Media, politics and culture.
Once again the site BagNewsNotes has done a service for journalists and readers by raising concerns (following on recent work by others) about possibly staged or faked news photos widely-published by Reuters from Syria in recent weeks.
BagNewsNotes focuses on analysis and "literacy" of images in the media. As they explain, "No other site is as committed and singularly focused on the social, cultural and political 'reading' of the individual picture. Given the power of photos to influence and persuade, we feel it is vital for citizens to become better 'readers' and consumers of visual news, messaging and spin."
This email from the site's longtime publisher Michael Shaw provides key links and background (you'll see many of the photos in question) so I will excerpt here:
Over the last three weeks, serious questions have been raised about the accuracy and integrity of photos and photo stories by freelancer/activists in Syria affiliated with Reuters. The first story was published by the New York Times Lens blog, the second by the NPPA. We published two more stories last week at BagNewsNotes:
Were the Reuters “Boy in a Syrian Bomb Factory” Photos Staged?—with analysis provided by photojournalists, photo editors and reporters familiar with the workings of these rudimentary factories in Aleppo.
The Dysfunctional Guitar: More on the Reuters Syria Photo Controversy—details the repeated appearance of the same damaged instrument in multiple images along with a look into a Reuters explanation.
In a post published last night by the British Journal of Photography, Reuters’ resistant stance -- and a hostility toward those raising questions -- was specifically called out. Because the news sphere has a short attention span and Reuters is such a powerful player in the world of news photography, there's a real risk that time will pass (while compromised pictures might even keep coming) and this situation will just be forgotten. Given the risk to the industry for the loss of integrity – including the integrity of all the talented and ethical people working for Reuters — that would be quite a blow.
That post closes with these questions:
When asked whether Khatib still worked for Reuters, the news agency refused to comment.
When asked whether the recent allegations had resulted in a change in Reuters’ news-gathering practices in Syria, the news agency refused to comment.
When asked whether Reuters would consider opening another investigation following the recent and specific allegations against its news operations in Syria, the news agency refused to comment.
And, more importantly, when asked why Reuters had been using Syrian activists as freelance photographers without informing its clients, the news agency again refused to comment.
We'll update as needed.
Read Next: Tom Engelhardt: How Sensational News Stories Distract Us From Real Crises.
You have to hand it to the Wall Street Journal. They do it cleverly and between the lines, but in an editorial today they pinpoint as the main reason for yesterday's shootings at Fort Hood by a mentally-troubled soldier the actions and inactions of agencies under the Obama Administration (with no mention of the easy purchase of the weapon or any other factors):
And as military officials seek lessons from the tragedy to try to prevent similar events in the future, they should expect no help from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, known as Samhsa. According to a Journal editorial this week, this arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services "uses its $3.6 billion annual budget to undermine treatment for severe mental disorders."
Samhsa bureaucrats spend much of their time and taxpayers' money opposing efforts by doctors to promote medical intervention in such serious cases. Among the reforms sought by health professionals—and impeded by the bureaucracy—are "'need for treatment' standards in civil-commitment laws, or assisted-outpatient laws so courts can require the mentally ill to receive treatment to avoid hospitalization."
Military officials might also wish to consider the work of E. Fuller Torrey, who last year described in our pages how the federal government spends far too much time and money treating "the worried well," rather than the truly ill—and the truly dangerous.
Torrey, in fact, is a well-known advocate of returning to the days of institutionalizing the mentally ill against their will. Here's a piece at Scientific American criticizing a recent "60 Minutes" segment after the Naval Yard massacre that featured Torrey. You can find online much other criticism of Torrey from top professionals and journals.
Of course, it's absurd that the shooter would have been locked away before the attack. Latest reports reveal that he had a clean record, a psychiatrist had indeed seen him in the past month and found no threat of violence, and simply prescribed a sleep aid.
The assistant managing editor at Bloomberg's Businessweek.com, meanwhile, largely blames the media for 'fueling" copycat shootings even as they exaggerate the number of mass killings in America which he claims are not increasing at all. (At least he mentions the problem of maybe not quite enough gun control.)
Fox & Friends, of course, places the blame on soldiers not being able to have arms at the ready to defend themselves—when attacked by other soldiers with arms at the ready.
