There she was: Judith Miller, the former New York Times reporter most closely identified with the paper’s flawed reporting in the run-up to the Iraq War, chattering away on Fox News.
All had recent star turns on Fox News. But that pro-Trump network was far from alone.
Days after President Trump ordered a drone strike that killed an Iranian commander, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani — thrusting the nation on a potential path to war — the major Sunday news shows were showing their traditional colors, too.
In addition to giving Secretary of State Mike Pompeo his say, the shows also managed to find time for three politicians who had voted in favor of authorizing the 2003 invasion: Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) and former senator Rick Santorum, the Pennsylvania Republican.
But here’s who they didn’t talk to: a single one of the 156 members of Congress who voted no to the Iraq War.
Granted, some — sad to say — are permanently unavailable for comment. Elijah E. Cummings, Louise M. Slaughter, Ted Kennedy and Julia Carson, for example, have died.
But other Iraq War naysayers — including senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) — are still in office, and therefore presumably not averse to sharing their views.
One hears the rumor that Bernie Sanders, the senator from Vermont, presidential hopeful and Iraq War opponent, is willing to hold forth on occasion.
Others of the original 156 have left office but remain in the public sphere.
Judd Legum, an independent journalist who has been keeping track of the punditry parade in his newsletter, Popular Information, thought the Sunday shows missed an important opportunity.
“If I were a producer, I would say, ‘Hey, let’s get some of those who were speaking out against the rush to war.’ ”
But, as Legum told me Tuesday, in something of an understatement, “that doesn’t seem to be the orientation of the coverage.”
This raises deeper questions.
The media often touts the need for self-examination — and issues the occasional mea culpa — but how much have journalists really learned over the past 17 years?
How much true change has there been since the Times, The Washington Post and many other news organizations put their weight behind the Iraq War — either indirectly through anonymously sourced reporting about weapons of mass destruction that turned out to be misleading, or directly through their editorial stances?
Based on what I’ve seen of the early coverage, not nearly enough.
Yes, it’s true — and heartening — that some of the most prominent journalists in the country are expressing the need for skeptical journalism.
“The march to war is a hell of a drug,” CNN chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper told Vanity Fair’s Joe Pompeo. That piece also quoted Times executive editor Dean Baquet on the importance of reporting that questions official pronouncements, and it noted recent skeptical pieces of reporting in The Post.
But, just as in the wake of 9/11, there’s a powerful pushback when skepticism rears its unpopular head.
“The president’s Praetorian Guard is already out there questioning the patriotism of those who are skeptical, or anyone who dares to even welcome an opposing position,” Tapper said.
And the TV news media — largely — is up to its old tricks of amplifying the voices of military officials and those with a history of supporting war. (Astonishingly, a Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting study of coverage from early 2003 found that of the 267 on-camera American guests in a two-week period on three networks, only one — Ted Kennedy — expressed skepticism or opposition to the war.)
Sure, it’s somewhat better now when it comes to a diversity of voices and views:
●Some pro-Iraq War talkers have changed their minds and were willing to say why and express newfound doubts.
●Fox’s Tucker Carlson has been a strong contrarian voice.
●Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — critical of Trump’s move — was featured on “Meet the Press” Sunday (but, notably, she was a professor in 2002, not a voting senator).
What’s more, the rise of digital news sources over the past 17 years means that mainstream TV pundits aren’t as influential as they used to be.
It makes you wonder, though — what’s really behind these coverage choices? Is it fear of being criticized as unpatriotic? A lack of vision about a different approach?
Is it, as Legum puts it, an underlying “elite consensus” about our nation’s role in the world, which amounts to “credulousness about America’s ability to improve things through military intervention”?
Or, as the Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald accusingly tweeted, is war, for U.S. journalists, “what gets their blood pumping”?
Whatever the reasons, with the stakes so high, too much of what we’re seeing is far from encouraging.
And it’s not nearly good enough.
For more by Margaret Sullivan visit wapo.st/sullivan