It’s hardly controversial to suggest that the mainstream media’s performance in the lead-up to the Iraq War was a disaster. In retrospect, many journalists and pundits wish they had been more skeptical of the White House’s claims about Iraq, particularly its allegations about weapons of mass destruction. At the same time, though, media apologists suggest that the press could not have done much better, since “everyone” was in agreement on the intelligence regarding Iraq’s weapons threat. This was never the case. Critical journalists and analysts raised serious questions at the time about what the White House was saying. Often, however, their warnings were ignored by the bulk of the corporate press.
This timeline is an attempt to recall some of the worst moments in journalism, from the fall of 2002 and into the early weeks of the Iraq War. It is not an exhaustive catalog, but a useful reference point for understanding the media’s performance. The timeline also points to missed opportunities, when courageous journalists—working inside the mainstream and the alternative media—uncovered stories that should have made the front pages of daily newspapers, or provided fodder for TV talk shows. By reading mainstream media critically and tuning into the alternative press, citizens can see that the notion that “everyone” was wrong about Iraq was—and is—just another deception.
September 1, 2002
— In a Baltimore Sun column calling for the resumption of weapons inspections in Iraq, former inspector Scott Ritter points out that earlier inspections had been able to verify a “90 percent to 95 percent level of disarmament,” including “all of the production facilities involved with WMD” and “the great majority of what was produced by these facilities.”
September 6, 2002
— In a story entitled “Lack of Hard Evidence of Iraqi Weapons Worries Top U.S. Officials,” Knight Ridder‘s Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay report that “senior U.S. officials with access to top-secret intelligence on Iraq say they have detected no alarming increase in the threat that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein poses to American security and Middle East stability.”
September 7, 2002
—”From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.”
(White House chief of staff Andrew Card, quoted in the New York Times about the government’s plan to sell the public on the Iraq War.)
—Speaking of the need to disarm Iraq, George W. Bush refers to a report by the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) alleging that Iraq was six months away from developing a nuclear weapon. No such report exists, as MSNBC reports on its website. (Oddly, the article was quickly removed from MSNBC‘s website, as Paul Krugman would note months later–4/29/03.) Bush’s lie mostly escapes media scrutiny; as John MacArthur recalled months later (Columbia Journalism Review, 5-6/03), the Washington Post half-heartedly acknowledged the problem deep in a story:
In the twenty-first paragraph of her story on the press conference, the Washington Post‘s Karen DeYoung did quote an IAEA spokesman saying, in DeYoung’s words, “that the agency has issued no new report,” but she didn’t confront the White House with this terribly interesting fact.
September 8, 2002
—Michael R. Gordon and Judith Miller co-author the article “U.S. Says Hussein Intensifies Quest for A-Bomb Parts” on the front page of the New York Times. The story relies heavily on claims made by Bush administration officials regarding Iraq’s “worldwide hunt” to acquire aluminum tubes for uranium enrichment. Miller and Gordon warn that “Mr. Hussein’s dogged insistence on pursuing his nuclear ambitions, along with what defectors described in interviews as Iraq’s push to improve and expand Baghdad’s chemical and biological arsenals, have brought Iraq and the United States to the brink of war.” The article would come to be entirely discredited.
—Vice President Dick Cheney appears on Meet the Press and contends that Iraq has “reconstituted” its nuclear weapons program. His main piece of evidence is the recent attempts by Hussein to obtain aluminum tubes, which Cheney cites to “a story in the New York Times this morning.”
September 11, 2002
— After CBS reporter Mark Phillips refers to talk of war against Iraq as “the belligerent noises being made in Washington and some other places,” anchor Dan Rather (according to a transcript from the Media Research Center) expresses his displeasure with the term “belligerent”:
Now of course, what Washington sees it as a kind of quiet determination to do what President Bush feels the United States must do, is the word belligerence, is that one that the Iraqi government has been attaching to Washington and President Bush’s policy as a way of getting their propaganda across the Arab world?
September 13, 2002
— While interviewing war critic and former weapons inspector Scott Ritter on CNN, Paula Zahn suggests he is in league with Saddam Hussein: “People out there are accusing you of drinking Saddam Hussein’s Kool-Aid.”
September 15, 2002
—The Washington Post runs an article called “In Iraqi War Scenario, Oil Is Key Issue,” which points out that an American-occupied Iraq would translate into a “bonanza for American oil companies long banished from Iraq” and a “reshuffling” of “world petroleum markets.”
—A New York Times “Week in Review” article by Elaine Sciolino derides French opposition to the Iraq War as evidence of lingering “old French attitudes.” President Jacques Chirac “made it clear that he doesn’t think it is the business of the world’s powers to oust leaders simply because they are dictators who repress their people.”
September 16, 2002
—”DOOMSDAY PLOT” is the New York Post‘s cover story. “Saddam Aims to Give Terrorists Briefcase Bio-Bombs,” was the subhead, accompanied by a photograph of someone holding a metal attaché case. What a scoop for the Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper—especially since none of the other papers that morning seemed to have even heard this catastrophic news. How did the paper uncover the plot? “U.S. intelligence officials fear that Saddam Hussein has concocted a doomsday plan that would use Al-Qaeda to attack America with Iraqi-provided biological weapons, the Post has learned.” Intelligence officials fear? “The threat has been raised in secret intelligence assessments…. The officials came up with the nightmare scenario—which could include easily concealed briefcase bio-bombs—after concluding that Saddam has few options available once U.S. attacks begin.” Came up with? Could include? Apparently “POST EXTRAPOLATES FROM ALARMIST SPECULATION” was too long for a headline.
September 18, 2002
—Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld appears on the PBS NewsHour With Jim Lehrer and makes two false claims: that Iraq kicked out weapons inspectors in 1998, and that Iraq was preparing to invade Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War. Rumsfeld’s deceptions were not challenged by host Jim Lehrer. A FAIR Action Alert (9/20/02) points out the errors.
September 19, 2002
—The Washington Post publishes an article on page 18 headlined, “Evidence on Iraq Challenged; Experts Question if Tubes Were Meant for Weapons Program.” The article discusses a recent report by the Institute for Science and International Security which questions the Bush administration’s claim that Iraq’s attempt to obtain aluminum tubes proves that Hussein has nuclear ambitions. The report, writes the Post, also “contends that the Bush administration is trying to quiet dissent among its own analysts over how to interpret the evidence.” Unlike the New York Times story eight days earlier, the Post‘s debunking is mostly ignored.
—MSNBC‘s Ashleigh Banfield, introducing anti-war Rep. Nick Rahall (D-Wash): “This representative not only opposes attacking Saddam Hussein, he took his message all the way to Baghdad for three days from September 13th through the 16th to support Saddam Hussein and say give peace a chance.”
September 25, 2002
—Fox News Channel‘s Bill O’Reilly tells viewers that, according to a September 23 CNN/Gallup poll, “66 percent of Americans support going into Iraq, even without UN mandates.” In fact, the poll to which O’Reilly is referring shows that only 37 percent supports a war in Iraq without a UN mandate.
—The New York Times notes widespread opposition to war in European countries, a sentiment the paper describes as “often virulent.” That adjective is derived, of course, from “virus,” suggesting that something is seriously wrong with opposing the war.
September 27, 2002
—MSNBC‘s Hardball host Chris Matthews asks of World Bank/IMF protests in Washington, D.C.: “Those people out in the streets, do they hate America?” Conservative pundit Cliff May responds: “Yes, I’m afraid a lot of them do. They hate America. They align themselves with Saddam Hussein. They align themselves with terrorists all over the world.” Hardball correspondent David Shuster later adds that “anti-Americanism is in the air.”
—USA Today reports, “The war will almost certainly be preceded by a lengthy disinformation campaign designed to keep Saddam guessing about U.S. intentions.” The article predicts the war will be “fast” and “sophisticated,” relying on “smart bombs and surgical commando raids,” as well as “precision weapons” and “superior intelligence.”
—Pacifica Radio‘s Democracy Now! reports that Senate offices are receiving an “overwhelming” level of calls from constituents opposing a war on Iraq. The show finds 22 of 26 offices that responded reported overwhelmingly critical calls. The media’s indifference to such public concern would also be documented in FAIR’s Extra! (1–2/03).
September 29, 2002
—A September 28 anti-war rally in London attracts hundreds of thousands of protestors, but merits a one-sentence mention in the New York Times in a story headlined “Blair Is Confident of Tough U.N. Line on Iraqi Weapons.” The Washington Post has two brief references, one to thousands of protestors and one to tens of thousands. As FAIR notes in an action alert the next day (9/30/02), both the Times and the Post were far more interested in a comparably large protest in London against a proposed ban on fox hunting.
—Washington Post ombud Michael Getler criticizes the paper for ignoring a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in which three former four-star generals warned of the dire ramifications of war and advocated for “determined diplomacy.” Getler notes the paper failed to mention these proceedings, but did publish a piece on an Oklahoma state government official who was caught traveling with a “Ziploc bag filled with condoms.”
September 30, 2002
—CBS Evening News correspondent Tom Fenton says that former weapons inspector and war critic Scott Ritter “is now what some would call a loose cannon.”
—A Newsweek report about widespread European opposition to the Iraq War is curiously headlined, “The Lonesome Doves of Europe.” The magazine’s columnist Fareed Zakaria refers to Germany’s opposition to the war as “bizarre actions,” and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s anti-war position amounts to “[p]andering to public opinion.”
October 1, 2002
—CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather proclaims that a report by Pentagon correspondent David Martin points to “new evidence” linking Al-Qaeda and Iraq, “which is at least enough to keep suspicions alive.” Martin’s “evidence” is thin, however. His “clearest link” is that a senior member of Al-Qaeda allegedly fled to Iraq after the US invasion of Afghanistan, although there is no indication that anyone in Iraq’s government knew about it or approved of his trip.
—NPR‘s Robert Siegel poses this question about war protestors:
Is part of the problem here that, for the left, revolutionary movements in the past held a real romantic allure? There were posters of Che Guevara all over the place years ago. Today, it’s not Marxism or Maoism that people are talking about. It’s mostly radical Islamism, or Baathism in the case of Iraq. Is it hard for the left to relate to those movements and find anything romantic or appealing about them?
—Responding to a trip to Baghdad by Congressional Democrats opposed to the Iraq War (Reps. Jim McDermott and David Bonior), Washington Post columnist George Will writes that “Saddam Hussein finds American collaborators among senior congressional Democrats.”
October 3, 2002
—Appearing on Fox News, National Public Radio correspondent Mara Liasson says of McDermott and Bonior’s trip to Iraq: “These guys are a disgrace. Look, everybody knows it’s 101, Politics 101, that you don’t go to an adversary country, an enemy country, and bad-mouth the United States, its policies and the president of the United States. I mean, these guys ought to, I don’t know, resign.”
October 6, 2002
—The Washington Post reports that “Bush is leading the country toward confrontation with Hussein to eliminate his stockpile of dangerous weapons, trying to protect the country from a terrorist attack with potentially deadlier consequences than Sept. 11, 2001. This life-and-death choice resonates with many Democrats.”
October 7, 2002
—As noted in a FAIR Action Alert (10/10/02), CNN host Connie Chung takes Rep. Mike Thompson (D.-Calif.) to task for expressing doubts about claims made by George W. Bush about Iraq’s weapons. At one point Chung interrupts Thompson to say, “You mean you don’t believe what President Bush just said? With all due respect….you know… I mean, what…” Chung adds: “So it sounds almost as if you’re asking the American public, ‘Believe Saddam Hussein, don’t believe President Bush.'”
