Smarmy Alligator

Politics, pop culture, and self-deprecation

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Media treatment of the Bush administration has been on my mind lately (blame Al Franken), so I found this Columbia Journalism Review article pretty interesting. Chris Mooney examines the way six American newspapers editorialized Bush’s reasons for going to war in Iraq, and asks why there was so little skepticism regarding his claims of Iraq’s nuclear programs and “imminent threats.”

In discussing Powell’s speech to the UN Security Council justifying a U.S. preemptive attack, Mooney writes:

…without appearing to weigh such contrary evidence, the U.S. papers all essentially pronounced Powell right, though they couldn’t possibly know for sure that he was. In short, they trusted him. And in so doing, they failed to bring even an elementary skepticism to the Bush case for war.

Why did the papers trust and defer? For most of them, notes Todd Gitlin, a Columbia journalism professor, “the default position seems to have been that the administration was well meaning — and that there was a tight logical connection between admirable purpose and clear fact.” Gitlin thinks the papers should have known otherwise at least from the time, in mid-2002, when it became clear that central players in the administration like Vice President Dick Cheney were devoted to war no matter what — and advocated proceeding without even bothering to win United Nations approval.

As a group, the papers failed to exercise skepticism at this exacting a level. It’s not that they should have magically intuited that Iraq didn’t have any weapons at all. They simply should have demanded more proof that they could verify with their own eyes.

In large part, I think this is the problem with media handling of the Bush administration in general. Too much blind faith, too little doubt. And perhaps, in this age of neo-McCarthyism, too much fear of appearing to attack a “war president.”

Newspapers are supposed to be our watchdogs. At least, I always assumed that was their most significant role. Journalists are supposed to research, ask questions, blow whistles and ring bells and notify the American people when things are not quite right. So why are they all laying down and begging like good little doggies?

This column from the New Yorker helps explain it a little bit, although the article by Auletta that they refer to is much better. I can’t find it online (curses!), but it’s worth tracking down.

I think I’m going to go read Al Franken. At least that makes me laugh.

now playing: Radiohead, “Hail to the Thief” (the title of which always makes me think of our esteemed president)


Written by laura k

March 5, 2004 at 3:51 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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