Could Twitter have improved media coverage in runup to Iraq War?

The Huffington Post | Salon | CPJ | CNN

McClatchy's Jonathan Landay tells Michael Calderone that Twitter may have worked as an equalizer as the media trotted out the Bush administration's casus belli.

“What would have happened if there had been the kind of reporting by everybody else we had been doing?” Landay asked. “Would it have been so easy to have taken this country to war and see so many people lose their lives and so much blood and treasure expended -– for what?”

Landay, whose employer was at the time named Knight Ridder, provided some of the only skeptical mainstream reporting before the war, along with Warren Strobel. He tells Calderone that national security is the "toughest beat in town":

"You still have that same game of access going on, where you’re given information and you write it down as your told because you want to be able to maintain access and not take the time to check it out.”

"Twitter could have helped puncture the Beltway media bubble by providing news consumers with direct access to confront journalists during the run-up to the war," Eric Boehlert writes in a Media Matters for America piece that also ran on Salon. A lot of blogs were appropriately skeptical, but "they didn’t necessarily command journalists’ respect, and [lacked] the technological ability to reach into newsrooms," Boehlert writes.

Every Beltway newsroom is now wired to Twitter. ... They may not always choose to respond, but like all Twitter users, journalists regularly tap the ‘Connect’ icon to follow what people are saying to them and about them.

Such connections may have not stopped the war, Boehlert writes, but they "could have helped shame journalists into rediscovering the notion of skepticism."

The Committee to Protect Journalists looks at a more immediate cost of the war to journalists: "At least 150 journalists and 54 media support workers were killed in Iraq from the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 to the declared end of the war in December 2011," Frank Smyth writes. 117 of those journalists were Iraqi, as were 53 of the support workers.

Two journalists who died were from the United States. Michael Kelly, editor-at-large of The Atlantic and a columnist for The Washington Post, was embedded with U.S. forces just two weeks into the invasion when he was killed. Kelly and a U.S. soldier died when their Humvee came under fire near Baghdad and went out of control. Freelance journalist Steven Vincent, who had contributed to The Christian Science Monitor and National Review and who was working on a book, was abducted and killed in Basra in 2005. His body was riddled with bullets, his hands bound with plastic wire.

Last week Howard Kurtz reported that The Washington Post's prewar performance "was not a pretty picture":

Tom Ricks, who was the paper's top military reporter, turned in a piece in the fall of 2002 that he titled "Doubts," saying that senior Pentagon officials were resigned to an invasion but were reluctant and worried that the risks were being underestimated. An editor killed the story, saying it relied too heavily on retired military officials and outside experts -- in other words, those with sufficient independence to question the rationale for war.

"There was an attitude among editors: Look, we're going to war, why do we even worry about all this contrary stuff?" Ricks said.

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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