There will be no Chilcot report on the press, leaving media free to push public into future disasters
Report on the Iraq War says the UK Prime Minister Tony Blair deliberately misrepresented the threat from Iraq, but damning report only looks at the apparatus of government, not those interests that pushed the misinformation to the public
Today the long awaited Chilcot report, officially known as The Iraq Inquiry, was published. The report’s conclusions are damning, predictable, and all the more depressing knowing that no politician involved will be brought to justice.
“We have concluded that the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort,” said Sir John Chilcot in his statement about the report’s findings.
“We have also concluded that:
- The judgements about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction – WMD – were presented with a certainty that was not justified.
- Despite explicit warnings, the consequences of the invasion were underestimated. The planning and preparations for Iraq after Saddam Hussein were wholly inadequate.
- The Government failed to achieve its stated objectives.”
The inquiry into the war was announced in June 2009 by then Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and its members were selected by the Prime Minister, drawing much criticism as several members were strong supporters of the war. The work of the committee ended months ago, but only now was its report made public.
The report’s findings are damning of both Tony Blair and George Bush, as well as others who supported and pushed the UK into the war. But the idea that UK or US politicians will be forced to face prosecution for their crimes is a non-starter. Tony Blair immediately issued a statement clearing himself.
“The report should lay to rest allegations of bad faith, lies or deceit,” Blair said. “Whether people agree or disagree with my decision to take military action against Saddam Hussein; I took it in good faith and in what I believed to be the best interests of the country.”
The report says no such thing.
Following the release of the report, the current Prime Minister David Cameron took questions in Parliament and it did not take long for some MPs to begin justifying their support for the war, and for the PM to begin to providing cover for himself and others who supported the war.
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Labour, and at the time of the war a backbencher actively against the war, made a statement in Parliament reminding MPs of the consequences of the war.
“The decision to invade Iraq in 2003 on the basis of what the Chilcot report calls ‘flawed intelligence’ about the weapons of mass destruction has had a far-reaching impact on us all,” Corbyn said. “It has led to a fundamental breakdown in trust in politics and in our institutions of government. The tragedy is that while the governing class got it so horrifically wrong, many of our people actually got it right.”
Indeed, the present President of the United States and the leader of Labour are in their positions in large part because they publicly opposed the war, or at least expressed criticism of the decision to go to war after the fact. Despite what politicians may say, the public has understood the mistakes made, the lies told, the deceptions of politicians. As a result, confidence in government is at an all-time low.
But so, too, is confidence in the press. The Great Recession may be the death blow for the newspaper industry, but confidence in the media has never been lower.
According to the PewResearchCenter only 25 percent of Americans believe the media has a positive effect on the nation.
Though the Chilcot report glosses over the role of the press, it should be remembered that the role of the media was central to selling the war to the public.
Rupert Murdoch’s news outlets were rapidly pro-war, as was the media mogul himself. “We can’t back down now, where you hand over the whole of the Middle East to Saddam,” Murdoch told an Australian magazine before the war. “Bush is acting very morally, very correctly.”
But while FoxNews and The Sun were pushing for war, other media outlets were nearly as aggressive. CNN, and especially Wolf Blitzer, have built their franchises on support for war and aggression.
But it was also institutions such as The New York Times and other newspaper (especially The Washington Post**) that also should be remembered when discussing those responsible for the disaster of the Iraq War and its aftermath. Journalists would not be honest with themselves if they did not admit that some of the media institutions that are looked upon with the most respect where themselves totally irresponsible in the lead up to the war.
“There is ample evidence that Iraq has produced highly toxic VX nerve gas and anthrax and has the capacity to produce a lot more. It has concealed these materials, lied about them, and more recently failed to account for them to the current inspectors,” the Times said in an editorial before the war began. “The Security Council doesn’t need to sit through more months of inconclusive reports. It needs full and immediate Iraqi disarmament. It needs to say so, backed by the threat of military force.”
“What we needed to do was go over to that part of the world, I’m afraid, and burst that bubble. We needed to go over there basically, and take out a very big stick, right in the heart of that world, and burst that bubble. And there was only one way to do it,” said NYT columnist Tom Friedman.
“I supported it mainly because of the convergence of a real threat and a real opportunity,” wrote NYT executive editor Bill Keller three after the start of the war, when evidence that Iraq had no WMDs became apparent.m “What the Bush administration did was gild the lily — disseminating information that ranged from selective to preposterous,” Keller wrote without mentioning that it was his paper that was the disseminator of much of that information.
There will be no Chilcot report for the media, the public is the one that is passing judgement on our industry. They do not like what they see now, just as they did not like what they saw in 2003.
Today, the two candidates for president promise more military might. One actually promises to act as a war criminal, promising to return the US to being a torturer, to kill the families of suspected terrorists, to use the tactics of ISIS. It won him the nomination, and recent polls put him only 2 to 4 points behind his rival – a supporter of the Iraq War, who never apologized for her vote when she ran in 2008, but lost to an opponent who was willing to criticize the decision to go to war.
The media sold us the war, just as it has now sold us Trump and Brexit. It will sell us more of the same if we let it, and if we, as media professionals, let it. Today, the UK public wonders whether their former Prime Minister should be prosecuted for his acts. I see no such sentiment being expressed in the States, despite the fact that the war was led by the US.
** It should be noted the incredible work of McClatchy’s DC news bureau, who did outstanding work in the lead up to the war, fairly reporting the evidence and digging deep into administration claims. Also, Greg Mitchell and his team at Editor & Publisher were, during their time there, strongly critical of the way many newspaper reported on the war. His courageous work led to at least one website to accuse Mitchell of “transforming Editor & Publisher into his own version of Pravda” for his reporting on the media’s support for the war.