Corporate media outlets treat U.S. intelligence agencies with solemn reverence when those agencies are reinforcing official views about American enemies and friends. This is true even when the same media outlets are duped by intelligence agencies time and again.
But stray from the nationalist straight and narrow, and these otherwise respected sources risk becoming invisible, perhaps even suspicious.
That’s what happened in the run up to the Iraq War. CIA director George Tenet was prominently quoted as he affirmed the White House’s most dire fabrications, but when intelligence officials at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the State Department, the Department of Energy and the U.S. Air Force challenged key aspects of the White House’s case for war, they were downplayed or ignored in favor of intelligence supporting the case for war.
As Washington Post Pentagon reporter Thomas Ricks put it (8/12/04), “There was an attitude among editors: Look, we’re going to war, why do we even worry about all this contrary stuff?” And the New York Times mea culpa on the subject, for all of its faults, similarly acknowledged that “Articles based on dire claims about Iraq tended to get prominent display, while follow-up articles that called the original ones into question were sometimes buried. In some cases, there was no follow-up at all.”
This model goes some way in explaining why major media outlets continue to report without question President Barack ObamaÃƒÆ’Â¢ÃƒÂ¢”Å¡Â¬ÃƒÂ¢”Å¾Â¢s and Secretary of State Hillary ClintonÃƒÆ’Â¢ÃƒÂ¢”Å¡Â¬ÃƒÂ¢”Å¾Â¢s claims that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, even while their own director of national intelligence, Dennis Blair, says it’s not true.
As an excellent post by Charlie Davis points out:
Just over a week ago — and after Blair had told another Senate panel that Iran was not pursuing nuclear weapons — Secretary Clinton told ABC‘s Charlie Gibson that “Iran’s pursuit of the nuclear weapon is deeply troubling to not only the U.S. but many people throughout the world.” Obama has likewise consistently referred to Iran’s “development” or “pursuit” of nuclear weapons.
It would be simple for journalists at major media outlets with official access to ask why the president and the secretary of state are making claims that U.S. intelligence can’t back up. But even after all the confessions and mea culpas, the damage resulting from other instances when they failed to challenge officials, many journalists apparently still haven’t learned the lesson.
[In an earlier version of this post, the headline mistakenly referred to Dennis Blair as the ‘DCIÃƒÆ’Â¢ÃƒÂ¢”Å¡Â¬Ãƒâ€šÂ– he is the DNI, the Director of National Intelligence.]