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June 6, 2008

Five years after the invasion of Iraq, Scott McClellan, formerly White House press secretary and one of President George W. Bush's closest advisors, has published a tell-all book with little new information about the propaganda campaign and the role of the press in selling the war. On this week's JOURNAL, Bill Moyers talks to three prominent journalists to find out why the book is such big news and whether anything has changed.

Bill Moyers speaks with Greg Mitchell, editor of the influential magazine about the newspaper industry, EDITOR & PUBLISHER, and two members from McClatchy's Washington Bureau, one of the few news outlets to aggressively question the administration's case for invading Iraq: John Walcott, the bureau chief and John Landay, senior national security and intelligence correspondent.

So why is it such big news? John Walcott explains that it wasn't the information that made McClellan's book such a fire-starter, it was the source:

This is one of the first times, I think, that a member of the President's inner circle, one of the Texans who came to Washington with him and was regarded as being very close to him, has gone this far in denouncing what the administration did with respect to Iraq and has come right out and said that they deceived the American people.

In his book, besides implying that the administration misled Americans, McClellan takes the media to task for not being critical enough of the Bush Administration before the invasion of Iraq:

If anything, the national press corps was probably too deferential to the White House and to the administration in regard to the most important decision facing the nation during my years in Washington, the choice over whether to go to war in Iraq.
In this case, the "liberal media" didn't live up to its reputation. If it had, the country would have been better served.

But the three media veterans, who were among those asking tough questions of McClellan and his sucessors, are less interested in McClellan's critique of the press than in the press's own reaction to it. Greg Mitchell continues to take to task the promininent journalists who he thinks haven't taken the time to assess their coverage:

There's been numerous opportunities, actually, just in the last few weeks for the media to do this self-assessment. [...] You remember the fifth anniversary of the start of the war. Almost no media self-assessment at that time. Pointing fingers at everybody but themselves. There was the 4,000 deaths in Iraq. There was the fifth anniversary of "mission accomplished." Another great opportunity for this. We had the scandal of the Pentagon media generals — as they call them, "message magnifiers" — we had that opportunity. Now we've had Scott McClellan. There's been at least six opportunities in the last two months for the media to do this long delayed and much needed self-assessment — self-criticism — to the American public, and it hasn't happened.
> You can find out more about what the mainstream press was reporting by watching BUYING THE WAR and visiting our interactive media timeline.


Greg Mitchell is the editor of EDITOR & PUBLISHER, the "bible" of the newspaper industry for almost 125 years. His new book, SO WRONG FOR SO LONG: HOW THE PRESS, THE PUNDITS — AND THE PRESIDENT — FAILED ON IRAQ, was published in March 2008 by Union Square Press.

Since the 1980s, Mitchell has written eight nonfiction books. Among his best known books are two for Random House, TRICKY DICK AND THE PINK LADY: RICHARD NIXON VS. HELEN GAHAGAN DOUGLAS and THE CAMPAIGN OF THE CENTURY: UPTON SINCLAIR'S RACE FOR GOVERNOR OF CALIFORNIA AND THE BIRTH OF MEDIA POLITICS (winner of the Goldsmith Book Prize and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award).

He has also written two well-known books with Robert Jay Lifton, HIROSHIMA IN AMERICA and WHO OWNS DEATH?, which explored capital punishment. And, in a quite different vein, he wrote a book about coaching his son in Little League, called JOY IN MUDVILLE.

THE CAMPAIGN OF THE CENTURY served as the basis for a PBS film in the THE GREAT DEPRESSION series and it currently being developed for a Broadway musical. Mitchell's articles on that subject, and others, have appeared in dozens of leading magazines and newspaper.

Since becoming editor of E&P six years ago, the magazine has won 11 Neal Awards, the top prize for the business press and one of the top totals for any magazine. Three times during this period it has won the top prize for news coverage for its coverage of the media and Iraq.


John Walcott is Washington Bureau Chief for the McClatchy Co., the nation's third-largest newspaper company. He joined Knight Ridder in 1997, rising to the rank of Washington Bureau chief, and remained after McClatchy Co. acquired Knight Ridder in 2003. He has worked for a number of respected news institutions, covering international events including the Arab-Israeli conflict; the rise of international terrorism; the U.S. intelligence community; the conflicts in Afghanistan, Angola, El Salvador, Lebanon and Nicaragua; the "people power" revolution in the Philippines; nuclear arms control negotiations; the collapse of the Soviet Union and German reunification. In December 2005, THE WASHINGTONIAN magazine named him one of the national capital's 50 best and most influential journalists. He also is an adjunct professor in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and a member of the Board of Advisers of SmartBrief, Inc., a Washington-based business information company.

