Ignatius, Jonathan Chait and Gene Lyons!

FRIDAY, MARCH 22, 2013

One of these three got it right: All week, we’ve watched as major press corps figures tried to explain (or obscure) their past stance regarding Iraq.

To our ear, Lawrence O’Donnell seemed to be trying to give the impression that he spoke out against the invasion. Ditto for his guest, David Corn. Ditto for John Judis.

As best we can tell, these three superstars never did speak out, except perhaps in quiet rooms, when nobody else was around.

With high pomposity, Ezra Klein penned a ludicrous column about the “analytical failure” he committed regarding Iraq—back when he was a freshman in college. According to Ezra, he brilliantly reversed himself as soon as he saw that the war was being conducted badly.

The editors of the New York Times complained about everyone except the New York Times. Joe Scarborough aired a videotape which was a pure con. And so it went, on and on.

Today, let’s look at three others who served.

At the Washington Post, David Ignatius manned up this week—about the fact that he got it wrong in real time:
IGNATIUS (3/21/13): Ten years ago this week, I was covering the U.S. military as it began its assault on Iraq. As I read back now over my clips, I see a few useful warnings about the difficulties ahead. But I owe readers an apology for being wrong on the overriding question of whether the war made sense.

Invading Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein a decade ago was one of the biggest strategic errors in modern American history. We’ll never know whether the story might have been different if better planning had been done for “the day after,” or the Iraqi army hadn’t been disbanded, or several other “ifs.” But the abiding truth is that America shouldn’t have rolled the dice this way on a war of choice.
We’ll take that confession any day over the faking of Corn and O’Donnell. Or over the endless analytics dished by Jonathan Chait:
CHAIT (3/19/13): Since it’s Iraq War mea culpa week, I ought to fess up for those readers who didn’t follow me ten years ago and admit that I supported the war. I was wrong about it. But the conclusions I’ve drawn from the episode are not the conclusions many other liberals have drawn. Since I am asked about this periodically, I should explain why.
That may sound like an Ignatius-style confession. It isn’t, as you will see if you try to read all the way to the end of Chait’s explanation.

Some people pretend that they spoke when they didn’t. Others punish the public with filibusters as they pretend to confess.

All the people we’ve mentioned have retained or improved their prior positions within the celebrity press corps. One other scribe pretty much has not, although we’re not sure how much he cares.

That other journalist is Gene Lyons. Lyons committed the ultimate crime:

In real time, he got it right.

In pseudo-journalistic culture, there is only one crime which can’t be forgiven. It can’t be forgiven when some journalist breaks from the herd and turns out to be right.

Every other cow will be spared. By law, this cow must be slaughtered. It’s the number one law of the guild:

You are not allowed to be right. Not unless everyone else is!

This week, at the National Memo, Lyons quoted some of what he wrote in real time, when the other cows got it wrong. This is a fairly good chunk of his new column:
LYONS (3/21/13): Skepticism...was in short supply. Spooked by 9/11 and intimidated by the intellectual bullies of the Bush administration, American journalists largely abandoned that professional virtue in favor of propaganda and groupthink.

Among scores of examples, the one that’s stuck in my craw was allegedly liberal Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen. Reacting to Gen. Colin Powell’s anti-Saddam speech to the United Nations General Assembly—since repudiated by its author—Cohen wrote that “Iraq not only hasn’t accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool—or possibly a Frenchman—could conclude otherwise.”

“War fever, catch it,” this fool wrote.

I added that to anybody capable of remembering past intelligence hoaxes, it wasn’t clear that Powell’s presentation answered any of the objections put forward by doubters like George H.W. Bush’s national security advisor, Gen. Brent Scowcroft.

“To any skeptic with a computer modem, moreover, it became quite clear why Powell’s speech failed to convert many at the UN,” my Feb. 5, 2003 column continued.

