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Why WPost's Hiatt Should Be Fired

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            Source: Consortium News


Fred Hiatt, editorial page editor of the Washington Post.

What is perhaps most remarkable about the 10th anniversary of President George W. Bush's war of aggression in Iraq is that almost no one who aided and abetted that catastrophic and illegal decision has been held accountable in any meaningful way.

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That applies to Bush and his senior advisers who haven't spent a single day inside a jail cell; it applies to Official Washington's well-funded think tanks where neoconservatives still dominate; and it applies to the national news media where journalists and pundits who lost jobs for disseminating pro-war propaganda can be counted on one finger (Judith Miller of the New York Times).

Yet, arguably the most egregious example of the news media failing to exact serious accountability for getting this major historical event wrong is the case of Fred Hiatt, who was the editorial-page editor of the Washington Post when it served as drum major for the invade-Iraq parade and who still holds the same prestigious position 10 years later.

How is that possible? I've seen senior news executives dissect the work of honest journalists searching for minor flaws in articles to justify destroying their careers (i.e. what the San Jose Mercury News did to Gary Webb over his courageous reporting on Nicaraguan Contra-cocaine trafficking in the 1990s).

So how could Hiatt still have the same important job at the Washington Post after being catastrophically wrong about the justifications for going to war -- and after smearing war critics who tried to expose some of Bush's lies to the American people? How could the U.S. news media be so upside-down in its principles that honest journalists get fly-specked and fired, while dishonest ones get life-time job security?

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The short answer, I suppose, is that Hiatt was just doing what the Graham family, which still controls the newspaper, wanted done. From my days at Newsweek, which was then part of the Washington Post Company, I had seen this drift toward neoconservatism at the highest editorial ranks, the well-dressed and well-bred men preferred by publisher Katharine Graham and her son Donald.

But how arrogant can one ruling-class family be? And what does it say about future international crises that the Washington Post remains a highly influential newspaper in the nation's capital? Shouldn't the Post, at minimum, have demonstrated some commitment to journalistic integrity by shaking up its editorial page after the truth about the Iraq War deceptions became painfully apparent?

Bashing Gore

If the system were working as it should -- in the months before the Iraq invasion -- you might have expected the Post to have encouraged a healthy debate that reflected diverse opinions from experts in the fields of government, diplomacy, academia, the military and the broader American public. War, after all, is not a trivial matter.

Instead, the Post's editorial section served as a pro-war bulletin board, posting neoconservative manifestos attesting to the wisdom of invading Iraq and tacking up harsh indictments of Americans who dissented from Bush's war plans.

Post readers often learned about voices of dissent only by reading Post columnists denouncing the dissenters, a scene reminiscent of a totalitarian society where dissidents never get space to express their opinions but are still excoriated in the official media.

For instance, on Sept. 23, 2002, when former Vice President Al Gore gave a speech criticizing Bush's "preemptive war" doctrine and Bush's push for the Iraq invasion, Gore's talk got scant media coverage, but still elicited a round of Gore-bashing on the TV talk shows and on the Post's Op-Ed page.

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Post columnist Michael Kelly called Gore's speech "dishonest, cheap, low" before labeling it "wretched. It was vile. It was contemptible." [Washington Post, Sept. 25, 2002] Post columnist Charles Krauthammer added that the speech was "a series of cheap shots strung together without logic or coherence." [Washington Post, Sept. 27, 2002]

While the Post's wrong-headedness on the Iraq War extended into its news pages -- with the rare skeptical article either buried or spiked -- Hiatt's editorial section was like a chorus with virtually every columnist singing from the same pro-invasion song book and Hiatt's editorials serving as lead vocalist.

A study by Columbia University journalism professor Todd Gitlin noted, "The [Post] editorials during December [2002] and January [2003] numbered nine, and all were hawkish." [American Prospect, April 1, 2003]

The Post's martial harmony reached its crescendo after Secretary of State Colin Powell made his bogus presentation to the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003, accusing Iraq of hiding vast stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.

The next day, Hiatt's lead editorial hailed Powell's evidence as "irrefutable" and chastised any remaining skeptics. "It is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction," the editorial said. Hiatt's judgment was echoed across the Post's Op-Ed page, with Post columnists from Right to Left singing the same note of misguided consensus.

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
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