The New York Review of Books Lays Out the Press’s Pre-Iraq Failures

Early in his hour-long interview with President Bush on “Meet the Press” today, Tim Russert (at this late date) took the stance that he, Russert, is having a hard time wrapping his head around the notion of the U.S. as an aggressor, staging pre-emptive assaults to snuff out incompletely-documented threats to the country’s security.

That’s nice Tim, that you’ve discovered journalism-with-bite — but where were you before the war? Who among the press was asking the hard questions about U.S. intelligence on Iraq at a time when it might have mattered? Readers who saw the revamped Russert on “Meet The Press” (“Look, Ma, I have new teeth!”) might want to supplement that with a long read from the current New York Review of Books, a thorough, somewhat tedious, but meticulous analysis of who did what reporting on that issue back when it mattered.

The answer: By and large, the press swallowed the questionable intelligence declarations without investigating their provenance. The NYRB piece tells in detail who reported what, and who failed to report much of anything. Now that the press is scrambling to cover its own rear on this issue just as some administration officials are, it makes for an enlightening read.

One surprise: The NYRB found that the Knight Ridder Washington bureau pretty much led the way with enterprising reporting on this one. But, because KR has no newspaper in either New York or Washington, most Bigfoots in the Washington press corp either didn’t bother to read their stuff, or, for the most part, chose not to follow up on it.


Postscript: An alert reader has pointed out that Campaign Desk should have noted that Michael Massing, the author of the New York Review of Books piece cited in this item, is a Columbia Journalism Review contributing editor. He’s absolutely right about that.

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Steve Lovelady was editor of CJR Daily.