“There you have our soldiers not being able to arm themselves,” host Elisabeth Hasselbeck opined. “Still, if they have a weapon, they are to register it within five days of purchase, and obtaining it. But then that must be stored away in these lockers so that it cannot be carried on their person, therefore leaving them vulnerable.”
Co-host Steve Doocy noted that the military had decided to restrict sidearms on bases during President Bill Clinton’s (D) administration.
Doocy then pointed to the current Democratic president by quoting a conservative blogger: “Gateway Pundit, which is a way right-leaning blog, what they write this morning is, ‘The Obama administration is responsible for this mass shooting. They witnessed this before, they didn’t learn a thing. Gun-free zones are death zones. It is time to stand up to the lunacy.’”
Jon Stewart, your move.
Read Next: Greg Mitchell: Stephen Responds to #CancelColbert—After Jon Launches #CancelStewart.
Two wildly different takes on the racial politics of our time opened in New York theaters in the past two weeks.
The most heralded: Bryan Cranston, at height of his fame coming off Breaking Bad, on Broadway in All the Way as President Lyndon B. Johnson twisting arms and skulls to promote passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is, by all accounts, a solid, if somewhat wonkish, play with a bravura performance (see New York Times review). Naturally, J. Edgar Hoover, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Senator Richard Russell all put in appearances. Johnson is shown pushing hard, partly because believes in the bill and partly to further his political ends (he needs a big win to prove he deserves to be president). Of course, Vietnam hovers in the distance.
I haven't yet seen the play so let me concentrate on one I did experience, just last night: Satchmo at the Waldorf, written by the estimable Terry Teachout, author of acclaimed books, including biographies of H.L. Mencken--and Louis Armstrong. It, too, puts racial politics upfront, not music.
This may seem odd to some. Armstrong was nothing less than the most important American musician of the last century--and the most influential singer. (Ponder that for a moment.) His recordings from about 1925 to 1932 changed the course of popular music and jazz forever. The play pays tribute to that but it's true aim is elsewhere.
It's set in Armstrong's dressing room at the Waldorf in New York in 1971, where he has just staggered through a performance, practically on his death bed (indeed, he would die of a heart attack a short time later, in his bed). John Douglas Thompson, in this fantastic one-man show, portrays a not-quite-broken "Satchmo" recalling some of the highlights of his life, going back to growing up fatherless and poor in New Orleans, through his breakthrough years in Chicago and New York and onward to world fame and riches. With Teachout at the helm, it adheres closely to facts (and I can vouch for this, having read several Armstrong bios).
But much of the play revolves around Armstrong's racial identity and relationship with his white, Jewish, mob-connected manager Joe Glaser (also played by Thompson). Slowly we learn how and why Armstrong's stage persona and move away from innovative jazz mainly for black audiences to popular entertaining almost exclusively for whites developed. Glaser wanted the dough and also had to placate his mob partners; he easily exploited Louis, who just wanted to blow--and make people happy, black or white. (Watch part of it here.)
Armstrong was such an ambassador of goodwill it didn't take much arm-twisting. But along with that he lost his creative edge and drew the ire of other black jazz giants, who felt he treated Glaser like his "master" and often acted "minstrely" on stage. Miles Davis (Thompson, again) appears to voice these cruel putdowns. Indeed, most Americans today remember Armstrong for "Hello Dolly," not for the depth of early classics such as "Black and Blue."
But Armstrong counters: He genuinely wanted to please folks. He may have played to segregated audiences in the South--but he was the first to bravely tour there with a mixed-race band. He opened doors for black musicians everywhere (even in Hollywood). And, in one of the best scenes, he recalls famously cursing out President Eisenhower for moving too slow during the Little Rock school integration crisis.
In the end, it's a kind of tragedy within triumph: One of the giants of American history afflicted with doubts that maybe he had let Glaser push him too far from his genius and his race. Yet he remains justly proud of what he did accomplish. And getting ready to delight one more audience, which sadly would be the last.
Below: Early Armstrong with race-based complaint "Black and Blue."
Read Next: Katrina vanden Heuvel: On Universal Pre-K, de Blasio Shows Democrats How to Lead From the Left.
So the world watched and waited. How would Stephen Colbert respond to the online-driven drive to #CancelColbert?
Not very seriously. Or, perhaps, very, very seriously, since he responded at the very beginning of his show last night, and then a bit later, and then with a special guest—in fact, for the entire show. But also: Before that, Jon Stewart, his former boss on "The Daily Show" and partner in his current Comedy Central show, did his own commentary.