October 8, 2002
—Knight Ridder correspondents Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay interview more than a dozen military intelligence and diplomatic officials about the case for war:
These officials charge that administration hawks have exaggerated evidence of the threat that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein poses—including distorting his links to the Al Qaeda terrorist network— have overstated the amount of international support for attacking Iraq and have downplayed the potential repercussions of a new war in the Middle East. They charge that the administration squelches dissenting views and that intelligence analysts are under intense pressure to produce reports supporting the White House’s argument that Saddam poses such an immediate threat to the United States that pre-emptive military action is necessary.
October 9, 2002
—Kenneth Pollack, the influential and heavily cited war advocate at the Brookings Institution, appears on the Oprah show to discuss the impending war. “Does he have the ability to attack us here in the United States?” Oprah Winfrey asks. “He certainly does,” Pollack explains. “He has biological and chemical agents that he could employ, but he’d have to use terrorist means to do so, which he’s done in the past…. Right now, his capabilities to do so are fairly limited. The problem is that we know that he is building new capabilities as fast as he can.”
—The Institute for Public Accuracy makes available a detailed analysis of George W. Bush’s address in Cincinnati. It features a dozen experts on the Middle East, international law and weapons, who reveal distortions and false information in Bush’s speech.
October 11, 2002
—Democracy Now! correspondent Jeremy Scahill and filmmaker Jacquie Soohen report from a factory that the White House claims is part of Iraq’s nuclear weapons program.
October 12, 2002
—Neoconservative pundit William Kristol writes an op-ed for the Washington Post giving George W. Bush permission to lie:
He has benefited, in making the case for war, from an impressive clarity of presentation and lucidity of argument. But now his task is not to educate or persuade us. It is to defeat Saddam Hussein. And that will require the president, at times, to mislead rather than to clarify, to deceive rather than to explain. The president’s audience is no longer the American public, or even our allies. It is Hussein. Deceiving him as to the timing of the war and the manner of attack is crucial to success.
October 14, 2002
—Illustrating the limited range of debate in the corporate media, Time magazine pairs a supposedly dovish piece by Wesley Clark, headlined “Let’s Wait to Attack,” with a hawkish article by Kenneth Adelman headlined, “No, Let’s Not Waste Any Time.”
October 15, 2002
—In an article “Energy Dept. Tells Scientists Hush on Iraq,” Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News reports that “scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory are under orders from the Department of Energy to evade public inquiries concerning Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.” Aftergood notes that “the importance of such expert participation in public debate was illustrated by the recent dispute over the significance of Iraqi efforts to acquire 60,000 ‘high strength aluminum tubes.'”
—Discussing Iraqi public opinion, John Burns of the New York Times writes that “many Iraqis outflank the heavily censored fare of the state-controlled media by tuning in to shortwave radio transmissions in Arabic and Kurdish by the Voice of America and the BBC, and they have learned that 90 percent of the ordnance dropped by American aircraft in Afghanistan consisted of ‘smart bombs,’ with a high degree of accuracy, compared with a figure of only 10 percent in Iraq in 1991.”
If that’s what Iraqis learned, then they haven’t escaped government propaganda; they’re just getting it from another government. For one thing, the BBC (4/10/02) reported that 60 percent of U.S. bombs dropped on Afghanistan were precision-guided, not 90 percent. More importantly, there’s no guarantee that greater accuracy means that civilians are any safer; in an article examining “smart bombs,” the Christian Science Monitor (10/22/02) found that although half as many of the bombs dropped on Yugoslavia in 1999 were guided, “the number of civilians killed per bomb dropped may have been four times as high in Afghanistan as in Yugoslavia”—because many bombs accurately hit civilian targets.
October 16, 2002
—NBC Nightly News reports that an American attack on Iraq will consist of “hundreds of cruise missiles and thousands of air strikes with new precision-guided bombs far more accurate and deadly than those used against Iraq in the Gulf War 11 years ago.” The report fails to mention that NBC‘s parent company GE works on the engines of the Super Hornet planes that drop the so-called “smart bombs.”
—Progressive magazine editor Matt Rothschild writes on the magazine’s website:
By and large, the mainstream media are blowing a big story, and that story is the outpouring of mass protests against Bush’s impending Iraq war. It’s an outpouring in Europe, and in the United States, and we haven’t heard much about it.
October 20, 2002
—While debunking the claims of a link between Iraq and Al-Qaeda, New York Times, reporter James Risen suggests the Bush administration didn’t have much to do with pushing the story that 9/11 terrorist Mohammed Atta had met in Prague with an Iraqi official: “The White House has generally been cautious about using the reports of the Prague meeting to help make the case for war with Iraq.” But Vice President Dick Cheney had cited the Prague connection on NBC‘s Meet the Press (12/9/01, 9/8/02).
Risen also notes that “the Prague meeting has remained a live issue with other proponents of military action against Iraq, both in and out of the government.” One such voice “out of the government” has been Risen’s Times colleague William Safire, who has pushed the bogus link in several columns (11/12/01, 5/9/02)
October 21, 2002
—Time magazine runs an article headlined, “Expecting a Rerun of Gulf War I? Think again, Thanks to High Tech and Smart Bombs.” The piece begins: “If some U.S. officials are right, Iraqi engineers and scientists are in a race with time. Deep underground in the Salman Pak, Samarra and Tuwaitha complexes near Baghdad, they are thought to be developing biological, chemical and nuclear weapons and perfecting ways to deliver them.” Time assures readers that the United States military can thwart Iraq’s weapons ambitions with technologies that “turn ‘dumb’ bombs into weapons of amazing—and amazingly cheap—precision.” “Accuracy,” Time goes on to say, will be “a top priority in a new war against Iraq,” since the Pentagon is planning to “cause as few civilian casualties as possible.”
—Robert Collier of the San Francisco Chronicle (“U.S. Attack Leans on Shaky Legal Support“) writes that the “numerous U.S. legal scholars” take issue with the claim that the UN Security Council resolutions from 1990 and 1991—which authorized military action to remove Hussein from Kuwait—authorize a new war against Iraq. That White House legal argument is often taken at face value in much of the media.
—NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw asks, “Is there a real working relationship between Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein?” Correspondent Andrea Mitchell provides the answer: “To many Americans, the charge that Iraq was somehow involved in the 9/11 attacks is compelling, and one used by the president to build support for war against Saddam Hussein.” The report that follows includes three soundbites from administration officials, one critic who doubts the case, and one analyst, Ken Pollack, who explains the value of linking Iraq and Al-Qaeda. Mitchell closes by saying, “A recent poll shows that three-quarters of Americans already believe Saddam Hussein is helping Al-Qaeda, a sign the administration is making its case, at least to the public.” Such muddled reporting no doubt helps the administration’s efforts.
October 25, 2002
—The Chicago Reader reports that a Quaker group attempted to buy airtime on WBEZ in Chicago to publicize a candlelight peace vigil. WBEZ told the group that their underwriting announcement could say they were “exploring issues of morality and war,” but that this so-called exploration “could not use the word[s] ‘peace,’ ‘candlelight’ or ‘vigil.'”
October 26, 2002
—Reporting on a massive anti-war march in Washington, D.C., NPR‘s Nancy Marshall claims that the event is “not as large as the organizers of the protest had predicted. They had said there would be 100,000 people here. I’d say there are fewer than 10,000.” The next day, the New York Times reports that “thousands” attended the protest, “fewer people attended than organizers had said they hoped for.” The report is under 500 words and appears on page 8 of the paper. The next day (10/28/02), FAIR issues an action alert challenging the reporting of the New York Times and NPR. Thousands of emails later, the Times re-reported the story (10/30/02), admitting that the protest “drew 100,000 by police estimates and 200,000 by organizers’, forming a two-mile wall around the White House.” On the same day, NPR airs a correction.
October 27, 2002
—Pacifica Radio‘s Democracy Now! features an interview with former Iraqi nuclear scientist Imad Khadduri, who tells listeners the program has long been dormant.
November 7, 2002
—When anti-war activist Dr. Helen Caldicott blames the dramatic rise in birth defects in southern Iraq on the U.S. use of depleted uranium in anti-tank shells in the Gulf War, CNN‘s Wolf Blitzer defends the Pentagon. When Caldicott brings up the effect of sanctions on Iraq, Blitzer again offers the official line, saying that “the Iraqi regime itself is to blame for all of these problems.” Blitzer goes on to argue that Caldicott’s questioning of U.S. policy is tantamount to “defending the Iraqi regime.”
November 13, 2002
—The New York Post has a 67-word article titled “Effects of Iraqi War,” which notes that, according to the British group Medact, a war in Iraq could have “catastrophic health and environmental consequences.” The Post is one of the few major U.S. papers to even mention Medact’s report, which receives much more prominent attention in the foreign press.
—London Guardian columnist Simon Tisdall writes a piece entitled “Tricked and Bamboozled Into War,” criticizing the White House’s decision “to merge the elusive Osama and international terrorism with the familiar Saddam and the more easily targeted ‘evil axis’ states.” Tisdall goes on to note that rhetoric coming from the U.S. and Britain about not having yet decided on war is a fraud:
The die, they say, is not cast—and yet, it surely is. Constantly, patronizingly and without shame, the west’s warlords sing the same, deceptive siren song: we are listening, we have made no decisions, we will consult. With every twist in the downward descent, it becomes ever plainer that this is a mere charade or worse, a gradual, insidious process of conditioning, coercing, co-opting and entrapping the public.
November 14, 2002
—Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld appears on a special national radio call-in on Infinity Radio affiliates, where he says the war will be brief: “Five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn’t going to last any longer than that.”
November 20, 2002
—In an article for Alternet titled “A Lesson in U.S. Propaganda,” Mark Crispin Miller writes that Bush’s reasons for war are “fabrications.” “There is no evidence,” writes Miller, “that Saddam Hussein works with Al-Qaeda, or that his weapons are—like North Korea’s—a clear and present danger, or that the president himself does not plan to attack in any case.”
November 27, 2002
—FAIR releases a Media Advisory (“Common Myths in Iraq Coverage“) addressing some of the most prevalent distortions in reporting on Iraq, including the myth that Iraq “kicked out” UN weapons inspectors in 1998, or that the claims that previous inspections were being used to conduct spying for Israel are unfounded Iraqi propaganda (the spying was widely reported in major media outlets).
December 1, 2002
—New York Times columnist Tom Friedman asks, “Is there just one Iraqi scientist or official who wants to see the freedom of his country so badly that he is ready to cooperate with the UN by submitting to an interview and exposing the regime’s hidden weapons?”
Friedman provides an answer: “If there is not one such person in Iraq, well, that tells us something about the Iraqi people’s own quest for freedom and a different future.”
December 7, 2002
—The New York Times reports the White House interpretation of the key UN Security Council Resolution as if it is undisputed fact: “Under the terms of resolution 1441, if the United States can show that Iraq has omitted any significant information about a prohibited weapons program, Baghdad will be in ‘material breach’ of the resolution and Washington can go to war to make it disarm.” That interpretation had been challenged by various legal scholars.
December 8, 2002
—A CBS 60 Minutes report challenges many of the White House’s justifications for the war, pointing out the phantom IAEA report on Iraq’s nuclear weapons, and questioning allegations about Iraq’s aluminum tubes and Iraq’s alleged connections to Al-Qaeda.
