Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Bill Moyers documentary on our failed and barren press

When Journalism Became Transcription and Reporting Disappeared
Thursday April 26, 2007 09:26 EST

Glenn Greenwald

(updated below - updated again)

If you didn't watch Bill Moyers' documentary last night regarding the joint, coordinated behavior of our government and its media in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, I can't recommend it highly enough. You can watch it here.

For those who have been following these issues, there was no single, specific blockbuster revelation that was not previously known, although Moyers' focus on the superb (and largely ignored) pre-war work of Real Journalists at Knight-Ridder (now at McClatchy) does cast a new light on the profound malfeasance of our most influential media outlets. Most of all, the documentary very powerfully compiles some of the most incriminating facts, and it unapologetically identifies many of the guiltiest and most destructive wrongdoers in our government and in the press.

For that reason, the documentary is -- in one sense -- a very valuable historical account of the corrupt behavior by our dominant political and media institutions which deceived the country into the invasion of Iraq. But on another, more significant level, it illustrates the corruption that continues to propel our political and media culture.

One of the most important points came at the end. The institutional decay which Moyers chronicles is not merely a matter of historical interest. Instead, it continues to shape our mainstream political dialogue every bit as much as it did back in 2002 and 2003. The people who committed the journalistic crimes Moyers so potently documents do not think they are guilty of anything -- ask them and they will tell you -- and as a result, they have not changed their behavior in the slightest.

Just consider that, as Moyers notes, there has been no examination by any television news network of the role played by the American media in enabling the Bush administration and its warmonger propagandists to disseminate pure falsehoods to the American public. People like Eric Boehlert have written books about it, and Moyers has now produced a comprehensive PBS program documenting it. But the national media outlets themselves have virtually ignored this entire story -- arguably the most significant political story of the last decade -- because they do not think there is any story here at all.

The fraud that was manufactured by our government officials and endorsed by our media establishment is one of the great political crimes of the last many decades. Yet those who are responsible for it have not been held accountable in the slightest. Quite the contrary, their media prominence -- as Moyers demonstrates -- has only increased, as culpable propagandists and warmongers such as Charles Krauthammer (now of Time and The Washington Post), Bill Kristol (now of Time), Jonah Goldberg (now of The Los Angeles Times, Peter Beinert (now of Time and The Washington Post), and Tom Friedman (revered by media stars everywhere) have all seen their profiles enhanced greatly in our national media.

And while Judy Miller became the scapegoat for the media's failures, most of the media stars responsible for the worst journalistic abuses -- from Michael Gordon to Tim Russert to Fred Hiatt to most of The Washington Post, to say nothing of the Fox stars and cogs of the right-wing noise machine -- continue merrily along as before, with virtually no recognition of fault and no reduction in their platforms.

Moyers did a superb job of questioning both Tim Russert and Peter Beinart, and both were -- appropriately and enjoyably -- extremely defensive about their behavior. Beinart, along with his good friend and mirror image Jonah Goldberg, participated in one of the most vile -- though not all that unusual -- smear campaigns against a war opponent, Scott Ritter. The smear campaign was necessary precisely because Ritter was one of the very few individuals in this country who (completely unlike Goldberg, Beinart and all of the other faux warrior-experts parading across television screens loyally reciting the Bush line) actually knew what he was talking about when it came to the Iraqi weapons program and its "relationship" to Al Qaeda, and continuously warned (to little effect) about all of the warmongers' false claims about those topics.

But credit is at least due to both Russert and Beinart for appearing on Moyers' program and facing his appropriately confrontational questions. Their willingness to account for their conduct stands in stark contrast to the long list of cowards who still constantly strut around self-lovingly touting their own courage, resolve, Churchillian backbone, and all of their other little self-glorifying platitudes, yet were too afraid to face questioning from a real journalist about all of the fact-free, false propaganda they spewed for years (and continue to spew).

That disgraceful, dishonorable roster of Great Warriors hiding under their beds from Bill Moyers includes Fox's Krauthammer, Fox's Kristol, Fox's Roger Ailes, Bill Safire and Judith Miller. As The Washington Post's own Tom Shales put it:

Among those who declined -- and thus became a part of the story more than they already were -- are Judith Miller of the New York Times, a reporter who became a relentless drumbeater for war; Times pundit William Safire, who'd predicted that Iraqis would welcome Americans as liberators when they marched into Baghdad; columnist Charles Krauthammer, another hawkish columnist who's usually anything but camera-shy; and Fox boss Roger Ailes.

William Kristol, a conservative columnist who, Moyers says, "led the march to Baghdad behind a battery of Washington microphones . . . has not responded to any of our requests for an interview, but he still shows up on TV as an expert, most often on Fox News."

