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Yeow! Knoller Feels Readers' Wrath

I've got to admit I was stunned by the nature, depth and fury of the responses to my blog post yesterday (below) about the Bill Moyers Journal report on the news media and the War in Iraq.

Read those comments and you'll see there's alot of anger, no, make that rage directed at some of us – maybe all of us – in the news business.

In fairness, some of you had legitimate points of view to express. Fair enough. Others just wanted to tell me I was a jerk or worse. One of you even called me something that got Don Imus fired.

Sorry you feel that way.

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Look, all I was saying was that reporters were not willing dupes of - or accomplices to - the President's decision to go to war in Iraq.

Most of us try to report honestly and fairly on Administration decisions, intentions and statements. If there were doubts and reservations about those matters, it got reported too.

Clearly, many of you disagree. So at the risk of poking an angry lion – let me try this.

YOU be the reporter!

It's March 6, 2003. Pres Bush is moving closer to ordering an attack on Iraq.

You're in the East Room for his primetime news conference – and he calls on you.

What do you ask?

What finely-crafted question do you pose that both serves the public interest and will get a meaningul response?

I assure you my colleagues and I will read what you write.

April 26, 2007

Last night, PBS aired "Buying The War," "a 90-minute documentary that explores the role of the press in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq." The program, which Tom Shales called "one of the most gripping and important pieces of broadcast journalism so far this year," makes the argument that after Sept. 11 the media "abandoned their role as watchdog and became a lapdog instead," as Shales puts it.

CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller watched the broadcast last night, and he wasn't so enthusiastic. Here are his comments.

To hear Bill Moyers tell it last evening on his PBS program "Buying The War," the White House press corps was a willing participant in its own deception about the President's case for war in Iraq.

He portrays us as easily-manipulated stooges on bended-knee to the President and his top aides.

Now, I'm the first to concede there are plenty of good reasons to criticize the White House Press. We're an irascible and unlikable bunch. I'm one of us and I don't like us very much. But the point made by Bill Moyers at the start of his program last night is just off base.

The broadcast began by focusing on the performance of reporters at President Bush's news conference on March 6, 2003. We didn't know it at the time, but it turned out to be 13 days before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Moyers charges in his opening sentences that the press "largely surrendered its independence and skepticism" and joined with the Bush Administration in marching to war.

Pointing to that news conference, Moyers claims that the White House press corps asked "no hard questions" about the president's arguments for war.

He shows only a single, brief example of a question – deep in the news conference – in which a reporter asked Mr. Bush to reflect on how he was guided by his faith at that difficult time. Admittedly, it was a softball.

But Moyers did not cite any of the other much more pointed questions put to the President that evening in the East Room.

Richard Keil of Bloomberg News questioned the Administration's intelligence claims about Saddam Hussein and the doubts of U.S. allies.

Jim Angle of Fox News also challenged the President's assertions about Saddam.

John King of CNN asked the President to respond to critics who portray his animosity toward Saddam as personal. Further, he asked whether US action would make the world a more dangerous place. King also wanted Mr. Bush to address the risks of going to war and the impact on the American people.

Terry Moran of ABC also pressed the President about the doubts and reservations of U.S. allies to his approach.

My colleague Bill Plante challenged Mr. Bush to present hard evidence to back up his claims of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq.

And so on.

Now, I can understand if Moyers didn't like the President's answers. Fair enough. But to portray reporters as mindless conduits of White House policies is unfounded.

Did we report what the President said about his case for war? Of course we did. That's our job. Did we also report that his views were challenged or disputed by others? Absolutely. Were questions raised about the veracity of the president's arguments? Certainly.

Did reporters stop the U.S. from going to war in Iraq? No. Could reporters have done a better job? Always.

But to charge that the White House press was "compliant" and cheered the President's arguments for war plainly misrepresents the facts.

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