The 4,000

March 24, 2008

For the past week, Slate has been asking “liberal hawk” pundits who supported the Iraq invasion to explain what they think they got wrong. They are, to put it mildly, unpersuasive. Christopher Hitchens, naturally, thinks he wasn’t wrong at all, while Richard Cohen doesn’t think he really got it all that wrong, and besides, Michael Moore is fat. The only apologia that can be read without the risk of gagging at the stench of pomposity and cover-your-ass flop sweat is from Timothy Noah, because it includes this extremely accurate observation:

Why should you waste your time, at this late date, ingesting the opinions of people who were wrong about Iraq? Wouldn’t you benefit more from considering the views of people who were right? Five years after this terrible war began, it remains true that respectable mainstream discussion about its lessons is nearly exclusively confined to people who supported the war, even though that same mainstream acknowledges, for the most part, that the war was a mistake. That’s true of Slate‘s symposium, and it was true of a similar symposium that appeared March 16 on the New York Times‘ op-ed pages. The people who opposed U.S. entry into the Iraq war, it would appear, are insufficiently “serious” to explain why they were right.

The answer, of course, is that we Iraq war critics only opposed the invasion because we’re dirty America-hating radicals who lack the balls to send other people into battle. As Jim Henley points out, “many [war supporters] feared that if the United States did not go to war, it might make some hippie, somewhere, happy.” The Sixties must be killed, over and over, and if killing that phantom means real flesh and blood soldiers get it in the neck, too, then so be it.

A frequent theme of the mea-not-so-culpas from the pro-war pontificators is that the passions and anger generated by 9/11 clouded their judgment and made them suckers for Bush’s message. This is the pundit equivalent of a cheerleader saying “I was drunk” when asked why she allowed the football team to pull a train on her in the locker room after the homecoming game. When Bush came calling with a bouquet of dead flowers and a box of rotten candies, the pundit class decided to bend over, close their eyes and think of Churchill.

I opposed this filthy war right from the start. Not because I’m a pacifist, not because I’m a hippie, not because I hate America, not because I’m clairvoyant and not because I’m a genius with hidden sources of information. I opposed it because I’m an American with a functioning brain who has arrived at a ripe old middle age with his eyes open and his faculties intact, who has been paying attention these past few decades and who hates being played for a sucker.

For all these reasons, I realize I’m disqualified from offering my views on the war in respected journals of opinion, television programs or newspaper op-ed columns, so I offer my conclusions here:

1. There was and is no reason to think that Bush and his cronies ever believed a single word they spoke about Iraq posing any kind of threat to America. Well before 9/11 the Bush administration had already revealed its moral squalor, cronyism and willingness to lie, eagerly and extravagantly, to get what it wanted. The scare stories were never convincing to begin with — the vaunted Al-Qaeda connection was a disgustingly obvious bit of opportunism, and no country that has endured a decade of crippling sanctions could be in any shape to gin up a nuclear weapons program, period — and they became ludicrous as Bush’s people became ever more desperate to push their war. Remember the remote-controlled planes that were going to cross the ocean and drop anthrax spores on our cities? The germ warfare labs that turned out to be hydrogen tanks for balloons? When the UN inspection teams went in and the first indications of the deception came to light, Bush went into overdrive to launch the invasion. A few more months of inspections and the lie would have been completely exposed.

2. There was and is no reason to think that Bush and his cronies ever saw this war as anything but a way to cement their own power (and set the stage for the next Republican presidential contender) by exploiting yellow-ribbon fever, thus silencing the doubts about Bush’s legitimacy after the Supreme Court decided to vote from the bench. At first it was all going to be a fun bit of down home ass kickin’ for a dark-skinned guy nobody liked anyway, followed by an endless round of parades that would cow or drown out any critics still willing to raise their voices while the Republicans strutted around and grabbed their crotches. Control over Iraq’s oil fields would be a bonus. I believe it was Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek who said the war would look better once it was over. Even after the dimensions of the Iraq disaster became clear, it remained useful as one of the two loaded dice in Bush’s crap shoot. Whenever the poll numbers looked too bad, roll some good news from Iraq or roll some bad news in the form of ginned-up terror alerts.

