Tuesday, May 15, 2007 | Contact: Colleen O'Boyle (703) 683-5004
For Months Prior to Start of Iraq War, Big Media Highlighted Anti-War Arguments, Doubted Bush Administration Claims
The Media Before the War: Facts
vs. Liberal Mythology
are engaged in an amazing display of myth-building and revisionism
concerning the establishment media's performance before the war, and
it's not just
Moyers. As MRC's Tim Graham noted yesterday on our
NewsBusters blog, the Washington Post's Howard
Kurtz revealed on CNN's Reliable Sources Sunday that
"everybody at every news organization I've talked to said that the
media were not aggressive enough during the run-up to war."
Appearing on the
same program, ex-CNNer Bill Press went even further, alleging
that the press "gave us this war." He told Kurtz, "the media, in
large part, gave us this war, because they went along and repeated
everything that George Bush said without asking tough
questions....If they had asked the questions and more - and American
people knew what the truth was, as opposed to the propaganda we were
getting from the White House, I think there would not have been the
support for the war."
That's complete nonsense, as anyone who has actually looked at
the coverage would know. In the months leading up to the start of
the war in March 2003, the much of the media - especially ABC -
portrayed the Bush administration as aggressive, impulsive,
pig-headed and even blood-thirsty, while routinely doubting the
credibility of their public statements.
Certainly some liberals may think the media's pre-war opposition
was noble, while others may see it as the beginning of a pattern of
negative second-guessing that has undermined support for the war.
But there's no doubt that the press was tilted against the war long
before it began.
In the congressional debate over using force, for example, all
three broadcast networks gave the losing anti-war side much more
MRC study in October 2002 found nearly three in five of
soundbites from members of Congress (59%) opposed the use of force,
or roughly double the percentage of Senators and Representatives who
actually voted against using force (29%).
Despite the claim that the media never "asked tough questions,"
MRC study of all Iraq stories on ABC's World News Tonight
during September 2002 discovered that ABC reporters were nearly four
times more likely to voice doubt about the truthfulness of
statements by U.S. officials than Iraqi claims.
"Today, the administration made a brand new accusation," ABC
anchor Peter Jennings announced on the September 26, 2002 broadcast.
Reporter Martha Radditz quickly scoffed: "A senior intelligence
official tells ABC News there is no smoking gun. There's not even a
smoking unfired weapon linking al Qaeda to Iraq."
"The war policy is a crock," Newsweek international news
editor Michael Hirsh announced at a Yale forum on November 6, 2002.
"This is a hugely risky operation for potential gains that probably
won't justify the risk."
Columnist Helen Thomas declared Bush's policy "immoral," and used
her role at White House press conferences to bring her anti-war
message to a wide audience. "You are leaving the impression that
Iraqi lives, the human cost doesn't mean anything," Thomas scolded
the President at his November 7, 2002 press conference.
"Ari, you said that the President deplored the taking of innocent
lives," Thomas argued at a January 6, 2003 press briefing. "Why does
he want to drop bombs on innocent Iraqis?"
In September 2002, then-MSNBC anchor Brian Williams suggested the
U.S. was an arrogant power. "The situation hasn't been this lopsided
in terms of one breakout superpower on the planet in quite some
time," Williams told Newsweek International Editor Fareed
Zakaria, who agreed: "It hasn't been like this since the Roman
Empire two millennia ago."
"I was going to say we'd have to go back to the days of the
Empire, and that gives the U.S. obvious military swagger," Williams
continued, referring to his own country in the third-person: "Does
it give them any kind of moral courage above anyone else and
anyone's world, and isn't that world view part of what got the
United States in trouble September 11th?"
Day-to-day news coverage usually didn't contain such blatant
editorial statements, but the record shows the media emphasized the
problems a war might cause, highlighted the objections of war
opponents, romanticized anti-war protests, and suggested the Bush
administration was jeopardizing America's long-term interests.
They were certainly not cheerleaders:
"Some people are asking today whether or
not the White House is losing control of the debate about war with
■ Peter Jennings:
Terry Moran: "Well, Peter, White House officials are
concerned that events are moving too fast and not in their
direction. In the past couple of weeks, you've had top Republican
leaders defecting from the pro-war camp, key allies opposing any
action against Saddam Hussein."
