Democratic Underground

A Sheep in Wolf's Clothing

July 23, 2004
By Brad Friedman

Everywhere I go these days there still seems to be a collective sense of shock and/or disbelief from folks on both the right and in the middle - and even on the left, who have been as mind-numbed as those everywhere else - when I mention the supposedly "liberal" mainstream media's bias towards the Bush Administration.

The media's bias is not so much because they are supporters of Bush Administration policies per se, but because they have been so cowed for so long by the Administration, and are so afraid of either losing their access or being labelled "anti-Bush" or "anti-American" or simply "unpatriotic" by the rabid right, that they now err far on the opposite side of the matter.

The result has been, over the past several years, that the right and the Bushies have gotten a virtual free pass on everything from the 2000 election to the Iraq war.

The supposed "liberal" bastions of CNN and the New York Times are the most obvious examples. Whenever I mention their bias towards Administration positions, I am met with shock, disbelief and indignation from right-robots everywhere. Of course. Who can blame them? They are behaving as they have been programmed to. (Just like the mainstream media!)

The fact that the New York Times all but abdicated its duties during the run up to the Iraq War has been much discussed in the narrow band of the blogosphere left and largely ignored (by convenience?) amongst the more ubiquitous right-wing and mainstream (virtual right-wing) media.

A tepid and vaguely worded apology was recently issued by the Times for their disastrously inaccurate and misleading pre-war coverage, wherein they essentially echoed the Administration's flawed intelligence every day on page one of America's "paper of record."

The Times eventually apologized for "coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been," and because, "In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged."

The Times information was largely spoon-fed to them without question by Ahmed Chalabi - a man with a very specific mission to tell Americans whatever they needed to hear to encourage them (and us, and the world) to overthrow Saddam. He was also a man on the Administration payroll to the tune of some $300,000 per month.

Their apology, of course, unlike the page one stories, was a page 14 blip on the media coverage scene. A more recent op/ed apology in the Times said that they "should have been more aggressive in helping our readers understand that there was always a possibility that no large stockpiles existed," and that they "did not listen carefully" to those who raised those doubts.

Judith Miller, the Times biggest page one offender was never singled out by name in either apology, or apparently reprimanded in any way, for her nearly single-handed series of scores of flawed and misleading articles. It's all now too little, too late. Many of those articles were then hailed by Bush supporters everywhere to shore up their case for war in every other newspaper and/or media outlet around the world. If, after all, even the "liberal" New York Times says "Saddam has stockpiles of WMDs" and that "Iraq is a growing threat" then, of course, it must be true!

Of course, we now know it wasn't. But don't expect much more than a quick hand-wringing about that from the same media that screwed it all up in the first place.

CNN is another supposedly "liberal" media outlet that carried the Administration's water leading up to and throughout the "initial hostilities" in Iraq.

They were cowed from the very first hours after the 9/11 attacks when FOX News and other right-wing hacks accused them of being "unpatriotic" whenever one of their anchors considered the traitorous act of not wearing an American flag lapel pin while on the air!

CNN's Christian Amanpour, almost alone, was critical of her own network and the many others who "embedded" themselves within the Administration in one way or another. She was, of course, met with much criticism back in September of 2003, when she publically raised the issue. "I'm sorry to say," Amanpour told USA Today, "but certainly television and, perhaps, to a certain extent, my station was intimidated by the administration and its foot soldiers at Fox News. And it did, in fact, put a climate of fear and self-censorship, in my view, in terms of the kind of broadcast work we did."

She went on to speak about how this self-censorship seeped into the coverage, or lack thereof; "It's a question of being rigorous. It's really a question of really asking the questions. All of the entire body politic in my view, whether it's the administration, the intelligence, the journalists, whoever, did not ask enough questions, for instance, about weapons of mass destruction. I mean, it looks like this was disinformation at the highest levels."

Now she tells us.

And now, with WMD's nowhere to be found, the Administration's "informants" proven to have been nothing more than opportunistic frauds, and the case for the war virtually shot to hell, it's not just the Bush Administration that is avoiding all mea culpas in not taking real accountability for their culpability in the unnecessary deaths of thousands in this bogus war. The very media that helped them convince America there was a good reason for all of it continue to act, with very few exceptions, like Amanpour above, as though they had no real responsibility in the matter.

