Post Apologizes For Pre-War Coverage

Interesting Washington Post article on their pre-war coverage of U.S. assertions that Iraq had WMD. The article (free registration), by Post reporter Howard Kurtz, acknowledges that the newspaper should have been more assertive in warning readers that evidence of WMD was “shakier” than most people believed. The apology seems a little half-hearted in that memebrs of the Post staff still insist they did more to question the WMD claims than other newspapers, but that they simply didn’t introduce those questions assertively enough:

An examination of the paper’s coverage, and interviews with more than a dozen of the editors and reporters involved, shows that The Post published a number of pieces challenging the White House, but rarely on the front page. Some reporters who were lobbying for greater prominence for stories that questioned the administration’s evidence complained to senior editors who, in the view of those reporters, were unenthusiastic about such pieces. The result was coverage that, despite flashes of groundbreaking reporting, in hindsight looks strikingly one-sided at times.

Still, the article provides an interesting window into some of the decisions that editors and reporters face on a daily basis, including the Post’s tendency to provide the administration a “mouthpiece” on page 1 and to bury points of view critical of administration claims.

I’m not sure there will be anything completely new for people who were or became skepitcal about Bush administartion claims about WMD (Greenwald’s Uncovered addressed these issues months ago, and the New York Times has also apologized for pre-war reporting on WMD), but the “inside story” on how news decisions are made is interesting reading.

Note to self: This type of material might be useful for class discussion of how biases in news reporting might be more complicated than a simple “conservative” or “liberal” bias. When reading the article, I couldn’t help but think about Andrew Cline’s useful work on media biases.


  1. bitchphd Said,

    August 13, 2004 @ 2:35 am

    It is really fascinating to me how the NYT and now, I guess, the Washington Post are flagellating themselves now, when it’s too damn late, for crappy journalism back in the day. My optimistic self hopes that it heralds an actual renewal of the committment to investigative, critical journalism. My pessimistic self keeps thinking “barn door, horse gone.”

    And as an idea for teaching, it’s a good one. Thanks.

  2. chuck Said,

    August 13, 2004 @ 12:43 pm

    I think there are a couple of reasons to be optimistic about the state of journalism: (1) although they reach a much narrower audience and are severely under-financed, alternative media have been picking up the ball on the investigative journalism, often to the embarrassment of the mainstream media, and (2) there seems to be a slightly greater awareness of the degree to which profit interests have constrained “real” investigative journalism (again independent journalists seem to be taking the lead).

    For the most part, I think that newspapers and TV networks (though not necessarily the journalists themselves, as the Post story seems to imply) will continue to be fairly lazy when it comes to investigating situations like the WMD claims because it’s cheaper and easier (your “barn door” metaphor). I’d like to see what a better FCC, without Michael Powell as chair, might do to correct some of the structural probelms that allowed Bush’s claims regarding WMD to go unchecked.

    Perhaps we need a sequel to The Insider or All the Presdient’s Men to rekindle the media’s critical function.

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