Washington Post Censors Critique of Pre-Iraq Invasion Media Coverage

John Glaser, March 26, 2013

According to veteran journalist Greg Mitchell, The Washington Post yanked a story of his that he was commissioned to write about failures in the news media in the lead up to the Iraq War. His piece made the obviously true argument that the media not only failed to question the war propaganda, but actively served as a bullhorn for the pro-war crowd.

Instead of running Mitchell’s story that was critical of the paper and the broader media, the Post instead ran a piece by Paul Farhi defending the media’s coverage.

Mitchell explains at his blog:

The Washington Post killed my assigned piece for its Outlook section this weekend which mainly covered media failures re: Iraq and the current refusal to come to grips with that (the subject of my latest book)–yet they ran this misleading, cherry-picking, piece by Paul Farhi claiming the media “didn’t fail.”  I love the line about the Post in March 2003 carrying some skeptical pieces just days before the war started: “Perhaps it was too late by then. But this doesn’t sound like failure.”

Here’s my rejected piece.  I see that the Post is now defending killing the article because it didn’t offer sufficient “broader analytical points or insights.”  I’ll let you consider if that’s true and why they might have rejected it.

Now let’s revisit my recent posts here on when probe in the Post itself by Howard Kurtz in 2004 showed that it failed big time.  For one thing, Kurtz tallied more than 140 front-page Post stories “that focused heavily on administration rhetoric against Iraq”–with all but a few of those questioning the evidence buried inside.  Editors there killed, delayed or buried key pieces by Ricks, Walter Pincus, Dana Priest and others.  The Post‘s David Ignatius went so far as offering an apology to readers this week for his own failures.  Also consider Bob Woodward’s reflections here and here.   He admitted he had become a willing part of the the “groupthink” that accepted faulty intelligence on the WMDs.

Woodward, shaming himself and his paper, once said it was risky for journalists to write anything that might look silly if WMD were ultimately found in Iraq.  Rather than look silly, they greased the path to war.   “There was an attitude among editors: Look, we’re going to war, why do we even worry about all the contrary stuff?” admitted the Post’s Pentagon correspondent Thomas Ricks in 2004.  And this classic from a top reporter, Karen DeYoung:  “We are inevitably the mouthpiece for whatever administration is in power.“  See my review, at the time, of how the Post fell (hook, line, and sinker) for Colin Powell’s fateful U.N. speech–and mocked critics.  Not a “fail”?

This Bill Moyers documentary on media failure in the lead up to the war is well worth a watch, or a re-watch, if you’ve seen it already:

(h/t Roy Greenslade)

Update: See the great Sheldon Richman on this issue: How the News Media Betrayed Us on Iraq

15 Responses to “Washington Post Censors Critique of Pre-Iraq Invasion Media Coverage”

  1. Excellent post – thanks for putting this on everyone's radar, John.

  2. No, not an excellent post. Glaser presents it as an either/or. Both writers were commissioned to write pieces. Greg Mitchell's piece is a blog post and a bad one. Forget the message of what he wrote, it's badly written. Considering that the editor who killed Mitchell's piece offered a public explanation on Sunday, John Glaser's post is less than honest since it doesn't even bother to link to that, let alone include it. 'Our side' isn't always right. In the case of Greg Mitchell, he should have written the type of piece he was asked for and not what he called a "catalog."

  3. No, it was an excellent post.

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  13. So where at the WaPo do you work, Heather?

    "Greg Mitchell's piece is a blog post and a bad one."

    What is that supposed to mean? If you are going to criticize Mitchell, you could at least be clear about what you didn't like.

    Lozada said this: "We invited Greg Mitchell…to contribute a piece for Outlook on the art of the Iraq war mea culpa." Why is a taxonomy of the various approaches to the "mea culpa" out of place? I thought it was a good, though not remarkable, piece. There was absolutely no reason to kill it. The conclusion of the piece is implicit: The commentariat have used and continue to use all sorts of non-apology apologies to escape their complicity with the war machine. At the very least, Mitchell's piece was far better than Farhi's piece, embarrassingly titled, "On Iraq, journalists didn’t fail. They just didn’t succeed." Farhi's piece was merely a continuation of media complicity in the Iraq FAILURE. What the WaPo wanted was "nuanced" nonsense that would gently airbrush the serial dishonesties of the media in general and the Post in particular. They got what they wanted from Farhi but not from Mitchell.

    "John Glaser's post is less than honest since it doesn't even bother to link to that, let alone include it."

    Are you talking about the Lozada statement that was in the HuffPo article that Glaser DID link to (and that I quoted from above)? Or something else?

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