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Bill Moyers' PBS documentary on the media's actions in the run-up to the Iraq invasion
April 26, 2007 9:50 AM   Subscribe

"The story of how high officials misled the country has been told. But they couldn't have done it on their own; they needed a compliant press, to pass on their propaganda as news and cheer them on." Bill Moyers returned to PBS last night with this documentary (transcript) examining the mainstream media's role in the run-up to the US-led invasion of Iraq.
posted by ibmcginty (56 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thanks ibmcginty.

Moyers makes a very good case of complicit media. And they remain so today as this excerpt points out (only a few examples of a much larger problem):

NORM SOLOMON: Being a pro-war pundit means never having to say you're sorry.

ERIC BOEHLERT: I mean these were people who were laying out the blueprint for the war about how it was gonna unfold. And, it turns out, couldn't have been more wrong every which way.

WILLIAM SAFIRE: You have a president…

ERIC BOEHLERT: And it's astonishing to see them still on TV invited on as experts in the region.

BILL MOYERS: It's true, so many of the advocates and apologists for the war are still flourishing in the media…

Bill Kristol and Peter Beinart, for example, are now regular contributors to TIME magazine, which has been laying off dozens of reporters.

BILL MOYERS: And remember this brilliant line?

PRESIDENT BUSH: We cannot wait for the final proof: the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.

BILL MOYERS: The man who came up with it was Michael Gerson. President Bush's top speechwriter. He has left the White House and has been hired by THE WASHINGTON POST as a columnist.


How many times have you heard the GOP/White House "talking points" repeated verbatim by media? Ever heard of John Solomon or Nedra Pickler? Why do you own work when you are well rewarded for using the work handed to you by political operatives?
posted by nofundy at 10:17 AM on April 26, 2007


I watched this last night and I'm happy to see that it is available for streaming on these here Internets. The conclusion at the end - that the people who got the story about Iraq so wrong continue to be some of the most prominent pundits and journalists - is a sad commentary on our press's commitment to quality. Perhaps, I just don't understand what the mission or purpose of the press is these days?
posted by Staggering Jack at 10:29 AM on April 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


Perhaps, I just don't understand what the mission or purpose of the press is these days?

To make money for their corporate (i.e. largely Republican, all "pro-business fiscal conservative") masters?
posted by DU at 10:32 AM on April 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


To make money for their corporate (i.e. largely Republican, all "pro-business fiscal conservative") masters?

Lately I've been depressed by the local paper's move to the right. My theory though is that as newspaper sales are declining, the people still buying them tend to skew older and more conservative. As such, the views of the paper reflect the views of the readers. With declining circulation though, the number of readers is far lower than it used to be, so over time the print media will lose it's influence.
posted by drezdn at 10:39 AM on April 26, 2007


When, exactly, will anyone ANYONE be held accountable? The same fucking talking head journalists are still "on the job". The same traitorous fear-mongers are spouting the same terra bullshit. The architects of this disaster are still in power. I hate these fuckers for twisting America's Patriotism-our defining characteristic into what we have now: a never-ending bastardization of Democracy.

Why the fuck do I still see Tom Delay getting airtime, Wolfowitz in a position of power, PNAC members and NeoCon talking heads still writing policy?

We need heads on pikes and assets siezed. War profiteers must hang. Fuck You MSM and Fuck all the sheep watching Murcan Idle instead of storming the capital with pitchforks. /rant
posted by HyperBlue at 10:41 AM on April 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


I figure an awful lot of people who needed to see this didn't and never will -- in fact, they'll never even be aware of it, because (a) it's a documentary (= boooooring!) and (b) it's on well-known lib'rul oracle PBS anyhow. Middle America could be carpet-bombed with copies of the transcript, but that'd involve, y'know, reading. With even any interesting pictures.
posted by pax digita at 10:43 AM on April 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


Sirota: When Journalism Became Transcription and Reporting Disappeared--...most reporters today actually try to avoid getting scoops because they "worry about sort of getting out ahead of something" and - gasp! - making their friends inside Official Washington mad at them. So rather than, say, do the real work of reporting news, journalism has become a profession that is almost entirely about PR, transcription and packaging Establishment spin for news copy. This is why, for example, many of the highest-profile political "journalists" like Joe Klein and David Broder never bother to actually report anything anymore - but instead spend most of their time pontificating on horse race polls and campaign gossip, expecting us to believe that's real "news." ...
posted by amberglow at 10:49 AM on April 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


DU-- that's part of it, to be sure, but I'd argue that it's a bit more complicated than that. I don't think that the John Solomons and Jay Carneys (and David Broders) are driven by that. I think it's also about hewing to an agreed-upon narrative.