The McClatchy Washington Bureau has a staff of 45 editors and reporters in Washington and also directs McClatchy's eight foreign bureaus, in Baghdad, Beijing, Cairo, Jerusalem, Mexico City, Moscow, Nairobi and Rio de Janeiro.

With CBS News Pentagon correspondent David C. Martin, Walcott is the co-author of BEST LAID PLANS: THE INSIDE STORY OF AMERICAS WAR AGAINST TERRORISM, published in 1987 by Harper & Row.

His work has won the Edward Weintal Prize for Diplomatic Reporting from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, the Edwin M. Hood Award for Diplomatic Correspondence and the Freedom of the Press Award from the National Press Club, the James K. Batten Prize for Journalism Excellence, three Overseas Press Club awards and the National Headliner Award.

Walcott appeared in BUYING THE WAR, for his role in covering the Bush administration in the run up to the Iraq war.


Jonathan S. Landay, the senior national security and intelligence correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers, has written about foreign affairs and U.S. defense, intelligence and foreign policies for more than 20 years.

Landay has been covering international affairs since the 1980s for United Press International, The CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR, KNIGHT RIDDER and now McClatchy Co. He has reported on the final years of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan; the conflicts in Punjab, Kashmir and Sri Lanka; the 1989 crackdown on demonstrators at Tienmen Square; the collapse and wars of former Yugoslavia; the U.S.-led intervention in Afghanistan; and the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Landay speaks frequently on national security matters, particularly the Balkans and South Asia. He has been nominated three times for a Pulitzer Prize for his investigative work on the use of exaggerated and bogus pre-war intelligence on Iraq, and the lack of post-invasion stability operations planning.

In 2003, he and Warren Strobel won the top award for Washington journalism, the Raymond Clapper Memorial Award, for a series of reports on pre-war intelligence on Iraq. In 2005, he was part of a team that won a National Headliners Award for "How the Bush Administration Went to War in Iraq." He also won a 2005 Award of Distinction from the Medill School of Journalism for "Iraqi exiles fed exaggerated tips to news media," and the 2007 Weintal Prize For Diplomatic Reporting Special Citation from Georgetown University.

Landay and Strobel's reporting on the Bush administration's use of exaggerated and bogus intelligence to justify the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was showcased in BUYING THE WAR, a documentary produced by Bill Moyers for PBS.

Published on June 6, 2008.

Guest photos by Robin Holland

Related Media:
Buying the War
How did the mainstream media get it so wrong in the lead up to the Iraq War?

OTakin' It to the Streets ...Again
Bill Moyers asks why the news media's overlooking today's protesters.

The Cost of War: A Bill Moyers Essay
How do you make tangible the true costs of the Iraq war? With photos from Nina Berman's book PURPLE HEARTS.

References and Reading:
Greg Mitchell's blog.

EDITOR & PUBLISHER is the business paper for the news industry.

Homepage for McClatchy's Washington Bureau.

Landay, Strobel and Nancy Youssef's group blog's take on the McClellan book.

"Ex-Aide Turns Critic; Chorus Strikes Back"
By Sheryl Gay Stolberg. The White House response to McClellan's book.

Greg Mitchell's Blog at the HUFFINGTON POST

Greg Mitchell's Columns at EDITOR & PUBLISHER

Greg Mitchell at the DAILY KOS

Media Response to McClellan's book
Anderson Cooper asks reporters to respond to McClellan's allegations and Jessica Yellin says she received pressure from executives to produce more positive coverage. Video is available here.

CBS EVENING NEWS with Katie Couric
McClellan appeared on the CBS EVENING NEWS and called the press "complicit enablers" in the "permanent campaign culture."

Katic Couric, Charlie Gibson and Brian Williams debate whether or not the media did a good job covering the war.

Wolf Blitzer thinks CNN's reporting in the run of to the 2003 invasion of Iraq was "pretty strong".

HARDBALL with Chris Matthews
Chris Matthews defends his reporting.

Media Issues

The National Conference on Media Reform

Bill Moyers Journal Media Resources

Bill Moyers Journal Election Online and Media Resources

Also This Week:

There's nothing new in Scott McClellan's book about the propaganda campaign or the role of the press in selling the war, so why is it such big news? Journalists Jonathan Landay and John Walcott of McClatchy newspapers and Greg Mitchell of EDITOR & PUBLISHER analyze the reaction of the administration and the media to McClellan's book.

The Annenberg School's Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Dr. Ronald Walters, director of the African American Leadership Institute and Scholar Practitioner Program at the University of Maryland, contemplate what's next for Obama, Clinton and the rest of the election cycle.

How did the mainstream press get it so wrong in the lead-up the the Iraq War? View an interactive timeline of pre-war media. Read and view extra interviews with reporters, and watch the full 90 minutes online.

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