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The Media's Accountability Moment

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The traditional media has already blown it on the lead up to the Iraq War -- which they now admit. They recently blew it on covering the so-called war critics who said the surge was making progress (they weren't war critics at all, in fact, one of them (O'Hanlon) wrote about what a great idea the surge was before it even started). And so far they are blowing it on the Iran coverage by unquestioningly repeating administration talking points about the threat from Iran, almost exactly as they did with Iraq.

So far, the lesson is that the media has learned no lesson at all. There was a lot of hand-wringing about Iraq, but apparently, no correction whatsoever. But the media has one important moment coming up where they can begin to fix that. This accountability moment is the coverage of the so-called Petraeus Report.

General Petraeus was supposed to write and deliver a report in September that gave the country an update on how the surge and the Iraq War are going. Now, it turns out he won't be writing the report, the White House will.

Obviously, this makes any reasonable person wonder what they're hiding (especially because they also considered not allowing Petraeus to testify in public about his assessment). But we don't even have to focus on that. What we're asking the press to do is something far simpler: Call the report what it is - the White House Report on progress in Iraq, not the Petraeus Report.

The L.A. Times explains that Petraeus won't be writing it. At most, he will be giving his "input." So will many other figures in the administration (that's read Dick Cheney and David Addington). So, how is it the Petraeus Report?

I think at this point it would be most accurately described as the Dick Cheney Report. If you think his staff isn't writing it -- or already has it written -- I don't think you're paying a lick of attention to what's happening in D.C. That being said, we're not even asking for that. Just don't call it the Petraeus Report, because that isn't what it is. Please, please report the facts.

Speaking of which, the Los Angeles Times pretty much redefined the term "burying the lead" when they put this vital piece of information in the 28th paragraph of the story. Here's that stunning paragraph buried near the end of the article:

"Despite Bush's repeated statements that the report will reflect evaluations by Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, administration officials said it would actually be written by the White House, with inputs from officials throughout the government."[Emphasis added]

Did you not think that people might find that interesting? Or did you not want to embarrass the administration by pointing out what a sham this report is going to be?

That being said, at least they uncovered the story, which they should be given a lot of credit for. They also covered the story, which is a lot more than we can say for television news so far. Have you seen anyone on TV report the fact that Petraeus will not be writing the report named after him? To allow the administration to call this something it patently is not allows them to simply replace their propaganda with what ought to be news.

Here's one of my favorite parts of the L.A. Times story:

"And though Petraeus and Crocker will present their recommendations on Capitol Hill, legislation passed by Congress leaves it to the president to decide how to interpret the report's data."

So, after they write the report about how much progress they're making, the administration will then evaluate whether they are making enough progress. That's rich. If anyone takes that seriously, they should immediately stop calling themselves journalists. This whole thing is one huge fraud. If the media goes along with this one, then they have learned nothing.

This is an interesting moment because we will find out if the media are actually trying to be journalists, as they claim over and over, or if they have been reduced to stenographers as some critics claim. They have been put on notice. Dan Froomkin of washingtonpost.com has written about it. Atrios has written about it. Greg Sargent of TPM has written about it. And the largest political blog in the country, Daily Kos has written about it several times.

If the media ignore the indisputable facts in this case, you not only have to question their reporting practices, you have to question their integrity. Are they doing news at all?

We'll find out. Stay tuned.

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