Wolf Blitzer, one of CNN's most prominent anchors, continues business as usual. Despite so many of his sycophantic and unquestioning softball interviews with so many "top Administration officials" prior to the war.

Sadly, as has been the case in America over the last few months, it turns out that the hard-hitting fake news program The Daily Show is one of the few voices regularly calling out the mainstream media for their vaccuous and inaccurate coverage that helped allow the Bush Administration to lead us into an unnecessary and ultimately self-destructive war.

In truth, the real scandal is how the "real" news outlets turn out to be "comedy," while our comedy shows turn out to be more like real news. We are well beyond the looking glass indeed.

Last Monday, the seemingly incurious Blitzer was interviewed by The Daily Show's Jon Stewart - who didn't much hold back in his questioning of the man who, in no small part, was the face of American media across the world in the panicked rush to war. The discussion was rather telling:

STEWART: Let me ask you... you work in news... [laughter] and I don't... the Senate Intelligence Committee, they come out with this rerport that says "Oh, the Iraq War... yeah, that's kind of a funny story... it was a mistake... [laughter] We were wrong about all that..."

BLITZER: Mmm-hmm...

STEWART: Taking the country to war based on information that turns out to be completely wrong because it was told to you by a guy named "Curveball"... [laughter]... Shouldn't that be... I mean, just out of curiosity... The biggest scandal we've ever had in the country? Or no? Am I thinking...

BLITZER: Well, you know... you never made a mistake in your life?

STEWART: That's a good point.

BLITZER: The CIA's not perfect, and sometimes they... get it wrong.

STEWART: That's right...

BLITZER: They got it wrong.

STEWART: And if... but in that situation, shouldn't someone be... fired? [laughter, applause] ...or is it... I could be wrong...

BLITZER: Well, George Tenet did leave this weekend.

STEWART: After being told he was doing a "superb job!"

BLITZER: Yeah... in defense of George Tenet... I'll say this, we never know the successes, because they're kept secret. The failures we all know.

...

STEWART: Even the idea that the Senate Intelligence Committee has come up with this report... Wasn't their job to do that originally?

BLITZER: Originally, yes... That was looking back...

STEWART: Who's investigated them?

BLITZER: The American people. We have the right to investigate them. And the media... and look back and say "you know what, mistakes were made." [silence... then laughter]

STEWART: Okay... as far as the media... so now the CIA has gone back to their offices and said "Okay.. no WMD." Is the media doing anything? Like at CNN do they have meetings were they say "uh, you know what? We should have asked that."

BLITZER: Uh, I think that... we do... we do do that.

STEWART: You have meetings? [laughter]

BLITZER: Yes, we have meetings.

STEWART: At those meetings... after, after you guys figure out who gets that last cruller... what does the media do differently?

...

BLITZER: I think we learn from our mistakes and try to it do better next time.

STEWART: Specifically?

BLITZER: Specifically... we learn from our mistakes and try to do it better next time. [laughter]

(Pardon the interuption, but I must interject here to note how much Blitzer there sounds like Bush last week when asked how he can still continue to claim that there were ties between Saddam and al-Qaeda. His answer: "The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al Qaeda, is because there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda."

Anyway...back to the Blitzer interview...)

BLITZER: We look back and we say, "ya know what, we should have been more skeptical." [silence... then laughter].

STEWART: But, if... well, come on... it was a...

BLITZER: You know we're trained to be skeptical by our very nature... that's what journalists...

STEWART: Why weren't you? Because people...

BLITZER: I think we could have been more, skeptical... I think we... Look... I...

STEWART: Are you afraid of the Bush Administration? Is the Bush Administration so ham-handed - and this is coming from a Jew who knows nothing of ham [laughter] - but are they so forceful...

BLITZER: No...

STEWART: ...that they have intimidated the press corp into not asking those questions?

BLITZER: No. The answer's no.

STEWART: So... is the press corps... and again, I'm gonna use the word... suffering from "groupthink"? [laughter] Or, or, or... another word... retardation? [laughter, cheers] No come on... really, tell me truth. I wanna know. I'm really curious. I'm baffled.

BLITZER: It's "groupthink" ...not retardation.

STEWART: It is "groupthink"?

BLITZER: ..."groupthink"... You know when you're told... repeatedly... and I was told by... going into the war... I went off to the war... I went off to Kuwait, you probably remember.

STEWART: I do remember seeing you in Kuwait City...

