The silent treatment

We have noted the Washington Post’s decision not to review Douglas Feith’s important book, War and Decision, an inside account by the former Under Secretary of Defense of the key decisions of the first Bush II administration regarding the war on terror generally and the war in Iraq particularly. The Post’s justification — that it already ran a front-page news story about the book — is implausible on its face. A book important enough to rate a news story is more, not less, likely to merit a review.

Much of the remaining liberal print MSM apparently has resolved this conundrum by failing to mention War and Decision at all. According to Noah Pollak, there has been no mention of the book in USA Today, the LA Times, NY Daily News, Houston Chronicle, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, or the Miami Herald. As Rich Lowry puts it, “apparently it’s OK to heap every failure in Iraq on Feith’s head, but then to turn around and pretend he’s a figure of no consequence when he writes a book.”

Finally, there’s the case of the New York Times. It has neither reviewed nor reported on War and Decision. This silence comes despite the fact that the Times’ Pulitzer Prize winning national security affairs reporter James Risen, hardly a fan of the Bush administration, has submitted three articles about the book.

Risen immediately recognized the importance of War and Decision. According to Feith, Risen requested and received a pre-publication copy of the book, interviewed Feith, and wrote a piece highlighting book’s most newsworthy item — the Bush administration’s postwar plan for political transition in Iraq (the one most people who follow these things probably believe didn’t exist). Risen’s editor, however, turned the article down on the ground that it was not newsworthy.

Risen then re-worked the piece and submitted it to the Week in Review editors. One of them approved it and, acccording to Feith, Risen called him to say it would run on a particular Sunday. Later, the editor called back to say that a higher level editor had blocked it. Next, Risen told Feith he was trying to get a further revised piece into the Times’ internet edition. That attempt also ended in failure.

Risen insists that the decisions to kill his stories were not political. The party line is that because the Washington Post wrote about the book, there is no point in another article. But there must be hundreds of thousands of Times readers who don’t read the Post. It’s doubtful that if this were a case involving a story adverse to the administration, the Times would deprive those readers of the information on the ground that the paper had been “scooped.” The Times’ decision to override the persistent judgment of Risen, one of its star reporters, smacks of bad faith. Neither Risen nor anyone else at the Times would accept this sort of explanation if it came from the Bush (or any Republican) administration.

It’s clear enough what is happening here. The MSM is delighted with the prevailing narrative regarding the Bush administration’s decision-making on Iraq, a narrative it played the major role in advancing. Anything that casts doubt on that narrative should not be mentioned, much less discussed.

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