Responding to the effort to #CancelColbert because of a joke in the Twitter feed for his show (where he adopts a rightwing blowhard persona) making fun of "Orientals" —this related to the Washington NFL owner not dropping "Redskins"—Stewart took this route: He referred early on in his show to the Gov. Chris Christie administration’s treatment of former aide Bridget Kelly as a hysterical woman, suffering from man trouble and yet needing approval from men. Stewart's graphic was headlined “Bitches Be Crazy, Right?” (Watch video here.)
At the bottom a new hashtag: #CancelStewart. (Not so new, however, since fans had already started one.) “How did that get in there?” Stewart asked. A quick check of #CancelStewart at Twitter for early responses found most backing him and/or opposing the "Twitter fascists."
And then Stephen Colbert responded in the opening to his show, and later, with more mockery: "Folks—I’m still here. The dark forces trying to silence my message of core conservative principles mixed with youth-friendly product placement have been thwarted!"
B.D. Wong, the Asian actor, appeared to help him along. Stephen did urge viewers to stop attacking his main antagonist Suey Park. And he blamed it all on Comedy Central, since it was the network, not his personal feed, that put up (and then removed) the tweet that sparked the controversy. But he declared: “The Interweb tried to swallow me whole. But I am proud to say that I got lodged in its throat and it hacked me back up, like a hastily chewed chicken wing.”
Watch videos here. One re-cap described the conclusion:
After announcing he was shutting down his cringe-inducingly named faux foundation and firing its one staffer, but before blowing up Comedy Central’s real @ColbertNation so as to give Park’s followers something to crow about, Colbert brought out tonight’s guest.
“Here to apologize – the co-founder of Twitter, Biz Stone.”
“I am not here to apologize,” Stone insisted.
“I accept,” Colbert responded.
“Will we get a chance to talk about my new book?” Stone wanted to know.
“Yeah. When you founded Twitter, did you do it to attack me?”
Read Next: Greg Mitchell: Eleven Years Ago: Questions Arise About ‘Embedded’ Media Coverage of Our Iraq Invasion.
The dangers were there from the start—and the results have been well chronicled since. But how did the media cover questions about its "embedded" coverage of the Iraq war near the start?
As you'll recall, reporters and camera folks were allowed for the first time to sign up and travel fully with our invading (and later occupying) forces. This allowed valuable close hand reporting—although with various censorship restrictions. It also produced coverage that was, shall we say, often influenced by identifying with the troops and the mission a bit too much. Often we heard "we" are doing this or that as reporters sent along for the Jeep and Humvee rides.
I was the editor of Editor & Publisher then and we raised many questions about the dangers of this from the start, with Joe Galloway, Sydney Schanberg and others sounding alarms. We interviewed Chris Hedges, the longtime war reporter, three different times about this, and he accurately predicted the course of the invasion and aftermath and how many reporters, allowed to only see what their "minders" would allow, would misinterpret the quick victory. But few others did the same.
Here's the first New York Times report from eleven years ago that started to look at the issues, with quotes from Michael Kelly of The Atlantic, left (who would die there) and critic Todd Giltin and others. My new book on Iraq and the media covers this issue at length. It's worth remembering that the late Anthony Shadid did his greatest work there as an independent, not embedded, reporter. Ditto for so many in the Baghdad bureau of Knight Ridder (later McClatchy).
From that New York Times story:
Bryan G. Whitman, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for media relations, is in charge of making the strategy work.
''We realized early on that our adversary was a practiced liar,'' Mr. Whitman said. ''What better way to mitigate the lies and deception of Saddam Hussein than having trained, objective observers out there in the field?''
Some critics have suggested that it has been difficult to tell journalists and military personnel apart.
''I am discouraged by reporters' willingness to swallow most of what is being told to them,'' said Todd Gitlin, a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University. ''How can they keep referring to 'coalition forces' as if there were actually some sort of coalition?''
Jim Dwyer of The New York Times calls the arrangement ''professionally treacherous.''
''You are sleeping next to people you are covering,'' Mr. Dwyer said by satellite phone from his position with the 101st Airborne Division in central Iraq. ''Your survival is based on them. And they are glad we are here because no one would believe what is happening to them if they just came back and told war stories. People are willing to talk around the clock until it is time to go out and kill people. That is a very deep thing.''
