When the Berlin Wall fell and Eastern Europe escaped from the shackles of communism, I wrote that we must not forget the enablers, apologists and other "fellow travelers" who helped sustain communism's grip on a sizable portion of humanity for much of the 20th century. I suggested that a "cultural war crimes tribunal" be convened, at which people from academia, the media, government and the clergy who were wrong in their assessment of communism would be forced to confront their mistakes. While not wishing to deprive anyone of his or her right to be wrong, it wouldn't hurt for these people to be held accountable.
That advice was not taken - but today we are presented with another opportunity in the form of scores of false media prophets who predicted disaster should the U.S. military confront and seek to oust the murderous regime of Saddam Hussein. The purpose of a cultural war crimes tribunal would be to remind the public of journalism's many mistakes, as well as the errors of certain politicians and retired generals, and allow it to properly judge their words the next time they feel the urge to prophesy.
National Review Online (www.nationalreview.com) and the Media Research Center (www.mediaresearch.org) have accumulated some of the predictions. In light of developments, they make for hilarious reading - better than a Chinese fortune cookie or the horoscopes.
In no particular order of hilarity or error factor, there was R.W. Apple of the New York Times - who mostly writes about food these days - opining on March 30, just days after the war had begun: "With every passing day, it is more evident that the allies made two gross military misjudgments in concluding that coalition forces could safely bypass Basra and Nasiriya and that Shiite Muslims in Southern Iraq would rise up against Saddam Hussein."
On the same day, Peter Arnett (former contributor to NBC but ousted after his anti-American homily on Iraqi state television) flatly stated, "The first war plan has failed because of Iraqi resistance."
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who sees no good, hears no good and speaks no good concerning this administration, also wrote on March 30: "In cranking up their war plan with expurgated intelligence, the hawks left the ground troops exposed and insufficiently briefed on the fedayeen. Ideology should not shape facts when lives are at stake." Someone please create a plaque with that last statement and send it to every journalist in the country, beginning with Maureen Dowd.
My personal favorite is the comment by columnist and TV host Chris Matthews, who wrote last Aug. 25 in the San Francisco Chronicle: "This invasion of Iraq, if it goes off, will join the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, Desert One and Somalia in the history of military catastrophe."
Barry McCaffrey, a retired U.S. Army general who commanded the 24th Infantry Division 12 years ago during Desert Storm, told the BBC's "Newsnight" program on March 24: "(We) could take, bluntly, a couple to 3,000 casualties." Thankfully, the casualty numbers have been incredibly small.
There were numerous observations from journalists and commentators about the supposed "insufficiency" of troops. There were predictions that the "Arab street" would stage an uprising. There were forecasts that Israel would be drawn into the war when Saddam attacked with Scud missiles.
All of the printed and voiced prophecies should be saved in an archive. When these false prophets again appear, they can be reminded of the error of their previous ways and at least be offered an opportunity to recant and repent. Otherwise, they will return to us in another situation where their expertise will be acknowledged, or taken for granted, but their credibility will be lacking.
If these false media prophets won't "fess up," then let the tribunal begin at an academic institution or in a major television studio. I'll bet it would claim high ratings for the Fox News Channel, which is clobbering its competition precisely because the public recognizes false prophets when it sees them.