May 24, 2015

Fox's Howard Kurtz did his best to try to reduce the debate we've seen over who is at fault for the way things have gone in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East and the rise of ISIS as just some partisan food fight between his network and MSNBC on this Sunday's Media Buzz.

After showing some footage of his cohort Sean Hannity blaming President Obama and Hillary Clinton for all of our problems in the Middle East, and of Al Sharpton on MSBC saying the rise of ISIS is a “very real consequence from the U.S. invasion of Iraq,” here's how Kurtz framed the rest of the segment.

KURTZ: I feel like I'm back in 2003. Is there too much partisan point scoring here?

I assume by “partisan point scoring” Kurtz one side lying and the other one telling the truth, but I digress. Of course his guest, Susan Ferrechio from the right-wing rag the Washington Examiner agreed with Kurtz, and used it as an opportunity to immediately attack President Obama, or “both sides” if we're talking about the Congress.

FERRECHIO: There's no... there's nothing to cover in terms of what to do next and that's because... and what's missing here is the coverage of how Congress and the White House are unable and unwilling to come up with a real strategy for dealing with the crisis in the Middle East. There's nothing to write about, but there's also very little coverage of the fact that they're not coming up with a plan.

She obviously doesn't watch Fox, or doesn't want the viewers to know she does, because that's a constant attack we hear from those on the right and Republican members of Congress at the White House.

After Kurtz and his other guest, Mara Liasson admitted that we're not hearing much from Republicans on what they would do moving forward and that they probably would not be doing a whole lot differently than what we're seeing Obama do today, Fox regular Chris Stirewalt admitted that the plan from most Republicans is basically bombs away, Kurtz turned the conversation back to the media coverage.

KURTZ: Well, come back to the cable segments, because I've been watching Chris Matthews as an example from MSNBC for two weeks and he is just going haywire over Dick Cheney as he calls him, and fighting again about this is all Bush's fault and then you have a lot of conservatives saying well, if Obama hadn't withdrawn the last 10,000 troops, although there was an agreement negotiated by Bush, you know, to keep the troops. And it just seems like it is so much easier to look at the past than deal with the present.

Of course Kurtz doesn't want the Iraq invasion re-litigated, because he and his cohorts in the media would have to take responsibility for their part in helping to lie us into that war, and we can't have that now, can we? Matthews' previous support for the invasion and his flip-flopping on the issue were missing from the discussion as well.

I agree it's not an easy decision on how to go forward not that the entire region is in turmoil, but that doesn't mean we should not be debating how we got there, what we're doing there now and whether our presence is going to make things better or worse. We should have been having the debate over whether it was right to invade Iraq before we went in there, but thanks to Kurtz and his ilk, that conversation was shut down. Anyone who opposed the invasion was called a traitor, unpatriotic and shouted down by the right.

Here's some of FAIR's reporting on Kurtz from back in 2009: The Short, Happy Iraq War of Howard Kurtz:

In a column he wrote on April 14, 2003,* Kurtz congratulated the press for its coverage of the just-concluded Iraq War. The piece provides a useful guide to the conventional wisdom that guides not just journalism, but also the profession’s most powerful internal critics.

Kurtz began, “It’s been the best of times and the worst of times for journalists.” On the negative side, “The worst because they nearly got submerged in a sea of second-guessing just days into the fighting.” After remarking that “unnamed critics, it turns out, are never in short supply,” he elaborated by citing some examples of apparently too-pessimistic reporting:

* The Washington Post, March 27: “Despite the rapid advance of Army and Marine forces across Iraq over the past week, some senior U.S. military officers are now convinced that the war is likely to last months and will require considerably more combat power than is now on hand there and in Kuwait, senior defense officials said yesterday.”

* Los Angeles Times, March 28: “The stiff resistance shown by Iraqi forces in the last week has forced administration officials to consider the prospect of a longer, costlier war.”

* The New York Times, April 1: “Long-simmering tensions between Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Army commanders have erupted in a series of complaints from officers on the Iraqi battlefield that the Pentagon has not sent enough troops to wage the war as they want to fight it.”

So journalists who were on the right track–raising questions (“second-guessing”) about whether the war would last “months,” or noticing tensions between military commanders and Rumsfeld–were the “worst,” according to Kurtz. He also stuck up for Dick Cheney, writing: On the other hand, Newsweek‘s “Conventional Wisdom Watch” gave Cheney a down arrow: “Tells Meet the Press just before war, ‘We will be greeted as liberators.’ An arrogant blunder for the ages.” Or not.

The arrogant blunder here seems to be all Kurtz’s.

Kurtz recalled other highlights from the media’s performance:

No anchor-gab was needed when it came to the powerful images produced by this short war. The American POWs cruelly displayed by the Iraqis; the dazed face of the wounded Jessica Lynch during the rescue that freed her; the sheer joy of Baghdad residents hacking away at that Saddam statue. The footage sent the world a message more compelling than a thousand op-ed pieces or a million propaganda leaflets dropped from U.S. planes.

Of course, there was plenty of “anchor-gab” about the Jessica Lynch “rescue” and the Saddam Hussein statue, which were indeed more effective than leaflets dropped from planes–precisely because they were celebrated by the press corps in wildly exaggerated accounts rather than exposed as the propaganda stunts they were (London Times, 4/16/03; L.A. Times, 6/3/04).

There were other lessons to be learned, according to Kurtz, from the other short war the U.S. had just finished: “Were parts of the media too downbeat about the war’s early setbacks? Sure. Trying to assess a war after a week or two is a high-wire act, as journalists learned after the infamous ‘quagmire’ pieces about Afghanistan.” He elaborated: Now comes the difficult part of the story–forming a government, rebuilding a shattered country, fending off suicide attacks–that lacks the obvious drama of toppling a brutal dictator. (Anyone seen a television report from Kabul lately?) Once the embedded reporters are liberated, it’s all too easy to imagine the media drifting off to other obsessions while the future of Iraq is hammered out.

Kurtz was right about one thing, in retrospect: Corporate media did eventually “drift off” from Iraq–hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of dollars later. In the meantime, that forgotten Afghanistan conflict is still underway, with more U.S. troops on the way.

And he hasn't gotten any better since, as you can see in the clip above.

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