BLITZER: So... Uh, I, I remember going off. I had all the briefings. I went over. Got the briefings from the CIA, the Pentagon, spoke to all the members of Congress, the Intelligence Committees, the House side, the Senate side... Everybody said the same thing: "There is no doubt there are stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons... and it's only a matter of time before he has a nuclear bomb." Remember, Condoleeza Rice said on my show... Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer [laughter]... She said, "we can't wait for a smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."

STEWART: You're exactly right... and as it turns out Pakistan had already sold "mushroom cloud material" to every country in the area but Iraq! [laughter, cheers] It's crazy! The whole thing's crazy! Whooo... Whooo-hooo! [Stewart spins around madly in chair]

Yes, Jon - the whole thing's crazy. And Wolf sums his failure up nicely: prior to the war, he asked everyone who was in favor of going to war why we should be going to war. Apparently, though he claims to be "skeptical by [his] very nature," he was not skeptical enough to report on, or give coverage to all of the many voices out here who had different opinions on the efficacy of this thing before it actually happened. Wouldn't want to jeopardize that primo Administration access now would we, Wolf?

A study by Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting released in March of 2003 looked at the interviews conducted by CBS, NBC, ABC and PBS in the one week before and then after Colin Powell gave his now infamously misleading (and factually incorrect) address to the United Nations. Of the 393 interviews during those two weeks on the four major broadcast networks, only three of those interviews were with individuals who were "skeptical of or opposed to the invasion of Iraq."

That means that nearly 97% of what Americans saw on their nightly news was little more than a constant drumbeat for going to war. So much for the myth of the "liberal" media.

Nonetheless, some of us who were paying close attention heard all the warnings beforehand. From former Middle East envoy and chief of Central Command in the Middle East, Gen. Anthony Zinni, from UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, from the head of the International Atomic Energy Association, Mohamed al-Baradei and a host of others, who told us - usually via the tiniest mentions in the mainstream media - that the WMD were not there, Saddam had no "mushroom cloud material" and the plan for war was simply ill-conceived from the get-go.

We, the few of us bothering to pay very close attention on our own, even heard the warnings of George W. Bush's own father, who has more than a little familiarity with issues in that tricky and dangerous part of the world. The former President warned in his own memoirs that:

Trying to eliminate Saddam... would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending him was probably impossible. ... We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. ... [T]here was no viable 'exit strategy' we could see, violating another of our principles. Furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-Cold War world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations' mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land.

In other words, all of the warnings were out there, yet CNN and the the New York Times and the rest of the media, in the wake of blistering criticism from the right after 9/11 for not being "patriotic" enough, didn't bother to be skeptical enough because that would have required they be - potentially - critical of the Administration in their reporting. Which, in turn, would have been "unpatriotic" and/or "un-American" as charged by the folks that have been suggesting for years that these outlets are house organs of the liberal left anyway.

They weren't skeptical enough. They should have been. And more than 900 Americans have now given their lives, thousands more have given their limbs, and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians are dead because of it.

Yes, as the recent Senate Intelligence Report indicates, the CIA blew it. So did the Bush Administration. But make no mistake, the media - mainstream and otherwise - have the same blood of incompetence, abdication of duty, cowardice and failure of intellectual curiosity on their hands. "Liberal" media, indeed. Failed, cowed, culpable Administration media lap dogs appears much closer to reality for anyone willing to look at the actual evidence.

With so many dead, so many failures, it would be nice if that media started dealing more in reality. For the good of this country - which is usually for the good of this world, I might add. No matter how many Administration officials or right-wing extremist partisans might cut off their access and baselessly call them names and threaten boycotts because of it.

Message to the media: yes, politicians of both the left and the right will tell you whatever they are interested in selling. That's their job. It's your job to get the real story, not simply serve as a PR outfit for the politicos! We've got Xerox machines for that.

And we shouldn't have to rely on fake news shows on cable comedy channels for the real news and the hard-hitting interviews. In other words, find some courage and some of that skepticism you claim to have "by nature," and start doing your frickin' jobs. How many more have to die to remind you of what you should be doing?

Brad Friedman is a freelance writer and software designer. He is also a proud "Liberal Hollywood Elitist" sharing all of the great esteem and many rewards that come with it. His blog can be read at http://www.BradFriedman.com/BradBlog.

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