At last the media are waking up. Note the skepticism that greeted the president's “Success in Iraq” speech on Wednesday, maybe his most highly touted progress report on the war to date.
Not so long ago, most of the collective media was sitting on its hands, so to speak, except when clapping for the president. Bob Woodward of all people was helping to shield those in the administration who punished Joseph Wilson for pointing out the use of faulty intelligence to justify invading Iraq. Woodward knew many months ago that White House officials were telling reporters about Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, and her role in the CIA. Like Judith Miller, the discredited reporter for The New York Times, Woodward chose not to tell this important story to his readers.
Woodward, a longtime writer for The Washington Post, had an obligation to report that the White House tried to keep the public from knowing our government used faulty intelligence to promote the invasion of Iraq. Now that the overwhelming majority of Americans see that war as a terrible mistake, Woodward is talking. Where was he in 2004, when he could've made a difference in an election?
It's an insulting irony of history that the two most influential newspapers in America allowed themselves to be tools of the far right at a time when a majority believes the national media is a tool of liberals.
Doubtlessly you can explain the media complicity of Woodward, Miller and others in simple human terms. Dazzled by the early success of the war in Iraq and their increased audiences, reporters and talking heads went to extraordinary lengths to display a patriotic face, even if corruption lurked behind the scenes. Abu Ghraib, the Pat Tillman fiasco, the use of banned weapons in Iraq, Dick Cheney's many conflicts of interest and much more were slow to get reported. Essential stories often went under-reported for years by many news organs.
As late as last November an overwhelming majority of people who get their information from Fox News erroneously believed Americans had discovered WMDs in Iraq. They also believed Saddam Hussein had worked with al-Qaida to conduct joint attacks. A majority of Bush supporters wrongly believed Bush favored the Kyoto Accords against global warming and the ban on landmines, according to a long article in “Vanity Fair” magazine and other sources. They also believed the faulty notion that the world supported our invasion of Iraq and much more. Such reports are signs of a national media that went along to get along with what they perceived as a successful presidency. After all, nothing succeeds like success.
Still, nothing fails like failure, and that truism has helped turn things around. The media have finally sniffed around enough to identify one of those foul odors associated with our government as the sour smell of failure.
Failure to reduce the federal budget.
Failure to rescue New Orleans.
To halt Global Warming.
Provide affordable health care.
Protect programs like Head Start and our national parks.
Failure at stopping worldwide terrorism.
Failure to stop corruption regarding federal contracts and influence peddling.
Never mind that Big Media helped create the mess facing our country, they want no part of public policy failure, and that's a blessing of sorts for the rest of us.
Maybe the wakeup call came courtesy of Katrina. It was along about the time that amiable newsman Anderson Cooper angrily interrupted a mutual admiration party between a senator and a FEMA official to point out that bodies were floating past in the streets of New Orleans. It's as if the media realized they dared not allow themselves to be used again as flunkies for government lackeys, such as Michael “Heck of A Job” Brown.
Of course, the media are still not fully awake. Stories of secret death squads in Syria and Iraq go under-investigated. No media appear to be rushing to corroborate reports that Bush planned to send a missile crashing down on Al-Jazeera news headquarters had Tony Blair not talked him out of it, nor have we examined why this war has claimed the lives of so many reporters generally. And it took American media many months to report that banned chemical weapons killed civilians in Fallujah. Still, in comparison to the days when the media uncritically parroted the Foxy lie that Gore claimed to have invented the Internet--maybe the saddest distortion of all, because it was so banal and so tragic for our world—the media is doing better.