Just last month, The Washington Post published investigative reporter Craig Whitlock’s bombshell report exposing dark truths about the war in Afghanistan. The six-part series offered a blistering look at the disparities between what the U.S government knew to be true and what it told the public. This evidence -- along with the long history of the government lying to justify armed conflict -- should give journalists pause when considering how they cover escalating tensions with Iran.
“U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable,” Whitlock wrote in the project’s opening, based on government documents with interviews of “more than 400 insiders.”
“If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction … 2,400 lives lost. Who will say this was in vain?” Ret. U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, the White House war czar for Afghanistan between 2007 and 2013, is quoted as saying in one of the documents Whitlock obtained.
“Several of those interviewed described explicit and sustained efforts by the U.S. government to deliberately mislead the public, Whitlock wrote. “They said it was common at military headquarters in Kabul -- and at the White House -- to distort statistics to make it appear the United States was winning the war when that was not the case.”
As Media Matters reported at the time, network nightly news broadcasts largely ignored Whitlock’s report. Neither ABC’s World News Tonight nor NBC’s Nightly News covered the story in the days after it broke, while CBS Evening News devoted a single segment to it on December 9. Now, less than a month removed from the publication of concrete evidence that the U.S. government has been lying to the American people about an ongoing $2 trillion war that’s taken the lives of tens of thousands of Afghan civilians and more than 2,400 U.S. service members, we appear to be on the brink of another nebulously defined armed conflict, this time with Iran.
As news organizations cover this unfolding event, the public can only hope that publishers and broadcasters have learned to treat the government’s messaging and justification with due skepticism. Unfortunately, there's already cause for concern.