Thursday, April 26, 2007

buying the war

Last year, Stephen Colbert was the host for the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. In his speech, he said this to the Washington press corps:

As excited as I am to be here with the president, I am appalled to be surrounded by the liberal media that is destroying America, with the exception of Fox News. Fox News gives you both sides of every story: the president's side, and the vice president's side.

But the rest of you, what are you thinking, reporting on NSA wiretapping or secret prisons in Eastern Europe? Those things are secret for a very important reason: they're super-depressing. And if that's your goal, well, misery accomplished. Over the last five years you people were so good -- over tax cuts, WMD intelligence, the effect of global warming. We Americans didn't want to know, and you had the courtesy not to try to find out. Those were good times, as far as we knew.

But, listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works: the president makes decisions. He's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know - fiction!(complete transcript here)
It was humorous, subversive and, as Bill Moyer’s latest documentary Buying the War: How the mainstream press got it so wrong demonstrates, sadly accurate.

Bill Moyers gained national prominence as Press Secretary for President Johnson and then worked as a television journalist for NBC, CBS and PBS. He has won more than 30 Emmys and almost every other major journalism award. Of late, he has been a vocal critic of national media for their lack of investigative reporting, and in Buying the War he makes a devastating case for his position.

Although there are still some fine national reporters (these Pulitzer Prize winners, for example, as well as Walter Pincus for the Post and a handful of New Yorker authors), the institutions that published the Pentagon Papers and exposed Watergate clearly lost their way. Howard Kurtz on the Post’s coverage:
I went back and did the math. From August 2002 until the war was launched in March of 2003 there were about 140 front page pieces in THE WASHINGTON POST making the administration's case for war.

It was, "The President said yesterday." "The Vice President said yesterday." The Pentagon said yesterday." Well, that's part of our job. Those people want to speak. We have to provide them a platform. I don't have anything wrong with that. But there was only a handful-- a handful of stories that ran on the front page. Some more that ran inside the pages of the paper that made the opposite case. Or, if not making the opposite case, raised questions.

Buying the War aired last night. Watch on-demand or read the transcript