Culture of Resistance

Buying the War

April 25, 2007

Four years ago on May 1, President Bush landed on the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln wearing a flight suit and delivered a speech in front of a giant “Mission Accomplished” banner. He was hailed by media stars as a “breathtaking” example of presidential leadership in toppling Saddam Hussein. Despite profound questions over the failure to locate weapons of mass destruction and the increasing violence in Baghdad, many in the press confirmed the White House’s claim that the war was won. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews declared, “We’re all neo-cons now;” NPR’s Bob Edwards said, “The war in Iraq is essentially over;” and Fortune magazine’s Jeff Birnbaum said, “It is amazing how thorough the victory in Iraq really was in the broadest context.”

How did the mainstream press get it so wrong? How did the evidence disputing the existence of weapons of mass destruction and the link between Saddam Hussein to 9-11 continue to go largely unreported? “What the conservative media did was easy to fathom; they had been cheerleaders for the White House from the beginning and were simply continuing to rally the public behind the President — no questions asked. How mainstream journalists suspended skepticism and scrutiny remains an issue of significance that the media has not satisfactorily explored,” says Moyers. “How the administration marketed the war to the American people has been well covered, but critical questions remain: How and why did the press buy it, and what does it say about the role of journalists in helping the public sort out fact from propaganda?”

“Buying the War” includes interviews with Dan Rather, formerly of CBS; Tim Russert of MEET THE PRESS; Bob Simon of 60 MINUTES; Walter Isaacson, former president of CNN; and John Walcott, Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel of Knight Ridder newspapers, which was acquired by The McClatchy Company in 2006.

In “Buying the War” Bill Moyers and producer Kathleen Hughes document the reporting of Walcott, Landay and Strobel, the Knight Ridder team that burrowed deep into the intelligence agencies to try and determine whether there was any evidence for the Bush Administration’s case for war. “Many of the things that were said about Iraq didn’t make sense,” says Walcott. “And that really prompts you to ask, ‘Wait a minute. Is this true? Does everyone agree that this is true? Does anyone think this is not true?’”

In the run-up to war, skepticism was a rarity among journalists inside the Beltway. Journalist Bob Simon of 60 MINUTES, who was based in the Middle East, questioned the reporting he was seeing and reading. “I mean we knew things or suspected things that perhaps the Washington press corps could not suspect. For example, the absurdity of putting up a connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda,” he tells Moyers. “Saddam…was a total control freak. To introduce a wild card like Al Qaeda in any sense was just something he would not do. So I just didn’t believe it for an instant.” The program analyzes the stream of unchecked information from administration sources and Iraqi defectors to the mainstream print and broadcast press, which was then seized upon and amplified by an army of pundits. While almost all the claims would eventually prove to be false, the drumbeat of misinformation about WMDs went virtually unchallenged by the media. THE NEW YORK TIMES reported on Iraq’s “worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb,” but according to Landay, claims by the administration about the possibility of nuclear weapons were highly questionable. Yet, his story citing the “lack of hard evidence of Iraqi weapons” got little play. In fact, throughout the media landscape, stories challenging the official view were often pushed aside while the administration’s claims were given prominence. “From August 2002 until the war was launched in March of 2003 there were about 140 front page pieces in THE WASHINGTON POST making the administration’s case for war,” says Howard Kurtz, the POST’s media critic. “But there was only a handful of stories that ran on the front page that made the opposite case. Or, if not making the opposite case, raised questions.”

“Buying the War” examines the press coverage in the lead-up to the war as evidence of a paradigm shift in the role of journalists in democracy and asks, four years after the invasion, what’s changed? “More and more the media become, I think, common carriers of administration statements and critics of the administration,” says THE WASHINGTON POST’s Walter Pincus. “We’ve sort of given up being independent on our own.”

Posted by
Warlike Parakeet

satanic-capitalist:



The New York Times public editor’s very public utterance
Brisbane’s question on reporters’ duty to challenge misleading political speech has permanently altered readers’ expectations






Clay Shirky

guardian.co.uk, Thursday 12 January 2012 22.32 EST


‘Should the Times be a Truth Vigilante?’ asked Arthur Brisbane. ‘Yes,’ came the resounding reply. Photograph: Lucas Jackson/Reuters


Thursday, Arthur Brisbane, the public editor of the New York Times, went to his readers with a question:

“I’m looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge ‘facts’ that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.”

Brisbane (who, as public editor, speaks only for himself, not the Times) referred to two recent stories: the claim that Clarence Thomas had “misunderstood” a financial reporting form when he left out key information, and Mitt Romney’s assertion that President Obama gives speeches “apologising” for America. Brisbane asked whether news reporters should have the freedom to investigate and respond to those comments.
The reaction from readers was swift, voluminous, negative and incredulous.

“Is this a joke? THIS IS YOUR JOB.”


“If the purpose of the NYT is to be an inoffensive container for ad copy, then by all means continue to do nothing more than paraphrase those press releases.”


“I hope you can help me, Mr Brisbane, because I’m an editor, currently unemployed: is fecklessness now a job requirement?”

Brisbane had clearly not been expecting this excoriating and one-sided a reaction. Brisbane has since tried to clarify his views twice. The first was on the media blog JimRomenesko.com:

“What I was trying to ask was whether reporters should always rebut dubious facts in the body of the stories they are writing. I was hoping for diverse and even nuanced responses to what I think is a difficult question.”

The second was on the NY Times site:

“My inquiry related to whether the Times, in the text of news columns, should more aggressively rebut ‘facts’ that are offered by newsmakers when those ‘facts’ are in question. I consider this a difficult question, not an obvious one.”