December 12, 2002
—The Washington Post runs a front-page article by Barton Gellman headlined, “U.S. Suspects Al-Qaeda Got Nerve Agent From Iraqis; Analysts: Chemical May Be VX, and Was Smuggled Via Turkey.” The paper suggests that Bush has “received a credible report” that Al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists have been given chemical weapons by the Iraq government, which gives “concrete evidence” to Bush’s contention that Iraq is aiding Al-Qaeda.
—MSNBC‘s Dan Abrams interviews actor and activist Mike Farrell about the Post‘s Iraq-Al Qaeda story: “This new report indicates to me that this, if true, is a very, very serious issue that might warrant a war with Iraq.” Farrell counters, “What if it’s not true?” Farrell adds: “The media, forgive me, has been acting as a megaphone for the administration throughout this process. When you emblazon your own show with ‘Showdown With Iraq’ or ‘Countdown on Iraq’ and all this other stuff, what is the message that is sent, do you suppose, to the American people?” Later on in the interview, Farrell points out that the Bush administration “has lied in the past” and might be continuing to lie; Abrams replies, “I don’t know about that.” In March 2007, Dan Abrams became the general manager of MSNBC.
December 31, 2002
—Under the headline “Inspectors ‘Have Zilch’ Thus Far,” the Los Angeles Times reports weapons inspectors in Iraq “have yet to find a smoking gun, a trace of radiation or a single germ spore.” Inspectors interviewed for the article explain that the “Iraqis have been obliging, even eager to please,” and describes the “acute pressure” coming from Washington “to find something soon.”
January 9, 2003
—USA Today reports that relief workers in Iraq “oppose a war and may want to exaggerate the devastation one would cause,” but that “military planners would probably try to minimize damage because they want to keep the country intact.” Nonetheless, the paper warns that the U.S. “might be forced to bomb power plants and bridges…. Its highways and bridges are perfect military targets….Baghdad is a victim of its own sophistication.”
—Global Policy Forum executive director James Paul tells Democracy Now! listeners about his experience writing a commentary for NPR:
They approached me in late November, and we agreed to do a three-minute piece on oil as a cause of the war. It went through quite a lengthy process. I had to write it up, it was edited, it was put through factchecking, it was taped, and then I never heard back. I asked the producer several times through emails and she never replied, and finally the story was killed. So much for All Things Considered—I think we should call it “Some Things Considered.”
January 14, 2003
—Bill O’Reilly explains one rationale for invading Iraq: “We basically feel that he is a danger to our oil supply there.”
January 16, 2003
—ABC‘s Ted Koppel doubts that America is “really listening” to war protestors, since “we’re still only talking about a few hundred thousand people out of a population of 270 million-plus.” It was Koppel who apparently isn’t listening; moments earlier, ABC polling director Gary Langer noted that those strongly opposed to the war number “about 40 million people.”
January 17, 2003
—Fox News Channel‘s Bill O’Reilly defends American media coverage of the upcoming war: “Everywhere else in the world lies. If you see the foreign coverage, it’s just a bunch of propaganda.”
January 19, 2003
—Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld appears on ABC‘s This Week, telling George Stephanopoulos that “almost every time you quote something from [Saddam Hussein], you should preface it by saying ‘Here’s a man who has lied all the time and consistently.'”
January 21, 2003
—Robert Fisk of the London Independent writes of the “massed ranks of American television networks have been pouring into Kuwait to cozy up to the U.S. military, to seek those coveted ‘pool’ positions, to try on their Army or Marine costumes and make sure that—if or when the day comes—they will have the kind of coverage that every reporter and every general wants: a few facts, good pictures and nothing dirty to make the viewers throw up on the breakfast table.”
The Americans are actually using the word “embedded”. Reporters must be “embedded” in military units. The fears of Central Command at Tampa, Florida, are that Saddam will commit some atrocity—a gas attack on Shiites, an air bombardment of Iraqi civilians—and then blame it on the Americans. Journalists in the “pool” can thus be rushed to the scene to prove that the killings were the dastardly work of the Beast of Baghdad rather than the “collateral damage”—the Distinguished Medal for Gutlessness should be awarded to all journalists who even mention this phrase—of the fine young men who are trying to destroy the triple pillar of the “axis of evil.”
January 24, 2003
—NBC News airs a commercial promoting their reliance on hawkish military perspectives, as reported on FAIR’s radio show CounterSpin:
Showdown Iraq, and only NBC News has the experts. General Norman Schwarzkopf, allied commander during the Gulf War. General Barry McCaffrey, he was the most decorated four-star general in the Army. General Wayne Downing, former special operations commander and White House adviser. Ambassador Richard Butler and former UN weapons inspector David Kay: Nobody has seen Iraq like they have. The experts. The best information from America’s most watched news organization, NBC News.
January 24, 2003
—The Washington Post‘s Joby Warrick writes an article headlined “U.S. Claim on Iraqi Nuclear Program Is Called Into Question.” Bush’s aluminum tubes accusation, writes Warrick, “was by far the most prominent, detailed assertion by the White House of recent Iraqi efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. But according to government officials and weapons experts, the claim now appears to be seriously in doubt.” He notes the U.N. weapons inspectors are now “confident” that the tubes were not meant to enrich uranium, and that “there were clues from the beginning that should have raised doubts about claims that the tubes were part of a secret Iraqi nuclear weapons program, according to U.S. and international experts on uranium enrichment.”
—The New York Times‘ Judith Miller publishes an article entitled “Defectors Bolster U.S. Case Against Iraq, Officials Say.” Miller writes that many Iraqi ex-pats have offered information on Hussein’s weapons program, but that, according to the Bush administration, only “a dozen or so” are credible. One defector, reports Miller, “told American officials that chemical and biological weapons laboratories were hidden beneath hospitals and inside presidential palaces.”
January 26, 2003
—On CNN‘s Reliable Sources, actress and activist Janeane Garofalo tells host Howard Kurtz: “You have anchors saying all the time, ‘Well, we know Saddam has weapons of mass destruction.’ No, we don’t. We do not. We do not know that.”
January 28, 2003
—George W. Bush delivers his State of the Union Address, in which he says: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities. He clearly has much to hide.”
—The Associated Press reports that the Comcast cable company refuses to air Peace Action Education Fund’s anti-war ads during Bush’s State of the Union speech. Ironically, Comcast contends that the ads make unsubstantiated claims, but declines to specify what those claims are.
January 29, 2003
—Fox News Channel‘s Bill O’Reilly tries to bet one of his guests that U.S. victory in Iraq would be swift: “I will bet you the best dinner in the gaslight district of San Diego that military action will not last more than a week. Are you willing to take that wager?”
January 30, 2003
—The Institute for Public Accuracy releases an in-depth analysis of key claims in President Bush’s State of the Union Address, drawing on the work of more than 20 experts.
January 31, 2003
—Noted on the website Cursor.org:
An AP story that most news outlets headlined “Saddam, Al-Qaeda Would Be Unusual Allies,” becomes “Nightmare Scenario: Iraq, Al-Qaeda Linked” at FOXNews.com.
February 2, 2003
—In a piece about how the U.S. is winning the debate over Iraq at the U.N., the New York Times states that “nobody seriously expected Mr. Hussein to lead inspectors to his stash of illegal poisons or rockets, or let his scientists tell all,” intimating that the weapons inspectors’ lack of findings should not stop the U.S. from assuming Iraq has weapons.
—In a New York Times article headlined, “All Aboard: America’s War Train Is Leaving The Station,” Serge Schmemann writes: “In challenging the United Nations last fall to join in the attack on Saddam Hussein, President Bush did not say, You’re with us or against us. He said something far more shrewd: Either you’re with us, or you’re irrelevant.”
February 4, 2003
—FAIR releases a media advisory, “Iraq’s Hidden Weapons: From Allegation to Fact,” which points out that the “media’s intensive coverage of the UN inspections has repeatedly glided from reporting the allegation that Iraq is hiding banned weapons materials to repeating it as a statement of fact.” As FAIR concludes:
Through constant repetition of phrases like “the search for Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction,” the media convey to the public the impression that the alleged banned weapons on which the Bush administration rests its case for war are known to exist and that the question is simply whether inspectors are skillful enough to find them. In fact, whether or not Iraq possesses banned weapons is very much an open question, one which no publicly available evidence can answer one way or the other. As they routinely do in other cases, journalists should make a habit of using the modifier “alleged” when referring to Iraq’s alleged hidden weapons.
February 5, 2003
—CBS 60 Minutes II views footage of an interview with Saddam Hussein conducted by British peace activist and former Labor Party MP Tony Benn. CBS reporter Bob Simon comments that Saddam Hussein “and the Iraqi people have pitched their tents right in the middle of the global peace camp.” CBS taps conservative scholar and war advocate Fouad Ajami to analyze the interview:
My own judgment is that the people of Iraq will not fight for Saddam Hussein. And it’s just my own guess that were we to enter Baghdad, when the time comes to do so, it will be exactly a repeat of what had happened in Kabul when the Americans came into Afghanistan and were greeted by kites and music and boom boxes, and people were glad to be rid of the Taliban.
—Colin Powell’s presentation of evidence against Iraq is met with widespread media praise, as noted by FAIR’s February 10 Media Advisory:
* On the NBC Nightly News, Powell’s allegations become actual capabilities of the Iraqi military: “Powell played a tape of a Mirage jet retrofitted to spray simulated anthrax, and a model of Iraq’s unmanned drones, capable of spraying chemical or germ weapons within a radius of at least 550 miles.”
* Introducing an interview with Colin Powell on 60 Minutes, Dan Rather treats Powell’s allegations as fact: “Holding a vial of anthrax-like powder, Powell said Saddam might have tens of thousands of liters of anthrax. He showed how Iraqi jets could spray that anthrax and how mobile laboratories are being used to concoct new weapons.”
* USA Today (2/6/03) praises Powell’s speech under the headline “Case Is Stronger When ‘Biggest Dove’ Makes It.” Steven Weisman of the New York Times (2/6/03) praises the presentation as an “encyclopedic catalog that reached further than many had expected.” CNN‘s William Schneider (2/6/03): “No one disputes the findings Powell presented at the UN that Iraq is essentially guilty of failing to disarm.”
—An exchange on CNN‘s Larry King Live with the Washington Post‘s Bob Woodward:
CALLER: What happens if we go to war against Iraq and we knock them right out and we find no weapons of mass destruction? That’s my question. My answer to Mr. Powell—he had everything was going fine until he tied al Qaeda to Saddam Hussein. They are mortal enemies. Islamic fundamentalists and secular Muslims. That’s oil and water. That lost me.
KING: All right. Bob?
WOODWARD: OK. That’s a good point and it was at the end of his presentation and he said, again, what was interesting, the language was so careful. This tie is potentially more sinister than the weapons of mass destruction and he laid out a series of intelligence, some intelligence information about connections, but he didn’t overstate. He said potentially more serious.
On your question about suppose we go to war and go into Iraq and there are no weapons of mass destruction. I think the chance of that happening is about zero. There’s just too much there.
