The Media Failed Us in the Lead-Up to the Iraq War

The Media Failed Us in the Lead-Up to the Iraq War

The Media Failed Us in the Lead-Up to the Iraq War

It may be about to fail us again.


In the weeks leading up to the Iraq War, I was a columnist at the Cleveland Plain Dealer who opposed it. An Ohio congressman I’d never met, Sherrod Brown, had cast his vote against it.

Every marriage has a story about its beginnings. This is ours.

One of our early dating habits was to share our hate mail on Fridays. Most of it was about our opposition to the war. We were regularly called traitors. Some people were willing to sign their names to letters demanding our deaths. Being hated by the same kind of people can help a couple bond. We married in April 2004.

Sherrod was hardly alone in his opposition to the war; 156 members of Congress voted against it. But as Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan recently noted, few journalists ever mention this. I share her concern that journalists may have failed to learn from our mistakes in the early coverage of that war.

In 2003, virtually every newspaper endorsed the war, and journalists reported as fact the false claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. This was an unchallenged lie pitched by then–Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has since professed remorse. Many journalists later expressed regret for falling for it. But our profession is shrinking, and I worry that our collective memory is, too.

On January 3, Donald Trump ordered a US drone strike that killed Iran’s Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani. The ensuing swirl of political punditry and Trump’s continued erratic behavior give me a sinking feeling that we are about to repeat our worst mistakes.

In a brief televised speech from the White House on January 8, Trump vowed to the nation, “The United States is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it.”

“We must all work together toward making a deal with Iran that makes the world a safer and more peaceful place,” he said. “We must also make a deal that allows Iran to thrive and prosper and take advantage of its enormous untapped potential.”

He took no questions from the press.

By now, we all should have known what was coming, as Trump was scheduled to be at a rally in Toledo the next day. His die-hard supporters showed up, and their guy delivered.

The crowd cheered as Trump repeatedly brayed about killing Suleimani: “He was a bad guy. He was a bloodthirsty terror, and he’s no longer a terror. He’s dead.”

Trump complained that he hadn’t won the Nobel Peace Prize. He called Democratic members of Congress “vicious, horrible people,” mocked Representative Adam Schiff’s appearance—“you little pencil neck”—and derided House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as “not operating with a full deck.” Trump also claimed that if he’d alerted Democrats to the planned attack, they would have leaked it to the press.

The mob booed in solidarity. “That’s a lot of corruption back there, folks,” he said, pointing to the media pool in the arena. “Very, very dishonest people…a tremendous number…like I have never seen in my life before.”

Reporter Liz Skalka of the Toledo Blade was there and tweeted, “There’s a very loud attendee next to the press pen, who just turned around to address the media during Trump tirade, and shouted: ‘You fake ass motherf*ckers. You suck. Do your jobs!’ So that’s how tonight is going.”

Just days earlier, Pete Hegseth, a weekend host of Fox and Friends, said, “I bemoan the fact, especially even since the Iraq War, that it feels like patriotism is largely dead amongst our journalism corps. Where is the home team for a lot of these people? Taking a moment to cheer and appreciate that when America kills one of our enemies on the battlefield, that’s a good thing. It just doesn’t feel like that exists much anymore.”

This is the Republican plan, again. Call into question the patriotism of any journalist willing to question this administration about what it’s doing to this country.

Hegseth, a military veteran, was 22 years old when we invaded Iraq. I was 45, and I took notes. After Trump’s rally, I reread a collection of my columns from that time. What a jarring reminder of the cost of that unjustified war.

In a single week in 2005, Cleveland lost 14 Marines. Twenty-three-year-old Augie Schroeder was one of them. He arrived in Iraq full of good intentions, his parents told me at the time, but after 26 weeks in the field, his enthusiasm had eroded. His father, Paul Schroeder, said he would never forget what his son told him in his final phone call from Iraq: “The closer we are to departure, the less worth it this has become.”

By early 2005, polls showed that most Americans opposed the war. The next year, both houses of Congress flipped to the Democrats.

Fourteen years later, here we are again.

Trump and his personal cheerleading squad at Fox News will continue to do all they can to fuel distrust and hatred of us, but no serious journalist gets into this profession to be popular. It is our job—our patriotic duty—to hold to account our government and the people who run it.

If we do this well, perhaps we can avoid the mistakes of that early coverage of the Iraq War. And give our fellow citizens the chance to be the patriots this country needs. Nothing scares Donald Trump more than informed Americans.

Dear reader,

I hope you enjoyed the article you just read. It’s just one of the many deeply reported and boundary-pushing stories we publish every day at The Nation. In a time of continued erosion of our fundamental rights and urgent global struggles for peace, independent journalism is now more vital than ever.

As a Nation reader, you are likely an engaged progressive who is passionate about bold ideas. I know I can count on you to help sustain our mission-driven journalism.

This month, we’re kicking off an ambitious Summer Fundraising Campaign with the goal of raising $15,000. With your support, we can continue to produce the hard-hitting journalism you rely on to cut through the noise of conservative, corporate media. Please, donate today.

A better world is out there—and we need your support to reach it.


Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

Ad Policy