Washington Post: War propaganda and censorship

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antiwar.com

According to veteran journalist Greg Mitchell, The Washington Post yanked a story of his that he was commissioned to write about failures in the news media in the lead up to the Iraq War. His piece made the obviously true argument that the media not only failed to question the war propaganda, but actively served as a bullhorn for the pro-war crowd.

Instead of running Mitchell’s story that was critical of the paper and the broader media, the Post instead ran a piece by Paul Farhi defending the media’s coverage.

Mitchell explains at his blog:

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”?

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About kruitvat

I am working for the Belgian human rights association 'Werkgroep Morkhoven' which revealed the Zandvoort childporn case (88.539 victims). The case was covered up by the authorities. During the past years I have been really shocked by the way the rich countries of the western empire want to rule the world. One of my blogs: «Latest News Syria» (WordPress)/ Je travaille pour le 'Werkgroep Morkhoven', un groupe d'action qui a révélé le réseau pornographique d'enfants 'Zandvoort' (88.539 victims). Cette affaire a été couverte par les autorités. Au cours des dernières années, j'ai été vraiment choqué par la façon dont l'Occident et les pays riches veulent gouverner le monde. Un de mes blogs: «Latest News Syria» (WordPress)/ Ik werk voor de Werkgroep Morkhoven die destijds de kinderpornozaak Zandvoort onthulde (88.539 slachtoffers). Deze zaak werd door de overheid op een misdadige manier toegedekt. Gedurende de voorbije jaren was ik werkelijke geschokt door de manier waarop het rijke westen de wereld wil overheersen. Bezoek onze blog «Latest News Syria» (WordPress) ------- Photo: victims of the NATO-bombings on the Chinese embassy in Yougoslavia
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3 Responses to Washington Post: War propaganda and censorship

  1. kruitvat says:

    March 11, 2013

    Greg Mitchell on media, politics, film, music, satire, TV. “Not here, not here the darkness, in this twittering world.” — T.S. Eliot, “Four Quartets”

    When ‘Washington Post’ Failed on Iraq…

    Howard Kurtz today in his Daily Download via CNN looks at a subject I’ve been posting about here every day for the past several days–the media’s sad, tragic performance during the run-up to the U.S. attack on Iraq almost ten years ago. It’s also the subject of my new book. Kurtz calls it, aptly, the media’s “biggest failure of modern times.”

    My book reviews the article Kurtz wrote for the Post in 2004, taking the newspaper to task for some of its misconduct (the paper itself did not assign is own probe).

    Because of the notoriety surrounding Judith Miller and The New York Times’ coverage, the Post’s almost equally poor coveage and opinion pieces drew too little attention after WMD were not discovered. The Post ran Kurtz’s critical August 12, 2004, piece on the front page, something it inevitably failed to do with stories skeptical of the march to war.

    By the Post’s own admission, in the months before the war, it ran more than 140 stories on its front page promoting the war, while contrary information “got lost,” as one Post staffer told Kurtz. So allow me to pursue a few points (see my book for much more on media misconduct in war coverage). First, two quotes (beyond the Woodward gem) from Post staffers that speak for themselves:

    • “There was an attitude among editors: Look, we’re going to war, why do we even worry about all the contrary stuff?”—Pentagon correspondent Thomas Ricks.

    • “We are inevitably the mouthpiece for whatever administration is in power.“—Reporter Karen DeYoung.

    * “[Bob] Woodward, for his part, said it was risky for journalists to write anything that might look silly if weapons were ultimately found in Iraq.”

    Next, consider the highly revealing excuses, offered by Post editors:

    • Executive Editor Downie said experts who questioned the war wouldn’t go on record often enough. But his paper, and others, quoted unnamed pro-war sources willy-nilly.

    • Downie also asserted that “voices raising questions about the war were lonely ones.” This is simply rewriting history. On the eve of the invasion, polls showed that half the public wanted to delay the invasion to give the United Nations inspectors more time to do their duty, and millions had already marched in the streets. Many of the editorial pages of major US newspapers (though, crucially, not the Post’s) were expressing their own doubts about the need for war. Key intelligence experts questioned the administration’s evidence but were given little play, on or off the record, at the Post.

    • Liz Spayd, assistant managing editor for news, offered another weak defense in explaining why a key article questioning the existence of WMD by thirty-two-year Post veteran Walter Pincus was finally published on Page A17. Pincus’s stories are “difficult to edit,” as she put it. Matthew Vita, then national security editor and now deputy assistant managing editor, offered another defense for the Pincus miscue: “We were dealing with an awful lot of stories, and that was one of the ones that slipped through the cracks.”

    • That rationale also applied to another sad case. In the days before the war, Dana Priest and Karen DeYoung finished a piece that said CIA officials had communicated significant doubts to the administration about evidence linking Iraq to an attempted uranium purchase. The story was held until March 22, three days after the war began. “Editors blamed a flood of copy about the impending invasion,” Kurtz explained.

    • Vita had a different excuse on another missed opportunity. One of the fresh revelations in the Kurtz piece was how, in October 2002, Thomas Ricks (who has covered national security issues for fifteen years) turned in a piece titled “Doubts,” indicating that Pentagon officials were worried that the risks of an invasion of Iraq were being underestimated. It was killed by Vita. He told Kurtz that a problem with the piece was that many of the quotes with names attached came from “retired guys.” But the Post (and much of the rest of the media) rarely shied away from “retired guys” who promoted the war.

    • Other excuses rippled through the Kurtz piece, featuring phrases like “always easy in hindsight,” “editing difficulties,” “communication problems” and “there is limited space on Page 1.” One editor explained, “You couldn’t get beyond the veneer and hurdle of what this groupthink had already established,” even though the British press somehow managed to overcome that. Amid all the excuses, Post staffers denied that the paper was under any pressure from the White House.

    • At the end of the Kurtz piece, Downie offered his ultimate defense. “People who were opposed to the war from the beginning and have been critical of the media’s coverage in the period before the war have this belief that somehow the media should have crusaded against the war,” Downie said. “They have the mistaken impression that somehow if the media’s coverage had been different, there wouldn’t have been a war.”

    Two responses to that final excuse come quickly to mind.

    Most of those against the war did not ask for a media “crusade” against invasion, merely that the press stick to the facts and provide a balanced assessment: in other words, that the Post do its minimum journalistic duty. If anything, the Post, and some other major news outlets, came closer to crusading for the war.

    And did Downie honestly believe that nothing the media might have done could have possibly stopped the war? Especially when, as noted, public and editorial opinion on the eve of war was divided? Does he take issue with Walter Lippmann’s notion that the press plays a vital role in “manufacturing consent”? And does he really believe his must-read newspaper lacks any clout? If so, what does that say about the state of modern newspapering?

    http://gregmitchellwriter.blogspot.be/2013/03/when-washington-post-failed-on-iraq.html

  2. kruitvat says:

    March 23, 2013

    ‘Double Failure’

    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.”

    http://gregmitchellwriter.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/double-failure.html

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