On This Iraq Anniversary, Recalling the Shame of the ‘Free Press’

With such powerful forces determined to use 9/11 as a justification to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein for good, the American people really didn’t have a chance in proverbial hell to stop it. As Woodrow Wilson knew with the U.S. entry into WWI, the media must play a central role in controlling the message, mainstraining public support, and crushing all dissent threatening that support.

Wilson, for his part, created the Committee for Public Information and put an accomplished investigative journalist George Creel in charge of it. According to writer and historian Brandon Buck, the committee "shot propaganda through every capillary in the American bloodstream," including and most importantly, the press.

It may not be how all American wars are won, but it is certainly how they are fought, at least at home. Ted Carpenter has written extensively on this, in his recent Unreliable Watchdog: the News Media and US Foreign Policy, in which he painstakingly details how the Fourth Estate both wittingly and coercively played a role in carrying out Washington’s militarist goals dating back to the Spanish-American War.

But wow, with Iraq, now 20-years in the rearview, it was so much easier. By that time, major media ownership – from the top TV and radio networks on down – were consolidating until they would be owned by just eight major corporations in 2006 and six in 2012 thanks to President Clinton signing the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Where the Internet was supposed to herald an age of limitless information and free speech, it too, has been corporatized and monopolized, with Meta, Google and Amazon playing god and jackboot at the same time.

The ground was fertile for war in 2002 and the media lived up to its reputation. It was not only compliant but served as gatekeepers for the Bush Administration and its handmaidens in the foreign policy establishment in the run up to the invasion on March 20, 2003. The New York Times’ Judy Miller and Michael Gordon were able to peddle the WMD myth without pushback; the paper’s editor, Bill Keller would declare himself a member of the "I-Can’t-Believe-I’m-a-Hawk-Club." The neocon Weekly Standard ran a number of specious stories connecting Al-Qaeda to Saddam Hussein. Meanwhile, those who did not conform were cast out, including Phil Donahue, who lost his MSNBC talk show just before the war, he says, because he did not support the invasion. He’s only the most high profile loss. Quietly so many more were marginalized and silenced, mostly through professional self-censorship.

To say the Iraq War is a stain on the profession is an understatement, considering the trillions of US taxpayer dollars spent, the thousands of American servicemen and women and their families impacted, the deaths and displacement of millions in Iraq and the region, and the evisceration of trust in our institutions that carries on to this day.

My own journey took me from FoxNews.com at the start of war to the American Conservative and Antiwar.com, which has been a beacon for the skeptical and open minded since the Bosnian War in 1995. Today as editorial director of Responsible Statecraft, I help, in part, to watchdog the media coverage in Ukraine, which again, has been captured by the Washington establishment narrative, at the expense of independent reporting and alternative views about what the US role should be there.

To commemorate the 2003 anniversary, I’ll be joining Jonathan Landay, who was one of the only mainstream reporters to challenge the WMD narrative back then, along with Peter Beinart and moderator Krystal Ball, for a special Quincy Institute discussion this Wednesday in D.C. (March 22) about the media march to war. Co-sponsors include Breaking Points, the John Quincy Adams Society, and The Nation magazine. This is open to the public, and will be followed by a reception. Please follow this link for details and to RSVP.

Reminding ourselves of the media’s dark role in war is so important. As we can see, without a course correction, the press’s default is to lean into willing complicity every time.

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos is Editorial Director of Responsible Statecraft and Senior Advisor at the Quincy Institute. She was a regular news writer and reporter for Antiwar.com from 2009 to 2014. She served for three years as Executive Editor of the The American Conservative magazine, where she had been reporting and publishing regular articles on national security, civil liberties, foreign policy, veterans, and Washington politics since 2007. From 2013 to 2017, Vlahos served as director of social media and online editor at WTOP News in Washington, D.C. She also spent 15 years as an online political reporter for Fox News at the channel’s Washington D.C. bureau, as well as Washington correspondent for Homeland Security Today magazine.

