19 March 2013 — FAIR Blog
Today marks the tenth anniversary of the beginning of the bombing and invasion of Iraq. The war could not have proceeded as it did without the support of a compliant, servile press corps.
Some pundits have expressed remorse over their performance, though as the Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone (3/18/13) noted, “Some prominent pro-war voices a decade ago still occupy high-profile perches on op-ed pages, cable news or Sunday show roundtables.” Indeed, having been wrong about Iraq almost seems like a prerequisite for being taken seriously as an establishment pundit.
In real time, FAIR collected–and debunked–much of the spin and propaganda in the news about Iraq. The following excerpts are drawn from FAIR’s “Iraq and the Media: A Critical Timeline” (Media Advisory, 3/19/07).
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 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.”
March 19, 2003
—As 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 Channelradio 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.”
—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.”
—NBC‘s Tom Brokaw: “We don’t want to destroy the infrastructure of Iraq, because in a few days we’re gonna own that country.”
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.” (See FAIR Action Alert, 3/25/03.)
—Oregonian editorial: “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.
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 Channelposts 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.”
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 (FAIR Action Alert, 3/25/03).
—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
—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.
—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 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.”
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.”