Thursday, April 26, 2007

TV Review: Bill Moyers Journal: Buying the War

How Did the Mainstream Media Get it So Wrong?

If you didn't catch Bill Moyers' remarkable documentary last night, you can view it here.

Starting with the devastation of the World Trade Center on 9/11, Moyers documents how the main stream media, especially those within the Washington DC "beltway bubble" completely capitulated to the Bush Administration's drumbeats to war. Much of the material covered is now well known. However, there were a few tidbits that are remarkable and disturbing.

Moyers interviewed Knight Ridder reporters Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel about their early debunking of claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Their well researched exposes flew under the radar, both of the Bush Administration and the national media.
BILL MOYERS: Strobel learned that within two weeks after 9/11, senior intelligence officers were growing concerned that the bush administration was stretching 'little its and pieces of information….' to Connect Saddam Hussein to Al qaeda — with no hard evidence.

WARREN STROBEL: There was a lot of skepticism among our editors because what we were writing was so at odds with what most of the rest of the Washington press corps was reporting and some of our papers frankly, just didn't run the stories. They had access to the NEW YORK TIMES wire and the WASHINGTON POST wire and they chose those stories instead.
The Administration's co-opting of journalist and media outlets was both systematic and not so subtle.

PHIL DONOHUE: You could have the supporters of the President alone. And they
would say why this war is important. You couldn't have a dissenter alone. Our producers were instructed to feature two conservatives for every liberal.

BILL MOYERS: You're kidding.

PHIL DONOHUE: No this is absolutely true-

BILL MOYERS: Instructed from above?

PHIL DONOHUE: Yes. I was counted as two liberals. And so-

BILL MOYERS: They're under selling you.

PHIL DONOHUE: --I had to-- I had to have two-- there's just a terrible fear. And I
think that's the right word.

Media watchdogs, such as Media Matters, have long noted the conservative bias in guest choice of the Sunday morning talk shows. Here is direct evidence that this bias wasn't accidental or reflexive.

What's worse, the standards for what constitutes good journalism have been seriously eroded. There was an especially telling moment when Moyers interviewed Washington Bureau Chief and Meet the Press moderator Tim Russert, who had the practice of automatically placing “off the record” any phone conversations with his sources.

TIM RUSSERT: I don't know how Judith Miller and Michael Gordon reported that story, who their sources were. It was a front-page story of the NEW YORK TIMES. When Secretary Rice and Vice President Cheney and others came up that Sunday morning on all the Sunday shows, they did exactly that.

TIM RUSSERT: What my concern was, is that there were concerns expressed by other government officials. And to this day, I wish my phone had rung, or I had access to them.

BILL MOYERS: Bob Simon (reporter for CBS's 60 Minutes) didn't wait for the phone to ring. [emphasis added]

The bottom line is that while a renegade administration lied us into a war, and then used that war to justify the erosion of our constitutional liberties, our mainstream media journalists were not doing their job. What's worse, the major media outlets, owned by major conglomerates all, were directly complicit with the Bush Administration in promoting conservative views and repressing any alternatives.

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