The lead-up to the invasion of Iraq has become
notorious in the annals of American journalism. Even many reporters, editors,
and commentators who fueled the drive to war in 2002 and early 2003 now acknowledge
that major media routinely tossed real journalism out the window in favor of
But it's happening again.
The current media travesty is a drumbeat for the idea that the U.S. war effort
must keep going. And again, in its news coverage, the New York Times
is a bellwether for the latest media parade to the cadence of the warfare state.
During the run-up to the invasion, news stories repeatedly told about Iraqi
weapons of mass destruction while the Times and other key media outlets
insisted that their coverage was factually reliable. Now the same media outlets
insist that their coverage is analytically reliable.
Instead of authoritative media information about aluminum tubes and
mobile weapons labs, we're now getting authoritative media
illumination of why a swift pullout of U.S. troops isn't realistic or
desirable. The result is similar to what was happening four years ago
a huge betrayal of journalistic responsibility.
The WMD spin was in sync with official sources and other
establishment-sanctified experts, named and unnamed. The anti-pullout
spin is in sync with official sources and other
establishment-sanctified experts, named and unnamed.
During the weeks since the midterm election, the New York Times news
coverage of Iraq policy options has often been heavy-handed, with carefully
selective sourcing for prefab conclusions. Already infamous is the Nov. 15 front-page
story by Michael Gordon under the headline "Get Out of Iraq Now? Not So
Fast, Experts Say." A similar technique was at play Dec. 1 with yet another
"News Analysis," this time by reporter David Sanger, headlined "The
Only Consensus on Iraq: Nobody's Leaving Right Now."
Typically, in such reportage, the sources harmonizing with the media
outlet's analysis are chosen from the cast of political characters
who helped drag the United States into making war on Iraq in the
What's now going on in mainline news media is some kind of repetition
compulsion. And, while media professionals engage in yet another
round of conformist opportunism, many people will pay with their
With so many prominent American journalists navigating their stories
by the lights of big Washington stars, it's not surprising that so
much of the news coverage looks at what happens in Iraq through the
lens of the significance for American power.
Viewing the horrors of present-day Iraq with star-spangled eyes, New York
Times reporters John Burns and Kirk Semple wrote in the lead sentence
of a front-page "News Analysis" on Nov. 29 that "American
military and political leverage in Iraq has fallen sharply."
The second paragraph of the Baghdad-datelined article reported:
"American fortunes here are ever more dependent on feuding Iraqis who
seem, at times, almost heedless to American appeals."
The third paragraph reported: "It is not clear that the United States
can gain new traction in Iraq
And so it goes with U.S. media obsessively focused on such concerns
as "American military and political leverage," "American fortunes,"
and whether "the United States can gain new traction in Iraq."
With that kind of worldview, no wonder so much news coverage is
serving nationalism instead of journalism.