Lessons from Iraq: Hold “Big Media” Accountable

American media failed to fulfill its role during the lead-up to the American invasion of Iraq. Al-Sharif Nassef argues that American “Big Media” must be held accountable for its part in selling the Bush administration’s Iraq war agenda.

Too often “Big Media” shies away from the more trialing debates that make us challenge the status quo or rethink popularly accepted narratives. Either the media’s analytical lens is waning, or it too is easily duped by our government administrations’ agendas. Either way, with its lack of skepticism, the American mass media failed its duty to the American public, as it helped the Bush administration sell the Iraq war.

Now, 10 years after Bush’s invasion of Iraq, an ugly reality stares us squarely in the eyes: upwards of a hundred-fifty-thousand dead Iraqi civilians, nearly five thousand dead American troops, countless wounded and displaced, and trillions of American tax dollars down the drain. Not to mention the lack of a single weapon of mass destruction found or even meek whisper of Saddam Hussein’s involvement in the planning of 9/11. The war’s bleak aftermath leaves the conscientious American pondering: Who should be held responsible for the war-crime-ridden fiasco that our country’s corporate-military elite led us headstrong into?”

This article’s purpose is not to place blame on a particular media entity over another. Or even to shed light on the corporate influence that spreads its tentacles deep throughout the American media landscape – think Time Warner’s acquisition of Huffington Post, or the Comcast-NBC Universal charade. Rather, it is a blast against a “Big Media” system that failed its duty of accountability to America and in doing so revealed its own lack of integrity. “Big Media” sold out its coverage and shirked away from the truth: with war came more “news” and higher ratings. Media sensationalized, even fabricated, security threats to keep Americans glued to their televisions, as the Pentagon and the industrial conglomerate that profits from its massive expenditures prepared for battle.

Most remember the Iraq war drum, its beats harmonized seamlessly with the post 9/11 American fear mantra. It was mainstream media’s hype behind the war, whose pre-war airtime was packed with scores of Bush administration government officials and their war-selling talking points, or with interviews of Bush’s hawkish business cronies, dubbed “political experts,” that helped the administration sell us on a false war.

Take Richard Perle for instance, a top neoconservative system-ite who headed the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board from 2001 to 2003 before the Iraq war. He was one of many Bush Administration officials who made their rounds on the mass media megaphones of every major American network and pitched the Iraq war to a terrified America with the ever-spooky buzzwords of “WMDs,” “terrorism,” and “axis of evil.”

Rarely, if ever was there mention in his interviews that Iraq appeared on Pearl’s agenda as early as 1996 when he led a study group for Benjamin Netanyahu, then prime minister of Israel, that placed the removal of Saddam Hussein as a key Israeli strategic objective.

Where were questions from the mass media that highlighted Perle’s efforts in spearheading the neoconservative Project for the New American Century, which in 1998 drafted a letter to Bill Clinton urging him to invade Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein with none other than fellow Bush administration neoconservatives like Paul Wolfowitz, John Elliot Abrams, and John Bolton as cosigners? The mass media cowered before the masses, guessing that they could lose viewership if they dared to ask tough questions to President Bush or his officials, lest being viewed as unpatriotic or un-American whilst “America Under Attack” blazoned the bottom half of the screen of major news station. Surely many Americans will remember the sentiment of those times.

They may have simply been bad at their job. Or, the mass media, capitalizing on America’s renewed interest in broadcast journalism, failed to challenge the motives behind the war drum narrative that America got so used to hearing. It failed to ask the tough questions that could have discredited the sales pitch Americans were forced to buy into. It failed to be accountable.

This is not to say that serious journalism outside the mainstream did not occasionally occur. It was just usually too little, too late. For example, the New Yorker exposed Richard Perle’s ulterior motives for propagating the Iraq war. Just days before the Iraq invasion, Seymour Hersh, a journalist for the New Yorker, published an exposé on Perle, revealing his role in establishing Trireme Partners L.P. The firm, established literally the month after 9/11 when the Iraq war drumming began, specialized in homeland security and defense contracts—an industry poised only to gain monetarily from an American war. The conflict of interest suggested by the article prompted an internal investigation and eventually led Pearle to resign. However, these questions were asked too late. The American public had already been sold. Days after Perle’s resignation, the United States invaded Iraq.

“Big Media” made the average American believe that the war game in Iraq was about “keeping America free.” We were beguiled into thinking that if we did not bomb Baghdad into oblivion, nothing would prevent Saddam Hussein from handing over weapons of mass destruction to the “terrorists.” Yet, it is exactly this media-painted archetype of the Muslim “boogeymen”—those bearded terrorists who hate America for being “free”—that permeated the minds of Americans to create the very Islamophobic sentiment and sense of insecurity that directly abetted the Bush administration’s war.

“Big Media” exaggerated the divisions of “us” and “them.” It unabashedly bought into the post-9/11 fear-mongering system, serving as a pedestal for the Department of Homeland Security’s artificial color changing scheme that kept Americans on edge. It blinded America’s sense of reason and humanity and made us succumb to the evils of fear.

The mass media must be held accountable for the messages it relays. Never again can Americans stand by, as “Big Media” is used as a propaganda tool for the government’s agendas forayed into the forefront of the American consciousness. We, as Americans, must learn to question everything. We must refuse to be fooled again and refuse to let the media paint Iran as another Iraq.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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