And who can forget Geraldo Rivera getting booted out of Iraq for sketching troop locations in the sand.
Read Next: Katrina vanden Heuvel: This Week in ‘Nation’ History: The Fearless Idealism of Jonathan Schell.
President Barack Obama, in a speech in Brussels yesterday after Russia (and many Europeans) pointed out our loss of moral authority because of our war in Iraq in hitting Putin on Crimea, defended our 2003 invasion. This was deeply disheartening—and hypocritical, since he largely owes his election in 2008 to being able to brag (vs. Hillary Clinton and John McCain) that, unlike them, he opposed the war in 2003.
Yet media outlets such as The New York Times barely mentioned his Iraq statement—which included several key distortions—in passing. (Another typical example at the Los Angeles Times.) Others in the mainstream, such as at the MSNBC site, offered more space—but merely relayed Obama's quotes with no fact-checking or commentary. Critics on the Left were not so kind.
And people wonder why I am among the few to return to the media failures on Iraq every year at this time (see my recent pieces here at The Nation).
Obama struggled, however, in his attempt to defend the legality of the invasion. The war was unsanctioned by the United Nations, and many experts assert it violated any standard reading of international law. But, argued Obama, at least the U.S. tried to make it legal. "America sought to work within the international system," Obama said, referencing an attempt to gain U.N. approval for the invasion -- an effort that later proved to be founded on flawed, misleading and cherry-picked intelligence. The man who delivered the presentation to the U.N., then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, has repeatedly called it a "blot" on his record.
Obama, in his speech, noted his own opposition to the war, but went on to defend its mission.
"We did not claim or annex Iraq's territory. We did not grab its resources for our own gain," Obama argued. In fact, the U.S. forced Iraq to privatize its oil industry, which had previously been under the control of the state, and further required that it accept foreign ownership of the industry. The effort to transfer the resources to the control of multinational, largely U.S.-based oil companies has been hampered in part by the decade of violence unleashed by the invasion.
In a New York Times op-ed this week, our recent ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, wrote, “As ambassador, I found it difficult to defend our commitment to sovereignty and international law when asked by Russians, ‘What about Iraq?’” Apparently Obama felt the need to respond, even if with untruths.
From the Common Dreams article linked above:
Ross Caputi and Matt Howard, members of the Iraq Veterans Against the War, spoke with Common Dreams by phone and said that President Obama's argument was both weak factually and morally. As it happens, both IVAW members were together in Washington, DC on Wednesday, organizing an evening event focused on the devastating impacts of the Iraq War—both for veterans like themselves and the Iraqi civilian population—when they heard news about what the president had said.
"What President Obama said is false," said Caputi. "The U.S. did not attempt to work within the international system. We acted unilaterally, without the approval of the UN Security Council."
"We went from one lie, which was weapons of mass destruction, to another lie which was liberation and freedom," said Howard. Citing the devastation cited by Iraqi civil society allies, especially women in the country, he continued, "This idea that Iraq is somehow better off or that the U.S. waged a so-called 'Good War' is ridiculous."
The updated edition of Greg Mitchell's book on the Iraq war, So Wrong for So Long, includes a preface by Bruce Springsteen, a new introduction and a lengthy afterword with updates.
Read Next: Greg Mitchell: Media Response to Iraq War Anniversary: What Iraq War?.
Amid the scattershot reports and anecdotal fears and cheers, it's always nice when the annual Pew "State of the News Media" study appears, as it did early today. Every year it tells us mainly things we think we know, but at least they confirm that, and add new details and twists. I've covered this every year going back to 2001, when I became editor of Editor & Publisher.
This year a lot of the early coverage seems to be focusing on fairly new online news outlets, such as Vice and Buzzfeed, adding 5,000 new jobs. Of course, employment at newspapers (down 6.4% or more) and print magazines continues to plunge, even as most of the hard reporting gets done there.
"New players are boosting reporting power, technological talent and financial resources going into news, creating a level of energy not felt for a long time," said Amy Mitchell, Pew's director of journalism research. "The momentum is real, but it remains to be seen whether these new ventures will flourish and extend to the variety of ways in which the public consumes news and information."