3. At no point have Bush and his cronies conducted this war as though they believed their own scare stories. Ammo bunkers, weapons sites and radiological waste dumps that had been kept under lock and key by the UN were left open to looting. We now know that explosives from the Al Qaqaa munitions complex were used to create roadside bombs deployed against our soldiers. Our continued presence in Iraq is the gift that keeps on giving for al Qaeda and other Islamists, yet Bush will brook no talk of withdrawal, and the GOP chants “Support the troops!” whenever the topic is raised. This war’s propaganda value may have dimmed, but it still serves as an immense pork barrel spending program for Bush cronies, and they will continue wringing money out of it until their fingers are pried loose from power.

4. When America faced its greatest need in a generation for rational discussion and realism, its pundits didn’t simply fail to do their jobs. They threw their standards out the window, took out their toy soldiers and got sloppy drunk on Rambo juice. At a time when America desperately needed them to look Caesar in the eye and ask him hard questions, they opted to bend the knee and kiss his ring — along with anything else he put in front of them.

They weren’t just stupidly, astonishingly, spectacularly wrong — they were offensively, childishly and spitefully wrong. They accused doubters of being, at best, Sixties nostalgists and deluded flower children; at worst, of being potential fifth columnists and traitors.

Do you think they’ve learned anything? Read this passage from Richard Cohen, then you tell me:

I was miserably wrong in my judgment and somewhat emotional, and whenever my resolve weakened, as it did over time, I steadied myself by downing belts of inane criticism from the likes of Michael Moore or “realists” like Brent Scowcroft, who had presided over the slaughter of the Shiites. I favored the war not for oil or empire (what silliness!) or Israel but for all the reasons that made me regret Bosnia, Rwanda, and every other time when innocents were being killed and nothing was done to stop it. I owe it to Tony Judt for giving me the French ex-Stalinist Pierre Courtade, who, wrongheaded though he might have been, neatly sums it all up for me: “You and your kind were wrong to be right; we were right to be wrong.”

“We were right to be wrong.” Because to the likes of Richard Cohen, the most important thing in the world is not to be Michael Moore. His criticism was “inane”? I hate to say this, Rich, but for at least the past five years, Michael Moore has been right a lot more often than you. A lot more often.

As you all know, we’ve just blown past the 4,000 mark for American soldiers who’ve died for a pack of lies in Iraq. Since protest marches are ignored and those who have been right about Iraq all along are largely frozen out of the discussion, I suggest a new way to commemorate this benchmark: let the warwhore pundits hang up their typewriters, turn off their PCs and pack up their crayons. Let them do the honorable thing and resign from their positions. Drop the syndicated columns, tear up the book proposals, tell the squawk-show hosts to find another set of talking heads. Let them, in other words, shut the hell up.

Since I remain a realist, I’m not suggesting that the abrupt absence of Richard Cohen and Andrew Sullivan will clear the way for a new generation of fresh thinkers. Christ — if anything, the next generation will probably be even worse.

But something good may come of it. Newspapers may finally stop kidding themselves about the value of their op-ed pages, lobotomized by decades of spin and the frothings of conservative party aparatchiks masquerading as public intellectuals, and simply run pictures of cute pets. Or children’s letters to Santa. Or something.

Anything but you, guys. Anything but you.

The Memory Hole

October 28, 2007

Funny, isn’t it, how the 1960s continue to loom large in the collective mind of the pundit class, a dread specter of radicalism to be held up as a warning whenever somebody suggests that it might be a good thing to give people better and more efficient healthcare, or to avoid dropping bombs on dark-skinned foreigners unless it is absolutely necessary.

And yet, the demented excesses of the Republican Party in the 1990s and the accompanying anti-Clinton jihad — in which every hoary bit of gossip was dredged up from the swamps of Arkansas and presented, still dripping, to the public as further evidence of Bill Clinton’s “character issue” — seem to dwindle and fade from the pundit memory, even as members of the jihad continue to enjoy successful public careers.

Since many of the pundits were themselves enthusiastic enablers of the jihadis, it’s no surprise that they are now trying to throw their work down the memory hole. That’s why we need people like Bob Somerby and tristero, who caught Gail Collins musing on Mike Huckabee’s election prospects while applying a fresh coat of forgetfulness to one of the most sordid legacies of the conservative anti-Clinton jihad — one that involved an actual death, not the imaginary deaths from “Clinton flu” confabulated by cranks and marketed by creeps. It is the story of Wayne DuMond. Tristero sets the scene:

Who the hell is Wayne DuMond? I’m glad you asked. Let’s start here with “Murray Waas’ prize-winning article for the Arkansas Times in 2002” about how far Mike Huckabee went to win good old boy Wayne Dumond’s freedom. Turns out, Mr. Dumond raped a young girl. Said girl identified him. Some inexcusable things happened to Mr. Dumond at the hands of some sick Deliverance wannabes and an equally psychopathic sheriff, about which more later. Mr. Dumond went to jail.

