Buying the War
I just took an hour and a half out of my bloggy day to watch Bill Moyers' devastating critique of the media and their failure to do their job in the run-up of the Iraq war. The program, "Buying the War," is available for viewing on the Web.
Much of it is familiar to those who have been paying attention; the marketing of the war, the prominence of war supporters on cable news, the silencing of dissenting voices, the self-censorship, the uncritical stenography of whatever people like Ahmad Chalabi and his defectors had to say, the need to "balance" stories without regard for the truth, the success that pundits who got it totally wrong on the war have had, how the White House would leak stories to the media and then quote those same stories to back up their claims, and on and on. One thing that was new to me was the dogged and determined work by Knight-Ridder (now McClatchy) reporters Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel, who weren't part of the Beltway cocktail party circuit, and thus reported the facts, which were at variance with the Administration's claims.
This program is a document, one that should be watched upon entry into journalism school, one that should be part of the orientation program at every newspaper and cable news outlet across the country. And yet it probably won't be. As Glenn Greenwald writes, with piercing intelligence:
Just consider that, as Moyers notes, there has been no examination by any television news network of the role played by the American media in enabling the Bush administration and its warmonger propagandists to disseminate pure falsehoods to the American public. People like Eric Boehlert have written books about it, and Moyers has now produced a comprehensive PBS program documenting it. But the national media outlets themselves have virtually ignored this entire story -- arguably the most significant political story of the last decade -- because they do not think there is any story here at all.
The fraud that was manufactured by our government officials and endorsed by our media establishment is one of the great political crimes of the last many decades. Yet those who are responsible for it have not been held accountable in the slightest. Quite the contrary, their media prominence -- as Moyers demonstrates -- has only increased, as culpable propagandists and warmongers such as Charles Krauthammer (now of Time and The Washington Post), Bill Kristol (now of Time), Jonah Goldberg (now of The Los Angeles Times, Peter Beinert (now of Time and The Washington Post), and Tom Friedman (revered by media stars everywhere) have all seen their profiles enhanced greatly in our national media.
And while Judy Miller became the scapegoat for the media's failures, most of the media stars responsible for the worst journalistic abuses -- from Michael Gordon to Tim Russert to Fred Hiatt to most of The Washington Post, to say nothing of the Fox stars and cogs of the right-wing noise machine -- continue merrily along as before, with virtually no recognition of fault and no reduction in their platforms.
This remains a tremendous problem for the American media the next time somebody in the White House ramps up the war machine. In a sense, this documentary is a blueprint for how to play the media to your own ends. They've fallen for it before and are unrepentant. They'll most likely fall for it again.
Thank you, Bill Moyers.
UPDATE: Digby's right, this was completely ridiculous:
BILL MOYERS: Was it just a coincidence in your mind that Cheney came on your show and others went on the other Sunday shows, the very morning that that story appeared?
TIM RUSSERT: I don't know. The NEW YORK TIMES is a better judge of that than I am.
BILL MOYERS: No one tipped you that it was going to happen?
TIM RUSSERT: No, no. I mean-
BILL MOYERS: The-- the Cheney-- office didn't make any-- didn't leak to you that there's gonna be a big story?
TIM RUSSERT: No. No. I mean, I don't-- I don't have the-- this is, you know, on MEET THE PRESS, people come on and there are no ground rules. We can ask any question we want. I did not know about the aluminum-tube story until I read it in the NEW YORK TIMES.
BILL MOYERS: Critics point to September eight, 2002 and to your show in particular, as the classic case of how the press and the government became inseparable.
Someone in the administration plants a dramatic story in the NEW YORK TIMES And then the Vice President comes on your show and points to the NEW YORK TIMES. It's a circular, self-confirming leak.
TIM RUSSERT: I don't know how Judith Miller and Michael Gordon reported that story, who their sources were. It was a front-page story of the NEW YORK TIMES. When Secretary Rice and Vice President Cheney and others came up that Sunday morning on all the Sunday shows, they did exactly that.
TIM RUSSERT: What my concern was, is that there were concerns expressed by other government officials. And to this day, I wish my phone had rung, or I had access to them.
But lest you think that Russert is some sort of prima donna who waits for the phone to ring, he later said:
TIM RUSSERT: I-- look, I'm a blue-collar guy from Buffalo. I know who my sources are. I work 'em very hard. It's the mid-level people that tell you the truth. Now-
BILL MOYERS: They're the ones who know the story?
TIM RUSSERT: Well, they're working on the problem. And they understand the detail much better than a lotta the so-called policy makers and-- and-- and political officials.
BILL MOYERS: But they don't get on the Sunday talk shows--
TIM RUSSERT: No. You-- I mean-- they don't want to be, trust me. I mean, they can lose their jobs, and they know it. But they're-- they can provide information which can help in me challenging or trying to draw out-- sometimes their bosses and other public officials.
Tim Russert works his sources by waiting by the phone until it rings.
He's a regular newshound, he is.