The CIA said there was no connection. The 9/11 Commission said there was “no credible evidence.” Counter-terrorism expert Richard Clarke, advisor to three presidents, said there was no link. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said, “We made serious mistakes.” Even Donald Rumsfeld grudgingly said there probably wasn’t “any strong, hard evidence.”
About the only ones who believe Saddam Hussein and Iraq had any connection to the terrorist attacks upon the United States are George W. Bush, Dick Cheney…and two-fifths of all Americans.
A USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll conducted this month found that 42 percent of all Americans erroneously believe Saddam was involved in the attacks three years earlier. A hard-core one-third of Americans, according to the poll, believe Saddam was directly involved in the planning. More startling is that 61 percent of all persons who identify themselves as Republicans believe Saddam was involved in the attacks, up from 56 percent just three months earlier.
In attacking Iraq in March 2003, the Bush administration initially led Americans to believe that Iraq was involved in the terrorist attacks. Lie Number 1. Then, it declared Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that could be used against the United States or to provide world-wide terrorists with nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons. Lie Number 2. When the administration-led “coalition of the willing” tore up the entire country, imprisoned and tortured thousands of Iraqis to find those non-existent weapons, Bush declared the world is a safer place without Saddam in power. Lie Number 3. Along the path to chaos were dozens of other errors and lesser lies, but space doesn’t permit listing all of them.
Almost every credible source says that Iraq was more concerned with Iran than with the United States. Extensive evidence also indicated that Saddam, who had a long-standing distrust of al-Qaeda, had no intention of working with the international terrorist organization, now in more than 60 countries. The evidence, available to even the most junior government employee, revealed that the sanctions of the previous 12 years were effective in keeping Saddam and Iraq from building WMD, and that not only didn’t Iraq have WMD it had no plans to build any such weapons.
For more than a year leading up to “shock-and-awe,” followed quickly by the “Mission Accomplished” propaganda fiasco, the Bush administration selectively picked its facts, no matter how questionable, to justify its political philosophy. But, without a compliant press, even the most biased political agenda would have been lost.
In their jingoistic hyper-ventilation for war, and a need to unfurl their patriotism, the establishment press relegated the growing antiwar movement to that of a sideshow. Dozens of reporters and columnists for the alternative press, and a few from the establishment dailies, pointed out errors and inconsistencies in the President’s arguments, but they weren’t respected by most of the establishment press.
In February, media analyst Michael Massing, writing in the New York Review of Books, pointed out that American reporters “were far too reliant on sources sympathetic to the administration [while] those with dissenting views . . . were shut out.” Most of the prewar reporting, according to a study conducted by the Center for International Security Studies, confirmed that not only had the media unquestioningly taken down and transmitted whatever the administration was spewing, but failed to provide a “critical examination of the way officials framed the events, issues, threats, and policy options.”
Even with overwhelming evidence that massive errors were made, one year after “shock-and-awe” the American media declared how much better the world was with Saddam out of power.
And then Rick Mercier of The Free Lance-Star, a 44,000 circulation newspaper in Fredericksburg, Va., pushed the truth in front of his fellow journalists. “There’s one thing they forgot to say,” wrote Mercier about the anniversary rapture. What they forgot to say was “We’re sorry.” In a blistering 1,700-word news analysis, Mercier said the media forgot to say, “Sorry, we let unsubstantiated claims drive our coverage. Sorry we were dismissive of experts who disputed White House charges against Iraq. Sorry we let a band of self-serving Iraqi defectors make fools of us. Sorry we fell for Colin Powell’s performance at the United Nations. Sorry we couldn’t bring ourselves to hold the administration’s feet to the fire before the war, when it really mattered. Maybe we’ll do a better job next war.” Mercier concluded it was “absurd to receive this apology from a person so low in the media hierarchy.
You really ought to be getting it from the editors and reporters at the agenda-setting publications, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post.”
Two months later, the Times finally apologized for acting more as the mouthpiece for politicians than as a watchdog for society. “Coverage was not as rigorous as it should have been . . . .Editors at several levels who should have been challenging reporters and pressing for more skepticism were perhaps too intent on rushing scoops into the paper,” the Times declared, acknowledging it gave minimal play to stories that challenged the administration claims. “We wish we had been more aggressive,” whined the repentant Times.
Almost three months later, the Washington Post, one of the most hawkish papers for war, finally acknowledged its own pre-war hysteria and lack of journalistic competence. “We were so focused on trying to figure out what the administration was doing that we were not giving the same play to people who said it wouldn’t be a good idea to go to war and were questioning the administration’s rationale,” wrote Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. By the time the USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll determined two-fifths of all Americans believed there was a strong link between Saddam and al-Qaeda, the media had begun retreating and have been issuing regular mea culpas. But, it is far too late.
In Manufacturing Consent, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky point out that the media long ago abrogated their roles of “watchdogs,” which the Founding Fathers believed necessary for the American republic to thrive, and have slowly replaced it with their role as unquestioning propagandists for the establishment. Dr. Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister, said if you tell a lie often enough, and with enough conviction, the people will believe it as truth. The Bush administration, aided by an acquiescent media, proved the truth of Goebbels’ words.
WALTER BRASCH, professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University, is an award-winning syndicated columnist and the author of 15 books, most of them about social issues, the First Amendment, and the media. His forthcoming book is America’s Unpatriotic Acts; The Federal Government’s Violation of Constitutional and Civil Liberties (Peter Lang Publishing.) You may contact Brasch at firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.walterbrasch.com