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Double Fail: WaPo Kills Story Critical of Its Iraq Coverage

Paper has second thoughts on mea culpas story

- Jon Queally, staff writer

Following the tenth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, The Washington Post thought it might be a good idea to have someone write about how the media's role during that time impacted the Bush administration's ability to galvanize a nation towards war. They thought it was a good idea, that is, until they were seemingly reminded how integral a part of that effort they themselves were in the debacle.

Journalist and media critic Greg Mitchell, who ran the highly regarded Editor & Publisher during the years directly before and after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, was asked to write the piece, but as he announced on his personal blog Saturday night, the Post killed the story after reviewing its contents.

According to Mitchell:

The Washington Post killed my assigned piece for its Outlook section this weekend which mainly covered media failures re: Iraq and the current refusal to come to grips with that (the subject of my latest book)--yet they ran this misleading, cherry-picking, piece by Paul Farhi claiming the media "didn't 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."

Here's my rejected piece.  I see that the Post is now defending killing the piece because it didn't offer sufficient "broader analytical points or insights."  I'll let you decide why they might have rejected it. 

By mid-morning Sunday, Twitter was alight with the killing of Mitchell's story:

Writing at the Huffington Post, Michael Calderone said the Washington Post's behavior was "especially noteworthy given that the paper’s editorial board –- which helped promote the Bush administration’s bogus rationale for invading Iraq -– was silent on last Tuesday’s 10th anniversary of the start of the conflict."

Calderone spoke with the Post's Outlook editor Carlos Lozada, who said the paper didn't run Mitchell's piece because it didn't draw the "broader analytical points or insights" the paper was looking for on the topic of Iraq War mea culpas.

Mitchell ultimately posted the piece on his personal blog and on The Nation (for whom he now writes a regular column on current events and the media). Looking specifically at the Washington Post's mea culpa (or lack thereof) regarding their pre-invasion coverage, Mitchell writes:

Unlike the [New York Times], Washington Post editors three months later did not produce their own explanation but allowed chief media reporter Howard Kurtz to write a lengthy critique. Editors and reporters admitted they had often performed poorly but offered one excuse after another. With phrases such as “always easy in hindsight,” “editing difficulties,” “communication problems” and “there is limited space on Page 1.” One top reporter said, “We are inevitably the mouthpiece for whatever administration is in power. “ Topping them all, Kurtz reported that Bob Woodward “said it was risky for journalists to write anything that might look silly if weapons were ultimately found in Iraq.”

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