Bill Moyers: How the American media followed Pied Pipers of Pentagon

Bill Moyers has done it again.

The heavyweight of public interest broadcasting in America has turned the spotlight right at his own industry, asking how so many members of his profession could be so easily tamed and led astray by the Pied Pipers of Pentagon.

In Buying the War, a 90-minute documentary that aired on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) on 25 April 2007, Moyers explores the role of the press in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq.

Buying the War includes interviews with Dan Rather, formerly of CBS; Tim Russert of MEET THE PRESS; Bob Simon of 60 MINUTES; Walter Isaacson, former president of CNN; and John Walcott, Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel of Knight Ridder newspapers, which was acquired by The McClatchy Company in 2006.

Image courtesy PBS Bill Moyers

How did the mainstream press get it so wrong? How did the evidence disputing the existence of weapons of mass destruction and the link between Saddam Hussein to 9-11 continue to go largely unreported?

“What the conservative media did was easy to fathom; they had been cheerleaders for the White House from the beginning and were simply continuing to rally the public behind the President — no questions asked. How mainstream journalists suspended skepticism and scrutiny remains an issue of significance that the media has not satisfactorily explored,” says Moyers.

“How the administration marketed the war to the American people has been well covered, but critical questions remain: How and why did the press buy it, and what does it say about the role of journalists in helping the public sort out fact from propaganda?”

The programme opened with the following words of Moyers:

Four years ago this spring the Bush administration took leave of reality and plunged our country into a war so poorly planned it soon turned into a disaster. The story of how high officials misled the country has been told. But they couldn’t have done it on their own; they needed a compliant press, to pass on their propaganda as news and cheer them on.

Since then thousands of people have died, and many are dying to this day. Yet the story of how the media bought what the White House was selling has not been told in depth on television. As the war rages into its fifth year, we look back at those months leading up to the invasion, when our press largely surrendered its independence and skepticism to join with our government in marching to war.

The show has already drawn rave reviews. David Sirota says at WorkingforChange:

I went to journalism school because I thought journalism was about sifting through the B.S. in order to challenge power and hold the Establishment accountable. Bill Moyers and the folks I’ve gotten to know at McClatchy Newspapers who Moyers highlights show that that long tradition still exists. But the fact that they are such rare exceptions to the rule also show that the incentive system in journalism today is to reward not the people who challenge power, but the people who worship it. And though Tim Russert and Peter Beinart and Bill Kristol and Tom Friedman can kick back in Washington with their six figure salaries and tell themselves that they are really Important People, what we have seen is that they are part of a new journalistic culture that is threatening to destroy what once was a truly noble profession and undermine our democracy.”

Read the full transcript of Buying the War online

Watch Buying the War online at PBS website

Read the full review at David Sirota’s blog: When journalism became transcription and reporting disappeared

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