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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Colin Cancer: Recalling Key Moment in Selling Iraq War

Today, with Obama addresing the UN on another war:   Beyond a doubt,  a key--perhaps the key--moment when the march to war in Iraq became almost inevitable arrived after Secretary of State Colin Powell gave his error-strewn argument for the invasion before the United Nations that march, and the media in the U.S., almost as one, declared that he had proven the case.   In some ways, Iraq, the U.S., Powell and the media have never recovered.   Here's how I covered the media response at the time, drawn from my new book on Bush and media malpractice on the war, So Wrong for So Long..

The day after Secretary of State Colin Powell's speech before the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday, TV commentators and newspaper editorials, and even many liberal pundits, declared their support for  the Bush administration's hard-line stance on Iraq.   CNN’s Bill Schneider said that “no one” disputed Powell’s findings.   Bob Woodward, asked by Larry King on CNN what happens if we go to war and don’t find any WMD, answered: “I think the chance of that happening is about zero.  There’s just too much there.”

As recently as a week ago -- following weapons inspector Hans Blix's report to the United Nations and the president's State of the Union address -- more than two-thirds of the nation's editorial pages called for the release of more detailed evidence and increased diplomatic maneuvering. The 80-minute presentation by Powell seems to have silenced most of the critics.

Consider the following day-after editorial endorsements, all from sources not always on the side of the White House. As media writer Mark Jurkowitz put it 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 Tribune called Powell's case "overwhelming," while The Oregonian in Portland found it "devastating." To The Hartford Courant it was "masterful."

The San Jose Mercury News asserted that Powell made his case "without resorting to exaggeration, a rhetorical tool he didn't need." The San Antonio Express-News called the speech "irrefutable," adding, "only those ready to believe Iraq and assume that the United States would manufacture false evidence against Saddam would not be persuaded by Powell's case."

And what of the two giants of the East? The Washington Post echoed others who found Powell's evidence irrefutable.  An editorial in the paper judged that “it is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction. ... Mr. Powell's evidence, including satellite photographs, audio recordings and reports from detainees and other informants, was overwhelming."

Here’s the Post’s Jim Hoagland:  "Colin Powell did more than present the world with a convincing and detailed X-ray of Iraq's secret weapons and terrorism programs yesterday. He also exposed the enduring bad faith of several key members of the U.N. Security Council when it comes to Iraq and its 'web of lies,' in Powell's phrase. ... To continue to say that the Bush administration has not made its case, you must now believe that Colin Powell lied in the most serious statement he will ever make, or was taken in by manufactured evidence. I don't believe that. Today, neither should you."

That paper's liberal columnist, Mary McGrory, wrote that Powell "persuaded me, and I was as tough as France to convince." She even likened the Powell report to the day John Dean "unloaded" on Nixon in the Watergate hearings.   Another liberal at that paper, Richard Cohen, declared that Powell's testimony "had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn't accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool -- or possibly a Frenchman -- could conclude otherwise.”

George Will suggested that Powell's speech would "change all minds open to evidence."
The New York Times, meanwhile, hailed Powell's "powerful" and "sober, factual case."  Like many other papers, the Times' coverage on its news pages — in separate stories by Steven Weisman, Michael Gordon and Adam Clymer — also bent over backward to give Powell the benefit of nearly every doubt.  Apparently in thrall to Powell's moderate reputation, no one even mentioned that he was essentially acting as lead prosecutor with every reason to shape, or even create, facts to fit his brief.

Weisman called Powell's evidence "a nearly encyclopedic catalog that reached further than many had expected." He and Clymer both recalled Adlai Stevenson's speech to the U.N. in 1962 exposing Soviet missiles in Cuba.  Gordon closed his piece by asserting that "it will be difficult for skeptics to argue that Washington's case against Iraq is based on groundless suspicions and not intelligence information."

While newspapers unanimously praised Powell and criticized Saddam Hussein, they still disagreed over how to act, and when.   A once-tiny hawkish faction has grown to include 15 newspapers.  The Dallas Morning News reflected the sentiment behind calls for quick force: "The U.S. Secretary of State did everything but perform cornea transplants on the countries that still claim to see no reason for forcibly disarming Iraq."

Those in the more cautious, but still pro-war, camp generally advocate the forceful overthrow of Hussein while contending that  broad international support  still should be prerequisites for any invasion.  "The go-it-alone ultimatum is one the U.S. and the international community would do well to avoid -- and one that Powell's much-needed presentation should help head off," USA Today wrote.  Others called for a second U.N. resolution to authorize the use of force.
Greg Mitchell’s book So Wrong For So Long, on the media and the Iraq war, plus a preface by Bruce Springsteen, was recently published in an expanded edition for the first time as an e-book. 


Portland Website Development said...

Have just encountered your page and I guess you should be complimented for this piece. More power to you!

عشتار العراقية said...

Translated the article into Arabic, posted on my blog