At the end of his Aug. 12 front-page article, "The Post on WMDs: An Inside Story," Howard Kurtz quoted Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. as saying:
"People who were opposed to the war from the beginning and have been critical of the media's coverage in the period before the war . . . have the mistaken impression that somehow if the media's coverage had been different, there wouldn't have been a war."
Clearly, this is untrue. The storm of protest before the war forced the Bush administration to take drastic measures -- such as appealing to the United Nations -- to win public support. What might have happened if most Americans had appreciated the flimsiness of the administration's case?
If we believe that a properly informed citizenry is integral to a functional democracy, we should either recognize the media's role in allowing the war to happen or accept that we do not have a functional democracy.
I congratulate The Post for publishing a story questioning its own reporting on the run-up to the war in Iraq. The piece focused on the issue of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction as the justification for the war, arguing that news decisions at the time were constrained by a lack of credible, namable sources willing to counter administration claims. This, unfortunately, misses the point.
Those who challenged administration claims in the run-up to the war did so within a broader context than the information on weapons of mass destruction. That context was the determination of the administration to overthrow Saddam Hussein, and it included:
* The prominent role of neoconservatives in the decision-making process -- including the Project for the New American Century.
* The Bush family's history with Saddam Hussein, especially the attempt on former president George H.W. Bush's life.
* The reengagement of the major players from the Persian Gulf War.
* The ties of President Bush and Vice President Cheney to oil and defense companies that would profit enormously from both the war and the elimination of Saddam Hussein.
* The fact that a war with Iraq would detract from more important matters: combating al Qaeda and achieving stability and democracy in Afghanistan.
The Post's failure was not its inability to counter specific administration claims. Rather, it was its unwillingness to pull back and challenge the broader strategic, and philosophical, bases that made a war with Iraq a certainty for the Bush-Cheney administration.
MARY HOWE KIRALY
Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr., somehow conflating those critical of the war with those critical of the media, said, "They have the mistaken impression that somehow if the media's coverage had been different, there wouldn't have been a war."
Not at all. I have the apparently mistaken impression that a newspaper, especially one that prides itself on a centrist presentation of the news, has as its job presenting all the available facts as clearly as possible. Not to give the administration -- any administration -- a run of its front page. Not to hide behind the dodge that a career reporter's work is "hard to follow" -- hire yourselves a few editors, by gum. And certainly not to shrug off criticism by saying events wouldn't have been changed.
Perhaps Mr. Downie and others have been rereading those Watergate clips too often. I don't expect newspaper reporters to alter events, just to do the job they have constitutional protection to do.
So the stories skeptical of weapons of mass destruction were "incremental, difficult-to-read stories." Howard Kurtz's report on The Post's prewar coverage repeatedly cited the difficulty of editing such stories.
Who said editing a newspaper was supposed to be easy? Newspapers fill an essential role in our system. The Post's uncritical coverage failed the nation, and the excuse proffered by some of its top editors is that it was (self-) victimized by "groupthink" and that it would have been "difficult" to swim against the stream?
What do they pay you guys for anyway?
I was astonished to read a quotation of The Post's executive editor, Leonard Downie Jr., saying that "the voices raising questions about the war were lonely ones."
On Feb. 15, 2003, I was one of several million people worldwide protesting the imminent invasion of Iraq. We were hundreds of thousands strong in New York City alone. While I experienced many powerful emotions that day, I can assure Mr. Downie that "loneliness" was not among them.
STEVE J. ALBERT
Howard Kurtz's story left me frustrated and angry. Although it contained a lot of breast-beating and mea culpas, it didn't answer the question: "Now what?"
I'm no supporter of the president, but I consider myself intelligent enough to make fair judgments about the actions the administration is taking (based on what I learn from The Post, among others). For example, I found the invasion of Afghanistan appropriate because the Taliban harbored the murderers behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The invasion of Iraq was inappropriate. No proof of a threat (let alone an imminent attack) was ever clearly presented.
Now I read how the editors made conscious decisions to keep stories off the front page that addressed the issue of the lack of evidence concerning chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in Iraq.
I appreciate greatly the reporting and editing that goes into The Post, but what changes will the paper make to ensure that its editors do not engage in pack journalism or be too afraid to do their jobs?
I have two sons approaching draft age. The role of journalists is very much to ensure that we do not needlessly sacrifice the lives of our sons and daughters -- now and in the future.
Had the Post been willing to do that, I would feel much less worried about my sons' future.
Howard Kurtz says, "Whether a tougher approach by The Post and other news organizations would have slowed the rush to war is, at best, a matter of conjecture."
Of course it would have slowed the march to war had The Post presented the facts.
It might even have stopped the war if The Post had given space to the war's severest critics. The presidential campaign was already underway in March 2003. It would have been election coverage and a topical story.
The purpose of newspapers is to cover the important matters of the day. What could have been more important than raising caution flags about a propaganda machine gone off course?
RICHARD RAY HARRIS
Now that the news section of The Post is reexamining the manner in which it covered information regarding weapons of mass destruction and other examples of administration hype before the Iraq war, I hope the editorial board will take another look at its steady support for the war.
To the best of my recollection the editors did not satisfactorily answer a number of significant questions. For example, even if one grants that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, why did the attack have to take place in 2003 and what were the indicators that the United States was in imminent danger that may have influenced The Post's position?
Did The Post thoroughly exam- ine other options such as "hard" sanctions?
Why did it not give more credence to the findings of Hans Blix and the U.N. inspectors?
And why didn't the editors take European skepticism more seriously?
A dozen more such queries beg for answers.
Finally, it appears that the editors failed to consider the hallucinatory aim of changing the political map of the Middle East by establishing a democracy in Iraq. After all, the editors must have been familiar with the extensive writings to this effect by people who had received prominent assignments in the new administration.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz even admitted that the administration emphasized weapons of mass destruction because this would be more easily understood by the general public.
CHARLES W. NAAS