Many of America's most prominent journalists
want us to forget what they were saying and writing more than four years ago
to boost the invasion of Iraq. Now, they tiptoe around their own roles in hyping
the war and banishing dissent to the media margins.
The media watch group FAIR (where
I'm an associate) has performed a public service in the latest edition of its
magazine Extra. The organization's activism director, Peter Hart, drew
on FAIR's extensive research to assemble a sample of notable quotations from
media cheerleading for the Iraq invasion.
One of the earliest quotes to merit special attention came from ace New
York Times reporter and chronic Pentagon promoter Michael
Gordon. In a CNN appearance on March 25, 2003, just a few days into the invasion,
Gordon gave his easy blessing to the invaders' bombing of Iraqi TV.
Gordon cited "what I've seen of Iraqi television, with Saddam Hussein
presenting propaganda to his people and showing off the Apache helicopter and
claiming a farmer shot it down and trying to persuade his own public that he
was really in charge, when we're trying to send the exact opposite message"
and so, the Times reporter went on, Iraqi TV was "an appropriate
Let's unpack Gordon's rationale for a military attack on Iraqi broadcasters:
They presented propaganda to viewers, aired triumphal images, and touted the
authority of the top man in the government, while an adversary was "trying
to send the exact opposite message." By those standards, Iraqis would have
been justified in targeting any one of the American cable news networks, most
especially Fox News Channel.
Hart who is author of the book The
Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly
includes some quotes from Fox in his collection of war-crazed statements from
media. For instance, soon after the invasion began, Fox News commentator Fred
Barnes declared: "The American public knows how important this war is,
and is not as casualty sensitive as the weenies in the American press are."
(Unsurpassed bravery is a common denominator of rabid hawks in stateside TV
studios.) But many of Hart's examples are from U.S. media outlets with reputations
for judicious professional journalism.
On NBC News, Brian Williams was singing from the choir book provided by U.S.
officials. "They are calling this the cleanest war in all of military history,"
Williams said on April 2, 2003. "They stress they're fighting a regime
and not the people, using smart bombs, not dumb, older munitions. But there
have been and will be accidents.
And there's a new weapon in this war:
Arab media, especially al-Jazeera. It's on all the time, and unlike American
media, it hardly reflects the Pentagon line. Its critics say it accentuates
civilian casualties and provokes outrage on the Arab street."
The next day, on the same network, Williams' colleague Katie Couric was more
succinct in her fawning. Viewers of the Today program listened as she interviewed
a U.S. military official and exclaimed: "Thank you for coming on the show.
And I want to add, I think the Special Forces rock!"
A week later, on MSNBC, the hardballer Chris Matthews was swept up in beach-ball
euphoria as America's armed forces toppled the Saddam regime. "We're all
neocons now," Matthews exulted.
At the start of May 2003, when President Bush zoomed onto an aircraft carrier
and stood near a "Mission Accomplished" banner, Lou Dobbs was quick
to tell CNN viewers: "He looked like an alternatively commander in chief,
rock star, movie star, and one of the guys."
On the same day, journalist Matthews assumed the
royal "we" and,
in the opportunistic process, blew with the prevailing
proud of our president," he said. "Americans love
having a guy as
president, a guy who has a little swagger, who's
physical, who's not
a complicated guy like Clinton or even like Dukakis or
those guys, McGovern. They want a guy who's president.
Women like a
guy who's president. Check it out. The women like this
war. I think
we like having a hero as our president. It's simple."
All too simple.
Perhaps no journalist was more shameless in
echoing President Bush's
fatuous claims about the invasion than Christopher
"Many Iraqis can hear me tonight in a translated
radio broadcast, and
I have a message for them: If we must begin a military
will be directed against the lawless men who rule your
not against you," Bush said on March 17, 2003.
The next day, Hitchens came out with an essay
declaring that "the
Defense Department has evolved highly selective and
munitions that can sharply reduce the need to take or
casualties. The predictions of widespread mayhem
turned out to be
false last time when the weapons [in the Gulf War]
like so accurate." And, Hitchens proclaimed, "it can
now be proposed
as a practical matter that one is able to fight
against a regime and
not a people or a nation."
More than four years and at least several
hundred thousand Iraqi
civilian deaths later, the most reliable
confirms that those claims were more than misleading.
fundamentally out of touch with human reality.
If you had engaged in such cheerleading for the launch of the Iraq war in
early 2003, by now you might also be eager to change the subject and argue
The new documentary film War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep
Spinning Us to Death, based on Norman Solomon's book of the same title, has
just been released on DVD. For information about the full-length movie, produced
by the Media Education Foundation and narrated by Sean Penn, go to: www.WarMadeEasyTheMovie.org