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Profile: Norman Solomon
Norman Solomon was a participant or observer in the following events:
The New York Times again finds itself apologizing for its failures in covering the outing of Valerie Plame Wilson and its handling, or lack of handling, of the newspaper’s star reporter, Judith Miller, who recently testified as to her knowledge of the matter (see September 30, 2005). It also admits that much of Miller’s prewar reporting on Iraq was “totally wrong.” Although the paper’s publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, and its executive editor, Bill Keller, supported Miller’s decision to go to jail rather than reveal the source of her knowledge about Plame Wilson’s CIA identity (see July 6, 2005), neither knew many details of Miller’s conversations with her source, former White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Neither knew, for example, that Miller’s claim of not learning Plame Wilson’s identity from Libby was undermined by her own notes. Ultimately, both Sulzberger and Keller left most of the decisions on how to handle the situation to Miller herself. “This car had her hand on the wheel because she was the one at risk,” says Sulzberger. While Miller continues to portray her decision to go to jail as one rooted in principle, critics say that she and the Times were not protecting a whistleblower, but an administration source bent on crushing dissent. Asked what she regretted about the Times’s handling of the matter, managing editor Jill Abramson says, “The entire thing.”
'I Got It Totally Wrong' - Many in the newsroom and in the editorial staff believed that Miller’s prewar articles on Iraq’s WMD—articles that have long been proven to be based largely on false information from unreliable Iraqi defectors (see December 20, 2001, September 18, 2002, March 19-20, 2003, July 25, 2003, and Autumn 2003)—unfairly advanced the administration’s case for war. Miller operated with a level of autonomy other reporters found unusual and distressing, especially since many of them believed her reporting verged on administration propaganda. Investigative editor Douglas Frantz recalls that Miller once called herself “Miss Run Amok”; when he asked her what she meant, she replied, “I can do whatever I want.” Miller now admits her reports were largely specious. “WMD—I got it totally wrong,” she says. “The analysts, the experts, and the journalists who covered them—we were all wrong. If your sources are wrong, you are wrong. I did the best job that I could.”
Not a Clear-Cut Decision to Fight - Keller says: “I wish it had been a clear-cut whistle-blower case. I wish it had been a reporter who came with less public baggage.” Times reporter Todd Purdom says: “Everyone admires our paper’s willingness to stand behind us and our work, but most people I talk to have been troubled and puzzled by Judy’s seeming ability to operate outside of conventional reportorial channels and managerial controls. Partly because of that, many people have worried about whether this was the proper fight to fight.” For her part, Miller says she intends to take some time off and perhaps write a book about her ordeal. She says she wants to get back into investigative reporting, and continue to cover “the same thing I’ve always covered—threats to our country.” [New York Times, 10/16/2005]
Criticism of Miller, Times - The next day, columnist Norman Solomon will write, “It now seems that Miller functioned with more accountability to US military intelligence officials than to New York Times editors.” Solomon also notes that in her July 8, 2003 meeting with White House official Lewis Libby (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003), Miller expressed frustration at the government’s refusal to allow her “to discuss with editors some of the more sensitive information about Iraq.” Solomon writes: “There’s nothing wrong with this picture if Judith Miller is an intelligence operative for the US government. But if she’s supposed to be a journalist, this is a preposterous situation—and the fact that the New York Times has tolerated it tells us a lot about that newspaper.” Solomon also notes that Miller’s claim of “analysts, the experts, and the journalists who covered them” were “all wrong” about Iraqi WMD is itself wrong. “Some very experienced weapons inspectors—including [the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency] Mohamed ElBaradei, [former chief UN weapons inspector] Hans Blix, and [former UN weapons inspector] Scott Ritter—challenged key assertions from the White House,” he writes. “Well before the invasion, many other analysts also disputed various aspects of the US government’s claims about WMDs in Iraq.… Meanwhile journalists at some British newspapers, including The Independent and The Guardian, raised tough questions that were virtually ignored by mainstream US reporters in the Washington press corps.… [T]he Times did not ‘fall for misinformation’ as much as jump for it. The newspaper eagerly helped the administration portray deceptions as facts.” [CounterPunch, 10/17/2005] Liberal columnist and blogger Arianna Huffington provides a long list of reporters and publications who “didn’t get it wrong” on Iraqi WMD. She quotes reporter Joe Lauria, a veteran foreign affairs reporter who writes for the London Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph, and the Boston Globe, who told her: “I didn’t get it wrong. And a lot of others who covered the lead up to the war didn’t get it wrong. Mostly because we weren’t just cozying up to Washington sources but had widened our reporting to what we were hearing from people like Mohamed ElBaradei and Hans Blix, and from sources in other countries, like Germany, France, and Russia. Miller had access to these voices, too, but ignored them. Our chief job as journalists is to challenge authority. Because an official says something might make it ‘official,’ but it doesn’t necessarily make it true.” [Huffington Post, 10/21/2005]
Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Douglas Frantz, Bill Keller, Arthur Sulzberger, Arianna Huffington, Jill Abramson, Judith Miller, Norman Solomon, New York Times, Todd Purdom, Joe Lauria
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
In a PBS interview conducted by Bill Moyers, former CBS news anchor Dan Rather discusses how he and other journalists had difficulty separating their emotion and patriotism from their news coverage after the 9/11 attacks. Moyers plays some clips of Rather in the days after the attacks, including the now-famous declaration, “George Bush is the president, he makes the decisions and you know, as just one American wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where” (see September 17-22, 2001 and April 14, 2003), and then says, “What I was wrestling with that night listening to you is: once we let our emotions out as journalists on the air, once we say, ‘We’ll line up with the president,’ can we ever really say to the country, ‘The president’s out of line’?” Rather replies: “Of course you can. No journalist should try to be a robot and say, ‘They’ve attacked my country, they’ve killed thousands of people but I don’t feel it.’ But what you can do and what should have been done in the wake of that is suck it up and say, okay, that’s the way I feel. That’s the way I feel as a citizen, and I can serve my country best by being the best journalist I can be. That’s the way I can be patriotic. By the way, Bill, this is not an excuse. I don’t think there is any excuse for, you know, my performance and the performance of the press in general in the roll up to the war. There were exceptions. There were some people, who, I think, did a better job than others. But overall and in the main, there’s no question that we didn’t do a good job.… We weren’t smart enough, we weren’t alert enough, we didn’t dig enough, and, we shouldn’t have been fooled in this way.”
