Message aux journalistes de référence

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Message aux journalistes de référence


22 août 2004 — Après le New York Times, le New Republic, au tour du Washington Post de présenter ses excuses à ses lecteurs. Il a mal interprété, mal apprécié, etc. En bref, il a menti et il a travaillé comme un cochon pour nous vendre cette saleté de guerre, monument de vanité et de bêtise, et de cruauté puisque vanité et bêtise y conduisent évidemment. Que cela nous vienne de la “presse de référence” par excellence n’a rien pour nous consoler. On se dirait même qu’au moins le Weekly Standard ou le Financial Times ont le courage de leurs mensonges et acceptent l’empire de leur vanité en négligeant de présenter des excuses chargées de calculs sordides. La “presse de référence”, libérale et vertueusement objective, après s’être couchée comme une Pravda classique devant le pouvoir, réclame encore un zeste de vertu, celle qu’il vous reste quand on s’est battu la coulpe (avec un zeste de délice ?) sur trois colonnes et qu’on s’est réinstallé dans les fauteuils grand style des opulentes salles de rédaction.

La “presse de référence” n’a jamais existé. Le Watergate, dont tous les petits journalistes de la “presse de référence” parisienne (celle-là ne bat pas sa coulpe, campée sur le cartésianisme content de soi des cafés germano-pratins) font des gorges chaudes, fut un autre exercice en vanité. Cette fois, il se trouve que le salopard, — Nixon est, sur l’échelle de Richter des présidents US, un salopard moyen, — n’avait pas pris les précautions qu’il faut ; caresser dans le sens de la vanité et contrôler la presse, comme faisait JFK (Kennedy) ; caresser dans le sens des prébendes et contrôler le Congrès, comme faisait LBJ (Johnson). Nixon était un salopard solitaire, bourré de complexes dont celui de la persécution, avec en plus le défaut d’avoir un certain don pour la politique extérieure. Il ne faisait donc pas partie du monde de la “presse de référence”. On ne l’a pas raté. Faire de son exécution un titre de vertu de cette presse qui a montré ces trois dernières années son vrai visage, c’est prendre des vessies pour des lanternes. C’est le sport national de notre civilisation en attendant l’apocalypse.

La “presse de référence” le fut dès l’origine mais elle l’est aujourd’hui de manière éclatante : elle est le miroir de notre vanité, encore plus que de notre hypocrisie et de notre cynisme. (Hypocrites et cyniques, on regrette que tous ces gens qui nous tiennent des discours de vertu ne le soient pas un peu plus. Au moins, ils mesureraient un peu plus la salade qu’ils nous vendent.)

Aussi, ce déshabillage des plus grands fleurons intellectuels-chic de la planète, c’est-à-dire pour l’instant de la planète-USA, apparaît-il à la fois comme singulièrement vain, singulièrement décourageant et singulièrement jouissif. Cela ne changera rien et ils ne changeront pas. Pour autant, ils n’empêcheront pas la catastrophe qui menace leur monde.

… Mais “singulièrement jouissif” disions-nous. Parce qu’entre-temps est apparu ce phénomène nouveau, qu’il nous est arrivé de désigner comme “Notre Samizdat globalisé”, qui est cette floraison de non-journalistes de référence se précipitant sur le Web pour “éditer”, et “publier”, en toute liberté, et dire leur fait à la “presse de référence”. C’est une des très bonnes surprises d’une époque exceptionnellement méprisable.

Ainsi ne devons-nous pas priver nos lecteurs d’une lecture saine et roborative, d’un de ces non-journalistes de référence du Samizdat, descendant le Post et ses excuses vertueuses d’une très belle façon, avec quelques bonnes insultes méprisantes ici et là. (Il s’agit de Matt Taibbi, de New York Press, dans son édition du 18-24 août 2004.)


Sorry, Our Bad

The Washington Post still doesn’t get it.


By Matt Taibbi, New York Press, Volume 17, Issue 33, 18-24 août 2004

WITH ALL DUE respect to the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, who was polite to me when we spoke on the phone earlier this year, I had to laugh at his 3000-word “We Fucked Up on Iraq” piece that came out last week.

Kurtz's Aug. 12 piece, entitled “The Post on WMDs: An Inside Story; Prewar Articles Questioning Threat Often Didn't Make Front Page,” was the latest in what is likely to be a long series of tepid media mea culpas about pre-war Iraq reporting. The piece comes on the heels of the New York Times' infamous “The Bitch Set Us Up” piece from this past May, in which that paper implicitly blamed hyperambitious hormone-case Judith Miller for its hilarious prewar failures.

The Kurtz article was a curious piece of writing. In reading it, I was reminded of a scene I once witnessed at the New England Aquarium in Boston, in the aqua-petting-zoo section on the second floor.

The petting pool contained a sea cucumber. Now, anyone who has ever made it through seventh-grade science class knows what a sea cucumber does when threatened. Unfortunately, some parent unleashed a sixth-grader on the pool unattended. The kid started fucking with the sea cucumber, poking and prodding it like crazy. So the sea cucumber pulled out its only defense mechanism, turning itself inside out and showing its nasty guts to the poor kid, who immediately thought he'd killed the thing and ran away crying. Later, when I made another turn through the same area of the aquarium, the cucumber had reconstituted itself and was sitting in its usual log-like position.

