Bill Keller’s New York Times column (3/19/12) begins with what might be a bit of self-deprecation: “When you’ve been wrong about something as important as war, as I have….”
You might take that as a cue to stop reading right there. But Keller’s point is that people should think long and hard about signing on to the latest calls for war. He writes:
Sometimes our leaders start with the answers and work backward, fixing the facts to the policy, as the head of Britain’s MI6 said of the Potemkin intelligence used to sell the invasion of Iraq.
As the link (in the original online text) indicates, that’s a reference to the famous Downing Street memos–the notes on a 2002 British government meeting about the U.S drive for war with Iraq, where British officials discuss the U.S. government’s apparent desire to invade Iraq with whatever pretext they figured might work. The memos surfaced in 2005, only to be shrugged off by establishment outlets like the New York Times–which told readers (6/14/05) that “the documents are not quite so shocking. Three years ago, the near-unanimous conventional wisdom in Washington held that Mr. Bush was determined to topple Saddam Hussein by any means necessary.” The top editor at the Times in 2005, of course, was Bill Keller.
Keller introduced that reference to the Downing Street memos by telling readers that “asking the right questions only works if you are prepared to hear answers you might not like.” The examples he gives are of politicians–but the reaction to the Downing Street memos by media outlets like the Times, who first ignored and then downplayed the revelations as nothing new, seem like a much more pertinent example of being unprepared to hear unwanted answers.