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Fourth Estate Failure
August 12, 2004 1:08 PM   Subscribe

"There was an attitude among editors: Look, we're going to war, why do we even worry about all this contrary stuff?'' "Editors at The Washington Post acknowledge they underplayed stories questioning President Bush's claims of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein in the months leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq." The weblog Lunaville notes that The Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland found that "since September 11, 2001, the Bush administration has been especially successful at getting the American media to confirm its political and diplomatic agenda. Media reporting on the President amplified the administration s voice: when Bush said to the country that Americans are vulnerable to WMD in the hands of terrorists, the media effectively magnified those fears." Lawrence Lessig says: "As media becomes more concentrated, competition to curry favor with politicians only increases... Concentrated media and expansive copyright are the perfect storm not just for stifling debate but, increasingly, for weakening democracy as well." Can we make the media democratic?
posted by fold_and_mutilate (17 comments total)

 
Liz Spayd, The Washington Post's assistant managing editor for national news: "Do I feel we owe our readers an apology? I don't think so."

Atrios sums it up: "No, you owe 'these people' an apology"....to which I'd add these people.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 1:13 PM on August 12, 2004


I work for a 100,000-circulation Sunday newspaper and put out the front page one night during the war, the drive to Baghdad. And I recall how there were so many key stories to choose from, such great photos, the idea that this was history being made and you were chronicling it for your community...

It was exciting. And I think it was this excitement that, more than anything, explains why the media behaved in the manner it did in the lead-up to war.

We were going to be Witness to History. Embedded with the troops! This was heady, important stuff. We were blinded by the overwhelming desire to be there, and if that required kissing a little ass in order to maintain our "access," well... Ernie Pyle had to do the same, didn't he?
posted by kgasmart at 1:38 PM on August 12, 2004


There are an awful lot of people bending over backwards trying not to give the game away, aren't there?

"There was an attitude among editors: Look, we're going to war, why do we even worry about all this contrary stuff?''

Because contrary stuff is gross!

Journalism: for people who loved high school.
posted by solistrato at 1:40 PM on August 12, 2004


I think a big factor is, despite the large anti-war movement, there is not a single major anti-war politician. It's not like the Democrats were standing up against the war. Basically, no one with power or influence was pressuring the Post or any other paper.

So while it's tempting to 'blame the messenger', no one should forget that realities of big media, and that they're open to contrary views as long as there is a powerful viewholder making consistent effort to be heard.

The real failure of the media, in my opinion, is the lack of depth and historical insight they gave their stories on Iraq and indeed the rest of the world.
posted by cell divide at 2:00 PM on August 12, 2004


No guarantee that it would've made any difference, but:

R.I.P., Paul Wellstone...
posted by bafflegab at 2:20 PM on August 12, 2004


And once again Lessig chimes in with a non-sequiteur. The Washington Post is NOT controlled by some corporate conglomerate. As Jack Schafer recently pointed out in Slate, the same is true for most of the major national newspapers, including the New York Times. The media's coverage of the run-up to the invasion of Iraq was a disgrace, but the reasons had little to do with their ownership structure.
posted by twsf at 2:54 PM on August 12, 2004


I do think we have to understand the context of the build up to the Iraq war; 'patriotism' was at insanely high levels, democrats were muzzled by a fear of looking weak and it wasn't exactly a stretch to think that Saddam might have WMD and/or links to terrorism. However, I disagree with cell divide that it's up to the contrarians to make their opinions heard. Reporters, especially before a war, have a duty to be part contrarian, to try cutting through the spin and figuring out what their sources have to gain by giving the information that they're giving. I can't think of many news organizations that weren't blinded by the rhetoric and promises of 'access' during the war. Right now it seems that the spinners are more sophisticated than the journalists (with a few very notable exceptions) and it's up to the journalists to play catch up.
posted by blefr at 3:05 PM on August 12, 2004


twsf: the Post may not be, but the NY Times owns several papers across the country. Moreover, they set the agenda for the rest of the papers. Not an ownership issue per se, but a consolidation-of-information issue.
posted by solistrato at 3:14 PM on August 12, 2004


You know what? You're full of shit. The same thing was true under Clinton, the previous Bush, etc.

Moreover, there was enough evidence to go to war five or six years ago, were it not for a spineless President. So stop this revisionist crap--I am so sick of it.
posted by ParisParamus at 3:15 PM on August 12, 2004


> Can we make the media democratic?

No, you can't. It's not public, it's owned, and the POV of the owners and advertisers will always count a lot more than yours. Don't like it? You should be out making prole revolution, not preaching to the choir here.
posted by jfuller at 3:42 PM on August 12, 2004


You know what? You're full of shit. The same thing was true under Clinton, the previous Bush, etc.

Moreover, there was enough evidence to go to war five or six years ago, were it not for a spineless President. So stop this revisionist crap--I am so sick of it.


Label: Troll
Status: Ignored
posted by bitpart at 4:30 PM on August 12, 2004


Hope President Bush--one of your so-called Trolls--is reelected. Then, maybe you will jump off a bridge?
posted by ParisParamus at 4:49 PM on August 12, 2004


no, you're full of shit!
posted by mrgrimm at 4:53 PM on August 12, 2004


Lessing is dead-on, as usual. it's all about access, and only ass-kissers get access to this administration. case closed.

I think a big factor is, despite the large anti-war movement, there is not a single major anti-war politician.

what's your definition of major? white? male?
posted by mrgrimm at 5:01 PM on August 12, 2004


Anyone think or hope all this groupthink is just another go-round on the ol' cultural pendulum? I know I do. Wee!

no, you're full of shit!

No, you ah'. *makes out with you*
posted by bitpart at 5:10 PM on August 12, 2004


It should be pointed out that when rulers are vehmently in favor of some action and the opposition is cowed (Democrats) or essentially powerless (a constituency between elections without the means of recall) all establishment media would react the same. It has time and time again.

"The paper was not front-paging stuff ... Administration assertions were on the front page. Things that challenged the administration were on A18 on Sunday or A24 on Monday. There was an attitude among editors: Look, we're going to war, why do we even worry about all this contrary stuff?"

The WP essentially admitted that they are slaves to the Propaganda Model, but could never actually bring themselves to admit it or pretend it's ever been otherwise.
posted by raaka at 2:55 AM on August 13, 2004


As media becomes more concentrated, competition to curry favor with politicians only increases... Concentrated media and expansive copyright are the perfect storm not just for stifling debate but, increasingly, for weakening democracy as well."

Hello Michael Powell.

Two things. Read the Church commission report. Then study the Mighty Wurlitzer and its modern day equivalent. All you need to know about big media today.

PP is full of shit! And I'm so sick of his revisionist crap. :)
posted by nofundy at 6:03 AM on August 13, 2004


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