Study Faults Media Coverage of WMD

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By: E&P Staff

A new study of how the media has covered the issue of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), released today, concludes, “Many stories stenographically reported the incumbent administration’s perspectives on WMD, giving too little critical examination of the way officials framed the events, issues, threats and policy options.”

The other three main conclusions of the study conducted by the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM) and the University of Maryland: Too few stories offered alternative perspectives to the “official line” on WMD surrounding the Iraq conflict; most journalists accepted the Bush administration linking the “war on terror” inextricably to the issue of WMD; and most media outlets represented WMD as a “monolithic menace” without distinguishing between types of weapons and between possible weapons programs and the existence of actual weapons.

The complete study, directed by Susan Moeller and titled “Media Coverage of Weapons of Mass Destruction,” is available at the CISSM Web site.

The authors of the study state that, “Poor coverage of WMD resulted less from political bias on the part of journalists, editors, and producers than from tired journalistic conventions.” They also declare that the British media “reported more critically on public policy than did their American colleagues.”

In a foreword to the study, John Steinbruner, director of the center, writes: “The American political system is in the early stages of contending with an unwelcome but ultimately unavoidable problem. The United States initiated war against Iraq on the basis of an inaccurate representation of the scope and immediacy of the threat posed, and it did so without international authority. That has prejudiced the legitimacy of the occupation, thereby undermining the single most important ingredient of successful reconstruction.”

He adds that “the American media did not play the role of checking and balancing the exercise of power that the standard theory of democracy requires.”

Among those writers singled out for praise in the study are Barton Gellman, Walter Pincus, Michael Getler and Dana Milbank of The Washington Post, Bob Drogin of the Los Angeles Times, and David Sanger and William Broad of The New York Times. It also cites articles in E&P by William Jackson Jr. exploring Judith Miller’s controversial WMD coverage in the New York Times.

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