People like Bill Kristol and Krauthammer will only go and sit with the likes of Brit Hume and speak only to Fox audiences, so they are never reminded of the literally countless falsehoods they churned out not only to justify the invasion but to profoundly mislead Americans for years about the ongoing occupation. And they both continue to issue one-way decrees from the pages of Time and The Washington Post, where they are never held to account for what they have done.

Moyers' documentary is a superb piece of journalism and makes inescapably clear how profoundly corrupt our dominant political and media institutions were prior to the invasion. But most national "journalists" will simply ignore the whole program (as Digby notes, The New York Times, one of the principal culprits, did not even review it).

They will almost certainly dismiss Moyers as a liberal partisan, not a real journalist, and continue to insist that they are doing a superb and even-handed job. They will continue to revere the most guilty parties responsible for the deceit and destruction of the last six years.

And, worst of all, the sicknesses documented so potently by Moyers will continue to pervade our dominant media and political institutions. Comparing 2002 and now, however, there is a significant difference: as Moyers' documentary illustrates, as does the emergence of political blogs, more and more people are increasingly recognizing how pervasive those deficiencies are, and consequently, are developing multiple alternatives to the rancid governing Beltway system.

UPDATE: Tom Tomorrow is one of those radical, unserious, untrustworthy extremist commentators who saw exactly what was going on back in 2002 and was right about virtually everything. As a result, Fred Hiatt and Richard Stengel will never invite him onto the Op-Ed pages of The Washington Post or Time alongside our Brilliant Foreign Policy Luminaries like Charles Kruathammer, Joe Lieberman and Robert Kagan, but -- to celebrate the four-year anniversary of our Glorious War -- he does have a small though rich sampling over at the Huffington Post of the great wisdom showered on us by Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer and many of their other media and neoconservative friends.

UPDATE II: CBS White House Correspondent Mark Knoller watched Moyers' documentary and he is absolutely befuddled that anyone could possibly suggest that our White House Press Corps was insufficiently skeptical of the White House's pre-war claims or that they were too deferential to the Leader:

To hear Bill Moyers tell it last evening on his PBS program "Buying The War," the White House press corps was a willing participant in its own deception about the President's case for war in Iraq.

He portrays us as easily-manipulated stooges on bended-knee to the President and his top aides.

Now, I'm the first to concede there are plenty of good reasons to criticize the White House Press. We're an irascible and unlikable bunch. I'm one of us and I don't like us very much. But the point made by Bill Moyers at the start of his program last night is just off base. . . . Now, I can understand if Moyers didn't like the President's answers. Fair enough. But to portray reporters as mindless conduits of White House policies is unfounded.

Really, what can one even say about this? Like most of his colleagues, he is drowning in total self-delusion. Note how he pretends to criticize White House journalists for being "irrascible and unlikable" -- the implication being that they are a really tough, ornery and contentious bunch of hard-core reporters who may not be likable or agreeable, but boy, they sure are feisty.

After describing (though understandably not quoting) several of the oh-so-super-tough questions he claims were asked at the pre-war Press Conference -- the one where reporters pretended to raise their hands in the hopes of being called upon, even though they knew Bush had a pre-scripted list of which reporters would be allowed to ask questions and they were only doing that to create a false perception of a free-wheeling press conference -- Knoller ends with these paragraphs:

Did we report what the President said about his case for war? Of course we did. That's our job. Did we also report that his views were challenged or disputed by others? Absolutely. Were questions raised about the veracity of the president's arguments? Certainly.

Did reporters stop the U.S. from going to war in Iraq? No. Could reporters have done a better job? Always.

But to charge that the White House press was "compliant" and cheered the President's arguments for war plainly misrepresents the facts.

I wonder if Knoller is aware that seven out of 10 Americans believed even six months after the invasion of Iraq that Saddam Hussein personally planned the 9/11 attacks. But Knoller just cannot believe that anyone would suggest that the national press corps was too compliant.

This is the point I have realized only recently which I cannot stress enough. They really do not think they did anything wrong. They think that their pre-war "journalism" (which, they will admit with great humility, could "of course" -- like everything in the world -- have been better) was perfectly excellent journalism, and anyone who suggests otherwise simply does not understand the elevated role of journalists, and is probably just a lowly partisan hysteric.

That's how they think. Just go read Knoller's response to the Moyers' documentary. Our government deceived the entire country into a war based on a whole set of blatantly false claims -- all of which were shoveled into the public's minds by our nation's media outlets -- and they continue to say what a great job they did.

-- Glenn Greenwald

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