February 6, 2003
—Colin Powell’s U.N. presentation is praised on the Washington Post op-ed page. Mary McGrory writes a piece entitled “I’m Persuaded,” which begins, “I don’t know how the United Nations felt about Colin Powell’s ‘J’accuse’ speech against Saddam Hussein. I can only say that he persuaded me, and I was as tough as France to convince.” What made Powell’s speech so convincing, writes McGrory, was that “his voice was strong and unwavering. He made his case without histrionics of any kind, with no verbal embellishments.” In the end, McGrory states that she “heard enough to know that Saddam Hussein, with his stockpiles of nerve gas and death-dealing chemicals, is more of a menace than I had thought.”
Richard Cohen, another liberal Post columnist, announces that Powell has ended the debate on Iraq:
The evidence he presented to the United Nations—some of it circumstantial, some of it absolutely bone-chilling in its detail—had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn’t accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool—or possibly a Frenchman—could conclude otherwise.
—ConsortiumNews publishes an article entitled “Trust Colin Powell?” which admonishes the media for gushing over the Secretary of State:
The U.S. news media promoted two ‘themes’ about Secretary of State Colin Powell’s trip to the United Nations…While the ‘evidence’ on its face didn’t seem to prove much of anything, the media’s first ‘theme’ was that Powell is a trustworthy man of principle, a straight talker who wouldn’t be part of some cheap propaganda ploy. The second ‘theme’ was that Powell’s appearance before the United Nations was a kind of sequel to Adlai Stevenson’s convincing case that Soviet missiles had been installed in Cuba in 1962.
—Fox News Channel‘s Michael Kondracke Boys fantasizes about a US victory:
One of these days, quite soon, a month from now or so, one side or the other is going to be vindicated. I anticipate and hope and pray that it’s our side, that, we, the Iraqis will greet us as liberators, that we’ll discover vast caches of weapons of mass destruction, and war plans, and evidence of human rights violations, and maybe some evidence of French collusion with the, with the Iraqis, wouldn’t be surprised at that.
—Fox News Channel‘s John Gibson on Saddam Hussein:
He’s going to use that stuff on U.S. troops, on his neighbors who’ve been quietly helping the U.S. on Israel. The weapons inspectors are never going to find the chem- and bioweapons because Saddam needs them…. We’re going to eventually see that stuff and it’s going to be incoming. And it would be incoming in any case.
February 9, 2003
—The London Observer‘s Luke Harding debunks Colin Powell’s claim that a compound in northeastern Iraq “run by an Islamic terrorist group Ansar al Islam” is “a ‘terrorist chemicals and poisons factory.'” The paper describes that supposed “poisons factory” as “more a dilapidated collection of concrete outbuildings at the foot of a grassy sloping hill. Behind the barbed wire, and a courtyard strewn with broken rocket parts, are a few empty concrete houses. There is a bakery. There is no sign of chemical weapons anywhere—only the smell of paraffin and vegetable ghee used for cooking.” After exploring the compound, the Observer calls Powell’s claims “little more than cheap hyperbole.”
February 10, 2003
—FAIR releases “A Failure of Skepticism in Powell Coverage,” which takes the media to task for uncritical reporting on Colin Powell’s U.N. address. FAIR points out:
Journalists should always be wary of implying unquestioning faith in official assertions; recent history is full of official claims based on satellite and other intelligence data that later turned out to be false or dubious.
The FAIR release notes that several claims made by the White House and by Powell at the U.N. had already been debunked by reporters; a strong January 18 Associated Press report concluded: “In almost two months of surprise visits across Iraq, U.N. arms monitors have inspected 13 sites identified by U.S. and British intelligence agencies as major ‘facilities of concern,’ and reported no signs of revived weapons building.”
—New Yorker reporter Jeffrey Goldberg turns in a lengthy piece on the alleged connection between Iraq and Al-Qaeda. “In interviews with senior officials,”writes Goldberg, “the following picture emerged: American intelligence believes that Al Qaeda and Saddam reached a non-aggression agreement in 1993, and that the relationship deepened further in the mid-1990s, when an Al-Qaeda operative—a native-born Iraqi who goes by the name Abu Abdullah al-Iraqi—was dispatched by bin Laden to ask the Iraqis for help in poison-gas training.”
—Democracy Now! interviews Cambridge University lecturer Glen Rangwala, who first discovered that a key British intelligence report was in fact plagiarized from an American student’s doctoral thesis. The report had been cited by Colin Powell in his speech to the UN as proof that the Iraqis had weapons.
—Fox News Channel‘s Bill O’Reilly again promises his viewers that the U.S. will effortlessly win the impending war in Iraq: “Our military machine will crush Iraq in a matter of days and there’s no question it will… Once the United States and Britain unleash, it’s maybe hours. They’re going to fold like that.”
February 12, 2003
—NBC Nightly News reporter Jim Miklaszewki comments that in a recently released tape, Osama bin Laden “strongly denounces Saddam Hussein, calling him a socialist and infidel, specifically stating it doesn’t matter if Saddam or his socialist party are driven from power.” Miklaszewki bizarrely concludes: “Experts say the apparent contradiction is indicative of the on again, off again relationship between bin Laden and Iraq.”
—A FAIR study examines all 393 on-camera sources appearing in stories about Iraq on ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News and PBS‘s NewsHour with Jim Lehrer beginning one week before and ending one week after Colin Powell’s February 5 presentation at the U.N. The study finds that while war skeptics are rarely seen on the network newscasts, 76 percent of all sources were current or former government officials. At a time when 61 percent of respondents were telling CBS pollsters they felt the U.S. should “wait and give the United Nations and weapons inspectors more time,” just 6 percent of U.S. sources were skeptics about the need for war. Just 3 of 393 sources were identified with anti-war activism.
February 13, 2003
—Newsweek.com reports that Viacom has refused to sell billboard space to Moveon.org for anti-war ads which read “INSPECTIONS WORK. WAR WON’T.” According to one source, Viacom Outdoor CEO Wally Kelly “personally decided not to run the ads.”
—The Associated Press reports comments from CBS reporter John Roberts on embedding reporters in military units: “There’s no better way to put the lie to Saddam’s statements than to have the eyes and ears of the U.S. media there.” CBS correspondent Bob Simon adds, “The Iraqis are going to be treated to a light and sound show the likes of which we can only begin to anticipate.”
—A 25-page Human Rights Watch briefing warns that a U.S. attack could instigate a “humanitarian disaster.” As a FAIR action alert points out (3/14/03), the report was not mentioned by any of the network newscasts.
— The Washington Post reports, “Bin Laden-Hussein Link Hazy,” a story unfortunately buried on Page A20.
—David Martin of CBS Evening News reports, “Whatever the price of getting rid of Saddam, Rumsfeld says, it will be cheaper than 9/11.”
February 15, 2003
—Mass protests are held around the world against the Iraq War. Hundreds of thousands turn out in New York City. The mainstream media pay more attention than usual, though some outlets were a little confused about turnout. The ABC News website ran this headline over an Associated Press report: “Thousands Worldwide Protest War in Iraq.” The subhead, right under the headline, was “Hundreds of Thousands Worldwide Open Day of Rallies Against Possible Military Action in Iraq.” The first line of the piece: “Millions of protesters many of them marching in the capitals of America’s traditional allies demonstrated Saturday against possible U.S. plans to attack Iraq.”
Unsurprisingly, coverage of the New York march on Fox News Channel is hostile. One anchor mentions that he “came to work here and looked out the windows and I haven’t seen that many people.” The reporter on the scene, Jonathan Hunt, agrees, saying that it “didn’t seem to me as though they got anywhere near this much touted figure of 100,000.” Hunt refers to the “usual suspects” marching along with the “usual celebrity suspects,” before adding that the march “hasn’t got a lot of attention so far I think because the numbers were far, far below that 100,000.” Another Fox anchor comments later in the day that the network is “always very reluctant to show these pictures of the anti-war protest. It is unrepresentative of sentiment in America.”
February 17, 2003
—Recapping his U.N. presentation, Time magazine praises Secretary of State Colin Powell:
Powell, we sometimes forget, is a phenomenon, a chapter from tomorrow’s history books walking right in front of us. It isn’t just the unique resume that demands respect; it’s also the presence and the personality—the unforced authenticity and effortless sense of command…that stills and fills a room.
February 18, 2003
—Reporting from Kuwait with “a new band of brothers preparing for the first war of the 21st Century,” NBC‘s Tom Brokaw worries that “with all this firepower and all these forces primed and ready to go, how long can they stay in peak condition?” Such worries—that the U.S invasion wasn’t happening fast enough—are common in media discussions.
February 19, 2003
—In an NBC Nightly News story about the Pentagon’s “growing worries” about civilian casualties, Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski reports that military officials predict that “thousands” of Iraqi civilians may “be killed entirely by accident in an intensive bombing campaign.”
February 20, 2003
—On Good Morning America, ABC reporter Claire Shipman reports on the lengths Saddam Hussein might go to in order to hurt Iraqis, since he is “somebody who’s happy to kill his own people.” Shipman explains this scenario is “what the Bush Administration most fears,” asserting that Hussein might “starve thousands of his own people, destroy their infrastructure, even cities in order to slow down U.S. troops, and then blame the United States.” This remark was followed by a soundbite from a spokesperson from the Center for Strategic & International Studies asserting that Hussein “is very likely to try and commit some kind of humanitarian disaster” in the event of war.
February 21, 2003
—USA Today reports that a U.S. military attack that will “leave Iraq’s regular military, its civilians and most cities and towns untouched.”
February 23, 2003
—The New York Times runs an article headlined “U.S. Plan: Spare Iraq’s Civilians.” The article describes U.S. policy on avoiding civilian targets and contends that “American wartime leaders have struggled to balance the need to win wars with the moral imperative to avoid civilian casualties.” The piece notes that “the Bush administration has launched a pre-emptive public relations campaign warning that Mr. Hussein might try to put his own people at risk in order to increase the civilian body count.”
—The St. Petersburg Times discusses a report by the Baker Institute for Public Policy, commissioned by Dick Cheney, which underscores the importance of Iraq in the United States’ “energy dilemma.” Given Iraq’s “destabilizing” influence on the flow of oil, James Baker’s think thank urges the White House to “conduct an immediate policy review toward Iraq including military, energy, economic and political/diplomatic assessments.”
February 24, 2003
—On ABC‘s Nightline, reporter John Donvan presents valuable information about war’s potentially “catastrophic” impact, but is still compelled to portray the human costs as an unfortunate side effect and ultimately not the United States’ fault: “Even if Saddam is the source of so many of the Iraqi people’s problems, very likely it’s the U.S. the world would choose to blame.” The report ends by saying that humanitarian assistance would be necessary to ensure that the war would have a “positive impact,” because “it is assumed that some Iraqi civilians, perhaps many, will be killed…. Not deliberately, but as a result of what is called collateral damage.”
—The New York Times‘ Lynette Holloway explains that radio “program directors are planning to adjust their playlists if the United States goes to war with Iraq. Expect to hear more patriotic tunes, and songs that appear right for the moment.”
February 25, 2003
—MSNBC cancels Donahue, its top-rated show and a rare oasis of war skepticism in the mainstream media. An internal NBC report surfaces (All Your TV) that describes him as “a difficult public face for NBC in a time of war.” The report worries that his show could become “a home for the liberal antiwar agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity.”
—Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen attacks Rep. Dennis Kucinich under the headline, “Antiwar And Illogical,” writing that “it was particularly shocking, not to mention refreshing, to hear Richard Perle on Sunday call Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) a liar to his face.” Cohen goes on to call Kucinich an “indomitable demagogue,” and ask, “How did this fool get on Meet the Press“?
