Mass Media Failed US
Public On Iraq

By John Nichols
The Capital Times
ATHENS, Greece -- It was one of those sad "coincidences" that speak volumes about the tragic state of American journalism.
On the same day that The New York Times acknowledged its analysis of claims by the Bush administration and Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction "was not as rigorous as it should have been," I was in Greece to deliver a keynote address to the congress of the International Federation of Journalists.
The theme of my address was warning other countries that they must avoid the sort of consolidation of media ownership that has led to a collapse of serious journalism in the United States. I used as an example the failure of major media in the United States to challenge the absurd claims of the Bush administration regarding Iraq.
Long before The New York Times chose to admit that its own editors should have displayed "more skepticism" before the war began, serious journalists in the United States and abroad recognized that most of America's major media had failed to provide the American people with an honest, let alone minimally useful, assessment of Bush administration claims regarding the supposed threat posed by Iraq.
It is important to remember that, at the same time The New York Times, The Washington Post and television network news programs were cheerleading the country toward war, European print and broadcast outlets were questioning President Bush's outrageous exaggerations and outright lies.
In the United States, magazines such as The Nation, The Progressive and In These Times; national radio programs such as Amy Goodman's "Democracy Now"; and newspapers such as The Village Voice in New York and The Capital Times - perhaps the last skeptical daily newspaper in America - refused to accept administration claims at face value.
But most U.S. media were atrociously irresponsible when it came to covering not just the rush to war with Iraq but the misguided and exceptionally dangerous approach of the current administration to the world in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Let's be clear: Major media in the United States have never been perfect. But as media ownership has become increasingly consolidated and profit-driven, it has lost touch with basic journalistic principles. Commercial and entertainment values have increasingly come to supersede the democratic and civic values that should guide decisions about how to cover the major events of the day.
This has been most evident in the period since 9/11.
Years of ever-diminishing foreign coverage had left Americans ill-prepared for the events of that day and their aftermath. People did not know the basics about countries that the United States was suddenly preparing to invade.
Instead of filling the void with serious, skeptical journalism, most newspapers and television news programs provided jingoistic and nationalistic coverage in the aftermath of the attacks. They echoed the administration's simplistic "good versus evil" calculations, which served the interests of the neoconservatives in the White House who wanted to wage expansionist wars.
Too many journalists, under pressure to appear "patriotic," practiced stenography to power - repeating administration pronouncements without serious questioning or analysis.
This collapse of journalistic standards undermined needed debate in the United States, allowing the administration to "sell" a war plan that Americans are now coming to understand was based on fantasy and whim rather than facts and necessity.
Copyright 2003 The Capital Times



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