Happy Birthday Iraq War: Four Years In, Have the Media Learned Anything?
It was a bold headline, advanced by the new, in-your-face CBS Evening News with Katie Couric: It is "only a matter of time" before U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales loses his job in the scandal over the firing of eight prosecutors.
What a difference four years can make. Back then, it seemed the Bush administration could do little wrong, bathed in the glow of 9/11 and the power of the perception that Republicans were efficient, effective and vengeful. Now, more news outlets than ever are calling for a pullout from Iraq in the wake of increasing violence.
I think pundits tend to overemphasize the complicity of the press from this time. There were voices speaking out against war even as troops advanced to Bagdad.
But major news outlets, swayed by the Bush administration's certainty and fears of looking unpatriotic, jumped into embedded positions with U.S. military units and got swept along in the frenzy (one study noted less than 1 percent of voices on nertwork news shows advanced anti-war ideas in February 2003 before the war). And one journalist, former MSNBC star Ashleigh Banfield, saw her career stalled after complaining about "horrors that were completely left out of (war news coverage)."
Even the Washington Post has apologized for it's editorials cheerleading the drive into war with Iraq.
Here's a few choice quotes from that time, courtesy of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting:
"Tommy Franks and the coalition forces have demonstrated the old axiom that boldness on the battlefield produces swift and relatively bloodless victory. The three-week swing through Iraq has utterly shattered skeptics' complaints."
(Fox News Channel's Tony Snow, 4/13/03)
"Chris, more than anything else, real vindication for the administration. One, credible evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Two, you know what? There were a lot of terrorists here, really bad guys. I saw them."
(MSNBC reporter Bob Arnot, 4/9/03)
"Congress returns to Washington this week to a world very different from the one members left two weeks ago. The war in Iraq is essentially over and domestic issues are regaining attention."
(NPR's Bob Edwards, 4/28/03)
"What's he going to talk about a year from now, the fact that the war went too well and it's over? I mean, don't these things sort of lose their--Isn't there a fresh date on some of these debate points?"
(MSNBC's Chris Matthews, speaking about Howard Dean--4/9/03)
And It's Getting Worse....
I did a story some time ago about efforts to keep track of the war dead in iraq, a process made more difficult initially by the U.S. government's unwillingness to keep a tally of civilian dead. One of the Web sites I wrote about, Iraq Body Count, has now released its own analysis of the last year's conflict, concluding the past year is the most deadly ever.
On every available indicator the year just ended (March 2006 – March
2007) has been by far the worst year for violence against civilians in
Iraq since the invasion:
- almost half (44%) of all violent civilian deaths after the initial
invasion phase occurred in the just-ended fourth year of the conflict
- mortar attacks that kill civilians have quadrupled in the last year
(from 73 to 289)
- massive bomb blasts that kill more than 50 people have nearly
doubled in the last year (from 9 to 17)
- fatal suicide bombs, car bombs, and roadside bombing attacks have
doubled in the last year (from 712 to 1476)
- one in 160 of Baghdad's 6.5 million population has been violently
killed since the beginning of the war, representing 64% of deaths
recorded so far.