It figures that, of all the CNN staffers to out how the all news channel "was intimidated'' during the attack on Iraq by U.S. President George W. Bush's administration and the right-wing Fox News Network, it would be Christiane Amanpour, the star war correspondent who has faced down much deadlier foes.
On last Wednesday's edition of Topic A With Tina Brown, hosted on CNBC by the former editor of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, Amanpour admitted that CNN and other news organizations were on the run during the war.
"I think the press was muzzled, and I think the press self-muzzled," she replied. "I'm sorry to say, but certainly television and, perhaps, to a certain extent, my station was intimidated by the administration and its foot soldiers at Fox News. And it did, in fact, put a climate of fear and self-censorship, in my view, in terms of the kind of broadcast work we did."
According to USA Today's Peter Johnson, who first reported this astonishing admission, Brown then asked Amanpour "if there was any story during the war that she couldn't report."
"It's not a question of couldn't do it, it's a question of tone," the veteran correspondent said. "It's a question of being rigorous. It's really a question of really asking the questions. All of the entire body politic in my view, whether it's the administration, the intelligence, the journalists, whoever, did not ask enough questions, for instance, about weapons of mass destruction. I mean, it looks like this was disinformation at the highest levels."
Well, excuse my French but that was apparent to anybody who watched with even a half-closed eye. Most mainstream media south of the border, and even some up here were unabashedly pro-war, accepting everything and questioning nothing put out by the Bushies.
And there was no greater offender than Fox News, the channel that essentially elected that administration in the first place.
Recall that, on election night 2000, when the votes were neck-and-neck for Bush and Democratic contender Al Gore, Fox declared at 2:16 a.m. that Bush had taken Florida and therefore the presidency. The other networks and some East Coast newspapers jumped in, setting the tone for the dispute that followed for weeks afterwards, a dispute that made Gore look like a sore loser.
But, as it turned it, the director of the Fox electoral desk that made that faux call was John Ellis, a staunch Republican and Bush cousin who would later boast to The New Yorker that, on election night, he spoke frequently with both Dubya and his brother Jeb, governor of Florida.
Then, last December, The Washington Post's Bob Woodward revealed that Roger Ailes, chair of the Fox News, had advised Karl Rove, Bush's chief political strategist, on how to conduct the war.
The thing is, everybody expected that the Gulf war sequel would be CNN's big show. As it turned out, it was Fox's — which led to what The New York Times dubbed as "The Fox Effect."
In essence, that's the channel's far right our-might-is-right attitude, which resulted in Fox's surpassing CNN in the ratings. Its success prompted both CNN and MSNBC to shift to the right to hang on to all-news audiences, who tend to be older and more conservative than other viewers.
It figured that it would be Amanpour to join the growing chorus of mainstream journalists now criticizing media coverage of the war.
She's the one who, on that terrible April day when a U.S. tank fired on Baghdad's Palestine Hotel and killed two journalists while wounding three others erupted during an interview with desk jockey Wolf Blitzer. She excoriated the Pentagon for being "all over the place'' in its explanations, which seemed to shift by the minute, for what had happened.
It was then she emerged, to my mind, as the "scud stud'' of Gulf War II: The Son Also Rises. That's because she was the only American television reporter — Canadians were doing this all the time — to actually call out Centcom (Central Command) for its reprehensible actions against journalists, which, by the way, also included bombing Al-Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV bureau that day.
Raging against the official explanations, Amanpour demanded an independent investigation and trashed former Pentagon spokesperson Victoria Clarke for not knowing what she was talking about when it came to "risky situations in war."
Which made it all the more ironic that, on Topic A With Tina Brown, Amanpour would appear as a guest, along with Clarke who refuted her charges of administration disinformation campaign as "categorically untrue."
As for Fox, well it never gives up.
While CNN had no comment on Amanpour's charges, Fox spokesperson Irena Briganti told USA Today: "Given the choice, it's better to be viewed as a foot soldier for Bush than a spokeswoman for Al Qaeda."
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