Then things got interesting. “Interesting.” Y’might wanna remember that word. Anyway, Mr. Dumond became a rightwing cause celebre for several reasons related to then governor Bill Clinton who wouldn’t pardon him. it just so happens that the girl who was raped was Clinton’s distant relative. Get it? Dumond’s mutilation (see below) and incarceration was Clintonian- style revenge.

To make a long, sleazy story shorter, Governor Huckabee, who succeeded Jim Guy Tucker who succeeded Bill Clinton, really, really believed Dumond got a “raw deal.” Huckabee was, as you might expect nearly totally clueless about the actual details of Dumond’s case. His sources for the passion of his belief in Dumond’s “raw deal?”

Would you be surprised to learn that Huckabee was going on the say-so of a wingnut preacher who used his radio squawk-time to proclaim that DuMond had been railroaded because the girl he kidnapped and raped was a distant cousin of Bil Clinton? Or that this wingnuttery was also supported by New York Post columnist Steven Dunleavy?

So Huckabee pardoned DuMond, and guess what happened next?

In August 2000, Dumond moved to Smithville, Mo., a rural community outside Kansas City. He had married a woman from the community who was active in a church group that had visited Dumond in prison and believed him to be innocent.

Only six weeks after Dumond moved to Missouri, Carol Sue Shields, of Parkville, Mo., was found murdered in a friend’s home. She had been sexually assaulted and suffocated.

In late June 2001, Missouri authorities charged Dumond with the first-degree murder of Shields. The Clay County, Mo., prosecutor’s office asserted that skin found under Shield’s fingernails, the result of an apparent struggle with her murderer, contained DNA that matched Dumond’s.

Missouri authorities also say that Dumond is the leading suspect in the rape and murder of a second woman, Sara Andrasek, of Platte County, Mo., though he has not yet been charged with that crime.

Andrasek was 23. Like Shields, Andrasek had her brassiere cut from her body; Dumond cut Stevens’ bra off before he raped her.

“It’s as if he wanted to leave us his calling card,” a Missouri law enforcement officer said.

So, Mike Huckabee — who didn’t bother to examine DuMond’s record, where he would have found ample evidence of vicious sexual violence against a number of women in the past — pardons DuMond on the basis of wingnut theories pointing to Bill Clinton’s involvement. Why were the nutcases so fixated on DuMond? Here’s where the story takes an even more grotesque Flannery O’Connor turn. While awaiting trial for the 1985 rape, DuMond was found lying in his trailer, his testicles slashed off. Though local authorities suspected the wounds were self-inflicted — something not unheard of among sexual psychopaths — DuMont claimed he’d been attacked by two men, one of whom said afterward that “Mr. C would be proud.” This was catnip to the conspiracy buffs, who decided that DuMond had been castrated on Bill Clinton’s orders. The cause of truth wasn’t helped by an Arkansas lawman’s astonishingly sick decision to display the testicles in a jar, which only fueled rumors of vigilante violence.

Collins, in her New York Times column, skipped over these gruesome facts to make chirpy, Maureen Dowd-style comments to the effect that Huckabee was in bad odor with the GOP because he supported better healthcare for children.

Somerby has devoted years to chronicling the press-inflicted damage on Bill Clinton and Al Gore, and he delivers the valedictory to Gail Collins’ work:

It’s Hard Pundit Law in New York and DC: The lunacy of the 1990s must be disappeared. You have to pretend that you can’t understand why Hillary Clinton is hated so much. (Disappeared: The fact that mainstream news orgs, all through the 1990s, allowed the nation’s biggest crackpots to accuse a first lady of serial murders.) You have to pretend that you don’t really know what happened to Candidate Gore. (Disappeared: The fact that the simpering apes of our mainstream press corps conducted a two-year war on his candidacy.) And now, you even invent fairy tales in which Governor Huckabee did what he did because he was so filled with compassion  — compassion DuMond appeared to deserve! (Disappeared: The utterly lunatic Clinton-hating which drove this event, which still helps fuel our politics.) As they giggle their way through their bowdlerized columns, there’s nothing these people won’t type and say to disappear the 1990s — in whose lunacy they and their news orgs played so vital a part. Kept from hearing about that insanity, we live with its ugly, inane, grimy aftermath, every single day of our lives.

