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Why did the press as a whole fail to question sufficiently the administration’s case for war?
February 10, 2007 8:01 PM   Subscribe

As the war in Iraq nears its fourth anniversary, and with no end in sight, Americans are owed explanations. The Senate Intelligence Committee has promised a report on whether the Bush administration misrepresented intelligence to justify the war against Iraq. An explanation is due also for how the U.S. press helped pave the way for war. An independent and thorough inquiry of pre-war press coverage would be a public service. Not least of the beneficiaries would be the press itself, which could be helped to understand its behavior and avoid a replay.
Cranberg wants a serious probe of why the press failed in its pre-war reporting
posted by y2karl (57 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
From the comments:
Why did Australian and British readers/listeners know the names of the three high-ranking intel officials in Australia, UK and US who publicly, before the war, said the supposed intel conclusions were belied by the actual intel, but American audiences did not? And why was npr equally gullible, credulous, and culpable in the pre-war period? (I think I know part of the answer to the latter, but it would be good if an independent source put it on the record)

Posted by Harry Shearer -
02/08/2007, 03:55 PM
posted by y2karl at 8:03 PM on February 10, 2007


What the hell is he talking about? Anyone with half a lick of sense knew Iraq was bullshit.

Oh, wait...
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:05 PM on February 10, 2007


I want an explanation as to why a military build-up continues in the gulf in preparation to hit Iran, but there is no congressional discussion of whether to hit Iran. Why does it seem that the decision to hit Iran is being made by closeted elites?
posted by bhouston at 8:16 PM on February 10, 2007


Why did the media fail?

Ummm....maybe, just maybe... Because all American media are owned by Republicans?

Next question.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 8:19 PM on February 10, 2007


I want an explanation as to why a military build-up continues in the gulf in preparation to hit Iran, but there is no congressional discussion of whether to hit Iran

The first rule of perpetual war club is - you don't talk about perpetual war club.
posted by ryoshu at 8:31 PM on February 10, 2007 [6 favorites]


God bless this guy. He loves freedom and America.

Hopefully it happens.

The more the word is out, the better for the world.

Many careful observers knew the war case was sub-rational, but many people, having their lives to live and other interests and whatnot, defer to an extent to the media to help determine what's going on.

And the fact is that the media depicted anyone to the left of Peter Beinart or Thomas Friedman as a wacko moonbat.

So, let's get the word out.
posted by ibmcginty at 8:34 PM on February 10, 2007


Because all American media are owned by Republicans?

And yet, Republicans rail against the liberal media.

Hmm...
posted by frogan at 8:36 PM on February 10, 2007


Which leads to the third link in the logical chain: Republicans are liars.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 8:58 PM on February 10, 2007


And yet, Republicans rail against the liberal media.

Invoking strawmen via pejoratives has been a common Republican strategy since Gingrich's contract on America.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:06 PM on February 10, 2007


Warfilter.

Again.

From y2karl.

No surpises here.
posted by Dagobert at 9:07 PM on February 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


As the war in Iraq nears its fourth anniversary, and with no end in sight, Americans are owed explanations.

And the Bush administration owes Iraq more than explanations.
posted by orange swan at 9:17 PM on February 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


As interesting as the results of serious probe would be the reaction to it would be fascinating and utterly predictable and ultimately sad. It would be interesting to see if other American based coverage, such as PBS is used as a contrast in addition to foreign coverage.

----------------------------

Snarkfilter.

Again.

About y2karl.

No surpises here.
posted by juiceCake at 9:37 PM on February 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


"Why We Love War" by Lawrence LeShan hit the mark for me. The press simply prefers to give their audience what they're looking for. I know Christians who believe themselves to be searchers for the truth, loving of their fellow man, and blunt in self-examination of their own faults, and they were certain that this would be a just war. I just could not see it, until I read the article.
posted by mediaddict at 9:45 PM on February 10, 2007


Former editor of the Des Moines Register wants a serious probe of why the press failed in its pre-war reporting.

Doesn't sound so exciting now, does it?
posted by dhammond at 10:09 PM on February 10, 2007


As bad as the media is, I think a government investigation into the media would be a bad thing for freedom of speech. I'd rather have a bad media then a regulated media.