'Lazy' Networks Relied on Analysts Rather than Investigations - Rather adds that his and every other network became lazy in just calling on so-called “experts” as pundits and commentators, without caring that their experts made up a cadre of pro-war, pro-administration shills. Moyers plays a quote from former CNN news chief Walter Isaacson, who said: “One of the great pressures we’re facing in journalism now is it’s a lot cheaper to hire thumb suckers and pundits and have talk shows on the air than actually have bureaus and reporters. And in the age of the Internet when everybody’s a pundit, we’re still gonna need somebody there to go talk to the colonels, to be on the ground in Baghdad and stuff and that’s very expensive.” Rather says: “Reporting is hard. The substitute for reporting far too often has become let’s just ring up an expert. Let’s see. These are experts on international armaments. And I’ll just go down the list here and check [neoconservative administration adviser] Richard Perle.… This is journalism on the cheap if it’s journalism at all. Just pick up the phone, call an expert, bring an expert into the studio. Easy. Not time consuming. Doesn’t take resources. And if you’re lucky and good with your list of people, you get an articulate person who will kind of spark up the broadcast.”
Rather, Others 'Just Blew with the Wind,' Says Author - Author and media commentator Norman Solomon says: “I think these [network] executives were terrified of being called soft on terrorism. They absolutely knew that the winds were blowing at hurricane force politically and socially in the United States. And rather than stand up for journalism, they just blew with the wind. And Dan Rather and others who say, yeah, you know. I was carried away back then. Well, sure. That’s when it matters. When it matters most is when you can make a difference as a journalist.” Rather seems to agree. “Fear is in every newsroom in the country,” he says. “And fear of what? Well, it’s the fear it’s a combination of: if you don’t go along to get along, you’re going to get the reputation of being a troublemaker. There’s also the fear that, you know, particularly in networks, they’ve become huge, international conglomerates. They have big needs, legislative needs, repertory needs in Washington. Nobody has to send you a memo to tell you that that’s the case. You know. And that puts a seed in your mind; of well, if you stick your neck out, if you take the risk of going against the grain with your reporting, is anybody going to back you up?” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
Norman Solomon, author of War Made Easy, a study of the military’s influence on the US media and American public opinion, observes that while some commercial news networks are pointed out as unduly biased in favor of the administration’s viewpoint on Iraq, National Public Radio (NPR) is often viewed as a source of left-wing, anti-administration opinion. Solomon shows that just the opposite is usually the case. He begins by noting an NPR reporter’s comment on the Iraqi government’s large-scale military assault against Shi’ite insurgents in Basra today: “There is no doubt that this operation needed to happen.” Solomon writes, “Such flat-out statements, uttered with journalistic tones and without attribution, are routine for the US media establishment.” Solomon observed in the documentary film made from his book: “If you’re pro-war, you’re objective. But if you’re anti-war, you’re biased. And often, a news anchor will get no flak at all for making statements that are supportive of a war and wouldn’t dream of making a statement that’s against a war.” Solomon says that after considerable examination of NPR’s flagship news programs, “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered,” “the sense and sensibilities tend to be neatly aligned with the outlooks of official Washington. The critical aspects of reporting largely amount to complaints about policy shortcomings that are tactical; the underlying and shared assumptions are imperial. Washington’s prerogatives are evident when the media window on the world is tinted red-white-and-blue.” Like other news networks, NPR routinely uses Pentagon-approved “military analysts” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) to give commentary and analysis that is almost always supportive of the administration’s Iraq operations and strategies. Solomon writes: “Such cozy proximity of world views, blanketing the war maker and the war reporter, is symptomatic of what ails NPR’s war coverage—especially from Washington. Of course there are exceptions. Occasional news reports stray from the narrow baseline. But the essence of the propaganda function is repetition, and the exceptional does not undermine that function. To add insult to injury, NPR calls itself public radio. It’s supposed to be willing to go where commercial networks fear to tread. But overall, when it comes to politics and war, the range of perspectives on National Public Radio isn’t any wider than what we encounter on the avowedly commercial networks.” [CommonDreams (.org), 3/27/2008]
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