“Key parts of [his] presentation were dubious on their face. That alleged al Qaeda base in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq? If it’s what Powell says, why hasn’t it been bombed to smithereens? British and U.S. jets have been conducting sorties in the no-fly zone for months. Because it’s a dusty outpost not worth bombing, reporters for The Observer who visited the place quickly saw.

“The mobile bio-war death labs? Please. Even if [UN inspector] Hans Blix hadn’t told The Guardian that U.S. tips had guided inspectors to mobile food inspection facilities, anybody who’s dodged herds of camels, goats and sheep and maniacal drivers on bumpy Middle Eastern highways had to laugh. Bio-war experts told Newsweek the idea was preposterous. ‘U.S. intelligence,’ it reported ‘after years of looking for them, has never found even one.’

“Then there was the embarrassing fact that key elements of a British intelligence document cited by Powell turned out to have been plagiarized from magazine articles and a California grad student’s M.A. thesis based upon 12-year-old evidence.”

I could go on. In fact, I did...
We were glad to see Lyons quote himself from that ten-year-old column. This was a refreshing stance, especially after seeing O’Donnell con his readers several nights, pretending that he had written or said something like that.

He hadn’t. In real time, O’Donnell ran off and hid in the woods, just like everyone else did.

Years earlier, Lyons had been right about something else. He had been right about the war the mainstream press corps waged against Clinton and Clinton during the 1990s. He published Fools for Scandal in 1996, challenging the whole Whitewater hoax.

The book was excerpted in, then published by Harper’s. Pseudo-liberals all agreed—by law, they had to ignore it. (Later, Lyons and Joe Conason published The Hunting of the President.)

Go ahead! At the end of this pitiful week, we think you should read Lyons’ column. O’Donnell, Corn, Judis, Klein—hacks like these have found different ways to con us rubes this week.

Lyons got it right in real time. He could see how foolish, how implausible, that presentation by Powell was. Near the end of this week’s column, he draws the basic lesson:
LYONS: But there are no penalties in Washington journalism for being proven dramatically wrong.

The safest place during a stampede is always the middle of the herd.
Almost everyone else stampeded. They were still treating us pseudo-liberals like fools ten years later—this week.

They’re very good at playing that game. They know we’ll just sit there and take it.


  1. Funny how Bob has disappeared one of the few high-profile pundits who did speak out against the war from the very beginning. Fella named Chris Matthews.

    Once it was under way, he swallowed his objections, it's true, and got one of those "thrills up his legs" at Bush's carrier landing. (Although those of us who actually pay attention realized he was at that point near the high of one of his periodic manic episodes.)

    But the fact remains, Matthews thought the war was a terrible idea from the get-go and said so repeatedly on his program.

    Gosh, I wonder why Bob doesn't want to acknowledge that.

    1. Bob has noted in his earlier writings that Matthews was skeptical about the war. Maybe he should mention that now, too.

      Matthews is also (allegedly) responsible for getting Donahue fired from MSBNC...


    2. For example:


    3. It's all OK, because poor Chris was just having one of his "manic" episodes, and should be excused. As an aside, something about using the word "manic" to describe Matthews' almost obscene gushing about Bush and his codpiece seems wrong.

    4. hardindr, Incredible footage of the Matthews' show shortly before Donahue was fired. Saw it broadcast on a weekend show, the following week Donahue was fired as I recall. The Single Most Disgraceful Performance I've ever seen in all of news media. As Donahue attempted to discuss the days hot topic, the impending U.S.-Iraqi invasion, Matthews was intent on turning the appearance into a rapid mouth attack, with accusations that Donahue was anti-unAmerican. Shameful. At one point Matthews became so exited as to blurt out an accusation that Donahue was lacking love for country by failing to bring up Cary Grant as an example of America's greatness.

      Don't really see Matthews as a dissenter, but rather as an enabler who got rich doing it.

    5. Tweety was for the war before he was against it. He turned south in '07-'08 when 3,500 were already dead and the police action clearly lost. Very few public voices spoke out against the invasion of 3/20/03... Moore, Maher, Donahue, Dixie Chicks, Cher, Patti Smith, Mark Miller... as the rest of the lame stream media sat upon their collectives arse crapping their panties over careers.