- ABC's World News Tonight, August 20, 2002.
■ "The President disclosed that he has been reading Supreme
Command, a new book by Eliot A. Cohen, a neoconservative hardliner
on Iraq....In his reading choice, Bush seems to be following the
advice of Bill Kristol, the arch-neoconservative who has been
using his Weekly Standard magazine to chide Bush for being
too soft on Saddam Hussein....Kristol, suspected of playing
puppeteer to a number of hawkish officials in the Bush Pentagon
and National Security Council, appears to have added the
marionette-in-chief to his act."
- Washington Post White House reporter Dana Milbank in
his "White House Notebook" column, August 20, 2002.
■ "It's no secret, now, that a great many American allies are
very opposed to attacking Iraq unless the President makes a better
case for it....With this many allies arrayed against an American
invasion of Iraq, the question becomes, what would it mean for the
United States to go it alone?"
- ABC's Peter Jennings, World News Tonight, August 21,
■ "Even the optimists say if it were to go on for months, if
Saddam Hussein eludes capture, then the cost to the American
economy is likely to be heavy."
- ABC's John Cochran, World News Tonight, August 22,
■ "There are legal scholars who....say it would be
unprecedented, a violation of the United Nations charter, and a
reversal of nearly 200 years of U.S. policy to act only in
response to an attack or the immediate threat of one."
- ABC's John Yang, World News Tonight, August 29, 2002.
■ "This business of attacking Iraq has been promoted so
vigorously by some members of his administration, and running into
such opposition, the President is now obliged to work harder at
convincing people that what he wants is the right thing."
- Jennings on World News Tonight, September 4, 2002.
■ "On Capitol Hill today, historians delivered a petition to
Congress saying Congress must vote on whether or not to declare
war against Iraq, not just authorize military action. The
petition, signed by more than 1200 historians, says by not acting
Congress has left the President solely in control of war powers to
the detriment of democracy and in clear violation of the
- ABC's Peter Jennings on World News Tonight, September
■ "Voices of opposition. Not so much against getting rid of
Saddam Hussein but how, when and at what cost....Military retirees
remember getting bogged down in Vietnam and losing support at
home. Many here are leery of a rerun....Unilateral action also
troubles those we talked to in Denver. Few want to go it
alone....In all three cities, there is a feeling the
administration is moving too fast.... Contrary to what the
President says, when it comes to war, America does not speak with
- ABC's Bill Redeker on World News Tonight, October 14,
2002. The story on public opinion in San Diego, Denver and
Charleston only quoted people reluctant or opposed to using
■ "Across the Arab world, few would miss Saddam Hussein, but
even fewer believe a U.S.-led war is the way to remove him. Even
America's closest allies are reluctant....Many here see the U.S.,
not Iraq, as the greater threat to peace."
- ABC's Jim Sciutto on World News Tonight, November 20,
■ "Don't you have to have irrefutable evidence, what people in
the country are calling a photo, a smoking gun of some kind before
you can go to war against Saddam Hussein and expect international
- Tom Brokaw's question to Secretary of State Colin Powell on
the NBC Nightly News, January 9, 2003.
■ "A growing number of people are speaking out against a war
with Iraq: students, grandparents, businessmen, politicians,
teachers, actors and activists, standing shoulder to shoulder in
- MSNBC's Jeannie Ohm in a 3pm ET live report from a January
18, 2003 anti-war demonstration in Washington, D.C.
■ "Braving frigid temperatures, they traveled across the
country - black and white, Democrat and Republican, young and
old....The protesters say there is no evidence justifying a war
with Iraq and say the government needs to hear their views."
- ABC's Lisa Sylvester on World News Tonight/Saturday,
January 18, 2003.
■ "Young, old, veterans and veteran activists - united in the
effort to stop the war before it starts."
- CBS's Joie Chen on the January 19, 2003 Sunday Morning.
■ "The UN weapons inspectors go back to Baghdad this weekend.