The problems with an "independent" non-governmental investigation is two fold: No subpoena power, and dismiss ability due to ideological bias. Media Matters for America is funded by George Sorros, for example; so right-wingers will just ignore anything they would do. Would you trust a report done by AEI or the Heritage Foundation? I wouldn't.

Ultimately, consumers of media need to make better choices. If you turn to the news for truth, and the media feeds you lies, you'll go looking somewhere else.

I think partisan blogs are actually a good way to get information. Over time, you'll be able to tell which blogs are accurate, and which are not. People with an ideological are more motivated to get the facts right, when it helps them, and you'll always know what the people's ideological biases are. That's better then phony "non-biased" news sources, which is a sort of artificial state of affairs. The news media has weird pro-establishment, status-quo biases that aren't really related to the democratic/republican divide.
posted by delmoi at 10:19 PM on February 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Doesn't sound so exciting now, does it?
Gilbert Cranberg is George H. Gallup Professor of Journalism Emeritus, the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He was associated for 33 years with The Des Moines Register and Tribune where he was editor of the editorial pages of both papers.

Cranberg taught for 18 years at the University of Iowa's journalism school. He co-authored "Libel Law and the Press: Myth and Reality," (The Free Press) whose authors won the 1987 Distinguished Service Award of the Society of Professional Journalists for research in journalism. Another book, "Taking Stock: Journalism and the Publicly Traded Newspaper Company," (Iowa State Press), was published June 2001...

Cranberg served as chairman of the Professional Standards Committee of the National Conference of Editorial Writers and as a director of that organization. He was a member of the American Society of Newspaper Editors and of its Ethics and Values Committee. He is a life member of the National Conference of Editorial Writers for having "achieved exceptional distinction in the profession." He has written for numerous publications, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA TODAY, Journalism Quarterly, Columbia Journalism Review, American Journalism Review, Nieman Reports, American Bar Association Journal and Iowa Law Review.
Gilbert Cranberg

As bad as the media is, I think a government investigation into the media would be a bad thing for freedom of speech.

Cranberg:
An independent and thorough inquiry of pre-war press coverage would be a public service. Not least of the beneficiaries would be the press itself, which could be helped to understand its behavior and avoid a replay...

Foundations that invested in research into how and why the press behaved as it did on Iraq would make a profoundly important contribution.
No government investigation asked for.
posted by y2karl at 10:23 PM on February 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Former editor of the Des Moines Register wants a serious probe of why the press failed in its pre-war reporting.

And you don't?
posted by Wolof at 11:06 PM on February 10, 2007


And you don't?

No, it's just that this SLOE is rather uninteresting.

posted by dhammond at 12:04 AM on February 11, 2007


Great post.

I say "never forget" how bad the media failed US.

It is strange how much of an about face the media has done since the legislative elections. At least, that is where it seems the tide completely changed.

But it says nothing to the integrity of the media. It just shows that they were wrong and that they are panderers and peddlers of whatever they think risks selling the most. It took democratic action for them to realize that they need to sell something else, thats it.

I am not reassured.

I was reading New York magazine's recent expo on what a F'n loser the president is and I almost felt bad for the guy -- a sentiment that was inconceivable for me during the media bombardment. Not that I ever thought otherwise, it just makes me wonder how "we" got to the point of electing such a person and falling in line behind him in the first place.

Of course my "feeling bad" is in the line of "I pity the fact that a person could be such a failure and ever be conferred such power."

I almost find it embarassing to read articles that slam him nowdays because it is so obvious how horribly wrong everything went. It is like watching 'saved by the bell' and not being able to look at the TV screen.

All in all, I do feel relieved not to be shoveled the garbage we were getting for so long.

Though, in the end, it will be a long time before I consider most any US media source seriously.
posted by pwedza at 12:05 AM on February 11, 2007


I wrote our local "liberal muckraker" about why the Guckert/Gannon saga got so little press play (and don't pretend that if it happened on a Democrat's watch it wouldn't still be news), and he replied:

"I think [journalists] are all afraid, and that too many Washington, D.C., journalists are too used to the Republicans being in power."

