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August 6, 2007

Buying the War, Again?

Four months since our original broadcast of Buying the War and more than four years after the US-led invasion of Iraq, has the media's coverage of the Iraq war changed?

As President Bush continues to declare that Iraq has become the main battleground in the war on terror, NEW YORK TIMES public editor Clark Hoyt recently wrote a column criticizing the coverage of his paper, that it has not delved far enough into the intricacies of the enemy in Iraq:

Why Bush and the military are emphasizing al Qaeda to the virtual exclusion of other sources of violence in Iraq is an important story. So is the question of how well their version of events squares with the facts of a murky and rapidly changing situation on the ground.

But these are stories you haven’t been reading in THE TIMES in recent weeks as the newspaper has slipped into a routine of quoting the president and the military uncritically about al Qaeda’s role in Iraq - and sometimes citing the group itself without attribution.

And in using the language of the administration, the newspaper has also failed at times to distinguish between al Qaeda, the group that attacked the United States on Sept. 11, and al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, an Iraqi group that didn’t even exist until after the American invasion.

Oliver North, who has made 8 trips to Iraq with FOX News, agrees that most media outlets are not reporting the Iraq war accurately, but in a different way:

For nearly two years, the potentates of the press have been slavishly following liberal dogma and telling us that the war in Iraq is all but lost; that the region will never embrace democracy and that young Americans serving there are dying needlessly. Even before the “troop surge” was underway, they were telling us that it wouldn’t work. And since the final contingent of 28,500 additional troops arrived in theater two months ago most members of the Fourth Estate have tried to convince us that it has failed. Some of them may even believe it, but that doesn’t make it true.

What do you think?

-Is the media sufficiently reporting the truth about the war on the ground?
-Where do you turn for the latest information and analysis about the Iraq War?

Want to read the original blog discussion that helped to merit this rebroadcast? Click here.

July 27, 2007

Here, There and Everywhere

Both Brian Fishman and Fawaz A. Gerges confirm the Administration's claims that al Qaeda indeed has a presence in Iraq. Yet both equally contend that there are many other factions at play in the region and that the situation is much more complex than simply the "U.S. vs. al Qaeda."

So, how can the United States successfully fight the terror threats of al Qaeda? Within the borders of Iraq, or elsewhere in the region, perhaps farther away from the epicenter of a Sunni/Shiite sectarian war?

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently stated:

I believe that it is al Qaeda that has done the most in terms of trying to stoke sectarian violence, from the bombing of the Samarra mosque a year ago February to the second bombing of the mosque just a couple of weeks ago, and to try and provoke exactly the kind of reaction that happened after February of last year. So I think that at least in terms of the combat operations that we're conducting now, the principal enemy that they are facing is in fact al Qaeda.

While Fawaz A. Gerges, a Carnegie scholar who is undertaking a 15-month field study in the Middle East tracing the journey of what he calls “the Iraq generation” of activists and jihadis, contends that the U.S. presence in Iraq is actually bolstering the central al Qaeda network:

The administration's argument that we have to stay in Iraq in order to win the war against al Qaeda does not make sense. In fact, the opposite is true. The longer we stay in Iraq, the more we help al Qaeda spread its ideology and tactics.

What do you think?
  • Does the presence of al Qaeda in Iraq justify a continued US military campaign there?
  • Does it similarly justify our presence in Pakistan, Algeria, the Philippines, Malaysia or other regions where the terror organization allegedly has a foothold?

July 3, 2007

Story Updates: Libby, Eagles, Trade and more

Libby Sentence Commuted: Reaction to President Bush's commutation of Scooter Libby's sentence was rapid. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr. announced that he will be holding a full committee hearing next week titled, "The Use and Misuse of Presidential Clemency Power for Executive Branch Officials." After President Clinton pardoned 140 people on his last day in office, Congressional leadership held similar hearings entitled, "Proposals to amend the president’s power to grant reprieves and pardons." Read an excerpt from testimony here.

Read more about the issues surrounding the case and continue the conversation.

Watch Bill Moyers' recent essay entitled, "Begging his Pardon"

"We have yet another remarkable revelation of the mindset of Washington's ruling clique of neoconservative elites—the people who took us to war from the safety of their Beltway bunkers. Even as Iraq grows bloodier by the day, their passion of the week is to keep one of their own from going to jail."

Watch Bill Moyers interview with Ambassador Joseph Wilson from NOW with Bill Moyers, February 28, 2003. It was the release of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA agent which led to the Libby trial.

"Somehow it's hard for me to imagine that a democratic system will emerge out of the ashes of Iraq in the near term. And when and if it does, it's hard for me to believe that it will be more pro-American and more pro-Israeli than what you've got now," says Joseph Wilson in his interview.

