On the tenth anniversary of the American-led invasion of Iraq, Media Matters looks back at the work of some of the media's most prominent pro-war voices. Instead of facing consequences for backing the invasion based on information that turned out to be false and criticizing war opponents, many of these media figures continue to hold positions of influence and continue to provide foreign policy reporting and commentary.
MSNBC's Morning Joe selectively edited comments Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) gave in 2002 to assert that she was "beating the drums of war" in the run up to the Iraq war, but the highlighted comments come from a speech in which Pelosi urged Congress to vote against authorizing the use of force in Iraq.
During Morning Joe's coverage of the 10-year anniversary of the Iraq war, co-host Mika Brzezinski introduced a prepared video montage on how "it was a lot easier for some members of Congress to support the conflict before they were against it." Co-host Joe Scarborough provided the voice-over in the video, and claimed it showed how "the very same people who spent years beating up George Bush were the very ones beating the drum for Iraq's regime change and Saddam Hussein's ouster."
The video juxtaposes comments made by members of Congress purportedly "beating the drum for Iraq's regime change," against later comments by the same members of Congress criticizing President Bush over the war. One of the voices Scarborough highlights is Pelosi, shown in the video saying:
I applaud the President on focusing on this issue and on taking the lead to disarm Saddam Hussein.
But contrary to what Morning Joe implied, these comments come from a floor speech Pelosi gave in 2002 opposing the Iraq war, arguing that it would weaken the country by diverting resources from the war on terror (portion MSNBC aired in bold):
I come to this debate, Mr. Speaker, at the end of 10 years of service on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, where stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction was one of my top priorities. I applaud the President's focusing on this issue, and on taking the lead to disarm Saddam Hussein.
It is from the perspective of 10 years on the Intelligence Committee that I rise in opposition to this resolution on national security grounds. The clear and present danger that our country faces is terrorism. I say flat out that unilateral use of force without first exhausting every diplomatic remedy and other remedies and making a case to the American people will be harmful to our war on terrorism.
Pelosi concluded her speech by urging her House colleagues to vote "No" on the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq, as she did.
UPDATE: On the March 20th edition of Morning Joe, the hosts issued a correction and apologized for the mistake, showing the clip of Rep. Pelosi in full context and acknowledging her opposition to authorizing the use of force in Iraq in 2002.
Fox News anchor Jon Scott let the media off the hook for their unskeptical coverage leading up to the invasion of Iraq ten years ago.
Former Meet The Press moderator Marvin Kalb, appearing on Scott's program, Happening Now, had excoriated the media earlier in the show for failing to critically examine the Bush administration's claims that Saddam Hussein had possessed weapons of mass destruction. Numerous media observers have pointed out that while some journalists pointed out at the time the flaws in the administration's case for war, the media at large did not question its claims.
But Jon Scott, who also hosts Fox News' weekly media criticism show Fox News Watch, disputed Kalb's claim that the media were complacent in the lead-up to the war. Pointing out that intelligence officials had said that Iraq possessed WMD, Scott asked, "How much more skeptical was the press supposed to be?"
Kalb replied by pointing out that Scott was "setting up the Bush administration's case," and explained that it was the media's responsibility to "stand up and say 'let's think about this before we march into war."
Broadcast and cable news networks have largely ignored a new report which concluded that the United States' rebuilding efforts in Iraq squandered billions of dollars due to widespread fraud, abuse, and waste.
Last week, Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, released a report concluding that of the $60 billion the U.S. has spent on reconstruction projects in Iraq following the 2003 invasion, at least $8 billion of it was "wasted."
In the five days since its release, only PBS and MSNBC have offered substantial coverage of the report.
NBC, ABC, and CBS have all ignored it during their evening newscasts (though it warranted passing mention on NBC's Today, the other networks' morning news programs also ignored the findings). Fox News' Bret Baier gave the story less than twenty seconds of coverage during Special Report.
CNN has completely ignored the report.
Though NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox News, and CNN have devoted a combined thirty five seconds to the story, PBS and MSNBC have each spent more than ten minutes discussing the report and its conclusions.
Perpetually fuming about President Obama, Sean Hannity widened his rant Wednesday night on Fox News and condemned the "lapdog, kiss ass media" that allegedly lets Obama have his way. Echoing the same attack, Karl Rove wrote in the Wall Street Journal this week that "Mr. Obama is a once-in-a-generation demagogue with a compliant press corps," while the anti-Obama Daily Caller pushed the headline, "Lapdog Media Seeking Lap To Lie In."