Lie Another Day

October 10, 2007

Praise for Andrew Sullivan, I’m sorry to say, is always premature. No matter how much sense he’s been making in his attacks on the Bush administration’s multiple offenses against American decency, any mention of the Clintons sends him into a full-froth mode that Michelle Malkin would be hard-put to match. He is also playing some amusing memory games over (among other things) his behavior during the fight over Hillary’s healthcare proposal. Ezra Klein does the necessary work of keeping Sullivan from throwing the facts down his private memory hole.   

It’s Edwards By a Hair

August 6, 2007

The clown college Washington press corps and the pundits have found their new Al Gore, and his name is John Edwards. It doesn’t matter that Edwards is a great speaker with a bagful of ideas that could lead the Democrats back to their roots and true purpose in life. All we’re going to hear about is his hairstyle.

Charles Pierce is Esquire is pretty brilliant on this subject:

On May 15, Mike Huckabee, a greasy Rotarian gasbag from Arkansas, made a funny. Speaking at a debate with the other Republican presidential contenders, Huckabee said of the Congress that it had “spent money like John Edwards at a beauty shop.” This nasty little bit solicited gales of laughter from the studio audience and almost unalloyed approval from the traveling political press, and nobody enjoyed it more than the lads at The Politico, a brand-new political fanzine that combines the biting wit of a high school slam book with the nuanced policy analysis of Tiger Beat.

The line was an “instant classic,” raved Mike Allen.

Jonathan Martin said that the line “will dominate the news coverage in the days ahead.” But Roger Simon pointed out that the joke had certain factual errors in its delivery. It referred to a widely bruited story that Edwards had received a pair of $400 haircuts from a Beverly Hills stylist. Simon noted that the stylist had come to Edwards, so that saying something about Edwards being “at a beauty shop” was somewhat inaccurate.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the political culture seems to be determined to fag-bait John Edwards out of the race this time around. Channeling the conservative id from the swamps of its birth, as always, Ann Coulter flatly called him a “faggot” at a conference of conservative activists, and Rush Limbaugh regularly chaffs him as “the Breck Girl.” From there, apparently, the affair of the haircuts has mainstreamed Coulter’s position into more polite precincts. In April, Maureen Dowd wrote a column in The New York Times that speculated that the country was not ready for a “metrosexual in chief,” comparing Edwards unfavorably with her dear departed Irish-cop daddy, who used to get his hair cut at the Senate barbershop for fifty cents. You could almost hear the gentle ringing of sputum in the spittoons. Thus are the issues. Thus are the watchdogs. Thus are the politics while people are dying.

The important thing to remember is that toughness is a semiotic dumb show now. In that same debate in which Mike Huckabee flexed for the camera, John McCain pointed out that in his experience, which is considerable, torture doesn’t work. On this, he was disputed by a former mayor of New York, who once was tortured by the thought that his second wife would not vacate the mayoral digs in favor of his second mistress, and the former governor of Massachusetts, who once was tortured by the fact that gay people were getting married. Toughness was now a performance skill in a cowardly country taught to fear the best things about itself.

A candidate’s actual biography doesn’t matter; George H. W. Bush flew fighter planes when he was a teenager, and he couldn’t overcome the “wimp factor” against Ronald Reagan, whose primary combat experience was battling his way to the bar at the Brown Derby. In the three major national elections of his life, George W. Bush, who couldn’t find Alabama while he was serving in the National Guard, defeated three men — Al Gore, John McCain, and John Kerry — who had volunteered to go to Vietnam, and he did so by out-butching them. Kerry’s awkwardness in hunting clothes somehow trumped Bush’s fear of horses.

Courage and manliness had gone completely postmodern. They depended on art direction and set design. As long as you could convince people you had them, you did. The Democratic party needed to cowboy up a little, or else that hickory-smoked hunk of manhood known as W. would ride off with a permanent Republican majority into several decades’ worth of sunsets. Seven years later, of course, the buckaroo from Crawford has ridden himself off a cliff and taken the country with him. The smoke-’em-out, dead-or-alive rhetoric is now a desiccated skeleton in the distant sand. The unity and resilience demonstrated in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 has been transformed by a floundering political party and a useless national media into the cheapest kind of cardboard macho. Which doesn’t mean it doesn’t maintain its attractions.