February 26, 2003
—”Once the war against Saddam begins, we expect every American to support our military, and if they can’t do that, to shut up. Americans, and indeed our allies, who actively work against our military once the war is underway will be considered enemies of the state by me. Just fair warning to you, Barbra Streisand, and others who see the world as you do.”
(Bill O’Reilly, Fox News Channel)
February 27, 2003
—NBC Nightly News correspondent Andrea Mitchell reports that “for the U.S.,” the discovery of several Iraqi missiles are “a nightmare scenario. If Iraq destroys the missiles, it will be much harder to get support for military action.” Why the apparent successes in disarming Iraq are a “nightmare” is hard to understand.
March 2, 2003
—The London Observer breaks a story about “a secret ‘dirty tricks’ campaign” by the National Security Agency (NSA) “against U.N. Security Council delegations.” An NSA memo leaked to the Observer reveals an “aggressive surveillance operation, which involves interception of the home and office telephones and the emails of U.N. delegates in New York.” The operation, the Observer reports, “is aimed at gleaning information not only on how delegations on the Security Council will vote on any second resolution on Iraq, but also ‘policies’, ‘negotiating positions’, ‘alliances’ and ‘dependencies’ – the ‘whole gamut of information that could give US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to US goals or to head off surprises.'” A FAIR action alert (3/11/03) notes that the story was ignored by the network newscasts and the New York Times; the Washington Post, meanwhile, belittled the story (“Spying Report No Shock to U.N.,” 3/4/03).
—Fox News anchor Brit Hume on U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix: “If I die, I’d like to come back as Hans Blix’s son. You’d never be in any trouble. Any effort would be good enough. Grades would never be bad enough to get you in any trouble. It would be great.”
March 3, 2003
—In what should have been a blockbuster story, Newsweek‘s John Barry reports that a well-known Iraqi defector, who had been cited repeatedly to buttress the argument that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, actually told a very different story. Barry obtained the transcript of General Hussein Kamel’s debriefing by the IAEA and UNSCOM, and writes that Kamel, the highest-ranking Iraqi official ever to defect from Saddam Hussein’s inner circle, told weapons inspectors that “after the Gulf War, Iraq destroyed all its chemical and biological weapon stocks and the missiles to deliver them.” Newsweek correctly notes that this story “raises questions about whether WMD [weapons of mass destruction] stockpiles attributed to Iraq still exist.” A FAIR Media Advisory headlined “Star Witness on Iraq Said Weapons Were Destroyed” (2/27/03) attempted to draw attention to the report, which Newsweek had inexplicably downplayed.
—The Nation‘s Alexander Cockburn writes that “less than a week after Powell’s speech it looked as though its major claims were at best speculative and at worst outright distortions, some of them derided in advance by UN chief inspector Hans Blix.”
There was the supposed transporter of biotoxins that turned out to be a truck from the health department; the sinisterly enlarged test ramp for long-range missiles that was nothing of the sort; the suspect facility that had recently been cleared by the UN inspection teams; the strange eavesdropped conversations that could just as well have been Iraqi officers discussing how to hide stills for making bootleg whiskey. The promoter of the Iraq/Al Qaeda link, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, turns out to be an imaginative liar trying to get a prison sentence commuted; and the terror cell Ansar al-Islam, a bunch of Islamic fundamentalists violently opposed to Saddam and operating out of Kurdish territory.
March 4, 2003
—Progressive columnists Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman survey the Washington Post op-ed page in a piece titled, “The Unbalanced Hawks at the Washington Post.” Mokhiber and Weissman write that over “the six-month period from September through February, the leading newspaper in the nation’s capital has editorialized 26 times in favor of war.” Mokhiber and Weissman also point out that, in the past four months, the Post has run twice as many pieces for the war as against.
March 6, 2003
—George W. Bush holds a prime-time press conference. Bush is obviously calling on reporters from a pre-selected list; at one point he says: “We’ll be there in a minute. King, John King. This is a scripted….”
The media performance is broadly criticized, including by some journalists—ABC‘s Terry Moran later tells the New York Observer (3/17/03), “I don’t think he was sufficiently challenged,” and that the reporters ended up “looking like zombies.”
And New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller would later explain (Baltimore Sun, 3/22/04) her reticence to ask difficult questions:
I think we were very deferential because…it’s live, it’s very intense, it’s frightening to stand up there. Think about it, you’re standing up on prime-time live TV asking the president of the United States a question when the country’s about to go to war. There was a very serious, somber tone that evening, and no one wanted to get into an argument with the president at this very serious time.
—On MSNBC‘s Hardball, Newsweek’s Howard Fineman likens Bush to a movie character:
If he’s a cowboy, he’s the reluctant warrior, the Shane in the movie, strapping on the guns as the last resort because he has to, to protect his family, drawing on the emotions of 9/11, tying them to Saddam Hussein, using the possible or likely rejection vote from the UN as a badge of honor.
—MSNBC‘s Dan Abrams indignantly defends the Bush administration against critics who suggest the White House isn’t telling the truth about the rationale for war:
Well, anyone making these allegations better be willing to defend exactly what they’re saying. They’re saying this administration is at the least morally corrupt, lying to the American public and the world about their motives and willing to have Americans die for that lie, and at worst, that they’re actually abhorrent criminals. That’s absurd.
— Jim Miklasziewski of NBC Nightly News discusses “intelligence reports” that “claim Saddam’s been buying US military uniforms to be worn by his own troops so they could commit atrocities against Iraqi civilians which would then be blamed on American forces.”
March 7, 2003
—CNN‘s Jeff Greenfield analyzes a speech by George W. Bush: “I think the most striking substantive theme was the attempt to link Saddam Hussein with terror in general and with 9/11 in particular…. The more the president can make the war against Saddam Hussein a war against terrorism, which Americans would almost unanimously support—there was almost no opposition to going to Afghanistan—the stronger his case, I think.”
March 8, 2003
—With soldiers in Kuwait complaining that there is “too much waiting around,” NPR reports that “the clock is ticking.” Military preparations are like a “huge gun and every day you cock the hammer back a little more.”
—The Associated Press reports that the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, “rejected a Bush administration claim that Iraq had tried to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes to use in centrifuges for uranium enrichment.” ElBaradei also reveals that documents used to bolster the story are forgeries. The New York Times—which famously put the tubes allegations on the front page—referred to the findings this way: “For months, American officials have cited Iraq’s importation of these tubes as evidence that Mr. Hussein’s scientists have been seeking to develop a nuclear capability.”
—The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Halliburton “has won a Pentagon contract for advice on building Iraq’s oil fields after a possible war.” The announcement of the contract is buried in “a Defense Department statement on preparations for Saddam Hussein’s possible destruction of Iraq’s oil fields in the event of a U.S.-led invasion.” The paper points out that the company’s White House ties “arouse suspicions among those who believe that a primary motive for a U.S. war in Iraq is oil.”
March 9, 2003
—Despite admitting that no “smoking gun had been found,” CBS‘s Bob Schieffer rationalizes the war this way:
Saddam thirsts for power, not money, and he has willingly sacrificed the lives of his young people and used whatever weapons he thought necessary when his power was threatened. I hope against hope that there is a way out of this war, but I keep coming back to this: A man who is willing to kill his son-in-law is a threat to as many people as his weapons can reach.
March 11, 2003
—Peter Jennings says that embedding reporters in Iraq with the U.S. military is part of the military’s effort to let Americans to “see war as it really is.”
— Carl Conetta of the Project on Defense Alternatives tries to tell Fox News Channel‘s Bill O’Reilly that when weapons inspectors say Iraq’s stockpiles of weapons are “unaccounted for,” that does not mean Iraq is hiding weapons: “They do not mean they know that it exists. And Blix is very clear about this.” To which O’Reilly responds, “Jesus. All right….. This is great. I love this. This is parsing, and this is what you guys do for a living. See, you as an American — do you have a family, sir?”
March 12, 2003
—The Los Angeles Times reports: “Maybe it’s a coincidence, but American and British oil companies would be long-term beneficiaries of a successful military offensive led by the United States and Britain to remove Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.”
March 13, 2003
—Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies writes an op-ed for USA Today that argues that the United States is “insisting on canceling inspections and choosing instead a catastrophic war, just when U.N. inspections and disarmament are showing real results.” The piece continues: “There was no evidence that Iraq had mobile laboratories for biological-weapons production. There was no evidence that the much-hyped Iraqi attempt to purchase enriched uranium from Niger ever happened. To the contrary, the documents Washington and London gave to the inspectors turned out to be forgeries.”
—The New York Times reports that MTV has refused to run an antiwar ad directed by Academy Award winner Barbara Kopple.
March 14, 2003
—Under the headline “Democracy Domino Theory ‘Not Credible,'” the Los Angeles Times reports: “A classified State Department report expresses doubt that installing a new regime in Iraq will foster the spread of democracy in the Middle East, a claim President Bush has made in trying to build support for a war, according to intelligence officials familiar with the document.”
—The Associated Press runs an article headlined “Ex-CIA Analysts Accuse Bush of Manipulating Iraq Evidence.” The piece cites a “group composed mostly of retired CIA officers” who claim that “the administration’s public evidence about the immediacy of Iraq’s threat to the United States and its alleged ties to Al-Qaeda is unconvincing.” Further, the group claims “the Bush administration has released information on Iraq that meets only its ends — while ignoring or withholding contrary reporting.”
—The New York Times publishes an article by Kate Zernike headlined “Liberals for War: Some of Intellectual Left’s Longtime Doves Taking on Role of Hawks.” The article argues that “as the nation stands on the brink of war, reluctant hawks are declining to join their usual soulmates in marching against war.” It cites seven people by name as “somewhat hesitant backers of military might”—every one of whom is on the record as having supported the 1991 Gulf War.
March 17, 2003
—Newsweek‘s cover story is entitled “Saddam’s War,” and the cover features a close-up of Hussein’s face on fire. At the top of the story, Newsweek reports from the scene of a Baghdad military parade, describing as jarring the sight of Iraqi fedayeen fighters “garbed in the familiar tan camouflage of the United States Army. Saddam has ordered thousands of uniforms identical, down to the last detail, to those worn by U.S. and British troopers. The plan: to have Saddam’s men, posing as Western invaders, slaughter Iraqi citizens while the cameras roll for Al Jazeera and the credulous Arab press.” The article closes with this call for war:
One Arab intelligence officer interviewed by Newsweek spoke of ‘the green mushroom’ over Baghdad—the modern-day caliph bidding a grotesque bio-chem farewell to the land of the living alongside thousands of his subjects as well as his enemies. Saddam wants to be remembered. He has the means and the demonic imagination. It is up to U.S. armed forces to stop him before he can achieve notoriety for all time.
March 18, 2003
—Bill O’Reilly makes a promise on ABC‘s Good Morning America: “If the Americans go in and overthrow Saddam Hussein and it’s clean, he has nothing, I will apologize to the nation, and I will not trust the Bush Administration again, all right?”
—A Washington Post headline reads “President Tells Hussein to Leave Iraq Within 48 Hours or Face Invasion.” As FAIR points out the next day (“Will the War Begin With a Big Lie?“), at the bottom of page A16 the New York Times reports that the Bush’s deadline is meaningless: “Even if Saddam Hussein leaves Iraq within 48 hours, as President Bush demanded…allied forces plan to move north into Iraqi territory, American officials said today.”
