Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Pressing Issues: Unheeded Warnings on the Road to War

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Pressing Issues: Unheeded Warnings on the Road to War

Article excerpt

Six years ago this month I became editor of E&P, after serving as features editor for awhile. Just months later, the drumbeat began for a U.S. attack on Iraq. Our "coverage of the coverage" of the war has earned several prestigious national awards, but one of our most significant efforts came near the very beginning. It was a special issue, dated Jan. 27, 2003 -- E&P was still a weekly then -- and it carried a color photo of the president in an Army jacket. The cover line read: "Unanswered Questions: In Grip of War Fever, Has the Press Missed the Mark on Bush and Iraq?"

As it happened, E&P was one of the few mainstream publications to repeatedly raise serious doubts about the basis for the war and how the media was going about covering that.

Inside that issue (which appeared almost two months before the U.S. invasion), the cover story, based largely on interviews conducted by Joe Strupp and Dave Astor, carried the headline, "On the War Path: As public opinion swirls, the press must dig deeper for answers to key questions surrounding the likely attack on Iraq." Looking back at those interviewed for the story, one finds many "ouch" quotes. George Will called the coverage of the run-up "amazingly thorough." Paul Gigot, editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal, claimed that readers had "a pretty good idea what is going on," and agreed it was "very good coverage."

Bill Keller, then a columnist for The New York Times (which had fallen down badly in much of its handling of the Iraqi WMD) said that the paper's overall coverage had been "as aggressive as you can be on a subject that is complicated and closely held." He claimed that newspapers had "learned their lesson" from the spinning during the Gulf War. Howell Raines, then the paper's executive editor, added, "We approach this story with the full knowledge that the military is not always forthcoming."

Unlike many other publications, we gave ample space to the skeptics. Richard Reeves called coverage "generally pro-war." David Halberstam said he felt "uneasy about this war." Phil Bronstein, then editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, declared that a lot of questions had not been answered at all. "Where is the debate?" asked Orville Schell. Arianna Huffington questioned the lack of discussion of American casualties. …

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