It is hard to imagine a better metaphor for these post-invasion auto-crucifixions our papers of record have been giving us lately.

The Post piece featured an array of senior and less-senior reporters who let us in on the shocking revelation that stories questioning the Bush administration's pre-war intelligence claims were often buried deep in the news section, while Bush claims ran on the front. Revelations included the heartwarming Thelma & Louise tale of Walter Pincus and Bob Woodward teaming up to get Pincus' WMD skepticism piece into the paper just days before the country went over the cliff into Iraq. In fact, the second paragraph of the piece is devoted to this tale of editorial foxhole heroism:

“…his piece ran only after assistant managing editor Bob Woodward, who was researching a book about the drive toward war, ‘helped sell the story,’ Pincus recalled. ‘Without him, it would have had a tough time getting into the paper.’” Even so, the article was relegated to Page A17.

Quite a lot of Kurtz's article is devoted to such backdoor compliments, with numerous reminders throughout the text that the Post, relatively speaking, did a better job than most papers on Iraq. Much of the piece was framed in this “But on the other hand…” rhetorical format, in which admissions of poor performance surfed home on waves of somber self-congratulation. Some examples:

“The Post published a number of pieces challenging the White House, but rarely on the front page.”

“The result was coverage that, despite flashes of groundbreaking reporting, in hindsight looks strikingly one-sided at times.”

Quoting media critic Michael Massing: “ ‘In covering the run-up to the war, The Post did better than most other news organizations…’ But on the key issue of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, the paper was generally napping along with everyone else.”

“Given The Post's reputation for helping topple the Nixon administration… the paper's shortcomings did not reflect any reticence about taking on the Bush White House.”

Liz Spayd, the assistant managing editor for national news, says The Post's overall record was strong. “I believe we pushed as hard or harder than anyone to question the administration's assertions on all kinds of subjects related to the war...”

Bob Woodward: “We did our job but we didn't do enough.”

When the Post wasn't reassuring readers of its competence, it was offering excuses—lots of them. The list is really an extraordinary one. According to Kurtz's interview subjects, the Post was slow on Iraq because: a) Walter Pincus is a “cryptic” writer who isn't “storifyable”; b) there is limited space on the front page, and executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. likes to have health and education and Orioles coverage and other stuff there; c) the paper got a lot of depressing hate mail questioning its patriotism whenever it questioned the Bush administration; d) their intelligence sources wouldn't go on the record, while Bush and Powell were up there openly saying all this stuff; e) the paper had to rely on the administration because Bob Woodward and Walter Pincus had no “alternative sources of information,” and particularly couldn't go to Iraq “without getting killed”; f) the paper, including Woodward, was duped by highly seductive intelligence-community “groupthink”; g) too many of the dissenting sources were retired from government or, even worse, not in government at all; h) stories on intelligence are “difficult to edit”; g) there was “a lot of information to digest”; h) the paper is “inevitably a mouthpiece for whatever administration is in power”; i) a flood of copy about the impending invasion kept skeptical coverage out [Note: This is my favorite. We're already covering the war, so it's too late to explain why we shouldn't go to war.]; and finally, j) none of it matters, because even if the Post had done a more thorough job, there would have been a war anyway.

Here's how Downie put that last excuse:

“People who were opposed to the war from the beginning and have been critical of the media's coverage…have the mistaken impression that somehow if the media's coverage had been different, there wouldn't have been a war.”

Nothing like an editor with a firm grasp of metaphysics. “It doesn't matter what we write, the universe is still going to keep expanding…”

The problem with these newsprint confessions is not that they are craven, insufficient and self-serving, which of course they are. The problem is that, on the whole, they do not correct the pre-war mistakes, but actually further them. The Post would have you believe that its ''failure'' before the war was its inability/reluctance to punch holes in Bush's WMD claims.

Right. I marched in Washington against the war in February 2003 with about 400,000 people, and I can pretty much guarantee that not more than a handful of those people gave a shit about whether or not Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. That's because we knew what the Post and all of these other papers still refuse to admit—this whole thing was never about weapons of mass destruction. Even a five- year-old, much less the literate executive editor of the Washington Post, could have seen, from watching Bush and his cronies make his war case, that they were going in anyway.

For God's sake, Bush was up there in the fall of 2002, warning us that unmanned Iraqi drones were going to spray poison gas on the continental United States. The whole thing—the “threat” of Iraqi attack, the link to terrorism, the dire warnings about Saddam's intentions—it was all bullshit on its face, as stupid, irrelevant and transparent as a cheating husband's excuse. And I don't know a single educated person who didn't think so at the time.

The story shouldn't have been, “Are there WMDs?” The story should have been, “Why are they pulling this stunt? And why now?” That was the real mystery. It still is.

We didn't need a named source in the Pentagon to tell us that. And neither did the Washington Post.


[Notre recommandation est que ce texte doit être lu avec la mention classique à l'esprit, — “Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.”.]


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