If you ever hear someone say "the liberal media" they're one of two things: an ignoramus recycling a Limbaughism, or a liar. The press is conservative. Overwhelmingly so when it comes to television, radio, and the big paper chains. The "liberal media" buzz is something the neocons must just laugh and laugh about. (Mind, their constituents believe the Fox "fair and balanced" tag line, so the lie has been easy to pull off.)
posted by maxwelton at 1:30 AM on February 11, 2007


If you ever hear someone say "the liberal media" they're one of two things: an ignoramus recycling a Limbaughism, or a liar.

Seeing how I have never listened to Mesr. Limbaugh, I would like to thank you right now for calling me a liar.

It's good to know what you are and it's even better when someone tells you.

Well, my day is complete.
posted by Dagobert at 2:28 AM on February 11, 2007


Why do you think that was addressed to you, Dagobert?
posted by dash_slot- at 3:52 AM on February 11, 2007


> Why did the press as a whole fail to question sufficiently the administration’s case for war?

How many comments did the Anna Nicole thread collect? From a mefi readership that that considers itself more serious and intellectually awake than the mass-market-press-consuming yobs, and is probably right? The question answers itself. But somebody wants an investigation, forsooth. Because he hasn't... quite... figured... it... out....
posted by jfuller at 4:24 AM on February 11, 2007


You'd have to be a crack journalist to figure this out.
posted by DenOfSizer at 4:39 AM on February 11, 2007


Q: How is it possible that before the invasion, the United States was the only country in the world in which the majority of the population thougth an American invasion of Iraq was a good idea?
posted by cheerleaders_to_your_funeral at 4:43 AM on February 11, 2007


Seeing how I have never listened to Mesr. Limbaugh, I would like to thank you right now for calling me a liar.

It's good to know what you are and it's even better when someone tells you.

Well, my day is complete.


I award you a purple fart for ego wounds.
posted by srboisvert at 5:10 AM on February 11, 2007


The basis of the "liberal media" accusation is that Democrats vastly outnumber Republicans among reporters and editors, and that disparity inevitably filters into what gets reported, and how, even when the ownership is (sometimes) conservative. To call newsrooms most of which voted 80% or 90% for John Kerry not liberal enough simply emphasizes the left's intellectual bankruptcy and inclination towards totalitarianism.

If the 2002-2003 run-up to the Iraq invasion wasn't skeptically reported, it simply the liberal media's playing along with the cowardice of the Democrat Congressional leadership, who wanted the conquest of Iraq to be a bipartisan triumph and who didn't want to be associated (again) in the public mind with a bunch of hippy protestors. That same kowtowing was in play early in 2004 when the media gladly defenstrated Howard Dean at the bidding of the K Street establishment.

One will struggle hard in the next election cycle to find the major media deviating from their (liberal) establishment dictation-taking. If the liberal establishment squares up for withdrawal from Iraq, the New York Times and CNN will fall in line. If, on the other hand, Iran does something stupid enough to get Gordon Brown behind bombing Iranian nuclear sites, and Harry Reid decides the better part of valor is cheerleading, the New York Times will be running long rapturous profiles of the bomber wing commanders just like the profiles they ran of the infantry brigade commander in March 2003.
posted by MattD at 5:12 AM on February 11, 2007


So this pre-war reporting, it was wrong?
posted by Slap Factory at 5:14 AM on February 11, 2007


You want the press to be seriously probed? Jesus - why not just hand all our top guys over to the zeta-reticulans!

I really don't understand why you liberals can't understand that the coming clash of civilizations - Earth's and Neptune's - is the greatest threat to our society today. Shoving alien technology up CNN Newsroom achor Kyra Phillips' ass isn't going to help ANYONE.

"Nanu-nanu", you stupid Earth-haters.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 5:29 AM on February 11, 2007


The basis of the "liberal media" accusation is that Democrats vastly outnumber Republicans among reporters and editors, and that disparity inevitably filters into what gets reported, and how, even when the ownership is (sometimes) conservative. To call newsrooms most of which voted 80% or 90% for John Kerry not liberal enough simply emphasizes the left's intellectual bankruptcy and inclination towards totalitarianism.

