Paul Krugman on Media and War

Question: Does the media bear responsibility for the war in Iraq?

Paul Krugman: Oh enormous.  There was … acceptance of what the administration was saying, and there was a marginalization of dissenting views.  There were plenty of indicators that something was wrong with the case for war.  You just couldn’t get them published in most newspapers.  You couldn’t see them on TV.  Even the demonstrations against the war were downplayed.  No this was a . . . a terrible breach.  You know there are only a few news organizations that came out with honor.  Sorry to say not my employers.  They . . . they blew it.  And so Knight Ridder and … is about the only U.S. newspaper organization that can really say that, “We did our job.”

Question: What happened?

It was partly the post 9-11 thing, the rallying.  You know when there’s a war emergency, people rally around the government no matter how stupid the war and no matter how bad the government.  So you know I . . . I console myself to what happened in America by remembering how Argentina rallied around the … when they invaded the Falkland Islands.  The worst government you could imagine, the stupidest war you could imagine, and even so people rallied around it.  Still you do expect the guardians, you know, of the media to be better.  They ….  Why not . . .  Oh there was a whole bunch of things.  There was a lot of political pressure.  It was not fun to be a critic of the Bush administration in 2002.  It was actually terrifying.  The mail you got; the phone calls; the phone calls to management; the phone calls from advertisers who, you know, said, “What is this guy doing?”  It was . . . and a lot of organizations just caved to that.

The issue of access . . .  A lot of news organizations, you know, they think it’s terribly important that they have access to the White House.  One of the reasons Knight Ridder did so well is that they were sort of lower . . . lower prestige news organization that wouldn’t have had access anyway, so they went and did actual reporting and talked to lower level officials who told them this case for war is nonsense.  I don’t . . .   You know it was . . . they were . . . it was a very bad scene.  Basically everyone caved in, and people who should have had really good judgment . . .  People who had all the reasons . . . every reason to have been able to realize this was gonna be a disaster were just afraid.  It was . . . everyone was . . . everyone wanted to be on what they perceived to be the winning side politically.

Question: Should the public trust the press again?

Paul Krugman: Not quite, not yet.  Read critically.  It would help if they would not buy the similar sales job that’s being tried for Iran, which is unfortunately . . . it’s not too good.  I mean there are . . . there are flashes.  You see better reporting now and then more.  But yeah, we need . . .  There’s been a big comedown since the days of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers.  And I have yet to see major news organizations take on that crusading spirit on behalf of the public.

Paul Krugman places serious blame for the war on the media.

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