McClellan: Media During Run-Up to Iraq Were “Complicit Enablers”

By Saira Anees

May 28, 2008 11:12am

Some excerpts from Scott McClellan’s new book What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception  that may not get the same wall-to-wall coverage as his comments about his former colleagues at the Bush White House?

His scathing criticism of the media, particularly during the run-up to the war in Iraq.

Writes McClellan:

"In the fall of 2002, Bush and his White house were engaging in a carefully-orchestrated campaign to shape and manipulate sources of public approval to our advantage. We’d done much the same on other issues–tax cuts and education–to great success. But war with Iraq was different. Beyond the irreversible human costs and substantial financial price, the decision to go to war and the way we went about selling it would ultimately lead to increased polarization and intensified partisan warfare. Our lack of candor and honesty in making the case for war would later provoke a partisan response from our opponents that, in its own way, further distorted and obscured a more nuanced reality. Another cycle of deception would cloud the public’s ability to see larger, underlying important truths that are critical to understand in order to avoid the same problems in the future.

"And through it all, the media would serve as complicit enablers. Their primary focus would be on covering the campaign to sell the war, rather than aggressively questioning the rationale for war or pursuing the truth behind it… the media would neglect their watchdog role, focusing less on truth and accuracy and more on whether the campaign was succeeding. Was the president winning or losing the argument? How were Democrats responding? What were the electoral implications? What did the polls say? And the truth–about the actual nature of the threat posed by Saddam, the right way to confront it, and the possible risks of military conflict–would get largely left behind…"

McClellan writes that while he thinks most reporters are personally liberal, the "vast majority–including those in the White House press corps–are honest, fair-minded and professional" when it comes to letting their political biases impact their coverage.

"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. The collapse of the administration’s rationales for war, which became apparent months after our invasion, should have never come as such a surprise. The public should have been made much more aware, before the fact, of the uncertainties, doubts, and caveats that underlay the intelligence about the regime of Saddam hussein. The administration did little to convey those nuances to the people, the press should have picked up the slack but largely failed to do so because their focus was elsewhere–on covering the march to war, instead of the necessity of war.

"In this case, the ‘liberal media’ didn’t live up to its reputation. If it had, the country would have been better served."

Towards the end of the book, McClellan suggests that network news is stuck in the past and needs to change.

"The network that can find a way to shift from excessively covering controversy, the conventional horse race and image-driven coverage to give a greater emphasis to who is right and who is wrong, who is telling the truth and who is not, and the larger truths about our society and our world might achieve some amazing results in our fast-changing media environment."

- jpt

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