More about Plamegate and Judith Miller from BUYING THE WAR.

Continue reading "Story Updates: Libby, Eagles, Trade and more" »

May 23, 2007

Story Update: McClatchy Claims It's Barred from Defense Secretary Plane

For those of you following the Knight Ridder (now McClatchy) reporters recently featured in BUYING THE WAR, read this recent article from EDITOR AND PUBLISHER:

Staffers at McClatchy’s Washington, D.C., Bureau — one of the few major news outlets skeptical of intelligence reports during the run-up to the war in Iraq — claims it is now being punished for that coverage.

Bureau Chief John Walcott and current and former McClatchy Pentagon correspondents say they have not been allowed on the Defense Secretary’s plane for at least three years, claiming the news company is being retaliated against for its reporting.

“It is because our coverage of Iraq policy has been quite critical,” Walcott told E&P. He added, “I think the idea of public officials barring coverage by people they’ve decided they don’t like is at best unprofessional, at worst undemocratic and petty.”

Read the full article here.

Bill Moyers Responds...

Greetings to all:

I've been faithfully reading your posts during the weekends after each broadcast and wish that I could respond to each one individually. But not even Wm. F. Buckley could pull that off in today's vast cosmos of correspondents — and he was the best at answering letters of any editor around. I'll just make a few comments in response to some posts that represent more than one communicator:


Benjamin asked: "Why do commentators and analysts use the term "we" when discussing the actions of the central government of the United States, as in: " 'We' bombed Iraq," or " 'We' tortured prisoners at Abu Ghraib," etc?"

Benjamin, you're right about commentators and analysts using the term "we" when discussing the actions of the U.S. government. It's a sloppy habit, an expression sometimes of the "royal we" — ruling elites; sometimes of the "imperial we" — the superpower complex; or just a hasty short cut. But it's imprecise and misleading. The White House is not the government and the government is not the country. So keep rapping our knuckles when "we" do it.

Ralph asked: "Somewhere I heard you were raised in a strong Biblical setting as I was. What do you believe today?"

Ralph, I did grow up in a strong Protestant East Texas culture and was at home in it; I even went on to get a master's in divinity because I thought I would pursue a religious vocation. But seminary, as someone said, is where your questions are answered and life after seminary is when your answers are questioned. Furthermore, one day, if you're lucky, you discover the world's your home and you need a different vocabulary to describe your travels through it. Seems to me that wrestling with the questions is the heart of the matter. "You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free" those words are inscribed above the main building at my very secular alma mater, the University of Texas.

Continue reading "Bill Moyers Responds..." »

April 27, 2007

Bill Moyers: On the Record

Since the Wednesday broadcast of our documentary Buying the War there has been an overwhelmingly positive response from the press and the public, some of it right here on this blog. But some in the White House press corps have expressed dissatisfaction over the way we portrayed the Presidential press conference of March 6, 2003. Bill Plante, a friend and former colleague, and April Ryan of the Urban Radio Networks have contacted me directly, and CBS's Mark Knoller made comments that ran at

I invite you to watch what we ran in the documentary and read the transcript and judge for yourself. We posted the transcript on our site before the broadcast, by the way.

Continue reading "Bill Moyers: On the Record" »

April 26, 2007

Landay and Strobel Talk Back

Thank you for your responses to "Buying the War" and for the insightful questions you submitted to Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel. We apologize but due to the overwhelming traffic on the site experienced Wedneseday night, neither members of The Moyers Blog staff nor McClatchy gentlemen could log on to respond to your comments. But, Landay and Strobel did have a chance to read through your questions and provided some answers below :

On April 26, 2007 10:26 AM, Mark wrote:

As usual great reporting. This piece left me with two questions that I hope Bill and his team will be following up on.

Why - if the administration knew the information was faulty at best and worked so hard to market the war, what was the real reason behind it. Was it related to the secret energy meetings Cheney held early in the administration.

What next - the administration clearly mislead the american public and the world to engage in an unlawful war. What should become of the architects of this disaster? Are they less than war criminals? Shouldn't this be of primary importance to the media and people that were used and mislead?

Warren Strobel:
There were lots of questions last night about what the real reason behind the war is and was. I think we make a mistake if we look for one single, simple answer to explain Bush's decision to invade Iraq (such as oil, etc).

My sense, from my own reporting and from several good books that I have read - "Assassin's Gate" by George Packer and "Fiasco" by Tom Ricks, in particular - is that there were multiple, overlapping reasons. Let me throw out just a few:
1) frustration and bitterness among Bush's aides who had served in Bush 41 that they had not overthrown Saddam in 1991;
2) a desire to recreate the Middle East in their own (democratic) image;
3) post-9/11 paranoia about another attack from whatever source;
4) a desire to show, that after being wounded by the 9/11 attacks, the United States could strike anywhere in the world, even if the target wasn't directly linked to the 9/11 plot (former Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith actually said something like this).