Four years ago-- as the documentary and this Digby post describe-- President Bush was the all-seeing tough-guy leader in the press. Now he's... something else.

And, as this Greenwald interview with Pulitzer winner Charlie Savage indicates (see also this Greenwald post about the Moyers documentary), "national newspapers can be reluctant to follow enterprise stories in other papers." It's dangerous to stick your neck out; it's easier, as with stockpicking, to make a safe, widely believed, wrong choice, than a risky, correct choice.

Of course, in stockpicking, gravity and truth reassert themselves eventually. Not necessarily so, in journalism, as nofundy's excerpt attests.
posted by ibmcginty at 10:50 AM on April 26, 2007


Middle America could be carpet-bombed with copies of the transcript, but that'd involve, y'know, reading. With even any interesting pictures.

Middle America knows that they were lied to every single day, and are still being lied to--many of the dead and injured are from the middle too. A solid majority of this country wants us to withdraw, but you don't really hear that on tv or in the papers--it's all "reported" as attacks and counterattacks and this person v. that person, and Democrats vs. Bush, etc.
posted by amberglow at 10:52 AM on April 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


And speaking of the media--Broder's appalling comparison of Reid to Gonzales shows you all you need to know. ("The Democrats' Gonzales" is his headline)
posted by amberglow at 10:56 AM on April 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


journalism has become a profession that is almost entirely about PR, transcription and packaging

I'm always struck about how the press covered Stephen Colbert at the White House Correspondents Dinner. He joked:
Over the last five years you people were so good -- over tax cuts, WMD intelligence, the effect of global warming. We Americans didn't want to know, and you had the courtesy not to try to find out. Those were good times, as far as we knew.But, listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works: the president makes decisions. He's the Decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know - fiction!
Bill Moyers show last night pretty much documented the joke. To bad the punchline was war.
posted by Staggering Jack at 10:59 AM on April 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


The Fourth Estate. You wish. It's more like the Fourth Mint-Julep-Sipping Plantation.
posted by kozad at 11:05 AM on April 26, 2007 [1 favorite]



Secrecy culture is new, and won't disappear with the current administration. For example, the local police chief was confronted with huge increases in the number of police officers making over CAD $100K, due to a 1996 law (Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act). The response was to suggest that this shouldn't be public knowledge, since because of inflation and stuff, adding, "In 2003 there were eight police officers who made the list, while that number jumped to 45 in 2004 and 2005."
posted by acro at 11:09 AM on April 26, 2007


Cal Thomas (of all people) wrote in his column on April 15, 2003
All of the printed and voiced prophecies should be saved in an archive. When these false prophets again appear, they can be reminded of the error of their previous ways and at least be offered an opportunity to recant and repent.
This is me holding my breath waiting :|
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:20 AM on April 26, 2007


Getting Rich by Being Wrong.
posted by MarshallPoe at 11:24 AM on April 26, 2007


I can't help repeating myself (my emphasis): President Bush hopes someone is held responsible for the U.S. military's mishandling of information about the death of former football star Pat Tillman in Afghanistan...
posted by taosbat at 11:24 AM on April 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


Middle America knows that they were lied to every single day, and are still being lied to--many of the dead and injured are from the middle too.

Disillusionment is hard to accept. As I've noted, Colin Powell had even me -- child during the JFK assassination, Vietnam, and Watergate; adult during Iran/Contra -- going for a minute there. I don't think I'm seeing quite as many "Support the troops" ribbon appliqués on rear bumpers as I recall from a couple of years ago, but then, I'm not sure if people are actually removing them or if I'm not as conscious of them as I was.

I realize this is a bit of a derail, but I keep getting reminded of the Vietnam-era slogan "War is good business. Invest your son": As recently as last fall I saw an upper middle class high school kid on a street corner in an affluent part of my town with a "SUPPORT THE TROOPS" sign and thought, "Gee, I wonder if his parents would let him enlist or make him to go to college right away." And then there's this dumb@$$ woman from suburban Cleveland whose son graduates from college this spring and who will report to The Basic School (Marine OCS) this fall. She's proud -- "Think of how he'll look in THAT UNIFORM!" she squealed -- and terrified by turns. And, as I've also noted before, my own son thinks rifles and uniforms are kewl and will be of age in about six more years.

on preview, @taosbat: Probably the same "someone" responsible for some BS about Jessica Lynch?
posted by pax digita at 11:30 AM on April 26, 2007


Well, the war will be over in 6 more months anyway. (just ask nearly any media pundit or GOP politician)
[Repeat in 6 more months]
posted by nofundy at 11:34 AM on April 26, 2007


^^^
wrong thread!
posted by nofundy at 11:35 AM on April 26, 2007


Part of the problem with the media now is that the reporter's opinion has become more important than the story.

