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NYT Backs Off Bush-Iraq Praise

Editorial
March 18, 2005

At Consortiumnews.com, we feel that it's not just what we write that matters but when we write it. We have often jumped in the way when the national pundits are in full stampede, charging behind some bogus conventional wisdom like so many bulls rushing through a Spanish town toward an arena where they will be artfully carved up.

In our nearly 10 years of existence, we have challenged the conventional wisdom on issues as divergent as the big media's attacks on Gary Webb's contra-cocaine stories; the fawning over Colin Powell's WMD speech; the early perception that the Iraq War was going well; and most recently, the lock-step acceptance that democratic progress in the Middle East could be traced to George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq two years ago.

Each time, we have had to remind ourselves that it is not only possible that the collective judgments of so many respected pundits could be wrong, but it is more likely than not that they indeed have reached an erroneous “groupthink” conclusion. Still, it is nerve-wracking to assemble a set of facts that so directly contradicts what all these supposedly smart people are certain is true.

So it's nice sometimes to note when a major news outlet like the New York Times reverses itself sooner rather than later. For instance, on March 1, 2005, the Times editorial was panting along in the middle of the press herd, sure that disparate events – the Iraqi election, anti-Syrian demonstrations in Lebanon and tentative progress in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations – showed that the Bush administration's neoconservative theories about reshaping the Middle East were right.

“The Bush administration is entitled to claim a healthy share of the credit for many of these advances,” the Times editorial said.

Our view was different. We wrote that “there is an alternative explanation for each of these Middle East developments that is rooted in local circumstances. In Iraq, the Shiites and the Kurds turned out in large numbers for the Jan. 30 election – not to endorse George W. Bush’s invasion – but because the election let them consolidate control of the country at the expense of their longtime tormentors, Iraq’s formerly dominant Sunni minority. ...

“Similarly, recent cracks in the Palestinian-Israeli stalemate relate far more to last year’s death of longtime Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat – and to aging Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s quest for a positive legacy – than to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. ... In Lebanon, popular resistance to Syrian troops has been growing for years, especially since Israel withdrew its troops from southern Lebanon in 2000. The assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was the catalyst for the recent public demands for a complete Syrian withdrawal.” [See Consortiumnews.com's “Neocon Amorality,” March 3, 2005.]

Two weeks after that Consortiumnews.com article and a second one making a similar point, the New York Times had come around.

Instead of granting the Bush administration “a healthy share of the credit for many of these advances,” a Times editorial noted that “many of the most promising signs of change have little to do with Iraq. The peace initiatives in Israel were made possible when Yasir Arafat died and was replaced by a braver, more flexible leader. The new determination of the Lebanese people to throw out their Syrian oppressors was sparked by the assassination of the Lebanese nationalist, Rafik Hariri, not the downfall of Saddam Hussein. And in Iraq itself, the voting largely excluded the Sunni minority, without whose cooperation Iraq will never be anything more than a civil war battleground or a staging platform for a new dictatorship.” [NYT, March 18, 2005]

Though the American people might wish that the major news organizations would stop and think before running with the herd, the reality is that it has fallen to smaller outlets like our own to get in the way of these media stampedes, at least in those first crucial days when a dangerous consensus can take shape. And we can only continue to challenge these rushes to judgment with the continued support of our readers.

As the United States heads into the third year of its occupation of Iraq, we want to thank you, our readers, for the generosity that has enabled us to continue contesting Washington's conventional wisdom.

--Robert Parry


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