Why Are We Back in Vietnam? ask Frank Rich in a New York Times Op-Ed piece this Monday, discussing the nature of journalism in wartime. Luckily, there’s still Frontline and Nightline, two television shows Rich singles out for their truth-telling. And to make Frontline even more appealing, their program on Iraq is available to watch online via streaming video on their snappy website.
“A TV news venue that the administration spurns entirely, by contrast, stands a chance of providing actual, fresh, accurate information. There have been at least two riveting examples this month. Ms. Rice, Mr. Powell and Mr. Rumsfeld all refused to be interviewed for an Oct. 9 PBS “Frontline” documentary about the walkup to the Iraq war. Yet without their assistance, “Frontline” nonetheless fingered Ahmad Chalabi as an administration source for its pre-war disinformation about weapons of mass destruction and the Qaeda-Saddam link. It also reported that the administration had largely ignored its own state department’s prescient “Future of Iraq” project — a decision that helped lead to our catastrophic ill-preparedness for Iraq’s post-Saddam chaos. “Frontline” didn’t have to resort to leaks for these revelations, either: the sources were on-camera interviews with Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, our first interim leader in Iraq, and Mr. Chalabi himself.
The administration officials who stiffed “Frontline” habitually do the same to ABC’s “Nightline.” Ted Koppel explains why in a round-table discussion published in a new book from the Brookings Institution Press, “The Media and the War on Terrorism”: “They would much rather appear on a program on which they’re likely not to get a tough cross-examination.” On Oct. 15, the week after the “Frontline” exposed, the White House was true to form when asked to provide a guest for a “Nightline” exploring the president’s new anti-media media campaign. But later in the day, the administration decided to send a non-marquee name, Dan Bartlett, its communications director. Mr. Koppel, practicing the increasingly lost art of relentless follow-up questioning, all but got his guest stuttering as he called him on half-truth after half-truth. Mr. Bartlett tried — but soon failed — to get away with defending a litany of prewar administration claims and insinuations: that the entire American contribution to rebuilding Iraq would be only $1.7 billion; that Iraqi oil income would pay for most of the reconstruction; and that the entire war would proceed as quickly as a cakewalk.
At the tender age of six months, the war in Iraq is not remotely a Vietnam. But from the way the administration tries to manage the news against all reality, even that irrevocable reality encased in flag-draped coffins, you can only wonder if it might yet persuade the audience at home that we’re mired in another Tet after all.”