It used to be that if you wanted to make a name for yourself in journalism, you went looking for scoops, digging deep into something to reveal corruption, scandal or intrigue.

After the growth of the talking head news programs, reporters just have to look good on television and be able to spout and opinion.
posted by drezdn at 11:37 AM on April 26, 2007


Download .mov files
Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4
posted by acro at 11:37 AM on April 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


Perhaps, I just don't understand what the mission or purpose of the press is these days?

The "these days" phrase reminds me that really about the time USA Today came along, I'd started to notice the accelerating trend of newspaper consolidation -- in particular, the death of the evening paper, which gave me an after-school job through middle school -- and commercialization, with big outfits like Gannett and Knight-Ridder directing editorial content with an eye on ruthless cost control to please the stockholders. Pleasing them, I submit, is ultimately the mission of the press, with bread, circuses, human-interest stuff, and regurgitated press-briefing handouts as intermediate product. Nicht wahr?

That was starting in the '80s, and this here Internet stuff, especially the rise of 'blogs, is the best thing to happen to truth in a long while. I 'spect as the PTB try to kill PBS from the airwaves and then go gunning for NPR, content like theirs is going to wind up on the Web and we'll all routinely download stuff like Frontline as podcasts.
posted by pax digita at 11:41 AM on April 26, 2007


Middle America could be carpet-bombed with copies of the transcript, but that'd involve, y'know, reading. With even any interesting pictures.

As an Iowan living in NYC, may I say you are a douche. Thank you.
posted by digiFramph at 11:49 AM on April 26, 2007


Short summary by Tom Tomorrow.
posted by bitmage at 11:54 AM on April 26, 2007


Knoller of CBS News says Moyers got it wrong.
The transcripts say Moyers got it right.
But then, facts DO have a well known liberal bias, which is why Comedy Central is so often the only place to get decent journalism.
posted by nofundy at 11:55 AM on April 26, 2007


Excellent post. Thank you for directing me to this fantastic piece of journalism.

Chapter 3 is particularly nasty as it discusses the whole idea of a "circular leak," and truly exposes the way that not only the American people, but the press, have been and are still being manipulated by the White House.
posted by dead_ at 11:56 AM on April 26, 2007


Shorter White House transcript (for those who do not wish to sully themselves by clicking to it):

"Mr. President, [slurp, slurp, slurp], thank you oh Dear Leader!
posted by nofundy at 11:59 AM on April 26, 2007


Middle America could be carpet-bombed with copies of the transcript, but that'd involve, y'know, reading. With even any interesting pictures.

As an Iowan living in NYC, may I say you are a douche. Thank you.


Hey, I'm in Nebraska and I have to say I agree with the sentiment of that first post. He's not a douche, he's right.
posted by dead_ at 12:01 PM on April 26, 2007


Hey, I'm in Nebraska and I have to say I agree with the sentiment of that first post. He's not a douche, he's right.

There are idiots everywhere. The number of un/under educated and or un/underinterested in NYC out numbers the entire population of Nebraska...

Sorry, not trying to get heavy, but I hate people making generalizations about "Middle America"...
posted by digiFramph at 12:10 PM on April 26, 2007


Dog bless Bill Moyers . . . I hope he takes the dear departed Molly Ivins endorsement and runs for preznit. Perhaps the best part of last night's piece was how powerful the understatement was . . . where others would break into a foaming rant, Moyers smiles and says " . . .and consider this" and then drives home another precise, concise point.
posted by ahimsakid at 12:11 PM on April 26, 2007


I hear you digiFramph, I hate it, too.

Maybe I'm just getting tired of being surrounded by it, even if (in numbers) it is a relatively small group of people to be surrounded by.
posted by dead_ at 12:18 PM on April 26, 2007


Generally speaking, Middle America is between the East Coast and the West Coast.