The reports points out: "The year also brought more evidence than ever that news is a part of the explosion of social media and mobile devices, and in a way that could offer opportunity to reach more people with news than ever before. Half of Facebook users get news there even though they did not go there looking for it."
Cable news viewership continues to decline:
The audience for cable news television is shrinking. The prime-time viewership for the three largest news channels - CNN, Fox News and MSNBC - fell to 3 million last year, the smallest combined audience since 2007. Fox remained the top cable news site, though it lost 6 percent of its viewers. MSNBC took the biggest hit, losing nearly a quarter of its prime-time viewers.
And in an area that has drawn wide attention here at The Nation for many years:
Local television in the U.S. saw massive change in 2013, change that remained under the radar of most Americans. Big owners of local TV stations got substantially bigger, thanks to a wave of station purchases. While the TV business profited, the impact on consumers is less clear and seems to vary from one market to the next. Still, the rapidly spreading practice of separately owned stations being operated jointly drew criticism from consumer groups and new scrutiny from federal regulators.
Almost 300 full-power local TV stations changed hands in 2013, at a cost more than $8 billion. The 2013 total of 290 is 195 more stations than in 2012 and more than four times the dollar value.1 Many of the deals resulted in stations in the same market being separately owned on paper but operated jointly, a practice that has grown exponentially in just the past two years. Joint service agreements of one kind or another now exist in at least 94 markets, almost half of the 210 local TV markets nationwide, and up from 55 in 2011.
Advocacy groups say station consolidation is depriving communities of the diverse sources of news they need to stay informed. “The original deal was [broadcasters] get free use of the public airwaves, you get the opportunity to make a nice living off of that, but in return you must serve the public interest,” said former FCC commissioner Michael Copps, now with Common Cause. “They’re public airwaves and they’re supposed to be serving community interests and local markets, not one-shop news operations that span many outlets.”
The FCC, the regulatory body that oversees broadcasting, heard dozens of complaints about TV consolidation in the past year as it continued a long-delayed review of the rules governing station ownership. While no action has yet been taken, broadcasters fear the agency will crack down on joint operating agreements. Early in 2014, the Justice Department warned that the practice could allow station owners to “influence or control” competitors and should be more tightly regulated
For their full report just on those issues, go here.
Greg Mitchell’s latest book, published this week, is When Hollywood Moved Left: The Election Campaign That Changed Politics in Film Forever.
Read Next: Catherine Crump and Matthew Harwood: The Rise of Networked Devices Will Make Government Surveillance Even Easier.
Conservatives may overstate the impact, but few today would challenge the claim that the movie industry, or “Hollywood” in archaic shorthand, is staunchly, at times proudly, liberal in politics (Jon Voight, Clint Eastwood and Gary Sinise notwithstanding). This has been true for so long that most Americans--even right-wingers obsessed with this--have no idea how and why it happened.
Those who know a bit about the history of the industry know that it was, in fact, founded, and managed for many years, by very conservative men from the East, mainly middle-aged Jewish immigrants. Actors and actresses were long known for contract disputes and sex scandals, not social activism. So when, and why, did the shift to the left occur?
Simply put: Those staunchly Republican studio chiefs were so afraid of famed Socialist writer Upton Sinclair winning the 1934 race for governor—after he swept the Democratic primary leading an amazing grassroots movement known as EPIC (End Poverty in California)—that they took several outrageous actions that inspired liberal actors, writers and directors to finally organize and speak out. And, as we all know, they haven't stopped since.
Those strong-arm studio tactics, what I've termed "Hollywood's first all-out plunge into politics," ranged from deducting one day's pay from all of their employees (including top writers and actors) for the Republican candidate's slush fund to the creation at MGM—by saintly producer Irving Thalberg—of faked newsreels, the precursor of "attack ads" on TV that dominate campaigns today (see below).
Just one longterm effect: The Screen Writers Guild and Screen Actors Guild had each been formed in 1933 but were attracting little big name talent until the backlash to the 1934 campaign arrived. Soon they were for the first time successfully challenging the bosses on everything from contracts and working conditions to bullying political tactics. And they led the fight that elected a Sinclair ally governor in 1938. More and more films with a progressive point of view appeared.
I first revealed much of this story in my award-winning 1992 book for Random House, The Campaign of the Century: Upton Sinclair’s Race for Governor of California and the Birth of Media Politics. The Hollywood angle was just one of the wild and wooly highlights of the book. You can read a full summary in my Nation feature from a few years back.