      Tweety, along with Russert, were willing dupes to the Bush-Cheney cabal.

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  5. This blog deserves to be taken over by sextoy spam and David in Cal. An ignominious end, well-earned by Bob.

    1. Somerby was the first to definitively call out the media for its overwhelming stupidity. Nearly everybody else, even to this day, only call out the media's bias. For this, Somerby deserves a lifetime achievement award, not an ignominious end. The media's stupidity is far more important than its bias.

      Also, Somerby is still the only person to realize that the causes of Bush's 2000 election, in order of importance, are the media, the media, the media, the media, the media, and other factors.

    2. And before you get too carried away in hero worship, go into the archives and read Somerby's ringing defense of Bush's "Sixteen words."

    3. Citing the existence of imperfection is the most obvious and worthless contribution possible in any discussion. We are all aware of the existence if imperfection without your help.

      An achievement doesn't cease to exist in the presence of imperfection. Somerby produced insight that nobody else did and that almost everyone has yet to learn even years afterward.

      If you had your way, Kobe Bryant wouldn't be allowed in the hall of fame because he missed a shot.

  6. Watching Chris Mathews extol his own courage in opposing the war in Iraq in the months before Shock and Awe is turning my stomach. I watched him every night because he would, from time to time, slip and give signals that he thought the evidence and purpose for war was bullshit. I waited and hoped that he would find the courage to purposefully speak out but Mr. Welch ran a tight ship in those days. Donahue was fired there. Lynn Samuels and Rev. Byron Schaefer were fired from WABC (as was I). Ron Kuby was repeatedly sent home but NEVER his pro-war firebrand of a partner. Even libertarian talk show host Charles Goyette was downgraded and then let go...As chief of staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Lawrence Wilkerson said a few years later: To openly oppose the administration and its false war propaganda you had to be willing to lose your job. This current chest beating would be amusing if it was not so pathetic. If you want to know who really opposed the war vocally and publicly look to the unemployment line. http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/how-to-lose-your-job-in-talk-radio/ The only consistent and persistent exceptions on the national stage were conservatives: Ron Paul, Patrick Buchanan, Justin Raimando, Lawrence Eagleburger (R.I.P.). Yes, there were some conservatives who had the guts to speak out and deserve respect for that. And in the mainstream press there was one shining and completely unique example: McClatchy Newspapers. In 2008, McClatchy's bureau chief in Washington, D.C., John Walcott, was the first recipient of the I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence] In accepting the award, Walcott commented on McClatchy's reporting during the period preceding the Iraq War:

    "Why, in a nutshell, was our reporting different from so much other reporting? One important reason was that we sought out the dissidents, and we listened to them, instead of serving as stenographers to high-ranking [Bush administration] officials and Iraqi exiles"

  7. Also, Bob Somerby was right. Read this from Andrew Sullivan:


    The man has no shame.

  8. A few people still say that the Iraq war wasn't a mistake. Conservative pundit Mark Steyn writes:

    Ten years ago, along with three-quarters of the American people, including the men just appointed as President Obama’s secretaries of state and defense, I supported the invasion of Iraq. A decade on, unlike most of the American people, including John Kerry and Chuck Hagel, I’ll stand by that original judgment....

    Iraq, I suggested, would wind up “at a bare minimum, the least badly governed state in the Arab world, and, at best, pleasant, civilized and thriving.” I’ll stand by my worst-case scenario there.

    I agree with Steyn that Iraq is now the least badly governed Arab state. Under Saddam, it was probably the worst-governed Arab state. So we did achieve something, but IMHO the cost was too high.

    By comparison, I think when we finally withdraw from Afghanistan, no benefit at all will remain from our efforts there.

    1. "we did achieve something, but IMHO the cost was too high"

      You didn't pay the cost, you pompous ass.

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