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26 April, 2007
"Buying the War"
Did anyone else watch Bill Moyer's Journal last night? Presumably some potential viewers were in the midst of TV Turn Off Week. The episode was "Buying the War" and it looked at the failure of the mainstream media to challenge the Bush administration's case for invading Iraq. Here's a clip from the program:
If/when you have more time, the program can be viewed in its entirety by going to this page.
Moyer interviews "Dan Rather, formerly of CBS; Tim Russert of MEET THE PRESS; Bob Simon of 60 MINUTES; Walter Isaacson, former president of CNN; and John Walcott, Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel of Knight Ridder newspapers." And don’t forget about Phil Donahue. In addition, media critics such as Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post have their say as well. There's also plenty of footage from right-wing talk shows featuring pundits such as William Kristol & Charles Krauthammer and administration officials.
Bob Simon's beat was the Middle East and he gives some interesting comments about perception within vs. outside of the United States. Landay and Isaacson, who actually dug into the stories with healthy skepticism from their position outside of the Beltway, are two of a handful of MSM journalists who bothered to do so. Rather, Russert, etc. issue one mea culpa after another for not having done their jobs properly. Donahue recounts his days with a talk show on MSNBC. His face shows up less than the others but his comments are more chilling. Executives ordered the producers of his show to have 2 conservative pundits for every liberal one. Perhaps most damningly, his show was yanked off the air for reasons disclosed when an internal memo was leaked. Donahue was described as "a tired, left-wing liberal out of touch with the current marketplace" and executives were worried that MSNCN might become "a home for the liberal antiwar agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity." In other words, it would be bad for the bottom line to have a show which attempted to give equal time to both sides.
Reporters and pundits on the right whose voices were heard loudly and clearly from the front pages either refused or were unable to be interviewed: Thomas Friedman of The New York Times, conservative pundit William Kristol of The Weekly Standard, president of Fox News and former Nixon and Reagan strategist Roger Ailes, Washington Post columnist and Fox news commentator Charles Krauthammer, New York Times reporter Judith Miller, and Times political columnist William Safire.
"Buying the War" had numerous salient points. One that stuck out for me was that it's quicker and cheaper for TV news to hire a pundit as opposed to someone who actually has direct knowledge and experience about the subject at hand. While Fox had Kristol and Krauthammer making a case for invasion by citing aluminum tubes, Bob Simon of 60 Minutes instead called scientists, called people who understood the process of enriching uranium to comment on the tubes.
Another disturbing bit comes when we watch several conservative commentators parrot the WMD line over and over again. Then Linday from Knight-Ridder shows how he went to the UN website where the progress of the weapons inspectors was posted for anyone in the world with Internet access to see. Linday read the daily reports of the inspectors which detailed how no WMDs were found.
Almost everyone interviewed mentioned the pressure they felt back in the period between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq from what Isaacson termed the "patriot police". Questioning the Bush administration and their war plans was deemed unpatriotic and doing so drew fire from viewers, advertisers, and others. There was a genuine fear in the press to tow the line. Amidst all the apologetics from the journalists, media critic Normon Solomon voiced his view that it is during exactly such times of frenzy that the public, the country needs journalists to be skeptical and critical the most.
One question that's important to me that the show didn't really try to answer was, given the MSM's performance in the run-up to the invasion, why should people trust them ever again? I mean, do you, dear reader, trust any of these people? Of those interviewed, I want to single out Tim Russert. To paraphrase Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, "Russert – you're a pussy!" He doesn't ask tough questions very often and, when he does, he lets his guests get away with sidestepping them or circumlocution. There's a classic scene in "Buying the War" where the Bush administration leaks info to the NY Times. The very next day Cheney is on Russert's show and Timmy boy looks all tough because he's drilling the VP on whatever it was in the Times that Cheney probably gave his personal approval to releasing. "Oh Tim, you've got me there."
That William Kristol and his ilk remain staples of the conservative talk show circuit speaks volumes about the human psyche. For months on end, they wrote column after column in favor of invasion; they went on TV and foretold doom because Hussein had WMDs. And now in 2007 none were ever found. Yet these people remain credible in the eyes of millions. Cognitive dissonance reduction is powerful indeed.