—Slate.com‘s Today‘s Papers summarizes newspaper coverage of George W. Bush’s major Iraq speech:
Bush also spent a chunk of the speech pushing the alleged connection between Al-Qaeda and Iraq, charging that Saddam “has aided, trained and harbored terrorists, including operatives of Al-Qaeda.” Most of the papers, exhibiting acute signs of learned helplessness, or maybe just bored with whole thing, don’t challenge the president. The Washington Post is an exception. It headlines, “Bush Clings to Dubious Allegations About Iraq.” The story runs on page A13.
—A Los Angeles Times article about George W. Bush’s March 17 speech explains that U.N. Security Council resolution 1441 “promised ‘serious consequences’ — a diplomatic euphemism for military force — if Iraq failed to disarm.” Some legal scholars have long challenged that interpretation, and the debate at the U.N. has been focused precisely on the question of whether or not 1441 automatically authorized force.
—The Washington Post‘s Walter Pincus and Dana Milbank write:
As the Bush administration prepares to attack Iraq this week, it is doing so on the basis of a number of allegations against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that have been challenged — and in some cases disproved — by the United Nations, European governments and even U.S. intelligence reports.
March 19, 2003
—U.S. and coalition forces begin bombing Iraq.
—The Chicago Tribune reports on pro-war rallies organized by radio giant Clear Channel: “In a move that has raised eyebrows in some legal and journalistic circles, Clear Channel radio stations in Atlanta, Cleveland, San Antonio, Cincinnati and other cities have sponsored rallies attended by up to 20,000 people. The events have served as a loud rebuttal to the more numerous but generally smaller anti-war rallies.” The piece goes on to note that Clear Channel‘s rallies “are the idea of Glenn Beck, a Philadelphia talk show host whose program is syndicated by Premier Radio Networks, a Clear Channel subsidiary.” In 2006, Beck would be rewarded for his efforts with a nightly show on CNN Headline News.
—NBC‘s Matt Lauer explains the multi-million-dollar press briefing room in Qatar “is all to help the U.S. military make sure they get their side of the story out because their fear, of course, is, Tom, that Iraq will distort the story and turn public opinion against the United States, the coalition forces.”
—John Burns of the New York Times writes: “The striking thing was that for many Iraqis, the first American strike could not come too soon.”
—”We don’t want to destroy the infrastructure of Iraq, because in a few days we’re gonna own that country.”
(NBC‘s Tom Brokaw)
March 20, 2003
—Ted Koppel, Brian Williams, Matt Lauer, and many other journalists report that U.S. military sources describe missiles launched by Iraq as “Scuds,” the Soviet-made missile used during the Gulf War which exceeds the range limits of the 1991 ceasefire agreement. Many variations of the reports circulated, often with additional anecdotes of the Scuds, sometimes explaining that one or more were shot down by Patriot missiles. The reports would soon prove to be false—two days later, the Associated Press reports that a military official “told a Pentagon news conference that Iraqis have not fired any Scuds,” and that “U.S. forces have uncovered no missiles or launchers.”
—The New York Times runs an article on the various foreign ministers and officials who contend that “the planned American-led invasion to disarm Iraq and oust Saddam Hussein had no basis in international law.”
—The New York Times reports on Fox News Channel‘s coverage of the war:
On Tuesday, Oliver L. North, who was in Kuwait with the First Marine Expeditionary Force, told Fox News over a videophone that he had heard “rumors” that French Embassy officials in Baghdad were helping to destroy evidence of French cooperation with Saddam Hussein’s stockpiling of chemical and biological weapons.
A Fox spokesperson’s response to the Times: “Oliver North is a military contributor to Fox. He is neither a reporter nor a correspondent.”
—”In our view, President Bush has built a strong case for the invasion of Iraq, a case that will be overwhelming with the inevitable discovery of the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein is hiding.”
(The Oregonian, editorial)
March 21, 2003
—Embedded NBC correspondent Chip Reid reports: “Suddenly in the sky, in the direction of Basra, or east of where we were, the sky just lit up with artillery, and it was an awesome performance of artillery to soften up the positions where we were heading.”
—The New York Post reports that talk radio is solidly behind the war: “And if you were looking for a debate on ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom,’ fuhgeddaboudit.”
The paper reports Don Imus saying, “We got stabbed in the back by those assholes in France and the rest of them. Enough of Tom Daschle, who is disgraceful, and all the rest—enough of that.” The Post also quotes Rush Limbaugh proclaiming on his show: “I’m not messing with people who want to say this attack is illegal, it’s not warranted, it’s not justified–I’m not going to argue with you people anymore. Take your propaganda to somebody else who might believe it.”
—A New York Times editorial (“How to Watch the War”) somewhat illogically argues that the war’s opening airstrike “was a breathtaking example of coordination and precision. Yet its success remains uncertain, both in terms of how many weapons hit their target and who, if anyone, was killed.”
—Jim Miklasziewski of NBC Nightly News assures viewers that “every weapon is precision-guided, deadly accuracy designed to kill only the targets, not innocent civilians.”
March 22, 2003
—NBC Nightly News spells out the difference between American and Arab war coverage: “For days now with armored tank convoys dominating American TV, both the BBC and the Arab network Al Jazeera have devoted significant time to what Iraq suggested were innocent victims targeted in the bombings.”
March 23, 2003
—In an article headlined “Bush Opts for Precise Approach,” the Los Angeles Times notes that “Bush appears to be applying force like a scalpel—delivering powerful but measured blows that most observers believe are aimed as much at the psyche as the fighting strength of the Iraqi military.” The paper calls the war “among the most nuanced in recent American history.”
—A false chemical weapons discovery is widely reported in the media. Fox News Channel posts a headline that reads, “HUGE CHEMICAL WEAPONS FACTORY FOUND IN SO IRAQ…. REPORTS: 30 IRAQIS SURRENDER AT CHEM WEAPONS PLANT…. COAL TROOPS HOLDING IRAQI IN CHARGE OF CHEM WEAPONS.” ABC‘s John McWethy promotes “one important new discovery: U.S. officials say, up the road from Nasarijah, in a town called Najaf, they believe that they have captured a chemical weapons plant and perhaps more important, the commanding general of that facility. One U.S. official said he is a potential ‘gold mine’ about the weapons Saddam Hussein says he doesn’t have.”
NBC‘s Tom Brokaw described the story thusly: “Word tonight that U.S. forces may have found what UN inspectors spent months searching for, a facility suspected to be a chemical weapons plant, uncovered by ground troops on the way north to Baghdad.” NBC Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski adds what seem to be corroborating details: “This huge chemical complex…was constructed of sand-casted walls, in other words, meant to camouflage its appearance to blend in with the desert. Once inside, the soldiers found huge amounts of chemicals, stored chemicals. They apparently found no chemical weapons themselves, and now military officials here at the Pentagon say they have yet to determine exactly what these chemicals are or how they could have been used in weapons.”
The next day, a Fox correspondent in Qatar quietly issues an update to the chemical weapons story: The “chemical weapons facility discovered by coalition forces did not appear to be an active chemical weapons facility.” U.S. officials admit that morning that the site contains no chemicals at all and had been abandoned long ago.
—The website YellowTimes.org is shut down for displaying images of Iraqi civilian casualties. The company that hosted it, Vortech, pulls the plug on the basis of “inappropriate graphic material.” An email from Vortech elaborates on why the company has decided to scratch YellowTimes.org: “As ‘NO’ TV station in the U.S. is allowing any dead U.S. soldiers or POWs to be displayed…we will not either.”
—The Associated Press runs a story on war protests, the title of which sets up a dubious dichotomy: “Protesters Rally Against War; Others Support Troops.” A FAIR action alert (3/26/03) takes the AP and other outlets to task for the misleading formulation.
— Fox News commentator Fred Barnes says, “The American public knows how important this war is and is not as casualty sensitive as the weenies in the American press are.”
March 24, 2003
—Fox News Channel‘s Bill O’Reilly has some advice for his viewers, telling them not to watch too much television: “If you watch too much TV news coverage, your perspective can get warped.”
March 25, 2003
—A FAIR Action Alert (“Lack of Skepticism Leads to Poor Reporting on Iraq Weapons Claims“) takes on reporting about Iraq firing Scud missiles—claims that turned out to be false. The alert also critiques false reports about the Najaf “chemical weapons” factory.
—The night after the Iraqi TV offices are bombed, New York Times reporter Michael Gordon appears on CNN to endorse the attack: “Based on what I’ve seen of Iraqi television, with Saddam Hussein presenting propaganda to his people and showing off the Apache helicopter and claiming a farmer shot it down and trying to persuade his own public that he was really in charge, when we’re trying to send the exact opposite message, I think, was an appropriate target.”
—Anthony Shadid of the Washington Post writes:
In public and private conversations, many Baghdad residents volunteer that they see U.S. forces as an invading, rather than liberating, army, and that they believe nationalist sentiments can fuel a war of attrition over the Iraqi capital and other cities.
—Fox News Channel‘s Bill O’Reilly calls for the destruction of Baghdad, a city of 4.5 million residents:
There is a school of thought that says we should have given the citizens of Baghdad 48 hours to get out of Dodge by dropping leaflets and going with the AM radios and all that. Forty-eight hours, you’ve got to get out of there, and flatten the place. Then the war would be over. We could have done that in two days…. You flatten Baghdad, you flatten all the troops, we know where they go, there’s nowhere to hide in the desert. We know where everybody’s moving. And you know as well as I do, this war could have been over in two days…. It’s just frustrating for everybody to know that we have been fighting this war with one hand behind our back.
March 26, 2003
—CNN anchor Carol Costello cuts short a live press conference in Baghdad with the Iraqi information minister: “All right, we’re going to interrupt this press briefing right now because, of course, the U.S. government would disagree with most of what he is saying.”
—A FAIR Action Alert highlights NBC‘s reporting on the accuracy of U.S. airstrikes:
Correspondent Bob Faw (3/20/03) described a Florida town as “a community which very much endorses that surgical strike against Saddam Hussein.” Anchor Katie Couric (3/21/03) also referred to “a series of surgical strikes focusing on Iraq’s key leadership” during the first two nights of bombing. Anchor Matt Lauer (3/21/03) agreed: “The people in that city have endured two nights of surgical air strikes and they’ve no idea what could come tonight.”
March 27, 2003
—CNN‘s Aaron Brown asks activist Daniel Ellsberg if antiwar rallies are “playing into the hands of what I think you would even acknowledge is a very bad regime.” Brown later follows with a question about whether Ellsberg’s antiwar effort could be successful, “in any way shape or form.”
—War protestors in New York City “provoked a public display of pro-war sentiment by Fox News,” according to the Bergen Record. The conservative cable channel uses its outdoor “ticker” to send these messages:
“War protester auditions here today … thanks for coming!”
“Who won your right to show up here today?” another questioned. “Protesters or soldiers?”
“How do you keep a war protester in suspense? Ignore them.”