For some readers, The Campaign of the Century, however entertaining and eye-opening, suffered from one drawback: It takes over 600 pages to tell its tale. And it does so in a day-by-day chronology, meaning, for example that the Hollywood segments are scattered throughout. Some have suggested, for two decades now, that I break out the movie material into a separate, easier-to-consume narrative.
Now, with the added advantage of electronic publishing, I’ve finally done that, in an e-book published this week, When Hollywood Turned Left, adding a new Introduction, revising throughout and offering a new Appendix with fresh copy (such as an interview with Billy Wilder). So it’s something borrowed, something new. And there’s plenty of star power: Jimmy Cagney and Louis B. Mayer, Charlie Chaplin and Katharine Hepburn, Will Rogers and William Randolph Hearst, Dorothy Parker and H.L. Mencken, and on and on.
Until now I'v never explained how I became the first to find these long-rumored forerunners of today’s ubiquitous election commercials on TV. All I knew were claims that MGM somehow had a hand in producing them. No one, since 1934, had ever claimed to view them. Perhaps they were lost to the ages. I cast my net wide but concentrated on MGM history and archives—and one day got a call from a staffer who helped manage the studio’s collection of old film shorts in Los Angeles (not at the old Culver City complex). He had found listings for three shorts from 1934 labeled “California Election News.”
So I flew out there as soon as possible and screened the footage and, sure enough, the mystery was solved. Researchers and Hollywood mystery buffs had probably concentrated on searching for “newsreels” instead of film shorts.
Hollywood’s obsession with the campaign crossed all lines, however. “The Sinclair campaign marked a turning point in Hollywood’s participation in almost all respects,” Ron Brownstein would judge in his book The Power and the Glitter. The “desire for unfiltered political expression—and the hunger to declared independence from the studio fathers—inspired a grassroots leftist surge that transformed politics in Hollywood.”
One conservative movie producer would sadly admit, referring to the liberal backlash that would change the movie industry forever, “I guess we started something in 1934.”
Greg Mitchell has written more than a dozen books, with When Hollywood Turned Left just the latest. He's been chief advisor on several documentaries and is co-producer of the new film, "Following the Ninth."
Read Next: Greg Mitchell: Media Response to Iraq War Anniversary: What Iraq War?
As you may have noticed—or rather, not noticed—few in the media paid any attention to last week's 11th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, an event which had, oh, a few consequences. This seemed especially odd, and revealing, since US vets are still dying from their wounds and brain injuries and committing suicide in still growing numbers—not to mention the continuing toll in Iraq (more bombings killing dozens seemingly to mark the anniversary).
Last year on the 10th anniversary there was a good deal of coverage, which I guess we can't expect for any year that doesn't end in zero (see: Hiroshima). But still: almost no coverage or probing or re-capping at all? Perhaps the media are rightly still embarrassed by their performance in the run-up to the war, which helped make it possible...inevitable.
That makes it all the more important for them to re-visit their massive failures, especially with new calls for US intervention abroad. Consider how close we came to bombing Syria (or more) just a few months back, based on sketchy evidence, and calls from "liberal hawks" like Keller and Kristof to take military action there. And now: Crimea and the Ukraine. Maybe: Iran (still).
That's why I like the idea proposed elsewhere of naming the anniversary of our invasion of Iraq, March 20, henceforth as "Media Atonement Day." Well, I've tried to do my part by posting about 20 stories, items and videos here in the past ten days or at my Pressing Issues blog.
Will Media Atonement Day happen? Don't bet on it. To illustrate, let me direct you to a piece written by the great Charles P. Pierce exactly one year ago. This followed a controversy over the Washington Post killing a piece they had assigned to me, reviewing media missteps in the run-up to the Iraq war and any later mea culpas. A couple of excerpts from his rant:
Before we begun, let us partially immunize ourselves with a dose of The Washington Post, the largest and deadliest blight ever to afflict elite political journalism. Last week, apparently, they engaged Greg Mitchell of The Nation to write a piece analyzing the performance of the elite political media in the run-up to the Iraq debacle. (The Post has spent the years since helping to launch the disaster giving jobs to a lot of the people behind it, including word-'ho Michael Gerson and torture-porn enthusiast Marc Thiessen.) Mitchell turned in the piece and it was killed by the Post, a formerly great newspaper now sucking hind tit on the lucrative scam that is the educational-testing industry. However, the Post did run another piece arguing that elite political journalism did not suck as much pondwater as it has been accused of sucking....