Thus was the debate in which Huckabee cracked wise at John Edwards’s expense a fascinating exercise in political dick-waving. Mitt Romney talked about wanting to “double” the prison at Guantánamo Bay, and Tom Tancredo cited Jack Bauer, the fictional terrorist-stopper from Fox’s hit 24. Only poor McCain sounded a note of warning about the efficacy of torture, and what in the hell does he know about it, anyway? Not one of them could muster the courage to criticize by name a president whose performance had lodged his poll numbers in the vicinity of those owned by scabies and the mange. They’re not going to run to end the war, none of them, except Ron Paul, the libertarian crank from Texas. They’re wedded to the war not just by virtue of being in the same party as the president who launched it, but because — as a piece of public performance — it is the perfect demonstration of the macho Kabuki that has come to define the politics by which they believe they have succeeded.

The war is a pestilence. Two thirds of the country knows it and suspects, angrily, who’s to blame for it. But Mike Huckabee made his joke, and all the very manly men had a big old laugh about it, even though John Edwards shows more steel just getting out of bed in the morning than most of them did on the bravest day they ever lived.

For the record, I can get along just fine with Barack Obama as the presidential nominee. I think it’s actually pretty cool that the Democrats have two strong, intellectually and political solid contenders in the race while the Republican field looks like a casting call for the sequel to Quest for Fire. Hillary ain’t gonna get it. 

If Barack gets the nomination, he wins. Ditto Edwards. That’s the good news. But in a perfect universe ruled by me, Edwards would be the nominee.

Each decade gets the journalism movie it deserves. In the 1970s, the key journalism movie was All the President’s Men. In the 1980s, it was Absence of Malice. In the 1990s, it was The Paper.

But in the first decade of the 21st century, the defining journalism movie isn’t even about journalism or newspapering. It’s Memento, the story of Leonard Shelby, a man who has been rendered incapable of forming new memories, and forgets anything that happened more than 15 minutes earlier. This makes him vulnerable to manipulation as he goes about trying to get revenge against the man who killed his wife. First he kills a drug dealer because of false evidence planted by a snitch, then he kills the snitch because of false evidence planted by the drug dealer’s girlfriend. And yet he has no memory of either killing, and continues thinking of himself as a righteous avenger even as he drives around in the car ad clothing of one of his victims. I’m sorry if this spoils anything for you, but the movie’s been out for a while, and if you’re still puzzling over the plot, maybe you’ll be grateful for the help.

Eric Pooley of Time magazine could certainly use some help. Because, as Bob Somerby demonstrates over at The Daily Howler, Pooley’s friendly article about Al Gore appears to have been written in a Leonard Shelbyesque limbo. Pooley in 2007 is ready to exonerate Gore of the ridiculous, constantly refuted and endlessly rebooted charge that he claimed to have invented in the Internet. Somerby, blessed with a long memory and ready access to archived articles, addresses the question of how Gore got slapped with that charge in the first place. Turns out it was because of mindless pack journalism practiced by people such as . . . Eric Pooley!

To his credit, Pooley self-corrected in August 2000 . . . but very few of his colleagues did. They kept reciting this Standard False Claim until they’d sent Bush to the White House. Clinton’s blow jobs had been very troubling—and his chosen successor just mustn’t succeed! So they spent two years mouthing all manner of tripe. Today, they say it was bogus.

Today, the Standard Story has changed a bit—you’re permitted to know that Gore never said it. What you still can never be told: It was the mainstream press corps which fed you this tale—and sent George Bush to the White House. Somehow, that part keeps slipping their minds as they tell you their new, improved tale: Al Gore never said he invented the Net. We’re not sure how that gained traction.

If Al Gore does succumb to the blandishments of admirers and run for reelection to the presidency, watching and reading the campaign coverage will have the same surrealistic air of the scene in Memento where Leonard, discovering a bloodied-up man sitting bound and gagged in his closet, pulls off the gag and asks, “Who did this to you?” To which the man replies, “You did.”

Looking back on the way the press helped Bush sell his sleazy war in Iraq, and the adolescent tone of the coverage that helped diminish Gore and Kerry while pumping up the stature of our pipsqueak president, I’d say we’re all in the same position as that guy in the closet.

I wrote off David Broder years ago as droopy parrot whose endless squawking of conventional wisdom had grown too tired even to be worth refuting. But, boy, it sure is startling to read this Harper’s collection of his utterances and come up against the cold, hard fact that the so-called dean of Washington pundits is not just out of it, but so lost in his own private Idaho that it’s a wonder he can feed himself.

Come to think of it — can he feed himself? Or are his meals spooned into his mouth the way Republican spin-points are ladled into his columns?