They have not been happy with Iraqi cooperation so far. We'll see
if the Iraqis do any better - and if that means anything to the
- ABC's Peter Jennings, World News Tonight, February 7,
■ "Can you imagine a point at which you would say, 'They [the
Iraqis] are cooperating enough that I'm going to step out of my
role and say, personally, this war is not justified'?"
- ABC's Diane Sawyer to UN Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix on
Good Morning America, February 10, 2003.
■ "There are many here today who speak with a sense of urgency
and frustration....So many voices, filling the streets, struggling
to be heard."
- ABC's John McKenzie on World News Tonight/Saturday,
February 15, 2003.
■ "Ladies in stiletto heels and fur-fringed jackets, fathers
pushing strollers trailing McDonald's balloons, drably dressed
union members, students in face paint and carnival clothes - all
turned out to make some noise. Yet despite the gay atmosphere
beneath a brilliant blue sky, the message was stark, even dark.
'The United States is a barbarian country,' shouted some. 'Bush,
let's murder,' shouted others. One group chanted, 'Bush, Blair,
Sharon, Putin, Chirac: Justice in Palestine, don't touch Iraq.'"
- Introduction of Craig Smith's Feb. 16, 2003 New York Times
story headlined, "Throwing a Party With a Purpose."
■ "The size of the demonstrators, at least here, at least in
Europe, seems to underscore, Chris, that there are now perhaps two
world superpowers. There's the United States and then there are
those millions of people who took to the streets opposing U.S.
- MSNBC's David Shuster to Hardball host Chris Matthews,
February 17, 2003.
■ "Secretary Rumsfeld...has dismissively referred to France and
Germany as 'Old Europe,' and today, Secretary Powell, who warned
France not to be 'afraid' of its responsibilities. Is that the
rhetoric of a great power, and is that really the most effective
way of building alliances?"
"Is it possible that the attitude which emanates not from the
press, but from the administration, of 'you're with us or you're
against us,' kind of dismissive superiority to some of the oldest
American allies, is contributing to the problems in forging a
common front against Iraq?"
- ABC White House correspondent Terry Moran's questions to Ari
Fleischer at the February 19, 2003 White House briefing shown live
on the cable networks.
■ "[President Bush] is bringing along a world coalition that he
calls a 'coalition of the willing,' when it's really a coalition
of the bullied and the bribed."
- Newsweek Contributing Editor Eleanor Clift on the
McLaughlin Group, February 22, 2003.
■ "People in other parts of the world want to know why our
weapons of mass destruction are good and everybody else's is
bad....We have to confront the hypocrisy....Let us be honest.
We've got the biggest thing that goes boom in the history of the
universe and we appear to be rather lofty and pious in our demands
that nobody else have one!"
- MSNBC's Phil Donahue on his Donahue program, February
■ "Iraq is clearly starting to destroy some of its weapons,
perhaps not as quickly as the administration would like. Clearly,
it can't all be done in one instant, in some Big Bang theory. So
doesn't this speak to the President's well-known impatience, that
his patience is running out, he's not willing to give this process
- Los Angeles Times White House reporter Ed Chen to Ari
Fleischer at a March 3 White House briefing.
■ "In the past several weeks, your policy on Iraq has generated
opposition from the governments of France, Russia, China, Germany,
Turkey, the Arab League, and many other countries; opened a rift
at NATO and at the UN; and drawn millions of ordinary citizens
around the world into the streets in anti-war protests. May I ask
what went wrong that so many governments and peoples around the
world now not only disagree with you very strongly, but see the
U.S. under your leadership as an arrogant power?"
- ABC White House correspondent Terry Moran to President Bush
at a prime-time press conference, March 6.
■ "So many people don't understand why you shouldn't let the
inspections continue if they are accomplishing anything....Most
people think they're doing a reasonably effective job at the
- ABC's Peter Jennings questioning Secretary of State Colin
Powell on the March 7 World News Tonight.
Before the war began, liberals outside the media wanted their
fellow-travelers inside the media to abandon any pretense of
objectivity and use the airwaves to campaign against the war. Now,
liberals are perpetuating the fantasy that the media were docile
lapdogs of the Bush administration, hoping to spur them to tilt
their coverage even further.
But the record shows the media have never been champions of
Bush's Iraq policies - neither before the war began, nor during the
long battle against insurgents.-
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