Chilcot report spurs a few media reporters to remind us, and their editors, of past editorial decisions
But few US media outlets appear eager to reopen old wounds, but instead continue to put commercial concerns ahead of all other considerations
The Chilcot report released yesterday concentrated on the actions of the Prime Minister at the time, Tony Blair, his advisors and Parliament. But, as TNM pointed out yesterday, another issue that has to be considered was the role of the media in build up to the war.
To be blunt, many media outlets built up the case for war knowing that it would profit them, just as they built up the candidacy of Donald Trump. As CBS CEO Les Moonves said in a moment of candor about the network’s obsessionw ith Trump “it may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”
Now, after the release of the report, others have weighed in on the issue of the media’s willingness to promote the war to their readers.
Here is a round=up:
Sir John Chilcot’s massive report on the calamitous invasion and occupation of Iraq is now out. While the report is comprehensive and unflinching in its criticism of former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government, there is one major omission.
It does not blame the British (and US) media for the critical role it played in galvanising public support for the war. Downing Street complained at the time that the BBC, for example, had an anti-war bias, but evidence strongly suggests that UK media coverage of the Iraq experience was generally aligned with the government…
…Many American papers, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, lined up behind the Bush administration. The Times’ coverage by Judith Miller and others repeatedly parroted phoney intelligence, leading to Miller’s disgrace as a journalist.
One famous article she co-wrote alleged, incorrectly, that Saddam was seeking parts for a nuclear bomb…
…Knight-Ridder (now McClatchy) was one of the only American papers to consistently question government claims. James Risen, of The New York Times, also produced critical reporting, but some of his stories were “held, cut, and buried deep inside The Times”, he tells us in his recent book, Pay Any Price.
The pressure on the UK media should not be under-estimated. It seems extraordinary now that papers could have campaigned for the bloody mess that Iraq became but, at the outset, the operation was depicted by Government officials as a humanitarian one, liberating the Iraqi people from oppression. Even liberal The Observer – to the horror of many colleagues on sister paper The Guardian – backed the case for war. In the US, the venerable New York Times was embarrassed as it swallowed fabricated evidence of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, cynically supplied by members of the Iraqi opposition and pro-war lobbyists.
After the invasion began in March 2003, right-wing media sought to whip the BBC into line, denouncing it as a quisling for voicing the slightest doubt. When Today reporter Andrew Gilligan questioned the validity of the 45-minute claim in a report on 29 May 2003, Campbell – backed by the BBC’s media enemies – took down the broadcaster’s director-general and chairman.
Commercial factors counted too. While many protested against the war, other sections of the public demanded a media that backed the armed forces. Even when British troops ignominiously left Basra in 2007, The Sun remained supportive, declaring: “Job done”.
So I remain a blood-stained apologist for the War Criminal Blair and his wicked ways.
On what basis, some will doubtless ask, what sort of journalist defends a Prime Minister who lied and lied and lied about a decision that led to the deaths of thousands?
Which brings us to another truth, rarely spoken, about Blair and Iraq.
He bent the truth, he exaggerated, he over-stated and he over-simplified. He removed the caveats and the conditions. He tried to turn shades-of-grey intelligence into black-and-white media coverage and political argument. He said there were WMD when he should have said there were, on the basis of what was known and believed at the time, probably WMD – but there might not be.
Which brings us to that awkward truth. You didn’t have to believe him. You didn’t have to take his argument on WMD at face value. You had a choice. You could have questioned, doubted, challenged.
Note: Both The New York Times and The Washington Post, while covering the release of the Chilcot report, have apparently decided that now is not the time to pick at old wounds. Both papers have somewhat apologized for their past decisions to back the war, but one wonders if that decision to admit to past mistakes only was grudgingly given because of the obvious failure of the campaign, not because of any reassessment of the journalism the papers practiced.