Here’s a choice item to bear in mind tomorrow night as you watch the Bill Moyers documentary on how the Bushies played the press like a fiddle in the months leading up to the Iraq invasion:

Let me disclose my own bias in this matter. I like Karl Rove. In the days when he was operating from Austin, we had many long and rewarding conversations. I have eaten quail at his table and admired the splendid Hill Country landscape from the porch of the historic cabin Karl and his wife Darby found miles away and had carted to its present site on their land. (May 18, 2003)

A plateful of quail on Rove’s porch in exchange for endless columns announcing Bush’s renewed strengths as a president, and the imminence of a victory in Iraq, always just beyond the next corner. That Broder sure is one cheap date.

Backbone Shortage

April 24, 2007

Tomorrow night, Bill Moyers turns the TV cameras on the journalists and news merchants who not only let Bush get away with launching the Iraq war on the basis of lies and twisted “evidence,” but actively helped him put one over on the American people.

Editor & Publisher has previewed the show, and the verdict is clear — Moyers has done a brilliant job:

Among the few heroes of this devastating film are reporters with the Knight Ridder/McClatchy bureau in D.C. Tragically late, Walter Isaacson, who headed CNN, observes, “The people at Knight Ridder were calling the colonels and the lieutenants and the people in the CIA and finding out, you know, that the intelligence is not very good. We should’ve all been doing that.”At the close, Moyers mentions some of the chief proponents of the war who refused to speak to him for this program, including Thomas Friedman, Bill Kristol, Roger Ailes, Charles Krauthammer, Judith Miller, and William Safire.

But Dan Rather, the former CBS anchor, admits, “I don’t think there is any excuse for, you know, my performance and the performance of the press in general in the roll up to the war . . . We didn’t dig enough. And we shouldn’t have been fooled in this way.” Bob Simon, who had strong doubts about evidence for war, was asked by Moyers if he pushed any of the top brass at CBS to “dig deeper,” and he replies, “No, in all honesty, with a thousand mea culpas . . . nope, I don’t think we followed up on this.”

Instead he covered the marketing of the war in a “softer” way, explaining to Moyers: “I think we all felt from the beginning that to deal with a subject as explosive as this, we should keep it, in a way, almost light – if that doesn’t seem ridiculous.”

Moyers replies: “Going to war, almost light.”

Walter Isaacson is pushed hard by Moyers and finally admits, “We didn’t question our sources enough.” But why? Isaacson notes there was “almost a patriotism police” after 9/11 and when the network showed civilian casualties it would get phone calls from advertisers and the administration and “big people in corporations were calling up and saying, ‘You’re being anti-American here.'”

Moyers then mentions that Isaacson had sent a memo to staff, leaked to the Washington Post, in which he declared, “It seems perverse to focus too much on the casualties or hardship in
Afghanistan” and ordered them to balance any such images with reminders of 9-11. Moyers also asserts that editors at the Panama City (Fla.
) News-Herald received an order from above, “Do not use photos on Page 1A showing civilian casualties. Our sister paper has done so and received hundreds and hundreds of threatening emails.”Walter Pincus of the Washington Post explains that even at his paper reporters “do worry about sort of getting out ahead of something.” But Moyers gives credit to Charles J. Hanley of The Associated Press for trying, in vain, to draw more attention to United Nations inspectors failing to find WMD in early 2003.

I know something about the political pressures that can be brought to bear on journalists even at the local and regional level, so I am not without sympathy for the reporters who felt they were being boxed in after 9/11.

But the fact remains that there were journalists actually doing their jobs and raising the necessary doubts, and they could not make headway. Decades of wingnut propaganda about “liberal bias” and ideological complaint mills like Brent Bozell’s Accuracy in Media have left an imprint on management and reporters alike. Too often they seemed to have internalized the conservative dogma that any challenging question aimed at a Republican president is de facto bias. Meanwhile, the newspaper industry is withering and television news has largely abandoned any pretense at serious journalism.

The news coverage during the runup to this sleazy war was literally surrealistic: TV screens framed in flag graphics and bunting while reporters duly transcribed the latest load of lies, pundits swooning in admiration as some of the most contemptible people ever to infest the White House and Congress greased the skids for an invasion, press conferences during which Bush’s robotic repetition of discredited spin points and jingoistic appeals went unchallenged.

The leaders we rely on to tell us the truth instead lied to us. The reporters we rely on to question those leaders instead stood back and waved flags. They didn’t want to look unpatriotic. True patriots ask questions of their leaders.

Moyers is a true patriot. Would that there were more like him.