In a book review for Bob Woodward’s latest installment of his Bush chronicles, the New York Times’ Jill Abramson decides it’s time to salve her guilty conscience. Woodward’s “The War Within” serves as the impetus for her confessional.
Abramson reveals her misgivings regarding the Times’ coverage of the build up to war with Iraq after citing a passage from Woodward’s book wherein he admits that he had not done enough at the Washington Post to expose the weakness of the administration’s arguments for the existence of WMDs and for going to war. Abramson followed up that citation by saying…
“I was Washington bureau chief for The Times while this was happening, and I failed to push hard enough for an almost identical, skeptical article, written by James Risen. This was a period when there were too many credulous accounts of the administration’s claims about Iraq’s W.M.D.”
Thanks a lot. Another too late revelation of dereliction of duty that resulted in the deaths of thousands of American soldiers and tens (hundreds?) of thousands of Iraqi civilians. How exactly does this expression of regret compensate the victims of a disastrous and deadly war? How does it repair the damage done to both Iraq and America, who is now on the brink of bankruptcy partially due to having wasted a trillion dollars fighting an imaginary enemy.
This is not the first time that prominent figures in the press have sought absolution for their failures:
Woodward previously expressed these thoughts in an online chat:
“I think the press and I in particular should have been more aggressive in looking at the run-up to the Iraq war, and specifically the alleged intelligence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction stockpiles.”
The New York Times issued this mea culpa:
“Editors at several levels who should have been challenging reporters and pressing for more skepticism were perhaps too intent on rushing scoops into the paper [...] while follow-up articles that called the original ones into question were sometimes buried. In some cases, there was no follow-up at all.”
New York Times editor, Bill Keller personally apologized:
“I’ve had a few occasions to write mea culpas for my paper after we let down our readers in more important ways, including for some reporting before the war in Iraq that should have dug deeper and been more sceptical about Iraq’s purported weapons of mass destruction.”
CNN reporter Jessica Yellin weighed in with this bit of uncharacteristic honesty:
“The press corps was under enormous pressure from corporate executives, frankly, to make sure that this was a war presented in a way that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the nation and the president’s high approval ratings. And my own experience at the White House was that the higher the president’s approval ratings, the more pressure I had from news executives.”
Even Bill O’Reilly announced that he was wrong (but it’s OK because, he says, everyone was wrong):
“Now I supported the action against Saddam because the Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Secretary of Defense under Bill Clinton, William Cohen, the CIA, British intelligence, and a variety of other intelligence agencies all told me Saddam was making dangerous weapons in violation of the first Gulf War cease-fire [...] I was wrong in my assessment, as was everybody else.”
I am willing to concede that a lot of people, reporters and politicians alike, were wrong, but not everyone. There were many who opposed the war, who saw through the administration’s lies, who spoke out about the fraud that was being forced upon the nation. The sane objections were mostly confined to alternative sources that were ignored or ridiculed. But even the mainstreamers quoted above seemed to have known at the time that they were being less than responsible with regard to their reportorial obligations.
Now Abramson joins those who have seen the error of their ways. Or have they? Abramson is the Times’s managing editor for news, but this revelation appears in a book review rather than in the news pages. And there has been little evidence that the press has altered its behavior. Keller, the Times’ editor noted last year that…
“The administration has subsidised propaganda at home and abroad, refined the art of spin, discouraged dissent, and sought to limit traditional congressional oversight and court review.”
But even with knowledge of that, the administration’s press releases are often reprinted or broadcast virtually verbatim as news. Some of that can be seen in the current Wall Street affair that is characterized as a crisis that demands the immediate implementation of the White House’s untested and hysterical solutions.
It isn’t enough for these people to confess their sins and be on their way. I don’t want to sift through another collection of apologies for the next disaster that they feel so sorry for having misreported or ignored. They need to initiate real reform that addresses the root causes of these journalistic failures. And they need to fire those who have let down their papers, their readers, and their country. When steps like these are taken, I will start to take seriously their assertions of regret. Until then, they are still just covering up for themselves and the Washington insiders on whom they are pretending to report.