NEW YORK—On Iraq, the right was wrong. It's a slam dunk. So why do the wrong righties keep raking in big media cash? And why aren't lefties taking a victory lap?
It's a Back to the Future moment: Back in 2002, polls found most Americans opposed to war with Iraq at roughly the same two-to-one ration as they do now. What changed Americans' minds between 2002 and 2003, supplemented by Bush Administration lies about fictional WMDs and liberation flowers, were millions of words published in major national magazines and regurgitated on television news programs by serious-looking, soft-spoken men boasting impressive journalistic and academic credentials. Pretend experts wove fantastic tales of wonderful geopolitical benefits that would derive from taking out Saddam. Invading Iraq was going to democratize the Middle East, force the Palestinians to sign a peace deal with Israel, and bring Elvis back to life.
Fareed Zakaria used his column at Newsweek to promote the now-discredited neoconservative democratization-via-regime-change thesis. William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard and another neocon, sang the same bellicose tune at Time. David Brooks and Thomas Friedman beat the war drum for the influential opinion page of The New York Times. Then, against the evidence and common sense, they declared Mission Accomplished.
"The only people who think this wasn't a victory," wrote Time's Charles Krauthammer after the fall of Baghdad and the toppling of Saddam's statue, "are Upper West Side liberals, and a few people here in Washington." Like the phony Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman stories, the statue story was fake. We "Upper West Side liberals" were right. But no one cares.
As the occupation went from bad to worse, the WordPerfect Warriors—none had served in the military or even visited a war zone— were always a step or six behind, pushing for more troops in 2006 when they were three years too late to do any good.
There were, of course, strong antiwar voices. With the exception of Paul Krugman at the Times, however, they worked for media outlets with far narrower distribution than the scribes at the big newsweeklies. And they hardly, if ever, appeared on TV. The liberal weekly magazine The Nation led the antiwar pack with a circulation of 184,000 in 2004. But Nation pundits weren't nearly as left as guys like Kristol were right; many supported or remained silent, for example, about the invasion of Afghanistan. Outlets like The Nation were mere mouse squeaks next to the thunderous roar of Time and Newsweek's combined 7.1 million.
That was then, this is now, yet nothing has changed. Despite no WMDs. Despite turning more "corners" than a milligon. Despite a million dead Iraqis.
Imagine the scorn and derision that would have rained down upon antiwar dudes like me if WMDs had turned up behind cheering Iraqi throngs! There would have been purges and canceled book contracts and all manner of retribution. "Over the next couple of weeks," crowed Dick Morris on Fox News on April 9, 2003, "when we find the chemical weapons this guy [Saddam] was amassing ... the left is going to have to hang its head for three or four years."
Where's the right-wing head-hanging?
Despite their F-rated performances on the biggest political story of their lives, Morris, Krauthammer, Zakaria, Kristol, Brooks, Friedman and likeminded ideologues continue to sell their opinions for big bucks. True, Time and Newsweek publish columnists like Joe Klein and Jonathan Alter—antiwar liberals. Sort of.
Compared to their right-wing colleagues, however, these weak-kneed libbies are squishy and polite—nothing like their rabidly wrong right-wing counterparts.
In cartoonist Nina Paley's memorable phrase, these official lefties are "soft liberals" who call for the left to turn the other cheek to right-wing attacks. "[Democratic] kowtowing to [left-wing] extremists," Klein wrote in the June 18 issue of Time, "is exactly the opposite of what this country is looking for after the lethal radicalism of the Bush Administration."
Nowhere in the "mainstream" media—not in print, not on television—will you find a left-wing counterpart to radical right Bushists. You know, someone who wanted the troops out before we ever sent them. Someone who wants an evacuation, not a phased withdrawal. Who thinks Bush deserves a long stretch in Milosevic's old cell at The Hague. Who doesn't think Afghanistan had any more to do with 9/11 than Iraq. Real lefties are out there, all right, but they're marginalized, relegated to self-published preach-to-the-choir blogs and low-circulation rags (The Progressive, Mother Jones, Indymedia) and semi-underground radio broadcasts like Amy Goodman's "Democracy Now!"
Lefties have correctly called every shot since 2000. They were right from Florida 2000 to 9/11 to Gitmo to torture to the Patriot Act to WMDs to Abu Ghraib to domestic spying. Yet, against all logic and fairness, they're treated like kooks. Meanwhile, the real kooks are still getting paid to spout the same old nonsense.
On June 25 Peter Beinart, yet another pro-Iraq War wacko for Time, wrote this gem: "Obviously, 9/11—when the U.S. was attacked from Afghanistan, a terrorist-infested basket case—changed things." Well, no. We were attacked by Saudis and Egyptians and Pakistanis. Pakistan funded al-Qaida training camps, most of which were in Pakistan; only a few were across the Durand Line in southeastern Afghanistan. 9/11 changed nothing. As usual, the U.S. attacked countries for fun and profit and allowed real, looming threats (Pakistan, North Korea) off the hook.
How many of Time's 4.1 million readers, who count on the magazine for reliable news and credible opinion, will believe Beinart's nonsense?
Which brings us to the age-old question: Why? Why does the "mainstream media"—big, influential, well-funded outlets—disseminate extremist pap while censoring sane, rational voices?
Marxists point to the Big Media's corporate masters. Pro-government and corporate propaganda, goes their reasoning, keeps the masses ignorant and supports business interests. Pardon the pun, but I don't buy it. I think the editors and publishers and producers and bookers are distracted. They're so busy meeting deadlines that they forget to keep track of how often they get things wrong. What's more, many media executives are lazy thinkers. Out-of-the-box ideas, such as the fact that politicians lie like they breathe and that there are perfectly justifiable reasons for hating the United States, scare them. So they shut out those with shaggy hair and off-the-rack suits, like Noam Chomsky and Ward Churchill, who speak scary (and accurate) ideas out loud.
There's still one thing I don't understand: the business angle. Why would any media outlet risk its profitability by repeatedly printing and broadcasting big, honking mistakes? After all, credibility is the reason people (used to) buy newspapers.