9 thoughts on “On This Iraq Anniversary, Recalling the Shame of the ‘Free Press’”

  1. I see the author’s website (Responsible Statecraft, one of my daily stops;-) is bemoaning the new Aussie submarine base contract/agreement
    We get to sell them our subs then the Brits get the contract until the Aussie submarine manufactoring is ready to start making them.
    We have to keep those China sea shipping lanes open for unhindered trade of outsourced goods of our so-called economic block…..
    Heck of a reason to go to war or build up arms instead of investing that money in such silly stuff as more efficient manufacturing processes so we make the cheap crap just as cheap as those making it without those pesky costs our manufacturers have (such as waste disposal; why pay when there is a Chinese river at one’s back door?) or schools, or whatever the popular kids’ pet project of social good is…..

  2. Good to see the Quincy Institute active. Probably the only “think tank” in DC not in cahoots with the MIC. Look forward to the discussion.

    Let’s prevent the neoliberal revision of the Iraq War and call it for what it really is – an unmitigated disaster where we killed a million people and destroyed a country based on pure lies.

    1. Yeah, and Iraq was by far not the only one. The U.S. killed, directly or by proxy, 3 million in Vietnam, and 1 million each in Indonesia, Mozambique, and Angola, just to name a few off the top of my head. And that doesn’t even count the wars where the U.S. killed less than 1 million people, like many countries in South America, Yemen, and some countries in Africa.

      But hey, I’m proud to be an Amerikkkan!

      1. Anywhere from 20 to 30 million people in nearly 40 countries since WW2. They’re all “free” now.

        1. The dead people there are now “free” from being killed and tortured again. Rumsfeld said the Iraqis have been liberated so the media should not talk about all that looting going on there.

  3. https://simplicius76.substack.com/p/the-iraq-war-was-a-sham

    Since the start of the Russian SMO, many people have continued to speciously compare the US’s 2003 invasion of Iraq, called Operation Iraqi Freedom, with Russia’s efforts in Ukraine. Typically this revolves around demonstrating how much ‘demonstrably better’ and ‘superior’ the American forces were in promptly and efficiently defeating a major force, compared to Russia’s—by comparison—thus far ‘stagnant efforts’. The typical shopworn tropes center on how US managed to establish ‘full air supremacy’ while Russia is unable to in Ukraine; how US seized Baghdad in a month, while Russia failed to seize Kiev; how US suffered comparatively few losses, while Russia’s suffering unprecedented casualties, etc.

    The US invasion of Iraq, begun almost exactly twenty years ago, on March 20th, 2003, is often sold to us as a gloriously flawless campaign, where heroic US forces valiantly marched forward, vanquishing hordes of elite Iraqi Fedayeen numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Hollywood movies have continued to valorize, glamorize, glorify, and nigh beatify this ‘war’ despite souring public opinion which has, over the years, mostly reversed—and rightly so—the pedestaled image of the war into one of condemnation.

    But there remains one important facet to the image that has continued to endure the test of time, despite the general acknowledgment these days that the war was an egregious mistake. And this facet is the actual view, the historiography of the war itself from a militaristic, rather than political or social, perspective. Despite acknowledging the war as a mistake, most people still vacuously adhere to the vision of the war as some resounding, exemplar achievement of military science par excellence.

    But the wool’s been pulled over our eyes. Between the countless mischaracterizations and misattributions of ‘glory’ and tactical success, there are a few elephantine holes in the collective memory of what actually transpired, and in exposing these grand failings of the collective consciousness, we will actually shed a new light on, and reframe, how we might perceive the current Russian SMO—which Twitter armchair generals so often disparagingly and unfavorably compare to the Iraq War.

    The War That Wasn’t

    The most obvious thousand-ton elephant in the room must first be swiftly gotten out of the way:

    There was no actual ‘war’.

    You’ve read that right. The active conflict invasion stage of the ‘war’, dubbed Operation Iraqi Freedom, was infact a giant canard, a holographic Military-Industrial-Media-Complex projection—an abject Hollywood illusory fraud. In the parlance of the soldiers themselves who took part in it, it was called a ‘thunder run to Baghdad’—and for good reason.

    Continue reading on author’s substack linked above.

    1. Operation Iraqi Freedom should be called “Operation US Colonization of Iraq”. The BBC called it “The US Led War Against Iraq” and DW TV, a German news channel called it “The Anglo American War Against Iraq”.

  4. The corporate media is part of corporate America, and in addition to making as much money as possible, the role of corporate media is to propagandize and brainwash Americans in favor of corporate America, which includes the military/industrial complex.

Comments are closed.