My #LeftTurn chapter on media complicity in war post 9/11

This appears in Crikey’s Pure Poison blog today:

Following is an extract from “Media War Junkies Unite”, an essay by Antony Loewenstein from… Left Turn: Political essays for the new Left… which is edited by Loewenstein and Jeff Sparrow, and which was released last week.


The decade since 11 September 2001 has seen a litany of western journalists, editors, writers, opinion makers and politicians, many on the progressive Left, endorse a neoconservative worldview that required massive American military might. ”˜Liberal hawks’ spruiked toughness. They preached eternal vigilance after the terror attacks in New York and Washington and spent the following years hyping threat after threat. First it was Afghanistan. Then Iraq. Yemen and Pakistan were in their sights. Add Somalia, Syria, Gaza and Iran.

They opined without responsibility and reputations that should have been diminished, but because of their endless credulity towards official claims continued to be published and respected. Take Christopher Hitchens, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman or the Sydney Morning Herald’s Gerard Henderson—who praised the ”˜Coalition of the Willing’ in March 2011 for creating ”˜nascent democracy’ in Iraq. Three prominent commentators whose standing hasn’t been negatively affected by years of amplifying government spin over the ”˜terror threat’ and downplaying civilian casualties. There are many others.

This has occurred precisely because of a journalistic and political culture that rewards loyalty to an establishment class without accountability. It allows the Australian to editorialise in late 2010 that former US president George W Bush should be respected because of the ”˜achievement’ of the Iraq war. ”˜It was a war for democracy’, readers were informed, though ”˜the price its people paid is very high’. That’s how the death of over one million Iraqis became a mere footnote. Liberal Party senator Nick Minchin could merely muster the claim of ”˜debacle’ for the war when speaking to the Senate in 2010.

Half-hearted mea culpas about being ”˜wrong’ about the Iraq war were the extent of some commentators’ regret over the mess the invasion created. Laying the intellectual groundwork for the invasion and occupation contributed to an atmosphere, even years after 2003, where Baghdad remains a deeply polluted city and electricity levels lag at pre-war levels. Millions of external and internal Iraqi refugees remain displaced.

Today Tehran is in the cross-hairs of Tel Aviv and Washington; the same media courtiers are working hard to rehash suspect WMD ”˜intelligence’ and unnamed US ”˜officials’ are claiming Iran is on the verge of attacking American cities. It is as if the last decade never happened. Understanding the reasons behind this media reality requires an appreciation of how mainstream journalism, from the BBC in the United Kingdom to Fairfax in Australia, has historically been willing to sacrifice independence for access to power. A favourable quote from an MP here. A sanctioned leak from a ministerial adviser there. An exclusive interview with a leader or advance notice of an important policy for tomorrow’s lead story.

Perhaps the most forthright appraisal of why scepticism after September 11 disappeared was expressed by former executive editor of the New York Times, Bill Keller, who soon after stepping down to become an opinion columnist for the paper in September 2011 wrote ”˜My Unfinished 9/11 Business’. He argued that the ”˜exclusive boy’s club’ of which he was part—middle-aged men who ferociously championed the Bush administration’s rush to war against Iraq—were ”˜drugged by testosterone. And maybe a little too pleased with ourselves for standing up to evil and defying the caricature of liberals as ”¦ brie-eating surrender monkeys.’


Reporting in the post-9/11 decade has revealed a media class that has too often not been a check on power but an enabler of it. Bringing accountability will require a fundamental rethinking of the role of language and intent. It makes independent journalism all the more important but its funding remains limited. Until an embedded mindset is excised and a critical posture adopted, we are guaranteed to see yet more wars in the name of eradicating terrorism and ”˜protecting’ the homeland.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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