July 19, 2004,
U.S. News & World Report, the major newsweekly with the lowest circulation, is also the one that gives conservatives the fewest fits. It is, however, capable of raising our eyebrows. The June 28/July 5 issue carries a long series of articles on "Defining America." One of the things that define America is "dissent," and Thomas Hayden has written an article on it. It contains nothing terribly provocative, or interesting, until the end, when Hayden suggests that America post-9/11 has silenced dissent. "[A]s shown by the current spate of media self-examination over an obvious lack of questioning of the government before the Iraq war, sometimes non-dissent can be just as harmful to the state."
Let's leave aside the equation of questioning and dissent, which in Hayden's formulation seems to give the media some quasi-governmental role and a duty to "dissent" from whatever administration is in power. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that the media should have questioned widespread assumptions about Iraq's WMD program. But it is simply untrue that the media failed to dissent from the Bush administration, or to cover its opponents, about the war itself. Hayden need not examine how Howell Raines or Peter Jennings handled the pre-war debate to see this. He could just look at the newsweeklies.
In the August 12, 2002, issue of Time, for example, Michael Duffy saw an administration split into two camps: "one pragmatic, the other jihadist." He labeled Secretary Rumsfeld and his colleagues "the hotheads" and "the war party." They were "guys in ties" (not uniforms). Paul Wolfowitz was "fiercely gung-ho." Duffy told us twice, in the same article, that Bush had an "obsession" with Iraq. It would take a fairly dim reader not to see which side he was supposed to be on.
Duffy is still at Time. In the June 14, 2004, issue, he has an article on James Bamford's book A Pretext for War. There isn't a word of criticism of the book in the article. Duffy treads gingerly when describing Bamford's thesis: "Bamford comes very close to stating that the hard-liners were wittingly or unwittingly acting as agents of Israel's hard-line Likud Party, which believed Israel should operate with impunity in the region and dictate terms to its neighbors. . . . Bamford . . . suggests that Washington mistook Israel's interests for its own when it pre-emptively invaded Iraq last year." Duffy is careful not to endorse that crackpot thesis and equally careful not to question it.
Over at Newsweek, there is some good coverage of the war, including the July 5 cover story on Lt. Gen. David Petraeus's efforts to build Iraq's security forces. Yet the editors cannot resist using the line "Mission Impossible" three times. It's in the cover text, the table of contents, and the subheadline. The editors also let Michael Isikoff write a short article debunking Michael Moore's movie, with a follow-up in the online edition. Isikoff's piece accompanies a longer one that is essentially pro-Moore. David Gates writes that Moore's "reading of recent history is hardly a seditious salvo from the extremist fringe. Last week alone, two mainstream bipartisan groups the 9-11 commission and a delegation of retired diplomats and generals calling for 'regime change' in Washington made some of the same points Moore does, though without the entertainment value." (The worst thing Time could think to say of Moore in its cover story was that he is as bad as Rush Limbaugh.)
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