The US’ Public Broadcasting Service has produced a superb documentary that tracks the role of the mainstream media in the run up to the invasion of Iraq. Its story goes like this.
Such was the post-9/11 mood that it was considered bad for business to report on facts. The propaganda spun by the White House, Pentagon and State Department was itself based on propaganda fed to them and transatlantic media networks by Ahmed Chalabi’s ‘Iraqi National Congress’ in exile (unfortunately funded by the US taxpayer). Those who found reasonable answers to questions, and those such as Senator Ted Kennedy who raised legitimate concerns were sidelined, even by the likes of Oprah Winfrey. A massive ‘slime machine’ that emerged between governmental and broadcasting systems told a tainted story, casting dissenters as ‘bad Americans’, and became too powerful for politicians to oppose, let alone doubt. Both John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic Presidential candidate, and Senator Hilary Clinton supported the moves to invade. The drumbeat for war was deafening, providing no space for reflection and deliberative decision making. And in a world where the media becomes a platform for commentary rather than reportage, the most powerful commentators of all can, of course, be politicians. Even the veteran giant of broadcasting, Dan Rather, asked himself ‘who am I?’ to question those like Colin Powell who must know something I don’t. The majority of journalists chose neither to get the story right nor to get the right story.
All of this reminds me of Ben Okri’s words, ‘to poison a nation, poison its stories’. Forget the insurgency for a second. The most appropriate course of action to take in Iraq now might be to apologise sincerely. Two wrongs – 9/11 and the 2003 invasion of Iraq – don’t make a right. As such, addressing the question of morality rather than logistics could be the most cost-effective way over the long-term to go beyond the quagmire.