel to power open, or reporting on the illicit activities of our government, you'll choose access every time.


You guys totally failed. And you'll fail again. The media, as it is current structured as major media corporate conglomerates, will never go against Republicans when they press for war because de facto Republican establishment news sources, will cry traitor and you'll cave every time.

Posted by: Eric | May 30, 2008 12:37 AM | Report abuse

"He was a slow learner and did poorly in school."

"Was possibly the first media-driven politician in history to understand the power of film. All his public appearances were carefully choreographed."

"What luck for the rulers that men don't think."

"Success is the sole earthly judge of right and wrong."

"Strength lies not in defense but in attack."

"I cannot be mistaken - what I say and do is historical."

"When we have won the war, who will question our methods?"

Cite:
http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0386944/bio

Posted by: cyberman | May 30, 2008 1:09 AM | Report abuse

What are you suggesting Mr. cyberman?

Posted by: vcsmith | May 30, 2008 6:54 AM | Report abuse

REPRINT KIESLING RESIGNATION LETTER
ON THE FRONT PAGE HE IS THE REAL AMERICAN HERO....

Posted by: lylemidnight | May 30, 2008 8:13 AM | Report abuse

On the stark question; WMDs - yes or no? there must be some doubt whether the media could have done much better. It would have been impossible to prove that Saddam didn't have something nasty. There was a general assumption, on the left and on the right, that he probably did.

But there are other questions which were easier to ask:

1. The supposed Al Quaeda connection. Easy to rebut, since AQ had tried to assassinate Saddam twice, and their world views are about as different as it is possible to be.

2. The wisdom of launching a war against a secular, relatively modern moslem country, at the same time as fighting one against a traditional, observant moslem country. Would that not, inevitably, consolidate our enemies? And draw in many others, who saw their 'brothers' dying? Was that wise?

3. The war plan, and the exit strategy. Surely there are journalists capable of asking how this was meant to end? In that vein, someone should have asked (for instance) 'how many Arabic speakers do we have on the staff?' Or 'do we have a plan for maintaining order after the fight?'

4. A more general point - does 'coalition of the willing' make any sense at all?

Posted by: strum | May 30, 2008 8:16 AM | Report abuse

Seriously, what's next -- Barney the dog writing a tell-all book about how Bush deliberately misleading him over a trip to the vet.

Posted by: JakeD | May 30, 2008 9:36 AM | Report abuse

And the press has failed us again by it's biased support for Barack Obama and his campaign. They have all been too busy swooning over this guy and shouting "Ahem" to the first black to have a reasonable chance to become president to notice or to allow anyone else to notice the fact that he has no expierence at all for the job.

Only after the election was "over" did the people start to hear anything about who Obama was, what he stood for and who his people are.

Posted by: gooch73 | May 30, 2008 9:42 AM | Report abuse

'The reality, as many reporters are now (finally) publicly admitting, is that the Bush Administration created an environment in which any questioning was considered "unpatriotic" and shunned. I understand that this occurred to such an extent that the most passive and "patriotic" of reporters were granted access to the administration and those "deviants" who (god forbid) questioned them were flatly denied such access.'
Posted by: lulu

This is a load. Reporters for Mother Jones, The New Yorker, Harper's and others are the real journalists. They did thorough investigations with or without administration help. They were the men and women who risked their lives to talk to all the players--not stenographers that the mainstream seems keen on. But knuckle-headed Americans are more content to read Us Weekly, People, and the Post, News, or Times--all of which are corporate running dogs.

Posted by: edwcorey | May 30, 2008 9:43 AM | Report abuse

the media is again doing a disservice to the nation by helping the Bushies smear anybody who dares to not believe this line of crap called Iraq policy.

Posted by: majorteddy | May 30, 2008 9:49 AM | Report abuse

The Ministry of Truth is going to have a challenging time with this story. Our team did a good job to insure that the big story broke on Friday 30 May following NPR coverage on Thursday 29 May. However, the placement of the first part of the story above the fold in the Friday WP presents challenges. After finishing the long article on page A2, The Washington Post reader is led to in-depth commentary on McClellan and his book by Dana Milbank and Dan Balz on page A3. We are concerned that the WP Fact Checker has awarded a prized check mark for accuracy to McClellan. Congratulations to the IT Team for discouraging cross-posting of messages like this. We thank the Ministry of Truth employees that were able to prevent any further coverage on the Editorial or Opinion pages on pages A12 and A13. We need to work on confusing, distracting, and continuing our "shoot the messenger approach" with full vigor today through Sunday.

Posted by: Dr. Gene Nelson | May 30, 2008 9:56 AM | Report abuse

I disagree that the public wanted the war for revenge or justice purposes.

I think most people would have been very happy to get Osama.

It is my opinion that he still should have been the number one priority. Saddam was contained.

