Acts of contrition 

Don’t believe everything you read

Last week’s admission by the senior editor of the Washington Post that the paper had “erred” by underplaying stories that countered the Bush rap in the run-up to the war in Iraq is but the latest of such mainstream media mea culpas across America. We are realizing, as a nation, that mass hypnosis is not only possible, but that it’s already happened. In this case, through the fear and panic sowed by the Bush administration, a vast number of people, starting with virtually every member of Congress, allowed themselves to be led dumbfounded down the road to perdition.

The Washington Post, which prides itself on being one of the nation’s “newspapers of record,” now joins The New York Times on its knees in the media confessional. Leonard Downie Jr., the man who wrote the Post’s attempt at rationalizing its failure to provide objective news, offered this lame excuse: “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.’’

Now let’s see: If one of the nation’s major media sources, with almost unlimited investigative reporting resources, is “focused on trying to figure out what the administration was doing,” doesn’t it make sense that they would weigh all the factors and information involved—including those that didn’t fit into the Bush administration’s lie-laden game plan? Wouldn’t one want to dig deep into the plethora of foreign news reports that contradicted the Bush administration’s contentions on a daily basis?

Although this is fading from the memory of an aging public, it is worth recalling that it was the Washington Post itself that fielded the investigative reporters—Woodward and Bernstein—who brought down President Nixon for lying about Watergate. Given that track record of aggressively challenging the veracity of words coming from the White House, the Post’s submission to Bush’s team of warmongering neocons is even more shameful—and its contrite confession even less believable.

Despite its lame public admission, the Washington Post does not have the market cornered on short-changing the American public on objective news coverage in the lead-up to the disastrous Iraq War. NPR, normally the acronym for National Public Radio, became National Propaganda Radio during the pre-war patriotic overdose. Instead of granting credence to weapons inspectors such as Hans Blix who repeatedly contradicted claims of massive stockpiles of WMDs, NPR fed us a diet of Marine bootcamp stories, mushy personal profiles of soldiers, and the constant drumbeat of 9/11, 9/11, 9/11 coming directly from the White House to the pressbox. So far, although the media mea culpas are coming fast and furious, NPR has failed to even mention that it, too, let the American public down with its decidedly uncritical look at arguably the most important issue of the times.

This massive failure by the American media is not something that can be dispelled by a few “we’re sorry” statements. Sure, Leonard Downie Jr. can apologize for burying stories that contradicted the Bush war chant in his paper’s back pages, but what about the larger effects such an objectivity vacuum had on the outcome itself?

Which of the mighty mass-media moguls will be the first to take a tour of the inner city, or the Indian reservations, or the myriad small towns that feed America’s military to visit the families whose sons or daughters, fathers or mothers have died or been crippled in the senseless violence in Iraq? How will these upper-crust elitists look those family members in the eyes and tell them “we’re sorry” for not doing their job in reporting the truth?

Which editor-in-chief of the “newspapers of record” will admit that those long lines of flag-draped coffins are ultimately the price that has been paid, and continues to be paid, in blood and suffering for their failure to accurately investigate and report “the news”? Which editor will be the first to defy the senseless Bush ban on filming those coffins—and thus bring the true cost of war to America’s admittedly deficient attention?

The answer, most likely, is that not a single one of those who command the airwaves, print, or visual media will ever have the guts to face the truth and admit that they were not merely lazy and biased in their reportage, but that they are in fact complicit in the greatest mistake this nation has made in the last half century.

Indeed, the confessions of the hypnotized mass media seem a trite footnote to the ongoing war fever in the nation’s capital. John Kerry says he still supports his vote allowing George W. Bush to take our nation to war against the will of the civilized world. Montana’s own congressional delegation voted for war en masse—and not a single one of them has offered even a slight act of contrition for casting votes based on an almost total lack of truth and an abundance of chest-pounding rhetoric. Sen. Conrad Burns freely opines that American forces will be in Iraq for another 10 years, but does he stop to ponder why we went there in the first place?

In this ugly game of mock contrition, the so-called “alternative press” stands out as the counterpoint to the hypnotized corporate media. It was, after all, the independent news sources across the nation that actually had the guts to question the Bush assumptions, to challenge the brain-dead Congress, to take the heat for wondering whether America needed to go to war—or whether we were simply embarking on the most expensive and deadly personal vendetta in modern history.

It is the duty of our press to stand vigilant, questioning, and skeptical of those in power. When a Mad Emperor leaps off the cliff of reason, it is the press who must yell “Stop.” Sadly, in this they have failed.

When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at

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