On the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, it’s easy to forget how uncritical the corporate media were of the Bush-Cheney administration’s claims during the runup to the war. There was plenty of evidence to contradict the claims that Saddam Hussein had reconstituted efforts to build weapons of mass destruction — starting with the UN weapons inspectors who were coming up empty on the ground in Iraq. Bush was warned by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that invading Iraq would create a hundred bin Ladens. The French and Germans were vilified for pushing for more diplomacy and inspections on the ground in Iraq instead of resorting to force of arms.
As we observed from Austin in “Inspect, Don’t Invade,” our March 1, 2003 editorial: “We wish we could believe that invading Iraq would solve the problems. More likely the bombing of Baghdad and other parts of Iraq to clear the way for the invasion will kill tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi people, create hundreds of thousands of refugees, plunge the Middle East into chaos and expand the radical Islamic jihad against the western world.” But the swells in New York and Washington couldn’t see it.
MSNBC is now considered a liberal-leaning news channel, at least in its primetime lineup, but it was a struggling center-right news channel when it pulled Phil Donahue off the air Feb. 25, 2003, because of his opposition to the calls for war in Iraq, despite the fact that Donahue had the channel’s highest ratings. Chris Hedges, in a March 25 column at TruthDig.com, calls it “The day that TV news died.” An internal MSNBC memo that leaked to a website at that time argued that Donahue would be a “difficult public face for NBC in a time of war … He seems to delight in presenting guests who are anti-war, anti-Bush and skeptical of the administration’s motives.” In other words, Donahue had good instincts — and he was addressing the skepticism felt by a large number of potential viewers — but he never returned to the commercial airwaves.
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Donahue recently told Hedges the pressure the network put on him near the end “evolved into absurdity. … We were told we had to have two conservatives for every liberal on the show. I was considered a liberal. I could have Richard Perle on alone but not Dennis Kucinich. You felt the tremendous fear corporate media had for being on an unpopular side during the ramp-up for a war. And let’s not forget that General Electric’s biggest customer at the time was Donald Rumsfeld [then the secretary of defense]. Elite media features elite power. No other voices are heard.”
Hedges noted that Donahue spent four years after leaving MSNBC making the movie documentary Body of War with fellow director/producer Ellen Spiro, about the paralyzed Iraq War veteran Tomas Young [see his letter to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney on page 4]. The film received critical acclaim, but Donahue was unable to find commercial distributors to pick up the film. He managed to get openings in a few cities but the runs were painfully brief. (See BodyOfWar.com.)
Bill Moyers, who hosted the weekly NOW with Bill Moyers from January 2002 until December 2004, also came under pressure at PBS. Bush’s chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Kenneth Tomlinson, in 2005 accused Moyers and his show of “left-wing bias” and mounted an investigation. Moyers replied that his journalism showed “the actual experience of regular people is the missing link in a nation wired for everything but the truth.” In April 2007, he returned to PBS with Bill Moyers Journal, with the first episode, “Buying the War,” on the media’s shortcomings in the runup to the invasion of Iraq. He retired in April 2010, but came back in August 2011 as Moyers & Company, along with his new website, BillMoyers.com.
The New York Times and the Washington Post helped the Bush administration sell the war. The Times’ September 2002 report hyping Iraq’s aluminum tubes as evidence of a reconstituted nuclear program was used by the Bush administration to support the rush to war. The Post ran 27 editorials in support in the months leading up to the war, and had few regrets on the anniversary. Post editors spiked a column they had commissioned from Greg Mitchell, former editor of Editor & Publisher and author of “So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits — and the President — Failed on Iraq“. Instead, the Post ran a column by its news media reporter, Paul Farhi, titled, “On Iraq, journalists didn’t fail They just didn’t succeed.“
The Times published a “mini-culpa,” as Jack Shafer called it, in May 2004, admitting that it has published a few “problematic articles” (it didn’t mention any names) on Iraqi WMD, but pointed out it was “taken in” like most of the Bush administration, Mitchell noted in the version of his column published at TheNation.com. The Post in August 2004 ran a longer critique by media reporter Howard Kurtz in which editors and reporters admitted that evidence supporting the war was played on page 1 while stories that challenged the administration were buried inside.
Hedges, who spent 15 years as a foreign correspondent for the New York Times, has a jaded view of the corporate media. “The celebrity trolls who currently reign on commercial television, who bill themselves as liberal or conservative, read from the same corporate script,” he wrote. “They spin the same court gossip. They ignore what the corporate state wants ignored. They champion what the corporate state wants championed. They do not challenge or acknowledge the structures of corporate power. Their role is to funnel viewer energy back into our dead political system — to make us believe that Democrats or Republicans are not corporate pawns.”
We shouldn’t be surprised the corporate media is reluctant to publicize corporate wrongdoing. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch MSNBC, but there are gaps in their coverage. Rachel Maddow produced an excellent documentary, “Hubris: Selling the Iraq War”, on the manufactured crisis that was the runup to the invasion, based on the 2007 book by Michael Issikoff and David Corn, but Maddow overlooked the role NBC and her own channel played in that coverup. I don’t think Maddow sold out. I think she has a good sense of how much truth she can get past the suits, and she packed a lot of truth in that hour.
Ed Schultz perhaps doesn’t have that sense — or maybe he just doesn’t care, which might be why he’s being shuffled off to the weekend. But he’s still on MSNBC, as well as his three-hour radio show on more than 100 radio stations and the Internet (see wegoted.com, and more on Schultz’s move on p. 22, Dispatches).
If you want progressive populist views, you can find our columnist Amy Goodman’s radio/TV news hour on 1,000 stations in North America — but you have to look for them (see DemocracyNow.org). Jim Hightower wore out his welcome on ABC Radio when he criticized its new corporate owner, Disney Inc., in 1995 and his national radio show was cancelled soon thereafter. But he still does radio commentaries as well as his columns, which appear in this paper, as well as his Hightower Lowdown newsletter (see jimhightower.com.) And Thom Hartmann is a tough critic of corporate plutocracy who has a three-hour weekday talk show that is simulcast on more than 80 radio stations as well as Free Speech TV on Dish Network and DirecTV. He also produces a one-hour daily TV show available on Free Speech TV (see ThomHartmann.com). (And if MSNBC producers are looking to expand their list of guests, those would be three good names to put on their Rolodexes.)
Then, of course, you still have the lefty press, whether The Progressive Populist, The Nation, Mother Jones or other worthy periodicals for readers who like their plutocrat-plucking on paper.
The truth is out there, as it was in 2003, but you can’t count on the corporate media to serve it up to you. Sometimes you have to sort through a lot of — shall we say manure? — to find it on the Internet or other news media. That could be our new motto: “Sorting through the B.S. since 1995.” — JMC