Iraq And The Need For Pundit Accountability

FleischerEarlier this week, Bloomberg View columnist Barry Ritholtz took Art Laffer to task for a piece of economic analysis the former Reagan adviser penned in 2009 that proved drastically wrong. Ritholtz used the column to ask : Why aren't pundits held accountable? 

It's an important question, and one that warrants consideration, particularly as unrepentant architects of the Iraq War enter the public sphere to opine on the deteriorating situation in that country. 

Following President Obama's speech on the increasing violence in Iraq, Ari Fleischer weighed in on Twitter:

As critics were quick to point out, it's impossible to have a credible discussion about the situation in Iraq without consideration of how we got there in the first place (also, we actually invaded Iraq in 2003). And it's certainly convenient for Fleischer to wave away questions about the initial invasion given that he helped to sell it as President Bush's press secretary.

Here are some quotes from the former Bush flak that Think Progress assembled in 2007, when Fleischer surfaced as a leading voice behind that year's escalation:

"[T]here's no question that if force is used, it will achieve the objective of preserving the peace far faster than the current path that we're on." [2/14/03]

“My point is, the likelihood is much more like Afghanistan, where the people who live right now under a brutal dictator will view America as liberators, not conquerors.” [10/11/02]

“There have been contacts between senior members of -- senior Iraqi officials and members of the al Qaeda organization, going back for quite a long time. ...Iraq provided some training to al Qaeda in chemical weapons development. There are contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda.” [1/27/03]

“There is no question that we have evidence and information that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical particularly. ... And all this will be made clear in the course of the operation, for whatever duration it takes.” [3/21/03]

"[N]o, I don't think there's any chance of losing the peace, but it is going to be a battle to continue to win the peace." [5/19/03]

Fleischer has no apology for what he did -- he'd simply prefer not to speak of it.

The role people like Fleischer played in supporting and selling the invasion of Iraq and whether or not they've assessed that role and found their actions wanting are factors media should consider as they report on current efforts by conservatives to pin all the blame for the current state of that country on President Obama.

This need for pundit accountability isn't limited to Iraq. Earlier this month, Fox News hosted Oliver North to criticize President Obama for negotiating with terrorists to release Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. North, of course, is famous for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal, in which he facilitated the illegal sale of missiles to Iran in exchange for the release of U.S. prisoners in Lebanon.

Such pundit antics are par for the course at Fox, which hosts Judy Miller to discuss Middle East weapons of mass destruction, Mark Fuhrman to opine on race, and “heckuva job” Michael Brown to talk about disaster relief.

As Ritholtz points out, with no pundit accountability, the policy debate is skewed in favor of falsehoods:

Why does this happen, and why are there no penalties for being so inaccurate?

This isn't about economics, it's about politics. Unfortunately, the dismal science has become the vehicle of choice for those who seek to further their own political agenda.

Social Security is a perfect example. Why make misleading claims about unfunded liabilities while ignoring the revenue that will accompany those liabilities? To push for Social Security's dissolution or to confuse the public?

If you have an issue with Social Security, then fix it. The regressive taxes to fund retirement benefits top out at about $117,000 in 2014. Why not simply raise that to $250,000 next year and $500,000 during the next 20 years. Congratulations, you've just gone a long way toward making Social Security solvent for the next century.

But these forecasts of doom are never about fixing things; they are about refighting the battles that were lost long ago. The U.S. doesn't provide the sort of cradle-to-grave welfare benefits that Europeans have insisted upon, but rather a minimum safety net. A large majority of Americans support these programs. The folks who argue against them -- like Laffer -- have to resort to arguments and forecasts that have consistently turned out to be inaccurate.

The current debate over Iraq provides another opportunity for the media to fight this tendency and provide the accountability the public needs.