Peter Hart over at FAIR notes an amazing thing: ten years ago, Newsweek published an article, right before we went to war with Iraq, that proved that the whole WMD claim was false. The story is mostly about Hussein Kamel, Saddam Hussein’s brother-in-law, who had defected to the United States. The Bush administration used Kamel to make its case for war. The problem is that they were only quoting part of what he had to say.
It goes like this. Kamel said, “Saddam Hussein had a big WMD stockpile, but it had all been destroyed.” He said this back in 1995! But, of course, the Bush administration only reported the first part of what Kamel had said. Now you would think that the rest of the media would pick this up and run with it. But they didn’t. By 3 March 2003, they were far too vested in a great big patriotic war to let the facts get in the way!
This is what happened when Colin Powell spoke to the United Nations in the lead up to war. Pretty much everywhere outside the United States, journalists thought the speech sucked. They thought he hadn’t even come close to proving the case for war. But inside the United States it was one big love fest. Everyone agreed that Powell had hit a home run. Only the French could question that speech! (Note: I mean those in power. All alone with my little radio, I knew exactly what was going on. And I’m sure there were a lot of people like me. It was only hard to understand what was going on if you were an idiot. And that seems to be the base qualification of being important in modern American political life.)
When none of the big news sources picked up on the story, Newsweek did what McClatchy had done before: assumed they must be wrong. (Note: when it comes to the mainstream press, this is always a mistake.) The very next week, the cover story was “Saddam’s War.” It was all about Iraq’s terrifying weapons of mass destruction.
What I’ve learned over the years is that knowing what’s going on is not that hard. All you have to do is pay attention to the news and be a little skeptical. The problem with CBS and NPR and the New York Times is that they have no interest in understanding what is really going on. In real time, it doesn’t matter to sales whether your reporting is right or not. It’s a lot easier to just accept what the powerful say as though they are oracles. But we don’t have to accept that. And increasingly, I think we don’t.
It always bothered me that Dick Cheney would leak some information (speculation) to Judith Miller. She would publish it in the New York Times. Cheney would go on PBS and say, “See: it’s not just me who’s saying it; the New York Times published it this morning!” Didn’t Miller see that and think, “I’m being gamed! The whole country is being games!” I think she just didn’t care. She’d gotten her scoop and that was all that matter. The truth be damned! And now that she works at Fox News we know just how much the truth matters to her.