Complaining about the "liberal media," has been a running, four-decade story for conservative activists. But what we're hearing more of lately is the specific allegation that the press has purposefully laid down for the Democratic president, and that it's all part of a master media plan to help Democrats foil Republicans.
The rolling accusation caught my attention since I wrote a book called Lapdogs, which documented the Beltway media's chronic timidity during the previous Republican administration, and particularly with regards to the Iraq War. I found it curious that Hannity and friends are now trying to turn the rhetorical tables with a Democrat in the White House, and I was interested in what proof they had to lodge that accusation against today's press.
It turns out the evidence is quite thin. For instance, one never-ending partisan cry has been the press has "ignored" the terrorist attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi last year; that they're protecting Obama. Yet the New York Times and Washington Post have published nearly 800 articles and columns mentioning Benghazi since last September, according to Nexis.
What the lapdog allegation really seems to revolve around is the fact that conservatives are angry that Obama remains popular with the public. Rather than acknowledge that reality, partisans increasingly blame the press and insist if only reporters and pundits would tell 'the truth' about Obama, then voters would truly understand how he's out to destroy liberty and freedom and capitalism.
Sorry, but that's not what constitutes a lapdog press corps. And to confuse chronic partisan whining with authentic media criticism is a mistake. The Hannity-led claim also isn't accurate. Studies have shown that during long stretches of his first term, Obama was hammered with "unrelentingly negative" press coverage.
By contrast, the lapdog era of the Bush years represented nothing short of an institutional collapse of the American newsroom. And it was one that, given the media's integral role in helping to sell the Iraq War, did grave damage to our democracy.
It is just over one week since Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma read Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel four questions suggested to him by Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin during Hagel's confirmation hearing. The substance of the questions Inhofe delivered to Hagel in the Senate chamber -- a typical Rubin laundry list of neoconservative wisdom gleaned from her January 28 post titled, "Our Dimwitted State Department" -- was quickly overshadowed by the public reaction of Post senior correspondent and associate editor Rajiv Chandrasekaran. When Inhofe described Rubin's post as "kind of an interesting article," Chandrasekaran shot off an angry tweet. "I hate it when senators refer to WP opinion blogger posts as articles," he growled. "@JRubinBlogger is NOT a WaPo reporter."
That he's right is a fortunate thing for the Post. If the daily employed Rubin to cover national security and international affairs, they'd have a bit of a Judith Miller problem. Since the Post hired Rubin in late 2010, she has routinely embarrassed the paper by putting bylines on Romney campaign press releases; endorsing blood-thirsty calls for revenge against Palestinians; and successfully experimenting with the manufacture of durable conservative fantasy narratives.
Chandrasekaran likely isn't the only Post editor displeased with Rubin's frequent assaults on the standards and reputation of his newspaper. But among Post brass, it seems right he'd be the one with the shortest fuse (he has not responded to repeated requests to discuss the tweet). Chandrasekaran spent much of the last decade reporting for the paper from the Middle East, including stints in Egypt, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. He was a key part of the Post's widely praised all-star coverage of the Iraq war and occupation, serving as Baghdad bureau chief in 2003 and 2004.
While the Post failed its readers in many ways during the selling of the war, its coverage from Iraq was often unmatched. Chandrasekaran's reporting colleagues during those years included Steve Coll, Anthony Shadid, and Tom Ricks, who together wrote much of the first draft of the sordid history of the Bush administration's refusal to plan for the aftermath in Iraq and the widespread suffering that resulted.
Chandrasekaran's lasting contribution to this history is his book about Year One of the occupation, Imperial Life in the Emerald City, a close examination of the ideology, corruption and incompetence that the Bush White House exported wholesale to the Green Zone. During his time in Iraq, Chandrasekaran lost a few close friends to the chaos and the violence.
All of which is to say that Chandrasekaran has a deeper understanding than Rubin of post-Saddam Iraq and the consequences of neoconservative ideology. And it is this -- not simply concern for the blurring categories of journalism in the Internet age -- that may explain the editor's Twitter rage that caught so many off-guard. It must not be easy to write a damning expose of the biggest foreign policy disaster in memory, then watch the arrival of a colleague who began writing only recently "as a lark" and who from the comfort of Northern Virginia whines about the U.S. drawdown in Iraq, attacks anyone who dared question or criticize the Bush/Cheney leadership, and asks with a straight face, "How much did the emergence of a democratic Iraq have to do with this popular revolt in Tunisia?"
The Five co-host Eric Bolling apparently thinks that the United States invaded Iraq because Saddam Hussein "financed" the 9/11 terror attacks. This is blatantly false. The link between Hussein and September 11 has been long-since debunked by numerous investigative bodies, including the 9/11 Commission, which discovered "no credible evidence" that Iraq was involved in the attacks.