Maybe you could save your hate for the people who are actually screwing up the country, and go easy on those who use inexact language to complain about it.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:23 PM on April 26, 2007


You're right, Kirth. I typed in anger. I should know better. I retract my "douche"-ing of Pax. Now, let's move on to the impeachment of Cheney.
posted by digiFramph at 12:28 PM on April 26, 2007


As a longtime South Carolinian living in central Ohio, this douche stands steadfastly by his earlier comments.
posted by pax digita at 12:30 PM on April 26, 2007


Knoller of CBS News says Moyers got it wrong.
The transcripts say Moyers got it right.
But then, facts DO have a well known liberal bias, which is why Comedy Central is so often the only place to get decent journalism.
posted by nofundy at 2:55 PM on April 26


CBS and Comedy Central are owned by the same company, National Amusements. No, I'm not making that up.

I saw the Moyers documentary last night, and it surprised me how candid the reporters were being. It was almost as if they knew that the people who watch the documentary and the people who watch them on the news are two mutually exclusive groups.

It also surprised me how highly regarded the New York Times is among television news reporters, and I don't think that has changed. The Times is clearly an organ of the worst part of this administration, the neocons. They've sold out their integrity for access, sitting on story after story at the request of the administration. The fact that so much investigative reporting is being down at wired an USA Today tells me that the Times has chosen to do no investigative reporting of the administration or it's foreign policies.

Furthermore, the neocons somehow manage to live on despite the fact that Bush has run nearly all of them out. Wolfowitz, Perle, Rumsfeld, and many minor characters are gone. Only Cheney and Rice are left. Bush has distanced himself from them, and yet the likes of Kristol et al get jobs in Time? Why?

Does Time think people are seeking out the opinion of Bill Kristol? Or does Time know that there is a segment of the Dmeocrats and Republicans who both silently agree with the neocon vision?
posted by Pastabagel at 12:40 PM on April 26, 2007


Media consolidation and middle America are fine to blame. But the lies and deceptions Moyers documents were carried forward by the most elite members of the press, especially at the New York Times. Middle America was manipulated and disregarded by "coastal elites" here more than ever, just not "liberal" ones.

Moyers assembles the damning case any thinking person knows is there to be made, and kudos to him for doing so. It's a start.

Fucking New York Times, no better than NBC and a lot worse than Knight-Ridder. As for Tim Russert, why does he still have a job?
posted by spitbull at 12:41 PM on April 26, 2007


As an Iowan living in NYC, may I say you are a douche. Thank you.

You know what, fuck you.

I grew up in Nebraska.
Grew up there.
Lived there for 25 years.
A QUARTER of a century.
I lived with these people.
I still see them twice a year on visits.

This isnt some coastal elitist snob stereotype.
It is FUCKING true.

Yes, there are ignorant and incurious people everywhere, but to pretend that middle America doesnt hold a surplus of those people is ignorant itself.

Come back to Omaha with me at Christmas sometime and I will SHOW you "Red State America"
posted by Senor Cardgage at 12:48 PM on April 26, 2007


From the annoying Knoller blog nofundy linked to:
Terry Moran of ABC also pressed the President about the doubts and reservations of U.S. allies to his approach.

My colleague Bill Plante challenged Mr. Bush to present hard evidence to back up his claims of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq.

And so on.


This is a classic example of concrete thinking. Moyers states that the media did not press the president for evidence, and Knoller responds with example of media asking for but not receiving hard evidence of WMD's.

Asking a question is easy. I can ask the President what he was wearing under his suit at the debate with John Kerry. I can ask him why he sat idle in that classroom after the chief of staff told him that the US was under attack. I can ask him if he knew there were no WMD's when he made that State of the Union speech claiming Iraq was looking for uranium. I can ask him a billion excellent, on-point, probing questions until I run out of breath. But I'll never get an answer.

Your job, Mark Knoller, is not to ask questions, but to get the answers. You failed to pursue the answers when it was clear they weren't going to be forthcoming. Why? Because Mark Knoller doesn't want to lose access.

Newsflash, shithead. The media companies are going to wake up to the reality of zero credibility and plummeting ratings. To change that, they are going to clean house. Which means your worthless, subservient ass is fired.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:53 PM on April 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


It's funny. I was listening to NPR yesterday (I think) and they were interviewing Bill Kristol about the Weekly Standard's love of John McCain. All I could think of during the interview was "Why aren't they asking Bill Kristol why he and his magazine supported the war?" That's the ONLY question I want Bill Kristol to answer. But NPR ain't askin'.