After Osama was taken care of then attention could have turned to Iraq. I think everyday Osama is around shows the weakness of the US. After all we were going to smoke him out.

Posted by: annandale atom | May 30, 2008 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Even the prevailing public sentiment at any given time should not influence reporting. That is a rather lame excuse for not having stood up against the madness.

What is astonishing is the outright manipulation evident to most Europeans and objective onlookers. The fact seems to be thinking, intelligent people like journalists somehow either turned a blind eye or had tunnel vision forced on them from above.

The world is paying the price, and will continue to do so for many years to come. Thanks to my country's leaders for having made this grave error not of judgment but of greed and ruthless indifference to truth and to the consequences of our international aggression which has made the world, if anything, far less safe than ever before.

Isn't it odd, we claim to be the most loved democracy in the world, the leaders of freedom's march onward and yet, in every country in the world our embassies are like fortresses guarded from all those that love us and follow us along.

We have set the example that force, and not dialogue and understanding rule. We reap what we sow....

Posted by: Anonymous | May 30, 2008 11:34 AM | Report abuse

I.F. Stone did not need to ride on the President's plane to tell truth to power.

Thank goodness for Bill & Judith Moyers who do investigations and report as journalist. Also, we are fortunate to have PBS as an alternative to corporate owned and operated CNN, FOX and MSNBC.

Keeping asking hard questions and hold strong your solid POST independent reporting.

Posted by: Fred Miller | May 30, 2008 11:42 AM | Report abuse

the same media that is now jamming Barak Obama down our throats

Posted by: lucci8 | May 30, 2008 12:37 PM | Report abuse

Well, your last article you picked up speed and with this one you "jumped the shark"

Posted by: The Shark | May 30, 2008 1:17 PM | Report abuse

Funny thing that you seem to know about the Knight-Ridder (now McClatchey) work. They listened to the lies told by the administration, and actually checked the facts. Which is something that the Washington Post did not.

Go find out What Really Happened on the McClatchy site.

Unfortunately the Washington Post, NYTimes and all television news operations are following the same game plan with the Bush Administration's saber rattling with Iran.

Posted by: Steve_in_NC | May 30, 2008 1:26 PM | Report abuse

"If the press were truly "doing its job" the CIA would have been queried, both at top levels and through secretive lower-level contacts close to Iraq intel.

And the press would've found the CIA truly believed Saddam was a threat, a sponsor of terror, a cruel and inhumane dictator, and in possession of WMDs and WMD programs, including a nuclear weapons program (as Joe Wilson's report described).

And the "march to war" would have continued with even more sound reporting behind it."

This is a common fallacy that people believe about the origin of the Iraq War. The truth is that George Tenet only passed on information to the president that supported the belief that there were WMDs. There were, in reality, many conflicting reports, but one can only assume that either Tenet had personal reasons for passing on concurring information or was simply instructed to. There was an abundance of contradictory evidence.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 30, 2008 1:31 PM | Report abuse

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Posted by: q2h63p52og | May 30, 2008 2:28 PM | Report abuse

"There was an abundance of contradictory evidence."

The bipartisan Robb-Silverman report concluded otherwise. As does the UK's Lord Butler report.

I would love to hear your quote above substantiated. I've heard various anti-war claims repeated vigorously on these boards over the past few years, none of whom quote any authoritative sources.

Posted by: The Angry One | May 30, 2008 2:29 PM | Report abuse

This was an informative write-up indeed! Thank you so much for linking to Kiesling's letter, which I am embarrassed to say I had never seen before.

I see from the Internet that he, too, has written a book, Diplomacy Lessons, that has received good reviews on Amazon. It has been out a year or two.

After reading his amazing, principled letter of resignation from 2003, I say, let's all go and read THAT book!!!

Thank you so much for your service, John Kiesling... a bit belatedly.

Posted by: Fairfax Voter | May 30, 2008 4:07 PM | Report abuse

Well, I guess I never expected the press to do any digging, with all the corporate ownership and conglomeration. War is extremely profitable (just ask Halliburton, Blackwater, Exxon Mobile et al) and nobody affiliated with these profitable enterprises has any presence in out govt. right? I would never make such an assertion from my own experience, never been in militart of govt. I got that from Smedley Butler, who is (was) an authority on such subjects.

I suppose I give the United States MSM a pass on this, since they are a mouthpiece, much like McClellan; I have 500 sources to hear what McClellan said. If I want any "hard news", I look elsewhere, by habit.

Don't worry fact checker; you didn't fail anyone, you just did what any adult expected.

Posted by: speedemon | May 30, 2008 4:27 PM | Report abuse

I just want to thank you for writing this article. I doubt it was fun to write, but it was the honorable thing to do. I wish more journalists would be so hard on themselves.

Posted by: Robert Waldmann | May 30, 2008 8:47 PM | Report abuse

"...We failed you."
Conclusion:
Geppetto Checkmark!

I just love these ratings....

