The Evil of historical revisionism


Quite frankly, I hate it, people with gilded tongue or pen who are able to change facts to present a narrative that is completely opposite to reality and what really took place.  Such revisionist work in the service of the “empire”, people of power who enlist the help of scribes to change, conceal, cover up historical facts and outcomes in order to preserve power.  A very good example of that in these morst recent times is what happened vis-a-vis the Iraq war and the media’s implication in propelling a frightened Nation into that war.  We’ve posted several pieces on how media played a willing hand in inciting racial animus towards a non-existent enemy and resulting carnage it caused for all involved.  In keeping with being unrelenting, here’s another article written by Greg Mitchell that details media’s complicity in the Iraqi war and particularly again the WashPost

The Washington Post killed my assigned piece for its Outlook section this weekend which mainly covered media failures re: Iraq and the current refusal to come to grips with that (the subject of my latest book)–yet they ran this misleading, cherry-picking, piece by Paul Farhi claiming the media “didn’t fail.”  I love the line about the Post in March 2003 carrying some skeptical pieces just days before the war started: “Perhaps it was too late by then. But this doesn’t sound like failure.”

Here’s my rejected piece.  I see that the Post is now defending killing the article because it didn’t offer sufficient “broader analytical points or insights.”  I’ll let you consider if that’s true and why they might have rejected it.

Now let’s revisit my recent posts here on when probe in the Post itself by Howard Kurtz in 2004 showed that it failed big time.  For one thing, Kurtz tallied more than 140 front-page Post stories “that focused heavily on administration rhetoric against Iraq”–with all but a few of those questioning the evidence buried inside.  Editors there killed, delayed or buried key pieces by Ricks, Walter Pincus, Dana Priest and others.  The Post‘s David Ignatius went so far as offering an apology to readers this week for his own failures.  Also consider Bob Woodward’s reflections here and here.   He admitted he had become a willing part of the the “groupthink” that accepted faulty intelligence on the WMDs.

Woodward, shaming himself and his paper, once said it was risky for journalists to write anything that might look silly if WMD were ultimately found in Iraq.  Rather than look silly, they greased the path to war.   “There was an attitude among editors: Look, we’re going to war, why do we even worry about all the contrary stuff?” admitted the Post’s Pentagon correspondent Thomas Ricks in 2004.  And this classic from a top reporter, Karen DeYoung:  “We are inevitably the mouthpiece for whatever administration is in power.“  See my review, at the time, of how the Post fell (hook, line, and sinker) for Colin Powell’s fateful U.N. speech–and mocked critics.  Not a “fail”?

In Farhi’s piece, Len Downie, the longtime Post editor, is still claiming, with a shrug, hey, we couldn’t have slowed or halted the war anyway.  Farhi agrees with this.  Nothing to see here, move along.

Kurtz last week called the media failure on Iraq the most egregious in “modern times,” which echoes my book.  This week neither the Post nor The New York Times published an editorial admitting any shortcomings in their Iraq coverage.   Back in 2003, the Times at least called for caution in invading Iraq, in editorials.  On the other hand, as Bill Moyers pointed out, in the six months leading up to the U.S. attack on the Iraq, the Post “editorialized in favor of the war at least 27 times.”

 

What Happened to the US Press Corps?


U.S. President George W. Bush meets with troop...

U.S. President George W. Bush meets with troops and serves Thanksgiving Day Dinner at the Bob Hope Dining Facility, Baghdad International Airport, Iraq

Beautiful article written by Robert Parry asks the rhetorical question about the ineptness of the American media and then brilliantly answers it and it’s not a pretty answer, but it’s real and honest. Below is an excerpt to remind everyone while we talk about the ten year anniversary of the Iraq invasion of the how complicit media was in that war crime.

Why this history is relevant today, as the United States commemorates the tenth anniversary of the disastrous Iraq War, is that it was the Reagan administration’s success in housebreaking the Washington press corps that guaranteed that only a handful of mainstream journalists would ask tough questions about President George W. Bush’s case for invading Iraq.

Put yourself in the shoes of an aspiring Washington correspondent in 2002-2003. Your immediate editors and bureau chiefs were people who succeeded professionally during the 1980s and 1990s. They climbed the ladder by not reaching out for the difficult stories that challenged Republican presidents and earned the wrath of right-wing attack groups. They kept their eyes firmly on the backsides of those above them.

The journalists who did the hard work during that era suffered devastating career damage, again and again. Indeed, they had been made into object lessons for others. Even progressive publications, which wanted some “credibility” with the mainstream, turned away.

In other words, a decade ago – as in the 1980s and 1990s – there was little or no reward in challenging the Bush administration over its claims about Iraq’s WMD, while there was a very big danger. After all, what if you had written a tough story questioning Bush’s case for war and had managed somehow to pressure your editors to run it prominently – and then what if some WMD stockpiles were discovered in Iraq?

Your career would end in ignominy. You would forever be “the Saddam Hussein apologist” who doubted the Great War President, George W. Bush. You would probably be expected to resign to spare your news organization further embarrassment. If not, your editors would likely compel you to leave in disgrace.

People may forget now but it took guts to challenge Bush back then. Remember what happened to the Dixie Chicks, a popular music group, when they dared to express disagreement with Bush’s war of choice. They faced boycotts and death threats.

At Consortiumnews.com in 2002-2003, we ran a number of stories questioning Bush’s WMD claims and his other arguments for war – and even though we were only an Internet site, I got angry e-mails every time the U.S. invading forces found a 55-gallon drum of chemicals. The e-mails demanded that I admit I was wrong and telling me that I owed Bush an apology. [For details on the wartime reporting, see Neck Deep.]

When I would read those comments, I would flash back to the stomach-turning angst that I felt as a correspondent for AP and Newsweek when I published a story that I knew would open me to a new round of attacks. At those moments, all I had was confidence in my tradecraft, the belief that I had followed the rules of journalism in carefully assessing and presenting the evidence.

Still, there is no certainty in journalism. Even the most careful reporting can contain imprecision or errors. But that imperfection becomes a major problem when the rewards and punishments are skewed too widely, when the slightest problem on one side leads to loss of your livelihood while gross mistakes on the other carry no punishment at all.

That was the core failure of the U.S. news media on the Iraq War. By 2002-2003, a generation or more of American journalists had absorbed this career reality. There was grave danger to question Bush’s claims while there was little risk in going with the flow.

And, if you made that assessment a decade ago, you were right. Even though you were wrong journalistically in promoting or staying silent on Bush’s assertions about Iraq’s WMD, you almost surely continued your career climb. If questioned about why you got the WMD question wrong, you could simply say that “everyone got it wrong” – or at least everyone who mattered – so it would be unfair to single anyone out for blame.

But most likely, no one who mattered would even ask the question because those folks had been traveling in the same pack, spouting the same groupthink. So, if it seems odd to some Americans that today they are reading and watching the same pundits who misled them into a catastrophic war a decade ago, it shouldn’t.