A decade ago, the media screwed up, and screwed up royally.
We got the Iraq war wrong.
There were a few exceptions, including detailed work that questioned claims about weapons of mass destruction by the then-Knight-Ridder Washington Bureau (now McClatchy, which owns The Sun News) while most others simply parroted what was coming out of the Bush administration.
Coastal Carolina University also did an important thing when it invited Scott Ritter, the former chief weapons inspector for the United Nations Special Commission in Iraq, to Conway and allowed him to say why he knew Saddam Hussein no longer had the much-discussed weapons – even though some residents of the Grand Strand disapproved of the invitation.
Ritter had personal problems then and since but was right about Iraqi weapons capabilities.
But there were mistakes, large and small, made by the media in the run-up to the war.
We weren’t skeptical enough, not only about weapons of mass destruction, but about claims that we would be greeted as liberators and the war would be relatively easy. (I include myself in that number.)
We didn’t do enough to foster real debate, including underplaying huge rallies against the war and not pushing back against the notion that anyone who questioned it was anti-American.
The Washington Post has since admitted that it didn’t publish a story by one of its top reporters that had quotes from top retired military officials who were questioning claims being made by the Bush administration.
The New York Times published stories that were primarily sourced by people within the administration that turned out to be completely bogus – in the run-up to the war and shortly after it began.
That doesn’t even include how the so-called non-mainstream and non- liberal media handled it, or the tens of millions voters who helped re-elect George W. Bush in 2004 even after they found out about the massive errors that led to a decade-long war in which 4,500 U.S. soldiers were killed, tens of thousands others sustained major injuries, 100,000 Iraqis lost their lives and the suicide rate among U.S. soldiers hit a record high.
The Grand Strand was affected directly, with at least four among those killed in Baghdad or near Mosul and another who killed himself on a military base after he left the war while suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.
I won’t ever forget being with and watching mothers and fathers weeping uncontrollably in their bedrooms and over cups of coffee.
Beyond that, it emboldened Iran, the country we are now so concerned about developing nuclear weapons. Iran had been too preoccupied with defending itself against Iraq.
It set precedent for preemptive war, making it harder for us to argue against other countries who respond to a “gathering threat” in the same way.
And it prolonged the fight in Afghanistan – which is why we are still there a dozen years later – by removing resources from that conflict when commanders there were screaming for more.
There’s no reason to sugar-coat.
There’s no reason to make excuses, about how the political environment was different or how the afterglow of the 9/11 attacks were still so bright it overshadowed everything else.
We screwed up.
And the country paid a major price.
Contact ISSAC J. BAILEY at firstname.lastname@example.org or at Twitter at @TSN_IssacBailey.