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A 'Humbled' News Media?

By Robert Parry
April 4, 2006

Tucked inside an article about George W. Bush’s disastrous Iraq War and his continuing failure to catch Osama bin-Laden, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen offered a limited criticism of himself and his media colleagues who have acted as pro-Bush cheerleaders for much of the past four-plus years.

“Those of us who once advocated this war [in Iraq] are humbled,” Cohen wrote in a column on April 4. “It’s not just that we grossly underestimated the enemy. We vastly overestimated the Bush administration.”

Cohen castigated Bush for “his embrace of incompetents, not to mention his own incompetence. … Rummy still runs the Pentagon. The only generals who have been penalized are those who spoke the truth. … Victory in Iraq is now three years or so overdue and a bit over budget. Lives have been lost for no good reason – never mind the money – and now Bush suggests that his successor may still have to keep troops in Iraq.”

But what is also true is that the major U.S. news media has operated with equally stunning incompetence and – just like in the U.S. government – there has been almost no accountability.

The Washington Post, for instance, offers up nearly the same line-up of columnists who ran with the pro-war herd from 2002 through 2005.

Some, like David Ignatius, have only slowly begun to retreat from their enthusiasm for invading Iraq; others, like Charles Krauthammer, remain true believers in the neoconservative cause. Fred Hiatt stays ensconced, too, as the editorial page editor, despite having to admit that his pre-war editorials shouldn’t have treated the threat of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction as a “flat fact” instead of an allegation.

Tactical Retreats

Yet, even the tactical retreats by “humbled” pro-war columnists like Cohen have focused on U.S. incompetence in waging the war, not any outrage over the illegality and immorality of invading a country that wasn’t threatening the United States.

By failing to expand the criticism of Bush beyond success or failure, the mainstream U.S. news media implicitly embraces Bush’s assertion of a special American right to attack wherever and whenever the President says.

It’s still out of bounds to discuss how the Iraq invasion violated the Nuremberg principle against aggressive war and the United Nations Charter, which bars attacking another country except in cases of self-defense or with the approval of the U.N. Security Council.

Indeed, in the mainstream U.S. press, there’s a smirking attitude whenever international law is mentioned, much like the contempt expressed by President Bush in his quip, “International law? I better call my lawyer.”

To one extent or another, nearly all major U.S. news outlets have bought into the imperial neoconservative vision of an all-powerful United States that operates outside of international law. This perspective can be found among the loudmouths at Fox News as well as in the more tempered columns by Thomas Friedman of the New York Times.

So, the debate over the Iraq War’s legality has been limited mostly to the Internet and to the foreign press. Despite growing mainstream U.S. doubts about whether the Iraq War was “worth it,” there are almost no second thoughts about whether it was a war crime.

Yet there is a strong argument that the United States should begin facing up to how Bush’s actions violated the rules laid down by the Nuremberg Tribunals, which held that aggressive war was an offense so severe that it justified execution.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, who represented the United States at Nuremberg, stated, too, that the principle did not only apply to Adolf Hitler’s henchmen, but to all nations, including World War II’s victorious powers.

“Let me make clear that while this law is first applied against German aggressors, the law includes, and if it is to serve a useful purpose, it must condemn aggression by any other nations, including those which sit here now in judgment,” Jackson said.

This failure of the U.S. press corps to address legal and moral issues raised by Bush’s Iraq War also reflects a refusal by the news media to hold leading American journalists accountable for their part in the tragedy.

Richard Cohen may feel “humbled,” but that is little comfort to the tens of thousands of Iraqis and American soldiers killed and maimed from an aggressive war that nearly all the high-priced American pundits cheered on.


Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'

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