These are the people who publish Thiessen on torture, George Effing Will's experiments with climate-change denialism, and Michael Gerson on anything. These are people who will publish any prominent conservative who can find a crayon. Here's my broader analytical point — everyone associated with The Washington Post editorial page — and a lot of the executives on the news side, especially the ones that buried Walter Pincus's great work back on A13 — are complicit in hundreds of thousands of deaths, and they should all have their heads shaved, the phrase "I fked up the world" tattooed on their scalps, and sent off to work in the wards at Walter Reed until they collapse from exhaustion. My insights are fairly well summed up by the phrase, "Shut the fk up forever."
But it's never too late to catch up with how the war happened and proceeded, and the media failtures, via my book, So Wrong for So Long.
Greg Mitchell’s latest book, published today, is When Hollywood Moved Left: The Election Campaign That Changed Politics in Film Forever. His new edition of So Wrong for So Long includes a preface by Bruce Springsteen, a new introduction and a lengthy afterword with updates.
Just over eleven years ago, President George W. Bush held a widely watched televised press conference, as his self-imposed deadline for launching an invasion of Iraq neared.
Bush stated in his intro, “We will not wait to see what terrorists or terrorist states could do with weapons of mass destruction.” A couple of the questions from the press were sharp, but one of the many softballs—if you can imagine, on the brink of a war that would cost thousands of American and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives—asking about his religious strength gave him an opportunity to say, “My faith sustains me because I pray daily. I pray for guidance and wisdom and strength…. But it’s a humbling experience to think that people I will never have met have lifted me and my family up in prayer. And for that I’m grateful.”
It was the mood of the affair that was most disquieting.
Bush smiled and made his usual quips, and many of the reporters played the game and did not press him hard. This was how these press gatherings had gone throughout the run-up to war. When it was over, I felt the press had blown its last best chance to really put his feet to the fire, and along with Ari Berman (then an intern at my magazine, Editor & Publisher, later at The Nation), came up with a few questions we wished reporters had asked.
Two weeks later—on this day in 2003—the US indeed did invade Iraq. The following, the list of questions we came up with just before the war, appears in my book, published recently in an updated and expanded e-book edition, So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits and the President Failed on Iraq.
— Why is the U.S. threatening an optional war if 59% of Americans do not support a U.S. invasion without the approval of the U.N. Security Council, according to a Feb. 24-26 USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll?
— If our allies have the same information on WMD—and the Iraqi threat is so real—why do some of our friends refuse to take part in your coalition?
— You praise the Iraqi people, say we have no quarrel with them, pledge to save them from the dictator and give them democracy. Would you tell us how many of them are likely to die in this war?
— You say one major reason for taking this action is to protect Americans from terrorism. How do you respond to the warnings of CIA Director George Tenet and others that invading Iraq would in fact likely increase terrorism?
— Rather than make us wait for a supplemental budget request—after the war has been launched—to tell us what it (and its aftermath) will cost, don’t you think the American people, who will pay the bill, deserve to know the latest long-term estimates before the fact?
— You say Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction and is evil enough to use them. If not during an American invasion of his country, then when? How many deaths on our side do you expect?
— Why, if North Korea has the capability to produce six nuclear warheads by mid-summer, are you letting their very reluctant neighbors take the lead in deterring them while demanding that the U.S. take charge in confronting Saddam?
— With the economy shaken and deficits climbing, how do you respond to critics who say you’re ignoring domestic issues and the long-term economic security of this country by focusing so much of your time and resources on Iraq?
— Why did the U.S. edit the 12,000 page Iraqi weapons report (as recently revealed) to the U.N. Security Council, removing all names of U.S. companies that sold weapons materials to the Iraqis in the past?
— You claimed tonight that Iraq has started producing new missiles—but are these nothing more than less capable versions (fully permitted by the U.N.) of the missiles being destroyed now?
— How do you respond to reporter Daniel Schorr’s statement that the “coalition of the willing” is actually a “coalition of the billing?”
Greg Mitchell’s So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits—and the President—Failed on Iraq has just been published in an updated e-book edition.
Read Next: Norman Birnbaum: Remembering Tony Benn