In its feeble mea culpa, Washington Post editors look back at its lack of critical reporting in the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq and still manage to miss what its role should've been.

The Post story recalls:

From August 2002 through the March 19, 2003, launch of the war, The Post ran more than 140 front-page stories that focused heavily on administration rhetoric against Iraq. Some examples: "Cheney Says Iraqi Strike Is Justified"; "War Cabinet Argues for Iraq Attack"; "Bush Tells United Nations It Must Stand Up to Hussein or U.S. Will"; "Bush Cites Urgent Iraqi Threat"; "Bush Tells Troops: Prepare for War."

Reporter Karen DeYoung, a former assistant managing editor who covered the prewar diplomacy, said contrary information sometimes got lost.

"If there's something I would do differently -- and it's always easy in hindsight -- the top of the story would say, 'We're going to war, we're going to war against evil.' But later down it would say, 'But some people are questioning it.' The caution and the questioning was buried underneath the drumbeat. . . . The hugeness of the war preparation story tended to drown out a lot of that stuff."

In other words, the media functioned EXACTLY as the Bush administration wanted: Concerned not with balance, fairness or a critical eye but with parroting the White House's insupportable assertions.

As Americans, we should be horrified at such an idea, yet it doesn't stop there.

Bush, Vice President Cheney and other administration officials had no problem commanding prime real estate in the paper, even when their warnings were repetitive. "We are inevitably the mouthpiece for whatever administration is in power," DeYoung said. "If the president stands up and says something, we report what the president said." And if contrary arguments are put "in the eighth paragraph, where they're not on the front page, a lot of people don't read that far."

Ultimately, it was a betrayal of the public trust on behalf of both the government and its chief watchdog, and the public deserves an apology.

Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. also "misunderestimates" -- to use a Bushism -- opposition to the so-called war.

Across the country, "the voices raising questions about the war were lonely ones," Downie said. "We didn't pay enough attention to the minority."

No, Len. You didn't pay enough attention to the FACTS.

"People who were opposed to the war from the beginning and have been critical of the media's coverage in the period before the war have this belief that somehow the media should have crusaded against the war," Downie said. "They have the mistaken impression that somehow if the media's coverage had been different, there wouldn't have been a war."

How convenient it is for him to brush aside the idea that the media matters. But perhaps if the media's coverage had been PRESENT, there might not have been a protracted military action in Iraq today.


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