“Attention protesters: the Michael Moore Fan Club meets Thursday at a phone booth at Sixth Avenue and 50th Street”
—FAIR releases a Media Advisory, “U.S. Media Applaud Bombing of Iraqi TV.” In contrast to the cheerleading for the attack in the U.S. press, FAIR notes:
The Geneva Conventions forbid the targeting of civilian installations—whether state-owned or not—unless they are being used for military purposes. Amnesty International warned (3/26/03) that the attack may have been a “war crime” and emphasized that bombing a television station “simply because it is being used for the purposes of propaganda” is illegal under international humanitarian law. “The onus,” said Amnesty, is on “coalition forces” to prove “the military use of the TV station and, if that is indeed the case, to show that the attack took into account the risk to civilian lives.”
March 28, 2003
— The Washington Post reports that broadcast news consultants are “advising news and talk stations across the nation to wave the flag and downplay protest against the war.” Advice includes patriotic music, avoiding “polarizing discussions,” and ignoring protests, which “may be harmful to a station’s bottom line,” according to tests conducted by one firm. The same firm “advised clients to find experts in some 30 categories — including ‘veterans of Desert Storm,’ ‘Former G Men,’ ‘Military Recruiting Offices’ — most of whom would be unlikely to offer harsh criticism of the war.”
—Editor & Publisher‘s Greg Mitchell writes a piece headlined, “15 Stories They’ve Already Bungled.”
March 30, 2003
—Speaking about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction during a press conference, Donald Rumsfeld says: “We know where they are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.”
March 31, 2003
—The Associated Press reports that a peace image is being removed from ads for the Warner Brothers film What a Girl Wants. Originally, a character had been flashing a peace sign, but the studio “quickly changed the ad. The studio said Monday it feared the peace sign would be viewed as a political message.”
April 1, 2003
—The Washington Post‘s Howard Kurtz notes that some reporters are starting to doubt military sources. CBS Pentagon correspondent David Martin says, “There’s beginning to be a credibility gap between what officials here in the Pentagon are saying about the progress of the war and what commanders in the field are saying.”
April 2, 2003
— NBC‘s Brian Williams reports, “They are calling this the cleanest war in all of military history. They stress they’re fighting a regime and not the people, using smart bombs, not dumb, older munitions. But there have been and will be accidents.” He adds: “And there’s a new weapon in this war: Arab media, especially Al Jazeera. It’s on all the time, and unlike American media, it hardly reflects the Pentagon line. Its critics say it accentuates civilian casualties and provokes outrage on the Arab street.”
April 3, 2003
—Katie Couric tells a military official on NBC‘s Today Show: “Thank you for coming on the show. And I want to add, I think the Special Forces rock!”
—FAIR releases a Media Advisory, “Some Critical Media Voices Face Censorship,” focusing on the plight of talk show host Phil Donahue, fired NBC reporter Peter Arnett and anti-war columnists, among others.
April 4, 2003
—The Washington Post reports on the recovery of Private Jessica Lynch, a tale that would spread across the media. According to the Post‘s account (“‘She Was Fighting to the Death’; Details Emerging of W. Va. Soldier’s Capture and Rescue”), Lynch “fought fiercely and shot several enemy soldiers… firing her weapon until she ran out of ammunition.” The Post‘s account would prove to set the tone for much of the coverage of Lynch. Time magazine would later report that the Lynch story “buoyed a nation wondering what happened to the short, neat liberation of Iraq,” adding that Hollywood “could not have dreamed up a more singular tale.”
Most of the early details of the raid to rescue Lynch would prove to be entirely false. The London Times was one of the most prominent outlets to first raise questions, reporting on April 16 that the Lynch rescue “was not the heroic Hollywood story told by the U.S. military but a staged operation that terrified patients and victimized the doctors who had struggled to save her life.”
—A FAIR Action Alert (“Media Should Follow Up on Civilian Deaths“) comments on coverage of two attacks on civilians in Iraq, including the March 28 deaths of over 60 people in an open-air market in the Shuala section of Baghdad, which seemed to be caused by a U.S. cruise missile. Initial coverage often suggested the cause was unknown; the New York Times‘ John Burns reported that “it was impossible to determine the cause,” adding that these incidents “threaten to become yet another major problem for the Bush administration.” Reporting on the first incident, CBS anchor Dan Rather (3/26/03) was similarly worried about the PR problem, noting that “scenes of civilian carnage in Baghdad, however they happened and whoever caused them, today quickly became part of a propaganda war, the very thing U.S. military planners have tried to avoid.”
While U.S. media remained uncurious, on March 30, Robert Fisk reported in the London Independent that what appeared to be a missile fragment was found at the scene of the explosion. In a follow-up report on April 2, the Independent‘s Cahal Milmo reported that the serial number could be traced back to the Raytheon Corporation, and that the weapon was “thought to be either a HARM anti-radar missile or a Paveway laser-guided bomb.” As FAIR noted, the Independent‘s reporting would go mostly unmentioned in U.S. media.
April 6, 2003
A discussion on Fox News Channel:
NPR‘s Mara Liasson: Where there was a debate about whether or not Iraq had these weapons of mass destruction and whether we can find it….
Brit Hume: No, there wasn’t. Nobody seriously argued that he didn’t have them beforehand. Nobody.
April 7, 2003
—Embedded NPR reporter John Burnett recounts the news he has learned from a “top military official…. the first solid confirmed existence of chemical weapons by the Iraqi army.” According to Burnett, an army unit near Baghdad has discovered, “20 BM-21 medium-range rockets with warheads containing sarin nerve and mustard gas.” If true, says Burnett, it “would vindicate the administration’s claims that the Iraqis had chemicals all along.” Rush Limbaugh proclaims:
We’re discovering WMDs all over Iraq…. You know it killed NPR to report that the 101st Airborne found a stockpile of up to 20 rockets tipped with sarin and mustard gas…. Our troops have found dozens of barrels of chemicals in an agricultural facility 30 miles northwest of Baghdad.
The story would quickly wash out; a report the next day from Agence France Presse would quote that a U.S. official saying he had “seen nothing in official reports that would corroborate that.”
—Reuters reports that “many advertisers began returning after the first 72 hours of the war once they noticed the surprising lack of disturbing imagery on television. Prepared for a bloody and graphic period of coverage, relieved sponsors found that networks did not go for shock value.” The piece goes on to describe how cable stations are “protecting advertisers by placing buffer content between especially disturbing coverage. In fact, executives said that with the exception of certain categories—such as airlines and travel—the networks’ problem has been a shortage of inventory, not advertisers.”
—Newsweek magazine comments on recent bombings that killed dozens of Iraqi civilians: “In at least one respect, it doesn’t make much difference who bombed the two markets…. Either way, Iraqis are blaming the Americans, and Saddam Hussein is reinforcing his position among his people.” The magazine adds that “when it comes to manipulating the minds of his countrymen, Saddam Hussein is a malevolent genius.”
April 8, 2003
—The U.S. military attacks Al Jazeera‘s Baghdad office, killing journalist Tareq Ayoub. U.S. forces also fire a shell at the Palestine Hotel, where journalists often stay in Baghdad. Two are killed.
April 9, 2003
—A FAIR study of television reporting for the three weeks following the beginning of the Iraq War reveals that nearly two-thirds of all sources were pro-war, while only 10 percent of guests were anti-war. The programs studied were ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, CNN‘s Wolf Blitzer Reports, Fox‘s Special Report With Brit Hume and PBS‘s NewsHour With Jim Lehrer. When only U.S. guests were considered, the disparity was wider–71 percent of U.S. guests were pro-war, while only 3 percent were anti-war. Not a single show in the study did a sit-down interview with a person identified as against the war during those three weeks.
—A statue of Saddam Hussein is pulled down in Baghdad, an act that would later be revealed to have been managed by a U.S. Army PSYOPS team. Media coverage frequently likens the statue removal to the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. Appearing on Fox News Channel, Washington Post reporter Ceci Connelly calls it “just sort of that pure emotional expression, not choreographed, not stage-managed, the way so many things these days seem to be. Really breathtaking.”
—”We’re all neo-cons now.”
(MSNBC‘s Chris Matthews)
April 10, 2003
—USA Today gushes about the footage of the toppling of the Saddam statue: “The picture says something about us as Americans, about our can-do spirit, our belief in lending a hand.”
—A Los Angeles Times headline reads: “Iraq Is All but Won; Now What?”
—New York Times columnist William Safire:
Even in the flush of triumph, doubts will be raised. Where are the supplies of germs and poison gas and plans for nukes to justify pre-emption? (Freed scientists will lead us to caches no inspectors could find.) What about remaining danger from Baathist torturers and war criminals forming pockets of resistance and plotting vengeance? (Their death wish is our command.)
—MSNBC‘s Joe Scarborough waits for the apologies from war critics:
“I’m waiting to hear the words ‘I was wrong’ from some of the world’s most elite journalists, politicians and Hollywood types…. I just wonder, who’s going to be the first elitist to show the character to say: ‘Hey, America, guess what? I was wrong’? Maybe the White House will get an apology, first, from the New York Times‘ Maureen Dowd. Now, Ms. Dowd mocked the morality of this war….
“Do you all remember Scott Ritter, you know, the former chief U.N. weapons inspector who played chief stooge for Saddam Hussein? Well, Mr. Ritter actually told a French radio network that — quote, “The United States is going to leave Baghdad with its tail between its legs, defeated.” Sorry, Scott. I think you’ve been chasing the wrong tail, again.
“Maybe disgraced commentators and politicians alike, like Daschle, Jimmy Carter, Dennis Kucinich and all those others, will step forward tonight and show the content of their character by simply admitting what we know already: that their wartime predictions were arrogant, they were misguided and they were dead wrong. Maybe, just maybe, these self-anointed critics will learn from their mistakes. But I doubt it. After all, we don’t call them ‘elitists’ for nothing.”
April 11, 2003
—A Fox News report falsely announces: “Weapons-Grade Plutonium Possibly Found at Iraqi Nuke Complex.” Sourced to an embedded reporter from the right-wing Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the story was soon debunked by U.S. officials (Associated Press, 4/15/03).
April 14, 2003
—Appearing on Larry King Live, CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather says:
Look, I’m an American. I never tried to kid anybody that I’m some internationalist or something. And when my country is at war, I want my country to win, whatever the definition of ‘win’ may be. Now, I can’t and don’t argue that that is coverage without a prejudice. About that I am prejudiced.
April 16, 2003
—The New York Times reports: “This has been a tough war for commentators on the American left. To hope for defeat meant cheering for Saddam Hussein. To hope for victory meant cheering for President Bush.”
April 19, 2003
—”The only people who think this wasn’t a victory are Upper West Side liberals, and a few people here in Washington.”
(Charles Krauthammer, Inside Washington, WUSA-TV)
April 20, 2003
—While his prescience has aroused little U.S. media attention, Andrew Gumbel of the London Independent writes a column on former weapons inspector Scott Ritter. As Gumbel points out, Ritter “was vilified in the U.S. media as ‘misguided,’ ‘disloyal,’ not to be taken seriously and ‘an apologist for and a defender of Saddam Hussein.’ One cable news host, Curtis Sliwa, said on air he was a ‘sock puppet’ who ‘ought to turn in his passport for an Iraqi one.'”
—CNN executive Eason Jordon appears on CNN‘s Reliable Sources and sheds some light on CNN‘s relationship with the Pentagon:
I went to the Pentagon myself several times before the war started and met with important people there and said, for instance, at CNN, here are the generals we’re thinking of retaining to advise us on the air and off about the war, and we got a big thumbs-up on all of them. That was important.
