Rewriting the media's role, again, in the run-up to the Iraq War

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

Sadly that's what unfolded on NPR over the weekend, as "On the Media" looked at the press' coverage of the supposed Cheney/Obama showdown over national security last week. Host Bob Garfield seemed to think that the press had manufactured the battle royal by elevating the unpopular Cheney to an equal to the POTUS.

Guest Mark Jurkowitz from the Project in Excellence in Journalism had a different take and blissfully rewrote media history [emphasis added]:

One of the things the media claims is that in the run-up to the Iraq War was that their failure to more closely scrutinize the rationale for going to war--the weapons of mass destruction--part of that could be attributable to the fact that there weren't very many Democrats articulating an opposition that they could report about to Bush's war plan.

Now, you could argue that in those days the Democrats didn't have much more power than the Republicans have now. But clearly the media would have glommed onto some major Democratic spokespeople had they arisen to challenge the [war] policy.

See, the press had its hands tied. It couldn't scrutinize Bush's war policy because the Dems remained mum. Oh brother. So suddenly Beltway pundits and reporters don't make a move until the DNC tells them to? That's a pretty loopy/naive way to look at how news and commentary is made inside the nation's capitol.

But more importantly it's just dead wrong to claim that no famous Democrats stepped forward th challenge Bush on the war. Or are Al Gore and Ted Kennedy not famous enough to garner media attention? In late 2002 both men made very public speeches that raised all kinds of doubts about Bush's war plan; doubts that were proven to be quite accurate.

The media's reaction? The press sure as hell didn't 'glom' onto Gore or Kennedy. In fact the press pretty much did the opposite--they ignored the buzz kill Democrats. Take a look at the ABC World News Tonight report on Gore's September 23, 2002 speech. The report was buried mid-broadcast. And yes, this was the news dispatch in its entirety:

In San Francisco today there was pretty strong criticism of the Bush administration from the former Vice President Al Gore. Mr. Gore told an audience that the administration's campaign against Saddam Hussein would damage the U.S.'s ability to win the war against terrorism.

45 words total for Gore.

But hey, that's more coverage than what Ted Kennedy received from the Washington Post when the Democratic lion roared against Bush's war plan, or at least set out an entire phalanx of concerns. As I noted in Lapdogs:

In September 2002 [Kennedy] made a passionate, provocative, and newsworthy speech raising all sorts of doubts about the war. It garnered exactly one sentence--thirty-six words total-of coverage from the Post, which in 2002 printed more than a thousand and columns, totaling perhaps 1 millions words about Iraq, but only set aside third-six for Kennedy's antiwar cry.

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