Yes, we all had some fun last week mocking Bob Woodward (and the Politico guys) for hyping that mythical “threat” from the White House. Last we checked, a horse head had not yet appeared at the bottom of Bob’s bed. And yes, he was basically wrong in blaming Obama for being the main villain in the sequester farce. But that was hardly his biggest failure. In fact, nothing in his career holds a candle to when he joined the credulous media brigade in accepting George W. Bush’s word on WMD in Iraq.
In other words, he agreed to “follow the dummy.”
While it’s true that Woodward may be (partly) known for his several books on George W. Bush and his handling of the Iraq war, with each one growing increasingly hostile. But he is rarely connected to the pre-invasion press cheerleading as it went down, partly because he was not a White House or Pentagon reporter back in early 2003. So I was a little surprised to find this nugget as I was going over my book So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits and the President Failed on Iraq as it appeared as an updated e-book this week.
The day after Secretary of State Colin Powell’s speech before the UN Security Council Wednesday, TV commentators and newspaper editorials, and even many liberal pundits, declared their support for the Bush administration’s hard-line stance on Iraq. CNN’s Bill Schneider said that “no one” disputed Powell’s findings. Bob Woodward, asked by Larry King on CNN what happens if we go to war and don’t find any WMD, answered: “I think the chance of that happening is about zero. There’s just too much there.”
I also found this, much worse, when Howard Kurtz in 2004 belatedly did a review of The Washington Post’s deeply flawed prewar coverage: “[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.” Woodward was managing editor at the Post and therefore influenced, and at times helped decide, the handling of some of its key coverage.
Woodward later admitted, “I think I dropped the ball here. I should have pushed much, much harder on the skepticism about the reality of WMD.” No kidding.
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 Howard 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. It should also be noted that the story was solely Kurtz’s idea, although Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. agreed to publish it.
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: