The American media establishment has launched
a major offensive against the option of withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.
In the latest media assault, right-wing outfits like Fox News and the Wall
Street Journal editorial page are secondary. The heaviest firepower is now
coming from the most valuable square inches of media real estate in the USA
the front page of the New York Times.
The present situation is grimly instructive for anyone who might
wonder how the Vietnam War could continue for years while opinion
polls showed that most Americans were against it. Now, in the wake of
midterm elections widely seen as a rebuke to the Iraq war, powerful media
institutions are feverishly spinning against a pullout of U.S. troops.
Under the headline "Get Out of Iraq Now? Not So Fast, Experts Say,"
the Nov. 15 front page of the New York Times prominently featured a "Military
Analysis" by Michael Gordon. The piece reported that while some
congressional Democrats are saying withdrawal of U.S. troops "should begin
within four to six months" "this argument is being challenged
by a number of military officers, experts, and former generals, including some
who have been among the most vehement critics of the Bush administration's Iraq
Reporter Gordon appeared hours later on Anderson Cooper's CNN show,
fully morphing into an unabashed pundit as he declared that
withdrawal is "simply not realistic." Sounding much like a Pentagon
spokesman, Gordon went on to state in no uncertain terms that he
opposes a pullout.
If a New York Times military-affairs reporter went on television to
advocate for withdrawal of U.S. troops as unequivocally as Gordon advocated
against any such withdrawal during his Nov. 15 appearance on CNN, he or she
would be quickly reprimanded and probably would be taken off the beat
by the Times hierarchy. But the paper's news department eagerly
fosters reporting that internalizes and promotes the basic worldviews of the
country's national security state.
That's how and why the Times front page was so hospitable to the work
of Judith Miller during the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. That's how and
why the Times is now so hospitable to the work of Michael Gordon.
At this point, categories like "vehement critics of the Bush
administration's Iraq policies" are virtually meaningless. The bulk of
media's favorite "vehement critics" are opposed to reduction of U.S.
involvement in the Iraq carnage, and some of them are now
openly urging an increase in U.S. troop levels for the occupation.
These days, media coverage of U.S. policy in Iraq often seems to be little
more than a remake of how mainstream news outlets portrayed Washington's options
during the war in Vietnam. Routine deference to inside-the-Beltway conventional
wisdom has turned many prominent journalists into co-producers of a Groundhog
Day sequel that insists the U.S. war effort must go on.
During the years since the fall of Saddam, countless news stories and
commentaries have compared the ongoing disaster in Iraq to the
Vietnam War. But those comparisons have rarely illuminated the most
troubling parallels between the U.S. media coverage of both wars.
Whether in 1968 or 2006, most of the Washington press corps has been
at pains to portray withdrawal of U.S. troops as impractical and
Contrary to myths about media coverage of the Vietnam War, the
American press lagged way behind grassroots antiwar sentiment in
seriously contemplating a U.S. pullout from Vietnam. The lag time
amounted to several years and meant the additional deaths of tens of
thousands of Americans and perhaps 1 million more Vietnamese
A survey by the Boston Globe, conducted in February 1968, found that
out of 39 major daily newspapers in the United States, not one had editorialized
for withdrawing American troops from Vietnam. Today despite the antiwar
tilt of national opinion polls and the recent election advocacy of a
U.S. pullout from Iraq seems almost as scarce among modern-day media elites.
The standard media evasions amount to kicking the bloody can down the
road. Careful statements about benchmarks and getting tough with the
Baghdad government (as with the Saigon government) are markers for a
national media discourse that dodges instead of enlivens debate.
Many journalists are retreading the notion that the pullout option is
not a real option at all. And the Democrats who'll soon be running
Congress, we're told, wouldn't and shouldn't dare to go that far if
they know what's good for them.
Implicit in such media coverage is the idea that the real legitimacy for U.S.
war policymaking rests with the president, not the Congress. When I ponder that
assumption, I think about 42-year-old footage of the CBS program Face the
The show's host on that 1964 telecast was the widely esteemed
journalist Peter Lisagor, who told his guest: "Senator, the
Constitution gives to the president of the United States the sole
responsibility for the conduct of foreign policy."
"Couldn't be more wrong," Sen. Wayne Morse broke in with his
sandpapery voice. "You couldn't make a more unsound legal statement than
the one you have just made. This is the promulgation of an old fallacy
that foreign policy belongs to the president of the United States. That's
Lisagor was almost taunting as he asked, "To whom does it belong
Morse did not miss a beat. "It belongs to the American people," he
shot back and "I am pleading that the American people be given the
facts about foreign policy."
The journalist persisted: "You know, Senator, that the American
people cannot formulate and execute foreign policy."
Morse's response was indignant: "Why do you say that?
I have complete
faith in the ability of the American people to follow the facts if you'll give
them. And my charge against my government is, we're not giving the American
people the facts."
Morse, the senior senator from Oregon, was passionate about the U.S.
Constitution as well as international law. And, while rejecting the widely
held notion that foreign policy belongs to the president, he spoke in
unflinching terms about the Vietnam War. At a hearing of the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee, on Feb. 27, 1968, Morse said that he did not
"intend to put the blood of this war on my hands."
And, prophetically, Morse added: "We're going to become guilty, in my
judgment, of being the greatest threat to the peace of the world.
It's an ugly reality, and we Americans don't like to face up to it."