buying the war: bill moyers’ analysis of journalistic bias and media failure

Buying the War

Bill Moyers

April 25, 2007

BILL 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.

OUR REPORT WAS PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY KATHLEEN HUGHES AND EDITED BY ALISON AMRON.

BILL MOYERS: TWO WEEKS BEFORE (THE PRESIDENT)…WILL ORDER AMERICA TO WAR, PRESIDENT BUSH CALLS A PRESS CONFERENCE TO MAKE THE CASE FOR DISARMING SADDAM HUSSEIN.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Iraq is a part of the war on terror. It’s a country that trains terrorists; it’s a country that could arm terrorists. Saddam Hussein and his weapons are a direct threat to this country.

BILL MOYERS: FOR MONTHS NOW, HIS ADMINISTRATION HAS BEEN DETERMINED TO LINK IRAQ TO 9/11.

PRESIDENT BUSH: September the 11th should say to the American people that we’re now a battle field.

BILL MOYERS: AT LEAST A DOZEN TIMES DURING THIS PRESS CONFERENCE HE WILL INVOKE 9/11 AND AL QAEDA TO JUSTIFY A PREEMPTIVE ATTACK ON A COUNTRY THAT HAS NOT ATTACKED AMERICA.

BILL MOYERS: BUT THE WHITE HOUSE PRESS CORPS WILL ASK NO HARD QUESTIONS TONIGHT ABOUT THOSE CLAIMS:  ….HE PRESIDENT’S STAFF HAS GIVEN HIM A LIST OF REPORTERS TO CALL ON.  (Explanation:  ERIC BOEHLERT: He sort of giggled and laughed. And, the reporters sort of laughed. And, I don’t know if it was out of embarrassment for him or embarrassment for them because they still continued to play along after his question was done. They all shot up their hands and pretended they had a chance of being called on.)  …I think they felt like the war was gonna happen and the best thing for them to do was to get out of the way.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Thank you for your questions.

BILL MOYERS: OUR STORY BEGINS WITH THE HORROR OF 9/11….

CHARLES GIBSON: (ABC NEWS 9/11/01) Oh my God.

DIANE SAWYER: Oh my God. Oh my God.

CHARLES GIBSON: That looks like a second plane.

BILL MOYERS: LIKE EVERYONE ELSE JOURNALISTS WERE STUNNED BY THE DEATH AND DEVASTATION.

REPORTER (ABC NEWS 9/11/01): This is as close as we can get to the base of the World Trade Center. You can see the firemen assembled here. The police officers, FBI agents. And you can see the two towers – a huge explosion now raining debris on all of us. We better get out of the way!

AARON BROWN: (CNN LIVE 9/11/01): And there as you can see, perhaps the second tower, the front tower, the top portion of which is collapsing. Good Lord.

PAT DAWSON (NBC NEWS 9/11/01): If there is a war, it’s a war against terrorism that started, rather ongoing right now, it started here at about quarter to nine this morning.

DAN RATHER: There are no words that can describe this.

DAN RATHER (on LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN, 9/17/01): George Bush is the President, he makes the decisions and you know, as just one American wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where.

BILL MOYERS: What I was wrestling with that night listening to you is; once we let our emotions out as journalists on the air, once we say, “We’ll line up with the President,” can we ever really say to the country, “The President’s out of line”?

DAN RATHER: ….there’s no question that we didn’t do a good job.

BILL MOYERS: AND AS THE ADMINISTRATION ORGANIZED TO STRIKE BACK AT THE TERRORISTS, THERE WAS LITTLE TOLERANCE FOR CRITICAL SCRUTINY FROM JOURNALISTS.

WALTER ISAACSON: There was a patriotic fervor and the Administration used it so that if you challenged anything you were made to feel that there was something wrong with that.

BILL MOYERS: Walter Isaacson was then Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of CNN.

WALTER ISAACSON: And there was even almost a patriotism police which, you know, they’d be up there on the internet sort of picking anything a Christiane Amanpour, or somebody else would say as if it were disloyal….

BILL MOYERS: We interviewed a former reporter at CNN who had been there through that period. And this reporter said this quote, “Everybody on staff just sort of knew not to push too hard to do stories critical of the Bush Administration.”

WALTER ISAACSON: Especially right after 9/11. Especially when the war in Afghanistan is going on. There was a real sense that you don’t get that critical of a government that’s leading us in war time. SOLDIER: Move out!

BILL MOYERS: WHEN AMERICAN FORCES WENT AFTER THE TERRORIST BASES IN AFGHANISTAN, NETWORK AND CABLE NEWS REPORTED THE CIVILIAN CASUALTIES.THE PATRIOT POLICE CAME KNOCKING.

WALTER ISAACSON: We’d put it on the air and by nature of a 24-hour TV network, it was replaying over and over again. So, you would get phone calls. You would get advertisers. You would get the Administration.

BILL MOYERS: You said pressure from advertisers?

WALTER ISAACSON: Not direct pressure from advertisers, but big people in corporations were calling up and saying, “You’re being anti-American here.”

BILL MOYERS: SO ISAACSON SENT HIS STAFF A MEMO, LEAKED TO THE WASHINGTON POST: “IT SEEMS PERVERSE” HE SAID, “TO FOCUS TOO MUCH ON THE CASUALTIES OR HARDSHIP IN AFGHANISTAN.”

AND HE ORDERED HIS REPORTERS AND ANCHORS TO BALANCE THE IMAGES OF CIVILIAN DEVASTATION WITH REMINDERS OF SEPTEMBER 11TH.

….NEWSPAPERS WERE SQUEEZED, TOO. THIS ONE IN FLORIDA TOLD ITS EDITORS, “DO NOT USE PHOTOS ON PAGE 1A SHOWING CIVILIAN CASUALTIES… OUR SISTER PAPER …HAS DONE SO AND RECEIVED HUNDREDS AND HUNDREDS OF THREATENING E-MAILS …”

AND THEN THERE WAS FOX NEWS: WHOSE CHIEF EXECUTIVE – THE VETERAN REPUBLICAN OPERATIVE AND MEDIA STRATEGIST ROGER AILES – HAD PRIVATELY URGED THE WHITE HOUSE TO USE THE HARSHEST MEASURES POSSIBLE AFTER 9/11…

WALTER ISSACSON: … so we were caught between this patriotic fervor and a competitor who was using that to their advantage; they were pushing the fact that CNN was too liberal that we were sort of vaguely anti-American.

To read the entire transcript click on “destruction of the fourth estate?” above

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