Paul Farhi, right and wrong: Yesterday, in the Post Outlook section, Paul Farhi considered the press corps’ performance in the run-up to war in Iraq.
In Farhi’s view, the press corps didn’t do as poorly as is widely said, though they also didn’t do well. We wouldn’t necessarily say he’s wrong in some of his overall judgments.
Let’s note two points on which Farhi is probably right, two points on which he seems to be wrong.
Would better coverage have affected the outcome? We’ll guess that Farhi is right in this judgment:
FARHI (3/24/13): Many critics of the media’s prewar reporting seem to believe that a more confrontational press could have stopped the march into Iraq. That’s wishful thinking. It not only assumes that journalists could agree on the facts, it also implies that the media could single-handedly override the president’s influence and that of other leaders.We will guess that Farhi is right. It’s hard to imagine the kind of coverage which would have stopped the march to war. Of course, it’s also hard to imagine the American press corps creating any such coverage.
Downie believes that no amount of media skepticism would have stopped the administration. “We were going to war,” he said.
We’ll also guess that Farhi is pretty much right about this:
FARHI: In hindsight, The Post’s executive editor at the time, Leonard Downie Jr., says he regrets not giving [Walter] Pincus’s stories more prominence (most of them landed in the neighborhood of A18). But even Pincus recognizes that no one outside Iraq really knew precisely what was happening inside Iraq. “If there’s disagreement inside the government about what’s true and what isn’t, how the hell can the press determine what’s true?” he says.That’s true too, though we’re not sure it matters. There’s no way the press corps could have settled every factual question.
We’ll guess that Farhi is basically right about these and several other matters. But even now, ten years later, the logic of this matter is relentlessly bungled, even by our most ardent liberals. One example:
Farhi’s logic is badly wanting in this familiar, unfortunate passage:
FARHI: Congress’s unwillingness to stand up to the president was critical, says Michael Getler, a former Post foreign-news editor who is now the PBS ombudsman. There were no hearings that could have featured skeptical government experts disputing the official line.Sad! “Even Al Gore” believed that Iraq had WMD? We don’t know why Farhi sources McManus, since that’s what Gore said, in his own voice, in the high-profile San Francisco speech in which he urged against going to war with Iraq.
The field was tilted. Administration officials hogged media attention with scary, on-the-record statements. On the other side, there were few authoritative sources countering them. Even Al Gore believed that Iraq had WMDs, said Doyle McManus, who covered the period for the Los Angeles Times. “The consensus was universal,” he says.
Even if Iraq did have WMD, Gore (and many others) said, that wasn’t a reason to go to war. Even today, this bone-simple logic is endlessly bungled, especially by the fiery liberals on The One True Channel.
In our view, Farhi is also “wrong” on a point of focus. In this piece, he is talking about the quality of mainstream reporting. He doesn’t discuss the screeching, hollering, keening and wailing which came from the press corps’ opinion brigade. From Thomas L. Friedman down through Chris Matthews, these people staged a series of loud nervous breakdowns, insisting on the need for war.
The reporting may not have been quite as bad as folk say. The punditry may have been worse.
We’ll examine such points all week. Many people seem to be misremembering the run-up to the war in Iraq. And alas!
Many of these afflicted persons currently play for our own “liberal” tribe. Even on The One True Channel, the hirelings can’t quite seem to recall the truth, the whole truth.
Dearest darlings, it just isn’t done! Corporate teamwork comes first!