I personally like the British style of journalism, which usually includes a question like "That's all well and good, Mr. Bigmouth, but aren't you really just full of shit?"
posted by MarshallPoe at 1:20 PM on April 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


I was kind of astounded while watching the documentary last night. Not that there was one damn new thing on it. It's just that there it was, being said out loud on television. That was the shocking part.
posted by 3.2.3 at 3:27 PM on April 26, 2007


You can also go to Mutual of Omaha and tell them how much you appreciate their sponsorship of the program.
posted by 3.2.3 at 3:31 PM on April 26, 2007


thank you for metafiltering, I'm serious, I don't own a TV and just realized that everything I know about the coolest programs is from here. right, i'll go and lie down now.
posted by infini at 3:41 PM on April 26, 2007


On "embedding": ...This was set up in a very systematic way by the Pentagon. In a very slick maneuver, they held a media "boot-camp" months before the war began (and while they were insisting that they were not preparing for war.) They got the reporters all hot and bothered about the exciting story they would be able to cover. Who wanted all those unpleasant old facts refuting the casus belli to get in the way of that? ...
posted by amberglow at 6:46 PM on April 26, 2007


Now I watched it all. Some things got me to strike my temples with the heels of my hands and grieve.
posted by taosbat at 8:19 PM on April 26, 2007


Congress is now serving in the role of the independent press, essentially.

Awfully long quiet 6+ years, but sure nice to be on the upswing.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 8:40 PM on April 26, 2007


See also Washington Reporters In Meltdown, Damage-Control Freak Out Mode
and
Timmeh’s Tool Time Redux

Thank you Bill Moyers! Lead the way my man! Show the corporate media whores how real reporting is done!
posted by nofundy at 4:42 AM on April 27, 2007


A failure in generalship
By Lt. Col. Paul Yingling

"...America's generals have repeated the mistakes of Vietnam in Iraq. First, throughout the 1990s our generals failed to envision the conditions of future combat and prepare their forces accordingly. Second, America's generals failed to estimate correctly both the means and the ways necessary to achieve the aims of policy prior to beginning the war in Iraq. Finally, America's generals did not provide Congress and the public with an accurate assessment of the conflict in Iraq..."
posted by taosbat at 9:32 AM on April 27, 2007


... Life is good for the glamorous who cheered for profit when the young were sent to die in the sands of Arabia, as they preened at the self-glorifying dinners where they honor each other for a job well done.

It’s been a good war for companies that make ripoff profits and media that have turned ripoff journalism into a multi-million-dollar art form.

It’s been a great war for journalists who morph into insiders, taking their handouts from their sources, reaping huge wealth by repeating spin and calling it news, all the while dining in elegance at the seat of power, believing “it’s a wonderful life” and smiling for the cameras when fans greet them at gala dinners. ...

posted by amberglow at 4:27 PM on April 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


Bill Moyers Journal: Interview with Jon Stewart
posted by homunculus at 9:32 PM on April 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm watching that now, hom (pbs is repeating it here)--it's just excellent. They both put the vast vast majority of tv and print "journalists" and "pundits" and "analysts" and "experts" to shame.
posted by amberglow at 4:19 PM on April 29, 2007


some people say Stewart is trying to have it both ways--he interviews as if it's a real news show, but whenever anyone calls him on it or gets upset, he says it's just comedy. I think there's truth to it--that McCain thing was totally serious and incisive and actually news, and you can't just say "oh, we're just comedy and parody, etc"
posted by amberglow at 4:27 PM on April 29, 2007


His "editorial cartoon" formulation in the Moyers interview seeemed fair to me, amberglow.
posted by ibmcginty at 4:50 PM on April 29, 2007


I think that's fair for the rest of the show, but his interviews are always pretty serious and actually far more informative than regular news show interviews, i find. When he speaks to a politician or author, he's not doing an "editorial cartoon" by any stretch of the term, altho the rest of the shows do fit that.
posted by amberglow at 5:10 PM on April 29, 2007


Compare how they cover an interview that occurs elsewhere with their own interviews. (I personally think the show would be better if there weren't interviews--he shows people respect they don't deserve at all, and he shows them respect the rest of the show doesn't)
posted by amberglow at 5:13 PM on April 29, 2007


That's a good point, a.g. His interview with the "To Catch a Predator" guy from MSNBC was a good example of according respect, and professing admiration, where none was merited, and where you'd expect the normal show to be quite pointed. The interview is the most dispensible part of the show, with major exceptions.
posted by ibmcginty at 6:01 PM on April 29, 2007


Also, when someone they've ridiculed comes on for an interview and is treated respectfully, it demeans everything--both the original treatment and the new treatment--and makes it all seem like a game where nothing really matters at all--the same game the regular news media plays, i think.
posted by amberglow at 6:45 PM on April 29, 2007


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