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Feet to the Fire: The Media After 9/11, Top Journalists Speak Out Hardcover – October 1, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Borjesson, an award-winning investigative reporter turned media critic, gathers an impressive list of journalists in what purports to be "an oral account of the current era of crisis," but the author is less interested in her group's answers than whether they agree with her premises: the Bush administration is evil, the American media are largely complicit, and the American public is idiotic. Throughout, Borjesson focuses on botched coverage leading up to the war in Iraq. Her "questions," some amounting to an entire paragraph, others more statement than inquiry, rankle some subjects and motivate others. Ted Koppel bristles at Borjesson's sweeping judgments, while New York Times writer-economist Paul Krugman follows the author's lead almost to the edge of reason. Other times, Borjesson doesn't even listen to her subjects' answers; upon hearing Washington Post special projects reporter Barton Gellman give a thoughtful argument for reconstruction stories ("journalism after the fact") as a valuable way to explain how things happened, including the Bush administration's successful campaign for war, Borjesson smugly rejects the notion: "But you understand how presenting this evidence after the war instead of while the case for war is being made is totally moot." Flawed, yes. Totally moot, no. And Gellman, for anyone who cares to pay attention, impressively explains the difference. In fact, this book is full of such insightful commentary. Just skip the questions.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
American media has garnered severe criticism, particularly abroad, for failing to more vigorously question the Bush administration's insistence on going to war against Iraq. In this collection of interviews with 21 journalists, Borjesson offers a penetrating look at how top reporters regard the efforts by themselves and their colleagues to cover the war and the efforts of the administration to conceal or obfuscate their policy on Iraq. Ted Koppel, anchor of Nightline, known for asking tough questions, asserts that he has never been censored, while White House correspondent Helen Thomas laments the pressure on reporters not to appear unpatriotic by questioning the motives for the war and how she has become persona non grata with the administration. Among others interviewed are author Ron Suskind, Washington Post reporter Anthony Shadid, historian-blogger Juan Cole, former New York Times correspondent Christopher Hedges, NPR's Deborah Amos, and Knight Ridder correspondent Hannah Allam. Editor of the highly acclaimedInto the Buzzsaw (2002), Borjesson once again shines a penetrating light on the failures and virtues of American journalists at this crucial time. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Which is exactly what happened, of course. He seems to have forgotten, as Bush later did, that the UN weapons inspectors were in Iraq for months before Bush kicked them out. Koppel also repeats the Bush claim that every other intelligence agency in the world thought Saddam had WMD.
Reading the interviews with Ron Suskind, Tom Yellin and Thomas Curley, I'm struck by how many people in the corporate media identify with the US power structure. Though highly critical of Bush/Cheney, they also apparently believe that the government is normally run (or was once run) as depicted in our high school civics texts, that voters elect their officials and the elected officials are actually running everything in a straightforward manner.
Suskind actually says, "Look, it is a sacred, solemn duty of the leaders of a nation to explain to the true sovereigns - the voters, the citizens - why we should go to war against another nation. There is a long history of this being a solemn and sober obligation." You have to wonder if Suskind is selling a line of bull, or just terribly naive.
Barton Gellman of the Washington Post claims that his paper did a great job in the buildup to the war, and spouts quite a bit of nonsense: “I’m not that sympathetic to arguments that intelligence should have known exactly what was coming [before 9/11]…I want to emphasize: the public record, and our best efforts to penetrate further, didn’t show that the President was wrong [about WMD], either. The pundits who claim now that they ‘knew’ all along are full of cr*p. They didn’t know.”
In these interviews from 2004-2005, it's fascinating how no one can quite put their finger on why Bush invaded Iraq. Suskind thinks it was because Saddam was an easy target to make an example of. Helen Thomas just says, "I don't know...Someday we'll find out why we went to war." Tom Yellin blames the Clinton administration for not supporting a coup in the 1990s by Ahmed Chalabi (!) Walter Pincus thinks it involved wanting to make Iraq a pro-Israeli democracy. Pincus actually says that this could not be sold to the American people from the beginning because: “You could not and probably should not send American soldiers into another country to establish democracy if US security is not threatened immediately and directly.” Really, Walter? Has he forgotten Panama in 1989?
Pincus, with more perception, says: “When it comes to government, we moved into a PR society a long time ago. Now, it’s the PR that counts, not the policy.” He criticizes the Post for rotating personnel around too much, so that no one develops too much expertise. He also points out how eager the media was to get the war going because a lot of money had been spent getting reporters over to the Middle East and embedded in military units. However, Pincus falls into the same conventional Establishment idiocy at times - the CIA does only what the President tells them: “The lesson is: presidents run everything, and people do what presidents want done.” Of course, Pincus has helped prop up the official story of the JFK assassination, and led the attack on Gary Webb in the 1990s.
David Martin with CBS News actually has his office inside the Pentagon. He’s been there for so many decades, he completely identifies with the US national security apparatus. In his interview, he has never heard of the “Clean Break” document put out by PNAC before 9/11. “The government wasn’t lying to us” about WMDs, he insists. He feels very good about the then-current elections in Iraq, doesn’t think the US wants a long-term military presence there, doesn’t think that Halliburton got its contracts because of Dick Cheney. Martin actually says he believed that Saddam was a threat to the US.
If these people aren't professional shills, then they are in denial because they're too close to the power structure. They are unable to be detached and see things as they really are. They have too much invested in the system, and can't admit that American foreign policy is not about democracy, human rights or “protecting our national security.” Walter Pincus admits that Richard Perle is “a friend of mine” and “I actually like John [Negroponte, director of national intelligence], I’ve known him for a long time.” So they need to perform all of these mental contortions ("Maybe Bush invaded Iraq to prove his manhood or get revenge for his dad") to keep the cognitive dissonance under control. If they can't handle exploring the truth about the Iraq war, it's no wonder they can't even look at 9/11.
John MacArthur and Paul Krugman are much more perceptive. James Bamford is even sharper, understanding the influence of Israel and the Zionists on US foreign policy. Knight-Ridder did stellar work on the Iraq war and get a lot of well-deserved attention here. Juan Cole and Chris Hedges are terrific, and I used to read them all the time back in the day. But no one here fundamentally questions the events of 9/11.
Having been played like a fiddle by the Bushies, the media predictably began to get its revenge in Bush's second term. And while Bush and the gang are unlikely to ever be able to manipulate the media at such a scale again, what's to prevent it from happening with future administrations? Unfortunately, this book does not have those answers.