So in a sense, it was a Perfect Storm, though as the Moyers documentary points out, it was not inevitable.

It's also important to remember that while senior Bush aides could have and should have known the entire case was faulty and based on bogus intelligence, it's also probable they *believed* their own talking points. The vice president STILL argues that al Qaida was in Iraq before March 2003, although every bit of "evidence" on that count has been discounted. I refer you to the latest Senate Intelligence Committee report last fall on that score...

As to what happens to administration officials and the administration in general, that's for the voters to decide. We just try to report the facts and help the public, hopefully, make informed choices.


Continue reading "Landay and Strobel Talk Back" »

April 25, 2007

Q and A with Knight Ridder Reporters

Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel Tonight's broadcast, "Buying the War" introduced you to intrepid Knight Ridder (now McClatchy) reporters Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel, who between them have over 40 years experience reporting on foreign affairs and national security.

We apologize but due to your overwhelming response, Jonathan Landay, Warren Strobel and The Moyers Blog staff were unable to log in to the live chat. We will post answers as soon as we are able. Thank you for joining us on air and keep tuned to the blog for more from Landay and Strobel.

If you are having trouble posting please email us with your questions and comments.

Thank you for your patience and participation.

**Update: Answers by Landay and Strobel Coming Soon**

April 17, 2007

Bill's Column: John Walcott Speech

This coming Wednesday on PBS, you'll meet John Walcott, Washington Bureau Chief of Knight Ridder, now McClatchy, and one of the few voices of skepticism about the Iraq War from the very beginning. Here's an excerpt from a speech John gave, as he wrestles with how the Iraq war was mishandled:

I, think that we're in the mess we're in in Iraq not only because the administration invaded Iraq with too few troops, without significant international support, with no exit strategy and by diverting resources from the unfinished war against al Qaida, but also because two other American institutions fell down on the job. First the Congress. What we hear today, from some Democratic presidential candidates and others, is this: "If I had known then what I know today, I would never have voted to go to war." My response is this: You could have known then what you know today, and you should have known then what you know today. It was your job, and no part of your job is more important than a decision to send some of our finest young men and women to war.

...the second institution that failed us is my own, the press. There were much bigger problems with the media after 9/11 than just too-cozy relationships with the wrong sources and timidity about challenging a popular president in the wake of an attack on our country. There was simple laziness: Much of what the administration said, especially about Iraq and al Qaida, simply made no sense, yet very few reporters bothered to check it out. They were stenographers; they were not reporters.

-John Walcott, Bureau Chief, McClatchy Washington Bureau

You can read the full speech here. As I read your comments on this blog, it seems many of you are wrestling with the same issues:

On April 18, 2007 09:10 AM, Jill H. wrote:

I have a son who will soon be returning for his second deployment to Falluja, and a husband who has retired from the Navy. I am in no way saying that I disrespect the job our military personnel do. But I do believe that freedom is not free - and it is our duty to fully examine our motives, and the impact we have on people around the world. We have a moral responsibility for our actions.

One thing I find most frightening is the comments from people (who often have never served in the military) who believe that survival means destroying others as a preventative measure against harm, and that, if you are too cowardly to accept that, they would just as soon kill you too, since you aren't worth being a part of their tribe. Is this really what it means to be an American?

Good question Jill, what do you all think?

April 16, 2007


Wednesday, April 25, 2007 at 9 PM on PBS (check local listings)

Watch the video

How the administration marketed the war to the American people has been well covered, but critical questions remain: How and why did the press buy it, and what does it say about the role of journalists in helping the public sort out fact from propaganda?

In this clip from the premiere of BILL MOYERS JOURNAL on PBS, Bob Simon of 60 Minutes, who was based in the Middle East, talks about the reporting he was seeing and reading out of the beltway, and John Walcott and Warren Strobel of Knight Ridder newspapers (now The McClatchy Company), discuss their work burrowing deep into the intelligence agencies to determine whether there was any evidence for the Bush Administration's case for war. On Wednesday, April 25 at 9 P.M. on PBS (check local listings), watch "Buying the War," a 90-minute documentary that explores the role of the press in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, which includes interviews with Dan Rather, formerly of CBS; Tim Russert of Meet the Press; and Walter Isaacson, former president of CNN.

Two days later on April 27, BILL MOYERS JOURNAL airs at its regular timeslot on Fridays at 9 P.M. with interviews and news analysis of underreported stories across an array of beats, including: the environment, media, politics, the economy, arts and culture, and social issues.

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