Spooked into patriotic quiescence by the 9/11 attacks and the climate of national fear that followed them, much of the media — with a few honorable exceptions — failed to ask the tough questions not only about the WMD evidence against Iraq, but also about the wisdom of invading and occupying a major Arab country on those grounds. Once the U.S. invasion was underway, it seemed as if the major media outlets had “embedded” themselves with military: Stunts such as the hoky staged toppling of a statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad were broadcast as if they were the historical equivalent of the fall of the Berlin Wall (a point most of the anchors made repeatedly throughout the broadcast). And then, as things turned sour and U.S. media began reporting on the problems and the insurgency, the Administration began pressing media outlets to “balance” negative stories about Iraq with positive ones, as if reporting the problems was a partisan political act.
It is telling, perhaps, that the toughest interview President George W. Bush faced in the course of the war wasn’t conducted by any U.S. media outlet; it was conducted by Ireland’s RTE ahead of his visit there. The “alert and informed citizenry” that President Eisenhower warned was essential to prevent abuses of the democratic system depends on the media being unapologetically skeptical, as a matter of due diligence, when the case is being made for war.