Howard Fineman Looks Back on Iraq

r-HOWARD-FINEMAN-large570There’s a sense that many in the media have never come to terms with their Iraq War failures. But when some of them do, seemingly with good intentions, they fall pretty short.

Take Howard Fineman of the Huffington Post. In the run-up to Iraq, he was a star correspondent at Newsweek, giving him unique access to U.S. political leaders.

Writing at the Huffington Post (3/16/13), Fineman laments:

Too few questions were asked, too many assumptions were allowed to go unchallenged, too many voices of doubt were muffled or rejected in a toxic atmosphere of patriotism, ignorance and political fear.

He adds: “It began with fear and, for some journalists including me, misguided patriotism.”

Fineman recalls a November 2001 interview he conducted with Bush, where he blurted out that Saddam Hussein was “evil.”¬† And with that, “The rest, sadly, is the history we now mark on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War.”

Well, not so fast. That interview  became a Newsweek article (12/3/01), co-written by Fineman, that was one of the most blatantly propagandistic pieces of journalism produced in the post-9/11 era. As FAIR noted at the time (Action Alert, 11/30/01) , the article posed this question:

From where does George W. Bush–or Laura, for that matter–draw the strength for this grand mission, the ambitious aim of which is nothing less than to ‘rid the world of evildoers’?

Some other highlights, highlighted by FAIR:

  • “The First Team has been exemplary in the eyes of the American people,” declared Newsweek. Bush “has been a model of unblinking, eyes-on-the-prize decisiveness. His basic military strategy…has proved astute. He has been eloquent in public, commanding in private. He had survived the first blows, made the right calls and exceeded expectations–again.”
  • “Another source of strength,” noted the magazine, “is physical conditioning.” According to Newsweek, Bush “is in the best shape of his life, a fighting machine who has dropped 15 pounds and cut his time in the mile to seven minutes…. He feels destined to win–and to serve.”
  • The president doesn’t read many books, Newsweek explained, because “he’s busy making history, but doesn’t look back at his own, or the world’s…. Bush would rather look forward than backward. It’s the way he’s built.”

The fact that Fineman is reflective at all is better than nothing, but what’s on the the record matters–and that record shows a remarkable level of enthusiasm for the job of advocating for Bush’s “eyes-on-the-prize decisiveness.” He went above and beyond not asking enough questions or allowing assumptions to go unchallenged.

He concludes the piece by writing: “I hope I am wiser now. I hope we all are.” Well, sure, let’s hope so. In the meantime, Fineman is still working in elite journalism, which teaches us the most important lesson: There aren’t many consequences for getting a big story so catastrophically wrong.


About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.