I have no idea if this is true or not. Do you have any references? I'd like to look into this.
posted by srboisvert at 5:39 AM on February 11, 2007


You keep saying that word "liberal." I do not think it means what you think it means.
posted by maryh at 5:47 AM on February 11, 2007


Reporters tilt liberal. Editors and owners tilt conservative. Guess who decides what makes the front page.
posted by Kirklander at 6:23 AM on February 11, 2007


BBC breaking news US accuses Iran over Iraq bombs.
posted by adamvasco at 6:34 AM on February 11, 2007


Editors tilt liberal? What are you smoking? Why everyone assumes that the news that makes the front page is somehow slanted because there's a conservative owner that's secretly pulling the strings is wrong bordering on laughable.

And yes, I don't know about sources I could cite (though as I do recall there was a major poll about this some years ago that made some waves), but the press is about 90% Democrats, though how liberal they are within that spectrum is certainly up for debate -- there's a lot of centrists and socially conservative blue collar Dems within that range. But certainly almost no one that would go out of their way to make Republicans look good. Or defend an unnecessary war. I was just in a press room at government agency last week that has an entire wall basically plastered with anti-bush, anti-war articles. The pressroom is made up of mainstream news bureaus.

If the press failed -- and I think they did in a number of ways -- the answers are likely to be very complex and indirect. The idea that the evil capitalist owners keep reporters from doing their jobs is ridiculous.

(FWIW, I'm a professional journalist and I've worked on the editorial page of a major national newspaper -- I'm not just pulling this out of my ass).
posted by Heminator at 6:39 AM on February 11, 2007


> You keep saying that word "liberal." I do not think it means what you think it means.

mary, there's "liberal" as classically set forth in Mill's On Liberty. But there's also "liberal" as used (much more widely) in everyday cant, meaning "somewhat left of center, but not enough to matter." (Metafilter itself leaps to mind.)

As Nader has been telling all of you all along, the liberal establishment is not different enough from the conservative establishment. The operative word in both cases is "establishment," which includes Pinch Sulzberger at much as it does Rupert Murdoch. Reporters do tilt liberal (recent UCLA study with a really clever methodology.) Their highest calling is to rock the boat just enough to make themselves feel good and righteous but not enough to pose any major threat to the system that suckles them. (Their ordinary, everyday calling is to drive circulation and sell those ads, which fully and entirely accounts for the yellow journalism bewailed in y2's fpp.)
posted by jfuller at 6:47 AM on February 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


even when the ownership is (sometimes) conservative.

sometimes? when, exactly? in General Electric's case? Microsoft's? Dow Jones? Time Warner? Vivendi? Hachette? Bertelsmann?

where are all those liberals owning the US media?

answer: in the right wing's shameless lies. the same lies that dragged America into the Iraqi slaughterhouse.


the left's intellectual bankruptcy and inclination towards totalitarianism.

talk about the others' "inclination towards totalitarianism" from the guys who gave America the Padilla case, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, the PATRIOT Act and "free speech" zones is even funnier than one thought possible.

congratulations on the military, diplomatic and financial Iraqi triumph, by the way -- keep blaming that on the Democrats, a few Neanderthals will certainly buy that. and they're the only audience you have left, at this point.
posted by matteo at 7:54 AM on February 11, 2007


Their highest calling is to rock the boat just enough to make themselves feel good and righteous but not enough to pose any major threat to the system that suckles them.

That wasn't always the case (Edward R. Murrow must be rolling in his grave), but sadly it's the case today.

I would say the publishers and editors (other than the News Corp crew) don't necessarily have an ideological bias, but a commercial one. Lurid stories about Anna Nicole Smith and Ted Haggard boosts circ, which increases ad pages, etc. Complex stories about botched or directed intelligence do not.

Often times, this means not biting the hand the feeds, and being particularly careful not to alienate one's self from an Administration that has a well-earned repuation for being petty and vindictive to those who would dare report news items or express opinions that are find unflattering.
posted by psmealey at 7:55 AM on February 11, 2007


That wasn't always the case (Edward R. Murrow must be rolling in his grave), but sadly it's the case today.

