Sunday, August 21, 2005

''CNN Makes News with WMD Special, But Press Deserves Blame, Too''

"NEW YORK A documentary to be aired on CNN this Sunday night on the "intelligence meltdown" on Iraq before the U.S. invasion is already making news. On Friday, CNN said that in the program, "Dead Wrong," a former top aide to Colin Powell calls his involvement in the former secretary of state's presentation to the United Nations on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction "the lowest point" in his life.

"I wish I had not been involved in it," Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, a longtime Powell adviser who served as his chief of staff from 2002 through 2005, told CNN. He said the information in Powell's presentation came from a document he described as "sort of a Chinese menu" that was provided by the White House. "It was anything but an intelligence document," he added, with some assertions based on the word of known fabricators.

While the long-awaited program is sure to revive interest, and anger, over the administration's false selling of the war on the basis of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, it may well leave the press off the hook. Yet it was the media's swallowing of the false claims in Powell's crucial speech that enabled the march to war to continue.

E&P raised questions about the credibility of the Powell speech at the time and was critical of the press coverage from the start. Then, two years ago, it presented the first in-depth demolition of the Powell speech, provided by Charles J. Hanley, special correspondent for the Associated Press. E&P called the Powell charade the turning point in the march to war, and charged that the media, in almost universally declaring that he had "made the case," fell for it, hook, line and sinker, thereby making the invasion (which some of the same newspapers later questioned) inevitable.

It's a depressing case study of journalistic shirking of responsibility. The press essentially acted like a jury that is ready, willing and (in this case) able to deliver a verdict — after the prosecution has spoken and before anyone else is heard or the evidence studied. As media writer Mark Jurkowitz put it at the time in the Boston Globe, Powell's speech may not have convinced France of the need to topple Saddam but "it seemed to work wonders on opinion makers and editorial shakers in the media universe."-from the article in Editor&Publisher.

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