Mar 1 2008

WMD Mirages

The mainstream media’s certainty that unconventional weapons would be found in Iraq led them to issue an embarrassing series of false alarms

“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.” —Oregonian editorial (3/20/03) “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.” —Fox News Channel (3/23/03) “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 […]

Jun 1 2007

Illegal, Yes–But Not Newsworthy

Wiretapping testimony barely covered

On May 15, former Deputy Attorney General James Comey testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee about the Bush administration’s extraordinary efforts in March 2004 to gain legal approval for the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance program. The story was startling, at the very least—involving top officials confronting each other in the hospital room of a seriously ill Attorney General John Ashcroft—but it attracted little media curiosity. The incident was first reported in January 2006 by the New York Times (1/1/06) and Newsweek (1/9/06) to little notice. Comey’s testimony added the critical detail that, acting as attorney general due to Ashcroft’s […]

Jun 1 2007


And Bill O’Reilly Is Far-Right “But do you understand what the New York Times wants, and the far-left want? They want to break down the white, Christian, male power structure, which you’re a part, and so am I, and they want to bring in millions of foreign nationals to basically break down the structure that we have. In that regard, Pat Buchanan is right.” —Bill O’Reilly (O’Reilly Factor, 5/30/07) talking to Sen. John McCain about the immigration bill Militia Switch In an article on the search for four captured British mercenaries and their civilian client, the New York Times (6/1/07) […]

Jun 1 2007

The Magic of Journalism

A reader asked Washington Post military correspondent Thomas Ricks in an online chat (, 5/8/07; cited in Editor & Publisher, 5/8/07) why we were hearing so much about Iranian weapons in Iraq, but “we hardly ever see the press actually ask about the pretty well-known trail of money that leads from Saudi Arabia to the insurgents.” Ricks’ answer was instructive: Your question goes to one of the vulnerabilities of journalism. There was a lot of quiet talk among U.S. officers in Iraq about the role Iran was playing in Iraq, especially with sophisticated bombs, but you didn’t see much talk […]

Jun 1 2007

The Horserace Waste

The uselessness of early polling

At the moment, polls show former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani with a wide lead over his Republican counterparts, and senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama leading the Democratic field. The media’s campaign storyline is shaped largely to conform to these findings. Time magazine (3/22/07) recently predicted that “the political rule book has been stuffed into a shredder this year,” the “conventional wisdom” shattered by the apparently inevitable victory of current front-runners like Giuliani or Hillary Clinton. A look back at past election cycles shows such predictions are unwise. Early polling of the 2004 Democratic nominees (e.g., CBS News poll, […]

Jun 1 2007

Misunderstanding the Constitution

Summing up the media’s conventional wisdom about the congressional vote to approve funding for the Iraq War with no timeline for withdrawal, the Los Angeles Times wrote (5/25/07): “Unable to overcome the president’s veto of their plan to set a timeline for withdrawing U.S. troops, Democrats have been left to focus on what to do next.” That, in a nutshell, is what was wrong with the coverage of the war funding debate. In fact, if the Democratic-controlled Congress wanted to force the Bush administration to accept a bill with a withdrawal timeline, it didn’t have to pass the bill over […]