See if you can’t find yourself a TV this Wednesday at 9 p.m. Bill Moyers returns to PBS with a 90-minute special called “Buying the War,” and it features prominently the work of the Washington Bureau in the run-up to the Iraq war. Producing journalism that raised doubts about the war’s rationale, or about the country’s planning for it, was a lonely place to be in the months after 9/11. But that’s where the reporting of Knight Ridder’s Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay, and bureau chief John Walcott, squarely took them.
The Moyers report provides a very interesting narrative about the signals missed by many reporters as they weighed pre-war evidence. Our colleagues Landay, Strobel and Walcott weren’t missing. Here’s Jonathan speaking on the show about a story in the New York Times, which cited an Iraqi Kurd’s assertion that Iraq had hidden chemical and biological weapons:
“There were some red flags that the New York Times story threw out immediately, which caught our eye immediately. The first was the idea that a Kurd, the enemy of Saddam, had been allowed into his most top-secret military facilities. I don’t think so. That was, for me, the biggest red flag. And there were others, like the idea that Saddam Hussein would put a biological weapons facility under his residence. I mean, would you put a biological weapons lab under your living room? I don’t think so.”
Are we proud of their work? Damned right. It came about through smart and dogged reporting but also because of a big ration of courage. It sure as heck looked like there was a right side and wrong side in the run-up to the war, and darned if it didn’t seem like Walcott, Strobel and Landay must be on the wrong side. They were not.
One of John Walcott’s favorite questions at news meetings is, “But is it true?” This show is a quite good reminder that we journalists, no matter how “slam-dunk” the assertion, must never fail to ask it.
Here's the link to PBS, and a clip.