April 21, 2003
—New York Times reporter Judith Miller (“Illicit Arms Kept Till Eve of War, an Iraqi Scientist Is Said to Assert”) attempts to salvage her pre-war reporting by profiling an alleged Iraqi scientist who is purported to have shown a U.S. Army inspection team where illegal weapons were buried. Miller explained the bizarre ground rules for her “scoop”:
Under the terms of her accreditation to report on the activities of MET Alpha, this reporter was not permitted to interview the scientist or visit his home. Nor was she permitted to write about the discovery of the scientist for three days, and the copy was then submitted for a check by military officials.
Miller acknowledges though she “could not interview the scientist, she was permitted to see him from a distance at the sites where he said that material from the arms program was buried…. Clad in nondescript clothes and a baseball cap, he pointed to several spots in the sand where he said chemical precursors and other weapons material were buried.” The story would later prove to be completely false. As Miller would later report (7/20/03), the “scientist” turned out to be an Iraqi military intelligence officer.
—Fox News‘ Bill O’Reilly uses Judith Miller’s unverified article to buttress his argument that Iraq has WMD: “It’s also important to note that reporter Judith Miller of the New York Times does believes the weapons are there. She spelled out the weapons yesterday.”
—The Nation magazine runs a piece on the conflicts of interest of military experts who often appear on cable news. “One might have expected,” the Nation acknowledges, “a pro-military slant in any former general’s initial estimation of the U.S. invasion. But some of these ex-generals also have ideological or financial stakes in the war. Many hold paid advisory board and executive positions at defense companies and serve as advisers for groups that promoted an invasion of Iraq.”
April 22, 2003
—The Washington Post reports, “With little to show after 30 days, the Bush administration is losing confidence in its prewar belief that it had strong clues pointing to the whereabouts of weapons of mass destruction concealed in Iraq, according to planners and participants in the hunt.”
—Newsweek.com reports on embedded journalists: “There’s at least some anecdotal evidence that reporters did feel conflicted…or would have, had they been in a position to report unflattering stories. ‘Any reporter who said that wasn’t an issue is a liar,’ said one embed with whom I spoke. ‘People get really candid with you. I’ve been told all kinds of stuff that would raise a huge stink if I printed it. But I’m not going out of my way to burn anybody.'”
April 24, 2003
—MSNBC correspondent Ashleigh Banfield, speaking at Kansas State University, critiques U.S. coverage of the war: “You didn’t see where those bullets landed. You didn’t see what happened when the mortar landed…. There are horrors that were completely left out of this war.” NBC News issues a statement scolding Banfield, saying it is “deeply disappointed and troubled by her remarks” and assuring that Banfield does not speak for NBC News.
April 25, 2003
—”Personally,” writes David Ignatius of the Washington Post, “I don’t much care if the U.S. reports about weapons of mass destruction prove to be imaginary. Toppling Hussein’s regime was still right.”
April 26, 2003
—ABC‘s John Cochran reports that some Bush administration officials “now privately acknowledge the White House had another reason”—beside WMD—”for war—a global show of American power and democracy.” Cochran continues, “Officials inside government and advisers outside told ABC News the administration emphasized the danger of Saddam’s weapons to gain the legal justification for war from the United Nations and to stress the danger at home to Americans.”
—ABC World News Tonight announces an “exclusive” report: “U.S. troops discover chemical agents, missiles and what could be a mobile laboratory in Iraq.” Correspondent David Wright explains that the Army soldiers have found “14 55-gallon drums, at least a dozen missiles and 150 gas masks” testing positive for chemical weapons, including a nerve agent and a blistering agent. He adds that an Army lieutenant “says the tests have an accuracy of 98 percent.”
April 27, 2003
—ABC World News Sunday continues to claim that the U.S. military has found chemical weapons: “For the second day in a row, some of the preliminary tests have come back positive for chemical agents.” The next day, a New York Times report contradicts the ABC‘s weapons exclusive, noting that inspectors have “tentatively concluded that there are no chemical weapons at a site where American troops said they had found chemical agents and mobile labs.” A member of the inspection team tells the Times, “The earlier reports were wrong.” A FAIR Action Alert (4/29/03) notes that ABC had not corrected their erroneous reporting: “When the news was that ABC‘s ‘exclusive’ had washed out, there was no mention of the story on the Monday or Tuesday broadcasts of World News Tonight.”
—”As far as I’m concerned, we do not need to find any weapons of mass destruction to justify this war. That skull, and the thousands more that will be unearthed, are enough for me. Mr. Bush doesn’t owe the world any explanation for missing chemical weapons (even if it turns out that the White House hyped this issue).”
(New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman)
April 28, 2003
—Under the headline “Privatization in Disguise,” Naomi Klein writes in the Nation that Iraq “is being treated as a blank slate on which the most ideological Washington neoliberals can design their dream economy: fully privatized, foreign-owned and open for business.” Klein adds: “Some argue that it’s too simplistic to say this war is about oil. They’re right. It’s about oil, water, roads, trains, phones, ports and drugs. And if this process isn’t halted, ‘free Iraq’ will be the most sold country on earth.”
-“Now that the Iraq deal is over, let’s invade Belgium,” Fox‘s John Gibson declares. “It may be a small country, but man, is it annoying…. Isn’t it time to invade Belgium, just knock some sense into them and give the Frenchies next door a scare?”
May 1, 2003
—George W. Bush delivers his “Mission Accomplished” speech on the USS Abraham Lincoln. The media reaction is ecstatic—CNN‘s Lou Dobbs says, “He looked like an alternatively commander-in-chief, rock star, movie star and one of the guys.” MSNBC‘s Chris Matthews goes further:
We’re proud of our president. Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who’s physical, who’s not a complicated guy like Clinton or even like Dukakis or Mondale, all those guys, McGovern. They want a guy who’s president. Women like a guy who’s president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It’s simple. We’re not like the Brits.
—Richard Perle writes an op-ed for USA Today headlined “Relax, Celebrate Victory,” in which he comments: “It ended quickly with few civilian casualties and with little damage to Iraq’s cities, towns, or infrastructure. It ended without the Arab world rising up against us, as the war’s critics feared, without the quagmire they predicted, without the heavy losses in house-to-house fighting they warned us to expect.”
—In keeping with the general media tone that the Iraq War is all but finished, Tom Brokaw of NBC Nightly News finds it a good time to ask: “Three months ago, Secretary of State Colin Powell made the case for war to the U.N. and to the world. Now that combat is being declared over, we thought it would be a good time to look back and see. Has the reality matched his rhetoric?”
May 2, 2003
—”The war winds down, politics heats up…. Picture perfect. Part Spider-Man, part Tom Cruise, part Ronald Reagan. The president seizes the moment on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific.”
(PBS‘s Gwen Ifill on Bush’s speech)
—On Fox News Channel, Washington Post reporter Jeff Birnbaum declares: “It is amazing how thorough the victory in Iraq really was in the broadest context…. And the silence, I think, is that it’s clear that nobody can do anything about it. There isn’t anybody who can stop him. The Democrats can’t oppose—cannot oppose him politically.”
May 4, 2003
—”Now that the combat phase of the war in Iraq is officially over, what begins is a debate throughout the entire U.S. government over America’s unrivaled power and how best to use it.”
(CBS reporter Joie Chen)
May 6, 2003
—A FAIR Action Alert (“TV Not Concerned by Cluster Bombs, DU“) reports that nightly network newscasts are seldom reporting on the use of cluster bombs and depleted uranium munitions in Iraq.
May 7, 2003
—Agence France Presse reports, “The U.S. Army has revealed for the first time that a subsidiary of Halliburton Co. has a contract encompassing the operation of Iraqi oil fields, a senior U.S. lawmaker said Tuesday.” The contract had previously been described as “involving oil well firefighting.”
—”We had controversial wars that divided the country. This war united the country and brought the military back.”
(Newsweek‘s Howard Fineman—MSNBC)
May 11, 2003
—USA Weekend, a magazine included in over 500 newspapers, features a “Where on the Web” column that offers tips on finding information online about the war: “With debate over the war in Iraq a national obsession, having good inside sources can be valuable to those looking for ammunition.” So what sort of ammunition did they recommend? It seems there was only room for two sites: DefendAmerica.mil, a site run by the Pentagon with “news about the war on terrorism,” and HollywoodPeace.com, where the magazine told readers they could “tell celebrity peace activists they don’t speak for you.”
—NBC anchor John Seigenthaler introduces a story about trailers found in Iraq that some U.S. officials say are mobile biological warfare labs: “There is new evidence tonight that Saddam Hussein’s regime was capable of building weapons of mass destruction.” Reporter Jim Avila concludes the report by declaring that the findings present “a set of circumstances military sources contend is very close to that elusive smoking gun.”
May 12, 2003
—In a follow-up report, NBC Nightly News correspondent Jim Avila declares that two trailers found by the U.S. military in northern Iraq “may be the most significant WMD findings of the war.” Former U.N. nuclear inspector David Kay performs an impromptu inspection—armed with a pointer, he rattles off the trailer’s parts: “This is a compressor. You want to keep the fermentation process under pressure so it goes faster. This vessel is the fermenter….” Avila expresses little doubt about the discovery: “A mobile lab capable of manufacturing anthrax or botulism from the back of a truck, with equipment manufactured as late as 2003.”
May 14, 2003
—Fox News host Neil Cavuto responds to criticism of his pro-war slant by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. Cavuto says Krugman’s critique comes in the form of a “cheaply written column,” and goes on to call the Times columnist a “sanctimonious twit” and a “pretentious charlatan,” before concluding: “Now may I suggest you take your column and shove it?”
May 21, 2003
—The New York Times seems to partially back up NBC‘s reporting, as Judith Miller and William Broad lead their report this way:
United States intelligence agencies have concluded that two mysterious trailers found in Iraq were mobile units to produce germs for weapons, but they have found neither biological agents nor evidence that the equipment was used to make such arms, according to senior administration officials.
The Times also reports Iraqi scientists tell interrogators that the labs were used to produce hydrogen for military weather balloons. A few weeks later, a front-page Times article by Judith Miller and William Broad (6/7/03) quoted senior intelligence analysts who doubt the trailers were used for biological weapons. “I have no great confidence that it’s a fermenter,” one WMD specialist said of a key piece of equipment on the trailer.
May 26, 2003
—The Washington Post‘s Howard Kurtz reports on an email exchange at the New York Times: “An internal e-mail by Judith Miller, the paper’s top reporter on bioterrorism, acknowledges that her main source for such articles has been Ahmad Chalabi, a controversial exile leader who is close to top Pentagon officials. Could Chalabi have been using the Times to build a drumbeat that Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction?”
Miller’s email included this admission: “I’ve been covering Chalabi for about 10 years, and have done most of the stories about him for our paper, including the long takeout we recently did on him. He has provided most of the front-page exclusives on WMD to our paper.”
May 30, 2003
—MSNBC‘s Joe Scarborough: “Sean Penn is at it again. The Hollywood star takes out a full-page ad out in the New York Times bashing George Bush. Apparently he still hasn’t figured out we won the war.”
May 31, 2003
—Referring to the two trailers found in Iraq, the Washington Post reports that Bush proclaimed, “For those who say we haven’t found the banned manufacturing devices and banned weapons, they’re wrong. We found them.”
No evidence exists to back up Bush’s claim. It would soon be determined that the trailers were used for hydrogen production, as Iraqi scientists had claimed all along–as did former weapons inspector Scott Ritter (Fox News Channel, 5/28/03).