Fox News Astoundingly Claims The Press Was Tough On Bush In Lead-Up To Iraq


In a segment that shows that Fox News may actually inhabit Bizarro World, Fox & Friends' Brian Kilmeade hosted Media Research Center executive director L. Brent Bozell to claim that President Obama "seems to be getting a free pass from most media outlets" for some of his decisions on Libya, while President Bush got "anything but a free pass" in the lead-up to the Iraq war.

If Kilmeade and Bozell are to be believed, in the lead up to the Iraq war the media reported critically about the Bush administration's claims, providing us with a variety of viewpoints on the issue and legitimately debating the administration's case for going to war. If only we were so lucky. In reality, the media acted as Bush's lapdogs, eagerly parroting every dubious claim the Bush administration made about Iraq and shouting down the few who dared to disagree. So bad was the media's coverage of Iraq, many major media outlets have since issued apologies for their complete and total failure to investigate any of the claims made by the Bush administration.

For instance, as Dan Froomkin has documented:

In May 2004, the editors of the New York Times acknowledged:

[W]e have found a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been. In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged. Looking back, we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged -- or failed to emerge.

In August 2004, Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz examined his own paper's coverage, and concluded:

An examination of the paper's coverage, and interviews with more than a dozen of the editors and reporters involved, shows that The Post published a number of pieces challenging the White House, but rarely on the front page. Some reporters who were lobbying for greater prominence for stories that questioned the administration's evidence complained to senior editors who, in the view of those reporters, were unenthusiastic about such pieces. The result was coverage that, despite flashes of groundbreaking reporting, in hindsight looks strikingly one-sided at times.

Michael Massing ruthlessly dissected the press's failures in February 2004 in the New York Review of Books:

Beginning in the summer of 2002, the "intelligence community" was rent by bitter disputes over how Bush officials were using the data on Iraq. Many journalists knew about this, yet few chose to write about it....

The nearer the war drew, and the more determined the administration seemed to wage it, the less editors were willing to ask tough questions. The occasional critical stories that did appear were... tucked well out of sight.

In his book, "Now They Tell Us," Massing writes that journalists were far too reliant on sources sympathetic to the administration and that those with dissenting views were shut out. As a result, coverage was highly deferential to the White House. At his publisher explains, Massing's "detailed analysis demonstrates, pre-war journalism was also deeply flawed, as too many reporters failed to independently evaluate administration claims about Saddam's weapons programs or the inspection process."

Even Scott McClellan -- Bush's former press secretary -- has said that "the media ... serve[d] as complicit enablers" in the Bush administration's "carefully-orchestrated campaign to shape and manipulate sources of public approval." From his book, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception:

In the fall of 2002, Bush and his White house were engaging in a carefully-orchestrated campaign to shape and manipulate sources of public approval to our advantage. We'd done much the same on other issues--tax cuts and education--to great success. But war with Iraq was different. Beyond the irreversible human costs and substantial financial price, the decision to go to war and the way we went about selling it would ultimately lead to increased polarization and intensified partisan warfare. Our lack of candor and honesty in making the case for war would later provoke a partisan response from our opponents that, in its own way, further distorted and obscured a more nuanced reality. Another cycle of deception would cloud the public's ability to see larger, underlying important truths that are critical to understand in order to avoid the same problems in the future.

And through it all, the media would serve as complicit enablers. Their primary focus would be on covering the campaign to sell the war, rather than aggressively questioning the rationale for war or pursuing the truth behind it... the media would neglect their watchdog role, focusing less on truth and accuracy and more on whether the campaign was succeeding. Was the president winning or losing the argument? How were Democrats responding? What were the electoral implications? What did the polls say? And the truth--about the actual nature of the threat posed by Saddam, the right way to confront it, and the possible risks of military conflict--would get largely left behind.

Oh -- and regarding The New York Times' 2004 mea culpa mentioned above, as Slate's Eric Umansky pointed out, "Of the 12 flawed stories the Times cites, Judith Miller wrote or co-wrote ...10 of them." Miller was subsequently fired from the Times. Where is she currently employed? Fox News.

If this weren't bad enough, Bozell then furthered his claims of a media double standard by repeatedly trying to suggest that the media were opposed to Iraq, despite the fact that Bush had "twice the coalition" than Obama has in Libya. Except, Bush didn't have the support of the United Nations. Or the Arab League. Or the African Union. Obama does. As Juan Cole points out in his "Top Ten Ways that Libya 2011 is Not Iraq 2003" list: "By the UN Charter, military action after 1945 should either come as self-defense or with UNSC authorization. Most countries in the world are signatories to the charter and bound by its provisions." This was most certainly not the case in Iraq and one of many big reasons why the current situation in Libya and the situation in Iraq are not comparable.

Furthermore, during the segment, Fox News also took Bush's "bare-knuckled political power-play" to force Congress to vote on using force in Iraq less than a month before the 2002 elections and somehow turned it into evidence of media bias. A Fox caption claimed: "Media pushed Bush admin; pressured for congressional approval for Iraq."

Fox & Friends screen shot

In fact, according to former Bush White House chief of staff Andy Card, it was the White House that was pushing for a vote on the Iraq resolution in October 2002, shortly before the 2002 election, even as then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) was asking the White House to delay the vote "so we could depoliticize it." From the November 30, 2007, edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe (via ThinkProgress):

SCARBOROUGH: We have to start with something that we all are talking about a couple of days ago where Karl Rove went on Charlie Rose and he blamed the Democrats for pushing him and the president into war. Is that how it worked?

CARD: No, that's not the way it worked.

SCARBOROUGH: What the heck? Seriously, what the hell was that about?

CARD: Democrats pushed us a lot of stupid things, but they didn't push us into war.

SCARBOROUGH: Yeah, yeah. You worked with Karl. Is that just Karl spinning beyond the White House?

MIKA BRZEZINSKI:Spinning out of control?

CARD: Well, Karl is very smart. He's -- sometimes his brain gets ahead of his mouth. And sometimes his mouth gets ahead of his brain.

Politico's John Bresnahan has reported that the White House move to force a vote in October "was a bare-knuckled political power play by President Bush and GOP leaders in Congress":

As someone who covered the 2002 vote on Iraq for Roll Call, Rove's assertion that Congress was pushing for a quick vote on the use-of-force resolution is just not credible at all.

The White House pushed to hold that vote in October, just a month before the mid-term elections, and Democrats were forced to support it or risk losing their re-election campaigns.

It was a bare-knuckled political power play by President Bush and GOP leaders in Congress, and it worked very, very well. Republicans ended up winning back the Senate that fall, and the GOP picked up more House seats.

It's hard to imagine that anyone could be so partisan as to try to spin a tale about an anti-Iraq media narrative during the lead-up to that war. Yet, that's exactly what Bozell and Kilmeade tried to do. Is there any way they actually believe the story they're selling? We doubt it.


Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy
Fox News Channel, Media Research Center
Brian Kilmeade, L. Brent Bozell
FOX & Friends
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