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What if Iraq Media Coverage was Scrutinized Like CBS Documents?

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What if the model being used to dissect Dan Rather and CBS News was applied to all of the corporate media for their coverage in the build up to the invasion of Iraq? We speak with Harper’s publisher Rick MacArthur who says “there would have been no war.” [includes rush transcript]

  • John R. (Rick) MacArthur, publisher of Harpers Magazine and author of the book Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda In the Gulf War.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined by Rick MacArthur, who is Publisher of Harper’s Magazine. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Rick. Your response to this controversy, to Dan Rather, to the memos.

RICK MACARTHUR: Well, I’m appalled by Dan Rather, because I think — or by — I don’t know that Dan Rather has done any reporting in 30 years, but he is the supervisor of his producers — and as an investigative reporter, I just — I can’t believe how stupid they were. I mean, you have to ask yourself: have they ever read any history? Do they know anything about the Hitler diaries? You remember the Hitler diaries? Stern in Germany bought these forged diaries, and before you knew it, even one of the most famous historians of Nazi Germany, Hugh Trevor-Roper, had been conned. Harper’s Magazine itself published a document about ten, twelve years ago about George Bush Senior’s record as a navy pilot because he strafed some survivors of a Japanese lifeboat. The press covered it up, didn’t want to publish it. We did it after the election, after Clinton beat him. But when you check out a document, you take it to the source. You take it all the way to the source. The idea that they would actually go with a story without actually — without following it to the National Guard archive or to the Pentagon and verifying its actual authenticity is just mind-blowing; but it’s not surprising, I guess, given Rather’s terrible record. Don’t forget that he was practically saluting Bush on David Letterman famously after 9/11. He said “All — He’s my commander-in-chief. All he has to do is tell me where to line up and I’ll do it.” Even on the Abu Ghraib scandal, which they did break (I mean, we have to give CBS credit for putting it on the air), they called General Myers, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, once they had the pictures and the evidence, confronted him with it, and he said, “Well, give me a couple of weeks. Please don’t do the story,” and they sat on it for two weeks! And then later said, “Well, we went with the story because — only because it was going to break on the internet.” Not because it was the right thing to do. So now, the — you have a case of crazy overcompensation, but incredible incompetence by CBS. I don’t want to sound like an old geezer, I’m 48 years old, but I talk to journalism classes, I talk to a lot of young people going to journalism, and I — I sort of say flippantly, “We don’t have any reporters anymore; people don’t know how to do journalism anymore,” and I guess I wasn’t exaggerating. Here you got a 72-year-old guy with some experience. He doesn’t know what he’s doing! It’s just unbelievable.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s also remember that the same producer who did this story on Bush’s National Guard record and got the documents is the one who got the photos in the Abu Ghraib case.

RICK MACARTHUR: She did get the photos.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes. Same producer.

RICK MACARTHUR: Well, I give her credit for that; but I’m just saying that CBS doesn’t have a great record. Rather doesn’t have a great record on, I don’t know, doing thorough and accurate journalism as Rather piously said last night. They specialized in not asking the tough questions. This was gratuitous, too. What did we need this for? The record is clear that Bush was given preferential treatment. Just getting into the Guard was a clear case of getting preferential treatment. What was the purpose — what purpose did this serve?

AMY GOODMAN: I’ve been listening to Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity as we were driving into Colorado Springs last night, listening to Hannity’s radio show. It’s been amazing to listen to them talk about here, getting these documents, not investigating, going with what they believed, which proved that they were partisan. It’s interesting to look at that and compare it to what all the media, not just Fox, did in the lead-up to the invasion. The kind of scrutiny they said that Dan Rather should use. Can you look at that model, what it would have meant in the lead-up to the invasion, what the corporate media should have done?

RICK MACARTHUR: Rather, also remember, got the highest rating from Brent Bozell’s right-wing media watchdog group — I forget which one it’s called, what the title — what the name of it is — for his coverage of the Iraq war, of the invasion. In other words, he was — CBS and Dan Rather were the most superpatriotic, pro-war, or sympathetic to the war, network among all of the networks. They got a higher grade even than Fox. So when you talk about the corporate media, you have to understand that you’re talking about the kept media; and the kept media follows the wishes, follows the tendencies, follows the interests of power, and in this case, power in the form of the Bush Administration wanted the war. They wanted to go into Iraq, and Rather and company went along for the ride and distinguished themselves in the eyes of the right-wingers. I hope that people point out Dan Rather’s high grade from Brent Bozell when Hannity and company starts to — talking about the liberal media again, saying, “Oh, look at the liberal media trying to get Bush.” It’s preposterous. Rather was in the bag during the invasion.

AMY GOODMAN: What about all of the media? What about all of the media applying this same level of scrutiny to the issues of weapons of mass destruction?


AMY GOODMAN: The whole issue of —

RICK MACARTHUR: If we’d had the kind of energy that Rather — it’s incompetent, but it does show some initiative and energy — that he showed in this investigation, in theory, there would have been no war. The New York Times, as I’ve said a hundred times, distinguished itself in its production of fraudulent information, which was all served to them by White House, supporting the thesis that Saddam was on the verge of getting an atomic bomb. It was all false. There was plenty of evidence to the contrary; but The New York Times and the Washington Post just went out of their way to promote the fraudulent premise of the war. So did most of the rest of media. There are a couple of distinguished exceptions: The Knight-Ridder Washington Bureau, sorry to promote myself, me, and anybody who put Scott Ritter on TV or radio; but beyond that, there wasn’t any real scrutiny. On the contrary, there was promotion of the and advancing of the administration lies about w.m.d., which I hesit —-It’s about -— remember it’s not about weapons of mass destruction, back when it counts; it’s about an atomic bomb threat. That’s what they were promoting, which was the most preposterous of all of the premises put forth.

AMY GOODMAN: Rick MacArthur, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Publisher of Harper’s Magazine — and Jim Moore, author of, among other books, Bush’s Brain. This is Democracy Now!

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