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Pols and pundits

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Politicians were not the only people who foolishly misread the situation in Iraq, though that’s the way the press likes to tell it. Nobody’s more thin-skinned, more reluctant to admit error, than the media. Pundits stay in business because no one can remember what they wrote earlier – including the pundits themselves, generally.

In February of 2003, Colin Powell, then the secretary of state, spoke before the United Nations, seeking support for an invasion of Iraq. He alleged, among other things, that the Bush administration had discovered Iraq’s possession of the now-famous, and fictional, “weapons of mass destruction.” The speech and the WMD claims have since been thoroughly debunked, though. Powell probably believed what he said, deceived by his own superiors.

Powell’s presentation overwhelmed American newspapers. Before the speech, some of America’s larger papers had been wary of war in Iraq. After, they were shoving for space on the bandwagon.

Four years later, Editor and Publisher, a journal of the newspaper business, has reminded us of the press’s lack of discernment. A Washington Post editorial of the time opined, “After Secretary of State Colin L. Powell’s presentation to the United Nations Security Council yesterday, it is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction …” The Miami Herald praised Powell for laying a solid foundation for war. (Wouldn’t it be more praiseworthy to lay a solid foundation for peace?) Newspapers that had previously supported UN weapons inspectors, such as the Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J., now dismissed their effectiveness.

“Many pundits also were persuaded by Powell,” E&P says. “These included liberals at the Washington Post.” Columnist Richard Cohen, who’s not really a liberal but poses as one, wrote that Powell’s evidence “had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn’t accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them.” Mary McGrory, a lapsed liberal, pitched in. “I can only say that he [Powell] persuaded me, and I was as tough as France to convince.” Well, not quite as tough as France, or Vic Snyder either.

Representative Snyder voted against Bush’s war. Most members of Congress, including the other five Arkansans, condoned it. Four of those five now acknowledge they were gulled. As Rep. Mike Ross told the House last week, “At worst, the president misled us, and at best, our intelligence failed us.”

It was the worst, most likely. But the tangled web Bush wove is being untangled, he and his journalistic co-conspirators exposed. Congress is finally doing its job in regard to Iraq, and the Arkansas members are part of the effort. Except the one, still putting party loyalty above the national interest, still as unrepentant as a newspaper columnist.

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