In a January 11 post on Twitter, Bolling linked to a Huffington Post article highlighting comments he made on The Five on January 9, in which he accused children's book publisher Scholastic of "pushing a liberal agenda." According to Bolling, liberal bias can be found in children's history textbooks that include "very liberally biased" arguments such as: "George Bush went in [Iraq] because he heard there were weapons of mass destruction and they were never found."
Responding to the Huffington Post, Bolling wrote: "We (America) 'went into' Iraq because radical Islamists killed 3k of ours+Saddam financed."
From the January 9 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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For the second straight year, The O'Reilly Factor has devoted more than three times as much airtime to the manufactured "War on Christmas" than to actual military conflicts.
Fox is attempting to rehabilitate bad intelligence from the Bush administration in order to keep up its smear campaign against UN Ambassador Susan Rice. Fox host Brian Kilmeade claimed that the Bush team's assertion before the Iraq war that Saddam Hussein was still pursuing nuclear weapons was "correct," even though the Iraq Survey Group's final report found "no evidence to suggest concerted efforts to restart the program" after 1991.
Fox News has attempted to smear the UN Ambassador for its imagined view of what she said on several news programs days after the attack on U.S. diplomatic and intelligence compounds in Benghazi, Libya. Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade called Rice "an embarrassment" and co-host Steve Doocy called her "damaged goods," even though in her comments Rice stressed that the investigation was ongoing and accurately conveyed the view of the intelligence community at the time.
On Friday, Fox & Friends continued to criticize the Obama administration's handling and explanation of the Benghazi attack. Kilmeade then attempted to rehab the Bush administration's claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was still pursuing a nuclear weapons program:
BRIAN KILMEADE (co-host): [T]he last thing I would say, the other talking point from the administration put out through the media is, well what about Condoleezza Rice, who talked about weapons of mass destruction and still got to be Secretary of State, when there were no known weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? And the answer to that is simple -- about 80 percent of the Western world and the Middle East from Egypt to Jordan thought he had weapons of mass destruction. All the evidence was there. He actually was caught with them. And there is evidence that Saddam Hussein was reconstituting his nuclear program. So everything turned out to be correct. You had the world, and an eight-month investigation, and a report that was out. That's a lot different than what Ambassador Rice was either given or said.
But Kilmeade's claims are wrong. In 2004, the Special Advisor to the Director of Central Intelligence released a final report on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The Iraq Survey Group, as it was known, found that Iraq "ended the nuclear program in 1991 following the Gulf war. ISG found no evidence to suggest concerted efforts to restart the program."
To help recap and analyze last night's presidential debate, Fox News' America's Newsroom trotted out a string of former Bush administration officials -- including Donald Rumsfeld and John Bolton -- to pile accolades on Mitt Romney's performance and attack President Obama. The Bush veterans were joined by several conservative commentators, Romney surrogates, and the occasional Democrat.
Below is the list of non-reporter guests America's Newsroom featured this morning to comment on the debate, in order of appearance.
John Bolton: Romney foreign policy advisor, George W. Bush's ambassador to the United Nations, and advocate of bombing Iran.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH): Office of Management and Budget director under George W. Bush, Romney surrogate, and Romney's debate coach.
Donald Rumsfeld: Secretary of Defense under George W. Bush who praised Romney's "terrific" speech at the Virginia Military Institute earlier this month.
Gen. Wesley Clark: Former Democratic candidate for president and Obama campaign advisor.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO): Romney surrogate.
Bob Beckel: Democratic strategist and Fox News host.
Andrea Tantaros: Republican strategist and Fox News host.
From the October 10 edition of Fox News' Happening Now:
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From the April 25 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Fox Business announced last week that it is ending its current prime-time lineup, meaning that Eric Bolling's show Follow the Money will soon reach its conclusion. On Monday, perhaps in anticipation of the end, Bolling delivered in one three-minute period a stream of the casual slander and glib repetition of falsehoods that have defined the program.
Bolling began by suggesting that President Obama is a traitor. Bolling said, "President Obama, when he was campaigner Obama, Senator Obama, said the debt increase under President Bush was, quote, 'unpatriotic.' In three years, he's exceeded eight years' worth of Bush debt, meaning President Obama. So if Bush was unpatriotic, can't we kind of conclude that President Obama is treasonous?"
His guest, Fox News political analyst Kirsten Powers, declined to participate in his "name-calling" and said that President Bush had spent money with "no clear purpose," using the Iraq war as an example.