This only added fuel to the fire.
 Arthur Brisbane. Photograph: Earl Wilson/New York Times
Now, it’s worth noting that Brisbane’s question makes perfect sense, considered from the newsroom’s perspective. Romney’s claim that Obama makes speeches “apologising” for America isn’t readily amenable to fact-checking. Instead, Romney relied on what are sometimes called “weasel words”, in which an allegation is alluded to, without being made head-on. (Romney, for instance, never quotes any of the president’s speeches when making this assertion.) For Brisbane, the open question was whether a hard news reporter should be calling out those kinds of statements, or should simply quote the source accurately.
This is what was so extraordinary about his original question: he is evidently so steeped in newsroom culture that he does not understand – literally, does not understand, as we know from his subsequent clarifications – that this is not a hard question at all, considered from the readers’ perspective. Readers do not care about the epistemological differences between lies and weasel words; we want newspapers to limit the ability of politicians to make dubious assertions without penalty. Judging from the reactions to his post, most of us never understood that this wasn’t the newspapers’ self-conceived mission in the first place.
If the Times were to commit itself to challenging deliberately vague political language, it would have to express skepticism about some huge percentage of utterances made by public figures. Newspapers, at least in their US configuration, are simply not in the business of broadcasting skepticism about mainstream political speech.
This is partly because centrist publications enjoy more uniform access to politicians than partisan ones (even if the partisanship is simply an intolerance for hogwash). It’s also because treating readers as political participants rather than spectators would be frowned on by advertisers, for whom the relative neutrality of the mainstream press is a prized part of that platform’s value.
The immediate fallout from Brisbane’s question will be minor – no paper in the United States, not even the Times (as its editor partially concedes), has enough staff to express continuous skepticism about political speech – but there may yet be a lasting effect to be reckoned with. Having asked, in a completely innocent way, whether the Times should behave like an advocate for the readers, rather than a stenographer to politicians, the question cannot now be unasked. Every day in which the Times (and indeed, most US papers) fail at what has clearly surfaced as their readers’ preference on the matter will be a day in which that gap remains uncomfortably visible.

satanic-capitalist:

The New York Times public editor’s very public utterance

Brisbane’s question on reporters’ duty to challenge misleading political speech has permanently altered readers’ expectations


‘Should the Times be a Truth Vigilante?’ asked Arthur Brisbane. ‘Yes,’ came the resounding reply. Photograph: Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Thursday, Arthur Brisbane, the public editor of the New York Times, went to his readers with a question:

“I’m looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge ‘facts’ that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.”

Brisbane (who, as public editor, speaks only for himself, not the Times) referred to two recent stories: the claim that Clarence Thomas had “misunderstood” a financial reporting form when he left out key information, and Mitt Romney’s assertion that President Obama gives speeches “apologising” for America. Brisbane asked whether news reporters should have the freedom to investigate and respond to those comments.

The reaction from readers was swift, voluminous, negative and incredulous.

“Is this a joke? THIS IS YOUR JOB.”

“If the purpose of the NYT is to be an inoffensive container for ad copy, then by all means continue to do nothing more than paraphrase those press releases.”

“I hope you can help me, Mr Brisbane, because I’m an editor, currently unemployed: is fecklessness now a job requirement?”

Brisbane had clearly not been expecting this excoriating and one-sided a reaction. Brisbane has since tried to clarify his views twice. The first was on the media blog JimRomenesko.com:

“What I was trying to ask was whether reporters should always rebut dubious facts in the body of the stories they are writing. I was hoping for diverse and even nuanced responses to what I think is a difficult question.”

The second was on the NY Times site:

“My inquiry related to whether the Times, in the text of news columns, should more aggressively rebut ‘facts’ that are offered by newsmakers when those ‘facts’ are in question. I consider this a difficult question, not an obvious one.”

This only added fuel to the fire.

Arthur Brisbane Arthur Brisbane. Photograph: Earl Wilson/New York Times

Now, it’s worth noting that Brisbane’s question makes perfect sense, considered from the newsroom’s perspective. Romney’s claim that Obama makes speeches “apologising” for America isn’t readily amenable to fact-checking. Instead, Romney relied on what are sometimes called “weasel words”, in which an allegation is alluded to, without being made head-on. (Romney, for instance, never quotes any of the president’s speeches when making this assertion.) For Brisbane, the open question was whether a hard news reporter should be calling out those kinds of statements, or should simply quote the source accurately.

This is what was so extraordinary about his original question: he is evidently so steeped in newsroom culture that he does not understand – literally, does not understand, as we know from his subsequent clarifications – that this is not a hard question at all, considered from the readers’ perspective. Readers do not care about the epistemological differences between lies and weasel words; we want newspapers to limit the ability of politicians to make dubious assertions without penalty. Judging from the reactions to his post, most of us never understood that this wasn’t the newspapers’ self-conceived mission in the first place.

If the Times were to commit itself to challenging deliberately vague political language, it would have to express skepticism about some huge percentage of utterances made by public figures. Newspapers, at least in their US configuration, are simply not in the business of broadcasting skepticism about mainstream political speech.

This is partly because centrist publications enjoy more uniform access to politicians than partisan ones (even if the partisanship is simply an intolerance for hogwash). It’s also because treating readers as political participants rather than spectators would be frowned on by advertisers, for whom the relative neutrality of the mainstream press is a prized part of that platform’s value.

The immediate fallout from Brisbane’s question will be minor – no paper in the United States, not even the Times (as its editor partially concedes), has enough staff to express continuous skepticism about political speech – but there may yet be a lasting effect to be reckoned with. Having asked, in a completely innocent way, whether the Times should behave like an advocate for the readers, rather than a stenographer to politicians, the question cannot now be unasked. Every day in which the Times (and indeed, most US papers) fail at what has clearly surfaced as their readers’ preference on the matter will be a day in which that gap remains uncomfortably visible.

Posted by
Warlike Parakeet