Last week was the tenth anniversary of Colin Powell's speech to the UN Security Council about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction on February 5, 2003. It remains difficult for me to even think about the political climate of the year long run-up to the invasion of Iraq without feeling stabby all over again. We don't need to rehash the number of levels on which all of the claims and "evidence" used to grease the wheels of the war machine were either wrong or outright lies – I believe the WMDs turned out to be two donkeys and a crate of Sparklers – but we owe it to ourselves to remember how badly the media collectively failed us.
Not one major newspaper or news network responded to Powell's theatrics with anything remotely approaching skepticism. The obsequious, totally credulous editorials read like Onion articles today. The NY Times was probably the soberest, merely noting that "Mr. Powell's speech was all the more convincing because he dispensed with apocalyptic invocations of a struggle of good and evil and focused on shaping a sober, factual case against Mr. Hussein’s regime." The Washington Post, in contrast, titled its staff editorial "Irrefutable", noting that "it is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction." On the same page, Richard Cohen stated that, "The evidence he presented to the United Nations – some of it circumstantial, some of it absolutely bone-chilling in its detail – had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn't accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool – or possibly a Frenchman – could conclude otherwise.” Ha ha! The French are pussies! WaPo's foreign policy "expert" Jim Hoaglund helpfully chimed in, "To continue to say that the Bush administration has not made its case, you must now believe that Colin Powell lied in the most serious statement he will ever make, or was taken in by manufactured evidence. I don’t believe that. Today, neither should you."
Hoagland and Cohen still have the same jobs today. Because, you know, why wouldn't they? If you think shame prevents them from writing about the need to invade Iran and eliminate its nuclear weapons, Google them and prepare for a shock.
I propose that every year, February 5 should serve as the Yom Kippur of American journalism – a total TV news blackout for 24 hours while the editors, producers, on-air talent, fact checkers, and other assorted minions devote themselves to confessing their sins and seeking forgiveness. Newspapers will run the headline, "We failed and it cost 100,000 lives" and no content except detailed descriptions of every pre-war claim that turned out to be false or fabricated but was reported anyway without any corroboration beyond "anonymous government sources." The next day the news industry will return to being the same cacophony of nonsense that it was in 2003 and remains today. But for one day, everyone will be forced to confront the truth, to spend the day in radio silence thinking about their actions and the consequences. Maybe – just maybe – a few more Americans in the media and among the general public will pause and ask a critical question or two the next time a war-hungry administration and their fawning fans in the news industry start cheerleading the nation into another trillion dollar, decade-long war that costs tens of thousands of lives.
It's ridiculous, I know. A boy can dream, though.