The Daily Brew

Thursday, March 13, 2003:

The Consequences of Failure
(c) March 13, 2003
The Daily Brew

Last night, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh denounced the Bush administration's approach to Iraq while accepting the Goldsmith Career Award for Excellence in Journalism at the Kennedy School of Government. Mr. Hersh began his acceptance speech by discussing the difficulties today's reporters face, especially in Washington. "I have never seen my peers as frightened as they are now" commented Mr. Hersh, who was recently described as a "terrorist" by Senior White House advisor Richard Perle. Mr. Hersh also spoke of his own frustration with the Bush administration. "There is no real standard of integrity because the White House doesn't have any," he said.

While Mr. Hersh's observation that the White House is deliberately intimidating the Washington press may be correct, it is disingenuous at best to blame President Bush for the White House's success in this effort. The catastrophic failure of our national press corps began well before Mr. Bush assumed office, at a time when American journalists were free to critique Mr. Bush with little fear of retribution.

During the Presidential campaign of 2000, journalists had the ability to compare Bush's mendacious campaign sloganeering with his record as the governor of Texas with little to fear from the White House. They did not, and Mr. Bush was able to convince a large segment of the American public that he was somehow qualified to be the President. The press was then free to point out the breathtaking and criminal tactics Mr. Bush's campaign used to steal the Presidential election in Florida. They did not, and the American public was sufficiently lethargic to embolden the Supreme Court to sweep these tactics under the rug and install Mr. Bush into office. Early in Mr. Bush's term, the press was again free to point out the easily predictable disaster that would result were Mr. Bush's tax proposals written into law. Again, the press took a pass, and since that time millions of Americans have lost their jobs and slipped into poverty. Perhaps most catastrophically, the press was free to point out that Saddam Hussein had nothing whatsoever to do with the attacks of September 11, and that White House assertions to the contrary where a most odious form of political sleight of hand. The press again failed to make the public aware of these basic facts, and as a result, our democracy stands poised to embark on a war of aggression in violation of both international law and the wishes of virtually the entire world community.

The significance of these failures cannot be overstated. Opinion polls conclusively demonstrate that the American public is fundamentally misinformed about key facts that have driven the Iraq debate. It is these misconceptions that are allowing the Bush administration to pursue a foreign policy that is decidedly not in our national security interests. One can only wonder if support for the war would fall to levels seen in our NATO allies (levels that would make the attack political suicide) were Americans made aware of the same stories that have received widespread attention in the foreign press. Would the American public support the war if they were aware that, contrary to Mr. Bush's assertions, Iraq and al Qaeda are essentially enemies? Would the American public support the war if they were aware that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were originally provided by the American military? Would the American public support the war if they were aware that the Bush administration had grossly overstating Iraq's military capabilities and the threat posed by Iraq to American interests? Would the American public support the war if they were aware that the White House was spying on UN counsel members in an attempt to influence their votes? Would the American public support the war if they were aware that Dick Cheney's former employer Halliburton, which still pays him a million dollars a year pension, is all but certain to reap hundreds of millions of dollars in the conflict and its aftermath?

We will never know the answer to these questions, because the press has never informed the American public of these and other key facts. The British press, on the other hand, has informed its public, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair is perilously close to losing his job as a result. One can only wonder if Mr. Bush would suffer a similar fate were Mr. Hersh and his colleagues to finally stand up to the intimidation emanating from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. One thing is certain. Whatever retribution the press might receive pales in comparison to the price that will be paid by American servicemen, Iraqi citizens, and America's stature in the world for their failures. It is long past time for a little courage, men and women of the press.

Common Sense // 11:20 AM

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