Bill Moyers on Media and Iraq: When Lies Become Truth, Soldiers Die

On Christopher Lydon's radio show, several journalists recounted their recent dinner with David Halberstam shortly before his death.

Halberstam was mournful at the decline of the media in the days of Iraq, remembering how he and others warned the nation, and their readers, in the early days of the Vietnam War.

Bill Moyers reports the story well in his PBS special about the media and Iraq.

When it mattered, in 2002 and 2003, virtually the entire American major media covered Iraq the way Pravda covered the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. They jumped on what they believed was the winning side politically, maintained their insider power base, and sustained the high income that would have been threatened if they reported the truth.

The front page of the New York Times became the propaganda vehicle for neoconservative theory and lies threatening mushroom clouds. Within hours, Tim Russert sat meekly while Dick Cheney repeated the neoconservative talking points with dire words "On Meet The Press," quoting the New York Times, which had printed the talking points.

Meanwhile, Tom Friedman of the Times, with an excited tone of voice, championed the Iraq war as a wonderful moment to remake the Middle East, allegedly his field of expertise. When it didn't work at first, he said the next six months were crucial. A year later, he said the next six months were crucial. Now he says he was warning everybody all along how hard it would be.

In the age of Iraq, there is the Faustian union of commentariat and consultariat classes. So turn on your television and you'll see one of America's wealthiest political consultants, who has lost every presidential campaign since 1972, telling us how to win elections. What was he doing before the war? He was telling an experienced Democratic senator to send young men and women to die in war, so he could pad his national-security resume.

Now we can see him on television, 3,000 Gold Star Mothers later and perhaps a million bucks wealthier, feeling really great about himself and what an awful war this is.

In his final days David Halberstam mourned the loss of journalism as journalism, the loss of reporting as reporting, and the birth of this dark age of sycophancy in media. Journalists have largely become indistinguishable from the insider classes they cover, dining on the inside at the seat of power, aiming at the big time of book deals, television shows and big fat bank accounts at the expense of professionalism and truth.

For those who missed it, pull up the C-SPAN coverage of the White House Correspondents Dinner. The beginning looked like Academy Awards night: red carpet, dramatic entrance by the celebrity stars, the men dashing in their tuxedos and women glamorous in their gowns. "Hey, there's Wolf! Wow, it's Andrea! George, George!!!!" All with a demure and well-timed smile aimed at the red light on the camera.

Life is good for the glamorous who cheered for profit when the young were sent to die in the sands of Arabia, as they preened at the self-glorifying dinners where they honor each other for a job well done.

It's been a good war for companies that make ripoff profits and media that have turned ripoff journalism into a multi-million-dollar art form.

It's been a great war for journalists who morph into insiders, taking their handouts from their sources, reaping huge wealth by repeating spin and calling it news, all the while dining in elegance at the seat of power, believing "it's a wonderful life" and smiling for the cameras when fans greet them at gala dinners.

There are important exceptions: Sy Hersh and Mary Mapes turning the lights on Abu Ghraib, Tom Ricks reporting on the military with honor, Dana Priest exposing the shame of treatment of wounded troops, James Risen revealing the massive eavesdropping without court order, Bob Parry offering a different point of view on consortiumnews.com, Mark Karlin on the site buzzflash.com and Rob Kall on opednews.com ferreting out major stories often unrecognized by the major media. Then there's smirkingchimp.com, which not only has the most appropriate name for the modern era but is another outlet for truth in news, and Caro Kay on makethemaccountable.com.

It is often said, and with some truth, that the problem with major media is corporatization, which limits dissent, stifles truth, corrupts reporting and is inclined to serve the regulatory master of the government and the financial master of Wall Street.

I submit an equal and possibly greater problem is the personal corporatization of many who have given up the profession
of reporting to turn themselves into personal corporations and to turn their "journalism" into the personal pursuit of wealth, fame and vainglorious ego.

They become sycophants, not journalists. They repeat conventional wisdom, not reporting real news. They worship at the altar of their sources, and deprive their readers and viewers of truth that offends the powerful and threatens their insider position. They support each other and promote each other in their own little but lucrative world divorced from their customers, their country and the traditional standards of what used to be their profession.

For some, there will be a wall put up, where we honor the dead.

For others, they walk down red carpets and wave with camera-ready smiles, because for them, it sure has been a really great war.