(Screen grab of Judy Miller on Hardball. Lovely build-up "Iraq Votes" logo you have going there — promoting something with the help of La Diva Judy?)
Watching the Bill Moyers' in-depth exploration of journalists and the run-up to the Iraq invasion was excruciating — and infuriating. I can remember watching so much of this unfold in real time, because I was pregnant with our miracle Peanut and on fairly strict bedrest. So I watched a lot of news — and Oprah, because I needed something to take the edge off every day. (Thank you, Oprah, for every cheery show you ever did.) At the time, I thought it might have been my pregnancy hormones skewing my perspective on the reporting, and poor Mr. ReddHedd would come home from work to me ranting about the lack of follow-up questions at briefings, the lack of substantive questions at Congressional hearings and the decided lack of fiduciary obligation to do their jobs that kept emanating out of the Beltway.
We were careening toward war with Iraq, and only a handful of people in the House and Senate were standing up and saying "Hold on a minute, let's think about this and really look at the evidence rather than be a rubber stamp." (Thank you Ted Kennedy, Russ Feingold, Robert Byrd, Carl Levin and so many others who did this. Thank you so much.)
Perhaps the truth shall eventually set you free, but first it might make you very, very depressed. Tonight's edition of "Bill Moyers Journal" on PBS is one of the most gripping and important pieces of broadcast journalism so far this year, but it's as disheartening as it is compelling.
It's always depressing to learn that you've been had, but incalculably more so when the deception has resulted in thousands of Americans dying in the Iraq war effort.
In this 90-minute report, called "Buying the War," Moyers and producer Kathleen Hughes use alarming evidence and an array of respected journalists to make the case that, in the rage that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the media abandoned their role as watchdog and became a lapdog instead.
Exhibit A — the first event recalled in this report — is a news conference by President Bush on March 6, 2003, which Moyers says is two weeks before Bush "will order America to war." The press conference was a sham, with Bush calling only on "friendly" reporters who'd ask friendly questions. The corker was this scorching investigative query: "Mr. President, how is your faith guiding you?"
"At least a dozen times during this press conference," Moyers says, Bush would "invoke 9/11 and al-Qaeda to justify a preemptive attack on a country that has not attacked America." The link between al-Qaeda and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was never proved and had to be taken on faith, Moyers recalls, as did the administration claim that Hussein had developed, was developing, or might soon develop weapons of mass destruction.
Moyers does not set out to attack anyone himself; instead he tries to find out why journalists — electronic and print — behaved in ways that are supposed to be anathema to a free press in a free nation. The show asks: Did the Bush administration benefit from having an effective collection of accomplished dupers — a contingent that Washington Post investigative reporter Walter Pincus calls "the marketing group" — or did the outrage of 9/11 made the press more vulnerable to being duped?..
Dissent was deemed not only unpatriotic, Donahue recalls, but — perhaps even worse — "not good for business." Most of Moyers's report involves serious, respected journalists who let themselves be swept up in war fever and who were manipulated by the administration sources who had cozied up to them. Instead of investigating administration claims about al-Qaeda and WMDs and such, cable news offered up hours and hours of talking-head television.
Former CNN president Walter Isaacson tells Moyers: "One of the great pressures we're facing in journalism now is, it's a lot cheaper to hire thumb-suckers and pundits and have talk shows on the air than actually have bureaus and reporters."…
Tim Russert, of NBC's "Meet the Press," looks intimidated by Moyers and somewhat unnerved by his questions, but at least he agreed to be interviewed. Among those who declined — and thus became a part of the story more than they already were — are Judith Miller of the New York Times, a reporter who became a relentless drumbeater for war; Times pundit William Safire, who'd predicted that Iraqis would welcome Americans as liberators when they marched into Baghdad; columnist Charles Krauthammer, another hawkish columnist who's usually anything but camera-shy; and Fox boss Roger Ailes.
William Kristol, a conservative columnist who, Moyers says, "led the march to Baghdad behind a battery of Washington microphones . . . has not responded to any of our requests for an interview, but he still shows up on TV as an expert, most often on Fox News."
I can remember being very confused as the Iraq War drums began to beat ever more loudly — because the evidence that we knew about publicly was altogether thin to nonexistent in substance. And yet the softball questions continued — from both the press and members of Congress who ought to have known better than to hype their political hide over their duty to the public — and no one embodied this public scam more than Judy Miller. Her over-the-top hyping of the WMD threats (which were, even at the time, unsubstantiated and knowingly so) were so creepy, because her on-air persona and her writing for the NYTimes was so absolute in its certainty.
Having done graduate work in security studies and had classes through the years with people who have actually looked at these issues for a living, I can honestly tell you that certainty of the evidence on something like this is a dead giveaway that someone is selling you a load of crap.
The White House Iraq Group did an excellent sales job. And the people that should have been the most skeptical fell for it hook, line, and sinker…because it was easier that way on their immediate personal connections, on their reputations, on their corporate bottom line. And on their immediate political aspirations, in the case of far too many elected representatives.
After watching the Moyers special last night, I was infuriated. This morning, sipping my first cup of coffee and trying to make some sense of it all, I'm still angry. So I'm going to watch it again later, with a pot of tea, and see if I can glean something beyond "the truth really, really hurts…all of us."
Digby wonders why it is that the NYTimes had no review of the Moyers special yesterday. I know why: J-U-D-Y. Meanwhile, things must be going even worse in Iraq than we thought, because they've trotted out another Lieberman op-ed to scold all of us for believing our lying eyes and all of our pals and relatives who are facing IEDs in Iraq. (Of course, it would help us all evaluate this mess if the Bush Administration weren't playing the numbers for their own benefit.)
PS — Yay, Jane — halfway through the chemo as of today. Woo hoo! Send some good thoughts Jane's way, gang.