Media Blog

Leaning on the Post

Now that NBC News and the New York Times have sanctimoniously declared the “civil war” debate over, left-leaning blogs are ratcheting up the pressure on other news organizations — specifically the Washington Post – to fall in line. Many have misconstrued this quote from the Post’s Dana Priest:

[Hardball host Chris] MATTHEWS: It seems to me the President’s afraid that people will begin to think it is a civil war and not the way he wants to define it, which is we gotta fight them there before they fight us here.
PRIEST: Well, I think one of the reasons the President resists that label is because it equates almost with a failure of U.S. policy. I will say for the Washington Post, we have not labeled it a civil war. I have asked around to see why not or see what’s the thinking on that and really our reporters have not filed that. We try to avoid the labels, particularly when the elected government itself does not call its situation a civil war. I certainly — and I would agree with General McCaffrey on this — absolutely the level of violence equals a civil war.

John Amato at the heavily trafficked Crooks and Liars posted the video of the exchange with the headline, “Washington Post equals White House propaganda on Iraq.” And Bob Fertik at wrote, “… now we have the smoking gun: the Post refuses to call Iraq a “civil war” – despite objective reality – simply because the imperialists in our government refuse to do so.”
It seems pretty clear to me that Priest was referring to the elected government of Iraq, not the United States. (Liberal blog Think Progress is equally critical of the Post, but at least gets the quote right.)
Meanwhile, The American Prospect’s Greg Sargent is pressing the Post over this quote from publisher Len Downie, Jr.:

“We just describe what goes on everyday. We don’t have a policy about it. We are not making judgments one way or another. The language in the stories is very precise when dealing with it. At various times people say it is ‘close to a civil war,’ but we don’t have a policy about it.”

Despite Downie’s clear language (“We don’t have a policy about it”), Sargent insists that he’s ducking the question of “whether [the Post‘s] reporters or editors are allowed to describe the Iraq conflict as a ‘civil war’ in the Post’s pages.”
It appears from Downie’s quote that they are free to do so. But that’s not enough, and this is why NBC’s pompous declaration was so pig-headed and pernicious. Reasonable people can and should disagree about the nature of the violence in Iraq. Our debates over these disagreements are in fact essential to understanding the mission our troops are tasked with carrying out and how best they can accomplish it.
But by declaring a state of civil war to be the objectively true nature of the conflict in Iraq, NBC News is informing the public that that debate is over, when clearly it is not (h/t Glenn Reynolds).
Some, like CBS blogger Vaughn Ververs, are just happy that NBC appears to have revived that debate. But that was not NBC’s intention, and if it had been NBC should have selected an alternative way to go about it. Now, left-leaning bloggers are seizing upon NBC’s declaration as some sort of vindication of their commonly held view that the U.S. should withdraw from Iraq as soon as possible, and they are going after any news organization that doesn’t get with the program.
Is this how old media thinks it’s going to shore up its own relevance? By picking a side and calling it the objective truth?

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