I've often referred to a dramatic question my old editor Peter Kaplan put to me a couple years back, slamming his office door for privacy: "How did we f— this up? Why didn't we stop this goddamn war?" Meaning the press and Iraq. A couple weeks ago the Nieman Foundation had a discussion about why the press didn't do a better job about stopping the Iraq war. IF Stone Award recipient John Walcott of McClatchy said laziness was a factor. My friend Michael Massing made the following point:
so, but a lot of journalists, most journalists are hard working. I
really do fear the other factor you mentioned, the fear factor, was
paramount. Within two weeks of the war, we all remember what happened
to Susan Sontag when she dared to venture in the pages of The New
Yorker that these hijackers were not cowards. That, in fact, they had
courage to do something like that and all hell broke loose and The New
Yorker was inundated. Frankly, I think The New Yorker got spooked by
I spoke to Dana Priest at the Washington Post
and she said, 'If you wrote anything challenging the Bush
administration, you would get hundreds of — with email and the blogs
and it's vicious stuff.' I mean, recently, I don't know how many of you
read about Kathleen Parker, this columnist who's a conservative who
criticized John McCain and she wrote a piece about people who wanted
her children dead. When you get stuff like this, I really — when
journalists say that it doesn't affect them, I don't think they're
being totally aboveboard, but the best ones do ignore it.
…One quarter of the Senate actually did
oppose [the war]. And the reason I know this, because I was speaking on a panel
about a year ago, and Jack Reed, the Senator, was there, and he says,
“You know, a lot of us were opposed to this, but the press did not
actually — were not that interested in talking to us.”…[T]here was a whole range of questions out there about
whether this war was a wise thing or not. And our European allies, a
lot of them agreed that they might have had weapons, but they thought
it was unwise. And Arab opinion, and the whole idea of occupying a
country in the Mideast, and that we were going to somehow build a
peaceful democratic state – there were so many dissenting voices out
there. John referred to the Washington Post editorial page, which was
one of the worst offenders in terms of presenting one-note and largely
hawkish view of this and after Colin Powell's speech, they did a famous
four editorials, including Mary McGrory — bless her, departed — but,
'I'm persuaded,' she said.
I have my own oar to put in here. There's a class issue. Reporters are privileged. Milton Friedman wanted the all-volunteer army so that the children of the privileged would no longer be drafted and burn up campuses and get the attention of other privileged people. Once we lived in a more egalitarian society where reporters and their children could be drafted. Andy Rooney served in WW2. Norman Podhoretz served in the Army. Philip Roth did. Poppa Bush, Norman Mailer–don't get me started. JFK.
What if we had a draft again, and reporters and their children were exposed to the same risks to which leaders were about to expose other Americans, and an entire Arab society? Maybe the reporting would be different.
P.S. Note Massing/Priest's statement about emails. This is something CAMERA does to a fare-thee-well. To the point that its director claims it and the press have an "unwritten contract."