Posted by: Anonymous | May 30, 2008 9:42 PM | Report abuse

Thank you for your "confession". Now-- what can or will be done to prevent journalists from doing this again in the future?

Posted by: doctor4kidz | May 31, 2008 5:24 AM | Report abuse

I want to commend the persons who commended the fact-checker this time. and also I want to commend the fact-checker, and thank him. I also want to thank the designers of this site for making it an open forum and not making us jump through hoops to voice our opinions. I do think that imposes a bit of an obligation on us to be at least not vicious -- a little bit snide or outright challenging, ironic or passionately outraged are all OK! Witty would be wonderful!

Posted by: lynnette | May 31, 2008 4:45 PM | Report abuse

golly, I just saw myself quoted on a google listing saying "my thanks to the Washington Post for making it so easy to comment" I said a few other things that time too! Why don't you quote my "witty would be nice" comment above and see if you get any takers? I really am sincere in my mixed review of you guys, I want you to know. Sincerely annoyed at times and sincerely pleased at others! Why don't you take on a big issue -- like the folks who say global warming is a "hoax."? Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma comes to mind... I also confess to an urge to nit-pick! Some Democratic leaders did not join the drum-beat lead up toward the war in Iraq. Nancy Pelosi in the House, and about l/2 of House Democrats voted no, I think. Also Assistant Democratic leader Richard Durbin of Illinois in the Senate, along with about 20 other Democratic Senators, including the late, great Paul Wellstone of Minnesota. And a few candidates here and there, such as an Illinois legislator running in a crowded primary for US Senate, Barack Obama. A few splendid Republicans joined them. Also there is the matter of when and how abjectly people apologized for their error once the US was in the war, and things were turning out to be troublesome. Former Se nator John Edwards and others. I remember way back during the Vietnam War when Senator Walter Mondale went back to the people of Minnesota and apologized to them, and said he was sorry he had waited too long to question that war. He is an honorable man, and Minnesota knew it, and he was forgiven. A good example of how an apology sometimes makes you like a person better -- even a controversial fact-checker!

Posted by: lynnette | May 31, 2008 5:35 PM | Report abuse

YES!!! This is the SAME media that wants us to drink the Obama Kool-Aid........

Posted by: librairie | June 2, 2008 8:13 PM | Report abuse

Angry One;

"I would love to hear your quote above[that "There was an abundance of contradictory evidence" that refuted the administration's claims of Saddam's nuclear and WMD capacity] substantiated. I've heard various anti-war claims repeated vigorously on these boards over the past few years, none of whom quote any authoritative sources."

Would you consider the October 2002 NIE on Iraq an authoratative source? All you have to do is read the version declassified and released to the public in 10/02 and compare it to the two subsequent versions released under intense pressure from congress in 7/03 and 6/04. These contain most(nota all) of the portions that were not declassified and released in 10/02. You can do that at GWU's National Security Archives:

http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB129/index.htm

It's pretty simple. The CIA drew up the 10/02 NIE as it's judgement on Saddam's nuclear and WMD capabilities. The document contained numerous dissenting opinions about these capabilities from the State Dept.and the various military intelligence services. It even had the agency's own finding casting doubt on the infamous yellowcake allegations made by the president a few months later in his State of the Union Address. But as you'll see, the dissents and caveats weren't declassified and included in the version relased in 10/02.

You can make a reasonable case that a politically compromised CIA used it's power to keep certain information classified and to declassify and release other information to advance the administration's agenda. If that's the case, the admionistration's claims that they got bad intel ring a bit hollow, don't they?

I suggest you also read the 2004 Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Prewar Intelligence available there.


Posted by: sjhdesign | June 3, 2008 7:58 AM | Report abuse

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America, Europe, Asia and South America are looking forward to cooperating and working with Barack Obama.

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Posted by: McBush Failures | June 4, 2008 6:05 PM | Report abuse

Thank you for writing this piece. As a private citizen, I felt like I was a chapter of "Alice in Wonderland" when I would read and hear the media coverage that you discussed. While I am gladdened so see some self-reflection, the problem is that to a large effect the press is STILL refusing to see the obvious (with some notable exceptions). The press is now "getting on with things" and scrutinizing every move of the presidential candidates while I am still wondering how this President is still a free man and in office (along with Cheney and a host of others). Why are there no screams about the Attorney General refusing to enforce the law and apparently marking time in hopes that the public will be too confused or forget about what has happened? I can only be hopeful that more journalists, private citizens and even active participants of this mess will reflect and decide to cleanse ourselves by both honesty and legal accountability. As an aside, thank you so much for printing Kiesling's resignation letter. I wish every paper would reprint it and let Americans know that while there is much to be ashamed of, there were and are brave people that never abandoned the principles that hopefully can redeem us again.

Posted by: Suzanne Coe | June 4, 2008 9:22 PM | Report abuse

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