Washington Post Kills Account of Its Failures in Iraq Reporting and Runs a Defense Instead

Veteran journalist Greg Mitchell is claiming an assigned piece he wrote for the Washington Post that outlined the failure of the media (including the Washington Post) in reporting on the lead-up to the Iraq War was killed by editors, who then ran a piece by Paul Farhi that defends their coverage instead.

Mitchell, whose new book chronicles the failures of the media in reporting during the run-up to the Iraq War, wrote on his blog,

The Washington Post killed my assigned piece for its Outlook section this weekend which was mainly on media failures re: Iraq and the current refusal to come to grips with that (the subject of my latest book)—yet ran this misleading, cherry-picking, piece by Paul Farhi claiming the media did NOT fail. I love the line about the Post in March 2003 carrying some skeptical pieces just days before the war started: "Perhaps it was too late by then. But this doesn't sound like failure."

Farhi's piece contends that the media as a whole, and the Washington Post in particular, didn't "fail" in their reporting, they just didn't "succeed." "Success" meaning properly informing the public, regardless of the political climate. "Failure" being repeating the talking points of war hawks and giving them prominent placement in your newspaper. Farhi writes:

Some of these stories - too many - were not given prominence and, in the case of newspapers, didn't make the front page. But it wasn't impossible for skeptics of the war to connect the dots.

So Farhi believes the Washington Post could have done better, but by at least publishing some critical pieces deep in the paper, they were laying out the breadcrumbs for endeavoring, skeptical readers to come across. How is that not failure?

Farhi then resorts back to the tired "it was right after 9/11, the world was crazy" defense,

The field was tilted. Administration officials hogged media attention with scary, on-the-record statements. On the other side, there were few authoritative sources countering them. Even Al Gore believed that Iraq had WMDs, said Doyle McManus, who covered the period for the Los Angeles Times."The consensus was universal," he says.

Mitchell, in his blog post, digs into Farhi's defense:

"There was an attitude among editors: Look, we're going to war, why do we even worry about all the contrary stuff?" admitted the Post's Pentagon correspondent Thomas Ricks in 2004. And this classic from a top reporter, Karen DeYoung: "We are inevitably the mouthpiece for whatever administration is in power." In Farhi's new piece, Len Downie, the longtime Post editor, is still claiming, with a shrug, hey, we couldn't have slowed or halted the war anyway. Farhi agrees with this. Nothing to see here, move along.

Mitchell has now posted the rejected article on his blog, and The Nation is running it as well.