The Unbalanced Hawks at the Washington Post
By Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman
What is going on at the Washington Post?
We would say that the Post editorial pages have become
an outpost of the Defense Department -- except that
there is probably more dissent about the pending war in
Iraq in the Pentagon than there is on the Post
In February alone, the Post editorialized nine times in
favor of war, the last of those a full two columns of
text, arguing against the considerable critical reader
response the page had received for pounding the drums
Over the six-month period from September through
February, the leading newspaper in the nation's capital
has editorialized 26 times in favor of war. It has
sometimes been critical of the Bush administration, it
has sometimes commented on developments in the drive to
war without offering an opinion on the case for war
itself, but it has never offered a peep against
military action in Iraq.
The op-ed page, which might offer some balance, has
also been heavily slanted in favor of war.
In February, the Post op-ed page ran 34 columns that
took a position on the war: 24 favored war and 10 were
opposed, at least in part. (Another 22 mentioned Iraq,
and sometimes were focused exclusively on Iraq, but
didn't clearly take a position for or against the war.)
Over the last four months, the Post has run 46 op-ed
pieces favoring the war, and only 21 opposed.
This constitutes a significant change from September
and October, when the opinion pieces were much more
balanced, and even tilted slightly in favor of peace.
A few words on our methodology: We reviewed every
editorial and op-ed piece in the Post over the last six
months that contained the word "Iraq." We looked at the
substance of the articles, and did not pre-judge based
on the author. We categorized as neutral pieces which
mentioned Iraq as an aside, or which discussed the war
without taking a position. For example, an article
which assesses how European countries are responding to
U.S. Iraq-related proposals, but does not take a
position on the war itself, is categorized as neutral.
Neutral articles are not included in our tally.
The methodology tends to undercount pro-war columns. We
categorized as neutral articles which we thought
presumed a certain position on the war, but which did
not explicitly articulate it. Over the last four
months, there were 17 "neutral" articles which we
believe had a pro-war slant, and only five "neutral"
pieces with an anti-war orientation.
Our methodology also tended to overcount pro-peace op-
eds. We tallied an op-ed as pro-peace if it took a
position opposing the drive to war on the issue of the
moment -- even if the author made clear that they
favored war on slightly different terms than the
President proposed at the time (for example, if UN
authorization was obtained).
Someone else reviewing the Post editorial page might
disagree with our categorization of this or that
article. We concede it may be rough around the edges.
But overall, we think other reviewers would agree that
our count is in the ballpark, and tends to
underestimate the disparity between pro- and anti-war
Moreover, the dramatic quantitative tilt in favor of
the war if anything underplays how pro-war the Post's
editorial pages have been.
Among the regular columnists at the Post, those
providing pieces that we considered anti-war include
E.J. Dionne, a self-described "doubter" not opponent of
the war, Mary McGrory, who pronounced herself convinced
by Colin Powell's presentation to the United Nations (a
position from which she has backtracked) and Richard
Cohen, who actually is pro-war. Only William Rasberry
could be labeled a genuine and consistent opponent of
On the other side, the regular pro-war columnists are
extraordinarily harsh and shrill. George Will labeled
David Bonior and James McDermott, two congresspeople
who visited Iraq, "American collaborators" with and
"useful idiots" for Saddam. Michael Kelly, in one of
his calmer moments, says no "serious" person can argue
the case for peace. Charles Krauthammer says that those
who call for UN authorization of U.S. military action
in Iraq are guilty of a "kind of moral idiocy."
The Post op-ed page has been full of attacks on anti-
war protesters. Richard Cohen has managed to author
attacks on John Le Carre, for an anti-war column he
wrote, poets against the war, and Representative Dennis
Kucinich. Cohen joined war-monger Richard Perle in
calling Kucinich a "liar" (or at very least a "fool"),
because Kucinich suggested the war might be motivated
in part by a U.S. interest in Iraqi oil. (Is this
really a controversial claim? Pro-war New York Times
columnist Thomas Friedman says that to deny a U.S. war
in Iraq is partly about oil is "laughable.")
Neither Le Carre, the poets, nor Kucinich has been
given space on the Post op-ed page.
Indeed, virtually no one who could be considered part
of the peace movement has been given space. The only
exceptions: A column by Hank Perritt, then a Democratic
congressional candidate from Illinois, appeared in
September. Morton Halperin argued the case for
containment over war in February. And Reverend Bob
Edgar, a former member of Congress who now heads the
National Council of Churches, a key mover in the anti-
war movement, was permitted a short piece that appeared
in the week between Christmas and New Year's, when
readership and attention to serious issues is at a
Edgar only was given the slot after editorial page
editor Fred Hiatt, in an op-ed, characterized the anti-
war movement, and Edgar by name, as "Saddam's lawyers."
Does this shockingly one-sided treatment on the Post
editorial pages of the major issue of the day matter?
It matters a lot.
The Washington Post and the New York Times are the two
papers that most fundamentally set the boundaries for
legitimate opinion in Washington, D.C. The
extraordinary tilt for war in the Post editorial pages
in the last four months makes it harder for officialdom
in Washington and the Establishment generally to speak
out against war.
Everyone who might be characterized as an "insider" in
the political-military-corporate establishment knows
there are major internal divisions on the prospect of
war among elder statesmen, retired military brass and
present-day corporate CEOs. There are many reasons
those voices are inhibited from speaking out, but the
Post's extremist editorial pages are certainly a real
The failure to give a prominent platform to anti-war
voices has also worked to soften the debate among the
citizenry. It's no answer to say a vibrant anti-war
movement, reliant on the Internet, its own
communications channels and dissenting voices in other
major media outlets, has sprung up. Sending out an e-
mail missive is not exactly the same thing as
publishing an op-ed in the Washington Post.
The Post editorial page editors have failed to fulfill
their duty to democracy. The heavy slant on the
editorial pages, the extreme pro-war rhetoric offset
only by hedging and uncertain war critics, and the
scurrilous attacks on the anti-war movement to which
minimal response has been permitted -- all have
undermined rather than fueled a robust national debate.
At this point, there is no real way for the Post to
rectify its wrongdoing. It could start to mitigate the
effect by immediately making a conscious effort to
solicit and publish a disproportionately high number of
pro-peace op-eds, and to let the peace movement
occasionally speak for itself, especially since the
paper's regular columnists so savagely and repeatedly
Unfortunately, the drive to war, which the Post
editorial pages have helped fuel, may not stop in Iraq.
There is good reason to believe that a war with Iraq
will be followed by calls from the hawks at the Post
and around the administration for more military action,
against some other target. Will the paper's editorial
page editors find a better way to achieve balance in
advance of the next military buildup? Or are the
paper's editorial pages now simply devoted to the
Permanent War Campaign?
Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-
based Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is
editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational
Monitor, http://www.multinationalmonitor.org. They are
co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for
MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine:
Common Courage Press;
(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman
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