And even Murrow spent his last decade or two doing bullshit celebrity puff pieces.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 8:03 AM on February 11, 2007


And yes, I don't know about sources I could cite (though as I do recall there was a major poll about this some years ago that made some waves), but the press is about 90% Democrats

Ding! Thanks for playing! But your answers must come in the form of something other than a strongly felt opinion bolstered by a half-remembered poll.

As for having worked in the press -- well, I have to, for more than a decade, and I would say some places the press tilts left, and some places it tilts right, and, on the whole, on the matter of the war, it tilted waaaaay right.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:11 AM on February 11, 2007


That wasn't always the case...

Even during the 'Good War': The New Republic and Japanese internment

If the press failed -- and I think they did in a number of ways -- the answers are likely to be very complex and indirect.

Perhaps we shall see:
In a four-and-a-half-hour special, News War, Frontline examines the political, cultural, legal, and economic forces challenging the news media today and how the press has reacted in turn. Through interviews with key figures in the print and electronic media over the past four decades -- and with unequaled, behind-the-scenes access to some of today's most important news organizations, Frontline traces the recent history of American journalism, from the Nixon administration's attacks on the media to the post-Watergate popularity of the press, to the new challenges presented by the war on terror and other global forces now changing -- and challenging -- the role of the press in our society.
News War
posted by y2karl at 8:24 AM on February 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'll concede, for the sake of argument, the 90% figure.

The fact is that other structural (ie, ownership) issues and cultural issues (not wanting to be seen as too far left or unpatriotic) might render the 90% figure less meaningful.

Glenn Greenwald writes on conventional wisdom and fears of being tarred as "liberal" in the media today.
posted by ibmcginty at 8:24 AM on February 11, 2007


I'll concede, for the sake of argument, the 90% figure.

I'm pretty sure conceding to baseless assertions is the entire problem.
posted by srboisvert at 8:41 AM on February 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


From jfuller's UCLA study: The fourth most centrist outlet was "Special Report With Brit Hume" on Fox News, which often is cited by liberals as an egregious example of a right-wing outlet.

Anybody who can use the term "centrist" to describe Brit Hume is on drugs, period.

"Liberal media", like "activist judges" and "the death tax", are not in any way meant to describe anything- they are labels meant to divide and re-frame. They don't mean anything other than "I disagree and, rather than debate the issue, I'll just sling some mud and move on".

I put the blame on the public. If you can't be bothered to learn your history, or your civics, or your rights, then you can't bitch if you're led around by your nose.

"Liberal Media"? Bah. "Conservative Media"? Meh. "Lazy Media"? You may be onto something there ...
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:54 AM on February 11, 2007


One good debunking of the UCLA study is here.

It's far from obvious-- even leaving aside the strange flaws like collecting 12 years of data for CBS and four months of data on the WSJ-- that comparing the citation patterns of media outlets to those of lawmakers reflects much of anything.

srboisvert-- "for the sake of argument," in the US, is an idiom meaning "in order to consider the possibility." My apologies for my lack of clarity if that it is not used by other English speakers.
posted by ibmcginty at 9:37 AM on February 11, 2007


Evidence Grows That White House Planned To Release Cooked Intel On Iran
posted by homunculus at 9:47 AM on February 11, 2007


But somebody wants an investigation, forsooth. Because he hasn't... quite... figured... it... out....
posted by jfuller at 7:24 AM EST on February 11


Well it's all well and good to figure it out but it's much better if you back your figuring it out with actual study. Isn't this common knowledge and procedure? Make conclusions based on a scientific process?
posted by juiceCake at 9:49 AM on February 11, 2007


srboisvert-- "for the sake of argument," in the US, is an idiom meaning "in order to consider the possibility." My apologies for my lack of clarity if that it is not used by other English speakers.

I wasn't disagreeing with you. I was just highlighting that you gave ground on the weakest part of his argument. Taking crazy claims seriously, even if just for the sake of argument, is what gets us into a situation where people who support peace are forced into a position of defending themselves on rhetorically weak points like whether or not you support the troops rather than factual ones. In your case you have shifted into a discussion about the details of editorial control and corporate oversight - just the kind of topic that hits the Chomsky snooze button whether it is true or not - instead of pointing out that the 90% number is an ass statistic freshly pulled.

