Washington Post to Readers:
Stop Us Before We Kill Again
Post (war) Partum Depression?

by Terry Michael, March 20, 2007

People! Listen up. If there’s a journalism shrink in the crowd, please proceed immediately to the media tent. The editorial page editors of The Washington Post seem to have dropped some really bad shit on this otherwise fun and fabulous fourth anniversary of their first Iraq war trip. They’re having these, like, uh...reality-based flashbacks about no actual WMD’s, and non-threatening paper tiger thugs, and tribal, theocratic cultures that don’t seem to be into flower power. If you’ve got any anti-anxiety stuff to help ‘em out, man--pills, or whatever--they could really use it. Please help, man. Peace and love. Rock on.

I live in Washington, DC. I know surreal when I see it. And I saw it in vivid blotter acid color this past Sunday on the editorial page of a paper that once helped bring down a president who also undercut America’s moral authority several decades ago.

In a continuing lame attempt to both justify its support for George Bush’s elective war and absolve itself of the unpleasant results of that madness, a sometimes-great newspaper burdened its readers Sunday with 1125 words of self-obsessed silliness (which, with apparently unintended irony, they labeled "Lessons of War.")

Post readers who waded hip-deep through those 13 unlucky paragraphs found the following.

An opening splash of tepid water-in-the-face. “But looking back also is essential, particularly for those of us who supported the war.”

Followed by a string of disingenuous mea culpas. “We raised such issues in our prewar editorials but with insufficient force,” and “Clearly we were insufficiently skeptical of intelligence reports.”

Continuing with several self-congratulatory references to the anti-war fact-base supplied by the paper’s reporters. “Read Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s account of the first year of occupation...and weep at the tales of White House operatives sending political hacks to overhaul Baghdad’s stock exchange.”

Trudging right along with finger pointing at everyone but the Post’s editorial board. “Having rolled the dice on what everyone [including the Post?] understood to be an enormous gamble, Mr. Bush and his team followed up with breathtaking and infuriating arrogance, ignorance and insouciance,” and citing “the catastrophically wrong case that then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell presented to the United Nations.”

And finally, with this big finish, the Post editors shared their conflicted wisdom. “It's tempting to say that if it was wrong to go in, it must be wrong to stay in. But how Iraq evolves will fundamentally shape the region and deeply affect U.S. security. Walking away is likely to make a bad situation worse. A patient, sustained U.S. commitment, with gradually diminishing military forces, could still help Iraq to move in the right direction.”

"Tempting" to say that “if” it was wrong? "Likely" to make a bad situation worse? "Could still" help Iraq move in the right direction? That’s as bold as The Washington Post editors are willing to be, in their assessment, four years later, of a war to which they loaned the gravitas of the nameplate of the newspaper-of-record in the capital of the free world?

Perhaps this was just a plaintive plea by the Post editors to have their readers stop them before they kill again.

Maybe it reflects a kind of Post-partum depression, from helping give birth to a public policy monstrosity.

Hopefully, it may just be a weak, but long overdue, effort of a great newspaper to restore its institutional credibility by moving a step closer to admitting it was wrong, and having the courage to call for an end to this mis-projection of American military might, now.

Terry Michael is director of the Washington Center for Politics & Journalism and a former press secretary for the Democratic National Committee (1985-87.)

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