“What’s the hold-up?” shouted a journalist. He was asking a State Department spokesman why Liberian President Charles Taylor hadn’t yet acted on his acceptance of Nigeria’s offer of exile. Never mind that barely a day had passed—the reporter saw this as a “hold-up.” Welcome to today’s media, a group so determined to find new stories for each part of the 24-hour new cycle that even invention isn’t off-limits.
Questions surrounding weapons of mass destruction have gathered irrational momentum because they fit squarely into the media’s appetite for new stories. Democrats and liberals blasting President Bush have fed into a storyline that most journalists seem content to drag out.
Liberal Congresswoman Jane Harman (D-CA) has said that the lack of WMD found thus far is “cause for grave concern.” Her fellow liberal, columnist Michael Kinsley, states, “It’s obvious that the Bush administration had no good evidence to back up its dire warnings,” though he at least held out the possibility that some WMD may turn up. His colleague from the New York Times, Paul Krugman, offers no such caveats in stating flatly, “There is no longer any serious doubt that Bush administration officials deceived Americans into war.”
These unfounded attacks have all been repeated uncritically by reporters who have instead placed the burden on Bush to prove them wrong. But until we comb every last square inch of not just Iraq, but also Iran and Syria, any WMD discussion is premised on a hypothetical. That timetable, though, simply doesn’t work for a headline-hungry press corps.
The media doesn’t want weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq today; they want them found yesterday. Why? Though some of it may be liberal media bias, much more it is probably the impatience of journalists in an instant gratification society. It was just two weeks into the war in Iraq, after all, that the press corps wondered aloud if the United States was trapped in a “quagmire.” One week later, the war was over. No “quagmire”—and no apologies from journalists for such recklessness.
Not that anyone should be surprised that foreign policy has entered an MTV world. Richard Jewell went from hero to bomber in all of one news cycle. Turns out he didn’t place the bomb in Centennial Park during the 1996 Olympics, but that didn’t matter to the media that had pop psychologists psychoanalyze him—he lived with his mother(!)—and determine his guilt before he was cleared. To this day, he is still waiting for an apology.
Four years later, Americans were treated to a fast-paced game of ping-pong: first Gore won, then Bush, then… no winner. An itchy trigger finger led the media to call a razor-thin margin in Florida in Gore’s favor—before all of the polling places had closed. Voters were given some half-hearted apologies, but the media’s ADD hasn’t much improved.
In most instances, the media’s impulsiveness merely creates headaches. But if foreign policy moves to the media’s liking, people die. If President Bush had acceded to the cries for a pullout from Iraq, it would have been open season on U.S. soldiers the world over. Terrorists and thugs would have looked at a pullout as a sign of weakness, and they immediately would have tried to replicate the results in other countries. The terrorists are patient—9/11 involved at least five years of planning—and we must be no less so in fighting them.
Israel understands the need for patience. The “roadmap” will lead to nothing but quick headlines and false hope. Israel knows this, yet is going along anyway. Notes an administration official, “Sharon doesn’t want to be seen as standing in the way, and he knows that the Palestinians are going to screw this up.” Palestinian terrorists do not have as their goal the creation of a Palestinian state. What they want is simple: the murder of every last Jew. Forcing Israel to pull back its defenses in the hopes that Palestinian terrorists can change their very nature in a news cycle is not just naïve, but dangerous.
Israel will eventually be allowed to reconstitute its defenses, but only after more terrorist attacks. The only question is: how many innocents will have to die in the meantime?
Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.
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