The Fourth Estate fails us

The good stuff always happens when I go on vacation. I go to Europe for a couple weeks, and the Washingtonienne thing breaks. And last week, as I opened the Post on my plane to Las Vegas, I was treated to Howard Kurtz' big article about the paper of record's perceived failings in covering doubts about Iraq WMDs in the run-up to the war.

I was wondering if they were ever going to get around to this, after the New York Times' self-flogging on the same issue a few months back. From the moment I read the first stories about Bush floating the possibility of war with Iraq, my reaction was the same: "Where did this come from?" The objections of the U.N. and our (former?) allies in Europe and elsewhere suggested that a bloody invasion was potentially not the best approach to Iraq. Bush and his crew had a number of possible ulterior motives for a war and for removing Saddam, but lacked real evidence of a threat. Rumors and falsehoods were floated in the front-page stories run by the Post... so that now, we have nobody to hold accountable for lying or exaggerating. The Post buried objections deep inside the paper, including stories by Walter Pincus focusing on WMD non-believers

I pretty much knew all that stuff already; the Post basically fellated the President and helped give him his war. For whatever reason, they chose to validate administration claims by focusing heavily on them and not detractors. But it's that quote from executive editor Leonard Downie at the very end of the story that infuriated me the most.

"People who were opposed to the war from the beginning and have been critical of the media's coverage in the period before the war have this belief that somehow the media should have crusaded against the war," [Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr.] said. "They have the mistaken impression that somehow if the media's coverage had been different, there wouldn't have been a war."
How do you know?

We're not just talking about the general "media" here. We're talking about the Washington Post; the political paper of record that famously brought down Nixon. Important, powerful people (with the obvious exception of the President) read it faithfully every day. People take it seriously, and rightfully so. That's why dropping the ball on WMDs is such a heartbreaker; it, essentially, helped enable an unnecessary war that has claimed untold thousands of lives and injured countless more. I'm glad he admits underplaying the detraction angle, but I think it's more serious than he seems to think it is. The Post is supposed to be our vanguard against exactly the kind of behavior we have seen out of the Bush administration: an unmitigated abuse of power.

I don't want the editors making excuses to me and suggesting that their coverage wouldn't have changed anything. I want them to lie awake at night, wondering if covering detraction better and asking more questions could have saved thousands of lives. I want them to feel the isolation and desperation I felt in 2002-03 as I watched Washington and the rest of the country buy into madness.

I want them to question what the administration says. I want them to ignore conservative critics who consider any factual coverage that happens to be contrary to the will of the Bush administration to be a liberal bias. (This series appears to be a step in the right direction.) I want them to remember that they work for the American people, and not just for those who happen to be super-powerful.

I want them to question whether they have blood on their hands.

Then, I want them to get back to work.

No comments:

Post a Comment