You had the strategic high ground and you ran down the hill into the valley to mix it up where you are on equal footing with someone who makes stuff up. Why do that?
posted by srboisvert at 9:57 AM on February 11, 2007


You had the strategic high ground and you ran down the hill into the valley to mix it up where you are on equal footing with someone who makes stuff up. Why do that?

It's the age-old fallacy that all viewpoints are equally valid and must be treated so! Even if something is bullshit, you have to give equal airtime to the mouthbreathing Creationist mentality.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:08 AM on February 11, 2007


Because they are cowards and shills?

Though it's worth pointing out that media in the rest of the world, including CNN International, was far less gung-ho.
posted by Artw at 10:13 AM on February 11, 2007


Much of what's going on reminds me of this passage from Frye from The Modern Century, published in 1967:

All the social nightmares of our day seem to focus on some unending and inescapable form of mob rule. The most permanent kind of mob rule is not anarchy, nor is the dictatorship that regularizes anarchy, nor even the imposed police state depicted by Orwell. It is rather the self-policing state, the society incapable of formulating an articulate criticism of itself and of developing a will to act in its light. This is a condition that we are closer to, on this continent, then we are to dictatorship. In such a society the conception of progress would reappear as a donkey's carrot, as the new freedom we shall have as soon as some regrettable temporary necessity is out of the way. No one would notice that the necessities never come to an end, because the communications media would have destroyed the memory.
posted by juiceCake at 10:13 AM on February 11, 2007


why did the press fail? Because they had mortgages. Question the president and get sent to the back of the room. We need to get back to a time when journalists are paid shit. The truth takes a backseat once someone has something to lose by pursuing it.
posted by any major dude at 12:00 PM on February 11, 2007


I want an explanation as to why a military build-up continues in the gulf in preparation to hit Iran, but there is no congressional discussion of whether to hit Iran.

I want an explanation as to why the American people aren't raising hell about it.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:29 PM on February 11, 2007


Whether or not the individual newsmen are 'liberal' is irrelevant. The problem is they try to be "neutral" between two groups of people, the mainstream, beltway, democratic thought, and mainstream, beltway republican thought. Both supported the war, and their reporting reflected that. The people who opposed the war didn't have a "voice".

The problem is, when both of these sides, or one of these sides is detached from reality, strange things happen. Look at the Peloci plane "scandal", no one cares about that, but it's gets reported because republicans have to "have their say". It's stupid.

You're better off getting information from sources who's biases are known, rather then hidden.
posted by delmoi at 1:57 PM on February 11, 2007


Whether or not the individual newsmen are 'liberal' is irrelevant.

Well, not completely irrelevant. Reporters do see a bit behind the curtain: the really do know a little bit more than the average person about who actually pulls the strings in their town; they tend to have clue about how things really work. They're more knowledgeable than the average person - maybe not as knowledgeable as they should be, but today they tend to be college-educated people with some sort of clue about their beat.

And it makes conservatives nuts that people with some clue of what's going on in the world really are overwhelmingly liberal.

(Of course, to succeed in their careers, reporters quickly learn how to present the stories in such a way as to keep their moderately conservative editors happy, who in turn are striving to keep their batshit-insane-conservative owners happy - but yes, it's easy to see why reporters as a group tend to be liberals: they're smarter than average.)
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 6:36 PM on February 11, 2007


Is Anna Nicole still dead?
posted by Smedleyman at 11:54 PM on February 11, 2007


Is Anna Nicole still dead?
posted by Smedleyman at 2:54 AM EST on February 12


Or did she actually really die?
posted by juiceCake at 6:48 AM on February 12, 2007


Probably too late for anyone o bother, since we've moved on from talks of war into miniture cities, but I suggest these two documentaries foryour viewing pleasure. Both are critically acclaimed and might shed some light on this topic.

Why We Fight

Orwell Rolls In His Grave

And for fun, a third one:
Control Room
posted by Vindaloo at 9:10 AM on February 12, 2007


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