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By Mitchell, Greg | Editor & Publisher, September 8, 2003 | Go to article overview

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Mitchell, Greg, Editor & Publisher


WHY WE ARE IN IRAQ

The press rolled over for Colin Powell, but can still make amends

One of the most important stories of 2003 appeared last month, and got significant play in a number of major newspapers -- but not nearly enough. There's still time for the rest to catch up and, in most cases, honestly admit that they promoted one of the most lethal rush-to- judgements of the modern journalistic era. The August report was written by Charles J. Hanley, special correspondent for the Associated Press, who shared a Pulitzer Prize in 2000. Excerpts from Hanley's story appear on page 20 in this issue of E&P. It utterly demolishes Secretary of State Colin Powell's much-lauded Feb. 5 presentation to the United Nations on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and the need to go to war to destroy them.

Still, at this late date, why is this so significant, since the damage (lives lost, billions spent and billions more committed, anti-U.S. hatred inflamed in the region) is done?

Simply put, the Powell charade was the turning point in the march to war, and 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 now question) 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. A hanging jury, at that.

So, if you will, turn back to page 20 and read the excerpts (if you haven't already), then return here, and consider the following day- after editorial endorsements of Powell's case, all from sources not always on the side of the White House. 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."

The San Francisco Chronicle called the speech "impressive in its breadth and eloquence." The Denver Post likened Powell to "Marshal Dillon facing down a gunslinger in Dodge City," adding that he had presented "not just one 'smoking gun' but a battery of them." The Tampa (Fla.) Tribune called Powell's case "overwhelming," while The Oregonian in Portland found it "devastating." To The Hartford (Ct.) Courant it was "masterful." The Plain Dealer in Cleveland deemed it "credible and persuasive."

One can only laugh, darkly, at the San Jose (Ca. …

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