Monday, February 05, 2007


Froomkin, the LA Times, and Iran

Glenn Greenwald linked to this impressive (although spookily obvious) piece by Washington Post writer Dan Froomkin about basic journalistic precepts to take into consideration when reporting on war-related issues and this administration (well, any administration). Read them. Then read this LA Times article. Then weep.

How the press can prevent another Iraq

Lessons we thought had been learned from Vietnam were forgotten in the rush to invade Iraq. And now, as we cover President Bush’s ratcheting up of the rhetoric against Iran, it’s looking like the lessons we should have learned from Iraq may not have been learned at all. So at the risk of stating the obvious, here are some thoughts about what those lessons were.


Just because they say it, doesn’t mean it should be make the headlines. The absence of supporting evidence for their assertion -- or a preponderance of evidence that contradicts the assertion -- may be more newsworthy than the assertion itself.

Don’t print anonymous assertions. Demand that sources make themselves accountable for what they insist is true.

War is so serious that even proving the existence of a casus belli isn’t enough. Make officials prove to the public that going to war will make things better.

Give voice to the skeptics; don’t marginalize and mock them.

Historically, the real motives for wars have often not been the public motives. Try to report on the motivations of the key advocates for war.

There are several more. Each of which, pretty much, was broken in the February 1 article I linked to above:

U.S. delays report on Iranian role in Iraq

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration has postponed plans to offer public details of its charges of Iranian meddling inside Iraq amid internal divisions over the strength of the evidence, U.S. officials said.

U.S. officials promised last week to provide evidence of Iranian activities that led President Bush to announce Jan. 10 that U.S. forces would begin taking the offensive against Iranian agents who threatened Americans.

But some officials in Washington are concerned that some of the material may be inconclusive and that other data cannot be released without jeopardizing intelligence sources and methods. They want to avoid repeating the embarrassment that followed the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, when it became clear that information the administration cited to justify the war was incorrect, said the officials, who described the internal discussions on condition of anonymity.

"We don't want a repeat of the situation we had when [then-Secretary of State] Colin L. Powell went before the United Nations," said one U.S. official, referring to Powell's 2003 presentation on then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's unconventional weapons program that relied on evidence later found to be false. "People are going to be skeptical."

Now I'll admit that on the surface, this seems like a perfectly cromulent piece. It in fact seems to avoid the journalistic pitfalls that marked the runup to the Iraq war. However, looking closer, it in fact goes over the top in rationalizing the official lies that went into the current war in an effort to soft-sell the upcoming one. They want us to believe that we've "learned our lessons" from Iraq, and so they're just going to dot their i's and cross their t's to make sure that THIS time their case is air-tight. Sure, they intone, "people are going to be skeptical" but not because they LIIED, but because their prior evidence "later" was "found to be false." No mention of the fact that AT THE TIME the administration knew that much of what they inserted into Powell's speech was qualified at best and hog nuts at worse (particularly the bit about the al Qaeda training center in northern Iraq that they knew all about but couldn't seem to just TAKE OUT, even though we controlled the air space over said center).

It's truly an infuriating article. And it violates most of the tenets of journalism that Froomkin warns us about. They provide cover for several past & present administration officials; refuse to examine or explain any ulterior motives they (or others advocating for the war, including in their own paper); might have; don't speculate about WHY officials might be trying to "build a case with a variety of evidence;" and worst of all, ignore any and all critics of the administration (other than giving lip service to unnamed forces in the state department, and an official denial from Tehran). Seriously, they couldn't find ANYONE to interview who might be willing to say: "How stupid do they take us to be? Fool me once, and all that! How dare you give anonymity to these warmongers? They had their chance. We KNOW there are elements among them who would LOVE to go to war with Iran. Too bad. This time we know better."

Not one person? Perhaps, say, someone who was RIGHT the first time, who knew their links to al Qaeda and WMD scares and "he gassed his own people!!!!!" rhetoric was empty bullshit, and said so at the time? Shouldn't at least one such person be part of this discussion now? Just for, you know, balance?


Anyway, the article is infuriating. The fact that Media Matters holds it up as an important piece debunking the crazy assertions being made by administration officials doesn't make it any less worrisome - if this is the best our mainstream papers can do in debunking Iran propaganda, we're in deep freaking trouble.

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