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How do you like them apples?

By Jackson Murphy
web posted April 14, 2003

One of the first groups of people who are going to have to revaluate their work in the war so far is the media. The war has revealed that news organizations are willing to hold back information in order to be mouthpieces for regimes like Iraq. It has also seen some ridiculous predictions and analysis by pundits.

Cable news has been working overtime for about a month and you can tell. The granddaddy, CNN, has found itself in the unfortunate position of revealing that for years it has held back reports of Saddam's brutal regime in order to continue filling from Baghdad. For CNN the lesson might be crudely cribbed this way: what is a cable news network if it gains access in Baghdad but loses its soul? CNN's chief news executive Eason Jordan now feels, "awful having these stories bottled up inside me." Welcome to what National Review's Jonah Goldberg described as the "journalistic Enron." Ouch.

For Al Jazeera, the outcome of this war has been bad news too. Taking the bait of the Iraqi foreign minister was fun, but when the "game" was clearly over even some of the most cynical members of the "Arab Street" felt cheated that the US forces really were in Baghdad and were winning the war. How can a news organization ever recover from that misguided judgment?

Matt Welch has the final word on both, and the pre-war journalism models championed by CNN and its wayward son Peter Arnett: "The embarrassing Peter Arnett interview on Iraq TV was just a brief public glimpse on what has been a nasty little private ‘secret' for years -- that ‘news bureaus' in Baghdad and other totalitarian capitals (Havana, to name one) are actually propaganda huts, churning out what CNN producers call ‘sanctions coverage' (pieces on the awful humanitarian toll of international economic sanctions), while refusing to report the awful truth."

A second lesson gleamed from this war is the utter futility of large groups of the pundit-ocracy. Basically many professional handicappers of the war underestimated the American military, or overestimated the Iraqi war machine, or both. John Keegan writes in the Telegraph, "Yet perfectly sensible people, who surely know better, clutter up their minds with such irrelevant factors as ‘the Arab street', ‘international opinion', the anti-war movement at home, votes in the UN and so on. They then predict that ‘American success is not certain', ‘this could be a long and bitter war' and ‘the spectre of Vietnam looms over George W Bush'."

Ah yes, remember that few days before the fall of Baghdad? When the troops were bogged down? On March 27th R.W. Apple Jr, writing in The New York Times, gleefully reported that "the war in Iraq is just a week old, but it is clear that Saddam Hussein had learned a lot since his forces were routed in the Persian Gulf war in 1991" and "As Mao famously said, the populace constitutes the water in which the guerillas can swim like lethal fish. In city after city, they are swimming."

Flash forward to liberation, jubilation, and the fleeing of the Iraqi leadership. In his April 10th article Apple shifts gears again: "But projecting strength is not the same as making friends or enhancing national security. The standing of the United States has perhaps never been lower among Islamic nations and nations with restive Islamic minorities than it is today. American esteem has also fallen across much of Europe." The classic bait and switch in action.

But could anyone be so wrong? You would have to ask poor Eric Margolis who claimed on March 31st: "Iraqis, very clearly, do not want to be 'liberated,' even many who had long opposed Saddam's brutal regime. To the contrary, the US-British invasion appears to have ignited genuine national resistance among 17 million Arab Iraqis, just as the 1941 German invasion of the USSR rallied Russians and Ukrainians behind Stalin's hated regime."

And could we round up the punditry and media of this war without mentioning blowhard Michael Moore? Moore proudly proclaimed on April 7th that, "It appears that the Bush administration will have succeeded in colonizing Iraq sometime in the next few days. This is a blunder of such magnitude -- and we will pay for it for years to come. It was not worth the life of one single American kid in uniform, let alone the thousands of Iraqis who have died, and my condolences and prayers go out to all of them.

So, where are all those weapons of mass destruction that were the pretense for this war? Ha!."

Again the quick-witted commentators switch gears from the liberation of a people who suffered with jails for children and secret police for decades with changing the subject. I am sure that if we find no weapons we should ask Saddam and his friends to come back.

The mindset of this kind of analysis is a narrative of failure-the bigger the failure, or expected failure, the more intense the argument by the pundit. Some of them actually hope for failure. At their center is the ever-switching arsenal of doubts, hindsight, and most importantly a Vietnam era centered sentimentality. The roots of these attitudes can be found in an interview in Salon.com with Bill Moyers whom they call "the conscience of American journalism."

Moyers summed up the typical thought of what's happening today: "I think we are in a very disturbing period. I've never seen anything like it. I've lived through the Depression, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, the rise of the conservative movement, the nuclear age. All of these changes. I've never seen anything like this."

Some commentators are willing to come clean when they are proven wrong. Eric Alterman (The Nation/MSNBC.com) said this: "Paul Wolfowitz thought U.S. forces would be greeted as liberators in Iraq. I did not. His prediction in this case, was correct. I was wrong. (And not for the last time, I'm guessing.)" But I doubt many of the rest of them will admit this.

You could just imagine Donald Rumsfeld at a press conference sizing up the journalists like Moyers and Apple Jr. after the fall of Baghdad: Do you like apples? Well how do you like them apples?

Jackson Murphy is a commentator from Vancouver, Canada. He is the editor of "Dispatches" a website that serves up political commentary 24-7. You can contact him at jacksonmurphy@telus.net.

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