Dover Bitch

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Journalistic Rules

Via Atrios, DB came across Media Matters' spotlight of this column by the Washington Post's David Ignatius.

What would make a Hagel candidacy interesting is that he can claim to have been right about Iraq and other key issues earlier than almost any national politician, Republican or Democratic. Though a Vietnam veteran and a hawk on many national security issues, he had prescient misgivings about the Iraq war -- and, more important, the political courage to express these doubts clearly, at a time when many politicians were running for cover.

Hagel warned about the dangers of invading Iraq in a Feb. 20, 2003, speech in Kansas. He noted that America stood "nearly alone" in advocating military force to disarm Iraq and cautioned against "a rush to war." Some of Hagel's premonitions were almost eerie: "What comes after Saddam Hussein? The uncertainties of a post-Saddam, post-conflict Middle East should give us pause, encourage prudence and force us to recognize the necessity of coalitions in seeing it through." He urged the Bush administration to transfer postwar oversight to the United Nations as soon as possible, and he admonished Iraq boosters to "put aside the mistaken delusion that democracy is just around the corner."

As Media Matters noted, there are plenty of examples of Democrats who can make that claim. Too bad Ignatius couldn't find any. For example, here's John Kerry on Oct. 2, 2002:

I'm prepared to go. I think people understand that Saddam Hussein is a danger. But you want to go maximizing your capacity for victory, not beginning with deficits. That's one of the lessons of Vietnam. The war will not just be the military operation to move the regime out and to take Baghdad. The war will be an ongoing process of how you then rebuild the country. How you build the democracy in a place that's never had it, in a place where violence is the tradition. And that is the challenge for us. I want to think it through, Chris, so no one has to ask the question, was this a mistake?

And here's Kerry on the Senate floor explaining why he was voting to give Bush authorization to use force in Iraq:

I want to underscore that this administration began this debate with a resolution that granted exceedingly broad authority to the President to use force. I regret that some in the Congress rushed so quickly to support it. I would have opposed it. It gave the President the authority to use force not only to enforce all of the U.N. resolutions as a cause of war, but also to produce regime change in Iraq, and to restore international peace and security in the Persian Gulf region. It made no mention of the President's efforts at the United Nations or the need to build multilateral support for whatever course of action we ultimately would take.

I am pleased that our pressure, and the questions we have asked, and the criticisms that have been raised publicly, the debate in our democracy has pushed this administration to adopt important changes, both in language as well as in the promises that they make.

Too bad they didn't keep any of those promises.

So, a Vietnam vet warning about a rush to war, the necessity of coalitions and the United Nations and the difficulty that will arise in the rebuilding phase... If his name was Hagel, his "premonitions were almost eerie." If his name was Kerry... well, here's what Ignatius said about Kerry in 2004.

His line should be that he wants success in Iraq and will do everything he can, as candidate and as president, to make it happen. He needs to make clear that failure isn't an option for him any more than for Bush -- and that a Kerry presidency would never embrace a Spanish-style policy of cut and run.

In that sense, Kerry needs to take Iraq off the table as an issue. His advisers may say that's crazy -- to throw away their biggest weapon against Bush. But that understates the gravity of this election. Kerry's best shot is that he would be a stronger, smarter leader in wartime. On Iraq, he should tell the truth: Now that we've gotten in, we have to stay and support the Iraqi people in rebuilding their country. Period.

Here, by contrast, is what Kerry had to say this week about Iraq: "To leave too soon would leave behind a failed state that inevitably would become a haven for terrorists and a threat to our future." At the same time, he cautioned, "the answer is not a stubborn pursuit of the same arrogant policies." What that two-sided statement really meant is unclear.

Yeah, what could that have meant? Maybe that explains why the same columnist who advised Kerry to talk like Bush in 2004 has no apparent recollection of things he actually said. He just didn't understand them. (By the way, how many GOP narratives can you find in that column?)

Let's not forget, though, that Ignatius issued America's most feeble explanation for the media's failures in debating the Iraq war when it would've mattered the most:

Assessing coverage of Iraq is trickier. The media offered a wide range of reporting and opinion before the war, including some skeptical assessments of Saddam Hussein's WMD threat and his links with al Qaeda. Our biggest failure (and my own) was that we didn't ask enough questions about the administration's planning for postwar Iraq.

A Feb. 17 article in the Times about what could go wrong in Iraq included this haunting quotation from an unnamed senior official: "We still do not know how U.S. forces will be received. Will it be cheers, jeers or shots? And the fact is, we won't know until we get there." Even though it was a blind quotation, that should have been a red flag to every editor and columnist in America. But it wasn't.

The uniformed military privately had serious questions about the Iraq mission, but these only occasionally made their way into print. A rare example is a March 11, 2003, story in The Post by Vernon Loeb and Thomas E. Ricks, which began: "The U.S. Army is bracing for war in Iraq and a postwar occupation that could tie up two to three Army divisions in an open-ended mission that would strain the all-volunteer force and put soldiers in the midst of warring ethnic and religious factions, Army officers and other senior defense officials say." Again, that story should have been a red flag.

In a sense, the media were victims of their own professionalism. Because there was little criticism of the war from prominent Democrats and foreign policy analysts, journalistic rules meant we shouldn't create a debate on our own.

Journalistic rules? Unbelievable. Really, you've got to be kidding. The media in this country couldn't be in worse shape than it is. Columnists like Ignatius actually embrace the idea that they cannot even think about things that aren't faxed to them by the campaign chairmen. And then anything that's sent to them is automatically a legitimate topic for debate and on equal footing with the other side's faxes. Here's Ignatius on the Swiftboat attacks:

But it must be said that Kerry invited this sort of scrutiny by making his Vietnam exploits the centerpiece of last month's Democratic convention.

An incessant parade of lies equals "scrutiny."

The 2008 election isn't going to be any different than the last two presidential contests, at least as far as the pundits go. We've already had front page stories about the Clintons' sex lives. If there's a collective mission for the blogosphere in 2007, it should be to force the media to take the future of the world seriously for a change.

Obviously, there's no hope for Ignatius, but let's try to have these punks whipped into shape before the first intra-party debates.

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