Interview with former “Donahue” producer and MSNBC pundit Jeff Cohen

Cohen describes the multiple pressures exerted by NBC executives to amplify pro-government views and suppress antiwar commentary.

Topics: Washington, D.C.,

(updated below)

One of the most amazing aspects of this week has been watching network media stars feign shock over the fact that anyone could suggest that they were “deferential, complicit enablers” of the Bush march to war. It’s as though they never heard anyone ever suggest such a thing until George Bush’s own Press Secretary mocked them for being meek, uncritical disseminators of government propaganda, and now — they seem to want to convey — they’re just so confused and astonished that anyone could possibly think that about them.

There has been a mountain of evidence documenting the truth of McClellan’s observations about the press for years now. Books have been written demonstrating their mindless deference. Both The New York Times and The Washington Post have acknowledged, to varying degrees, that they were complicit in disseminating false pro-war propaganda and suppressing the anti-war case. And the networks themselves — though they pretend otherwise — are smack in the middle of a growing scandal over the fact that they continuously presented Pentagon-controlled commentators, plagued by all sorts of undisclosed financial and ideological ties, as “independent analysts” to spout the pro-Government line on everything having to do with the war. War opponents were almost nowhere to be found on those same networks. And their own stars are beginning to speak out about the pressures that were put on them to avoid confrontation with the Government.



To that growing mountain should be added the following:

* This extraordinary column from the McClatchy journalism team that proved that real journalism with regard to administration claims was possible in the run-up to the war. They understandably have little tolerance for the self-serving, transparently false defenses offered this week from the likes of Brian Williams and Charlie Gibson, which they label as “Hogwash. Hogwash! HOGWASH” (emphasis in original). If you read one column in its entirety this week, that one should be it.

* This morning, I interviewed Jeff Cohen, the former producer of the MSNBC show Donahue, which was canceled weeks before the invasion of Iraq despite being that network’s highest rated show because, as a leaked NBC memorandum revealed, that network did not want to host an anti-war commentator — not even a single one.

Cohen’s comments, particularly as the interview progresses, are very illuminating regarding the corporate and political pressures at MSNBC at that time to promote only a pro-war, pro-Bush view. It’s roughly 30 minutes long. The sound quality of the interview is quite good (we’re continuously trying to improve sound quality) and Cohen makes many trenchant observations and reveals some very interesting facts about NBC, MSNBC, GE and its various on-air personalities. The interview can be heard here.

UPDATE: Media critic Tim Rutten of The Los Angeles Times reviews Scott McClellan’s book and, in the course of disputing McClellan’s criticism of the media, makes a couple of unbelievably dense though revealing assertions (h/t reader tm):

The news media, no less than the nation, endured a wrenching trauma on 9/11 and no less than any other institution in society felt the moral obligation to demonstrate solidarity with a country under deadly threat. In that situation, not giving the administration the benefit of the doubt, when it presented “facts” it said were based on the best and most sensitive intelligence available from the CIA and other spy agencies, would have been mindlessly adversarial.

Apparently now, in the U.S., when our Government wants to start a war by attacking another country that hasn’t attacked us, it’s the duty of the media to presume that they’re telling the truth about everything, and it would be extremely irresponsible — “mindlessly adversarial” — for them to do otherwise. I just can’t even add anything to that. Then he says this:

Moreover, since the media lacked the ability to do original reporting on the ground in Iraq, what basis would there have been for contradicting the administration’s assessment of Saddam Hussein’s aims?

There’s that standard media excuse: it was impossible for journalists to do anything except spout what the government was telling them. Has Rutten heard of McClatchy? Here’s a link to their column again where they today lay out all of the work they did debunking the deceptive claims from the administration.

Maybe Rutten should ask them how they did it since, according to Rutten, that was impossible. Speak to sources inside and outside the Government disputing the administration’s claims. Give a platform to experts warning of the dangers of the invasion. Trumpet the multiple discrepancies between the administration’s claims and what was available in the public record. Isn’t this excruciatingly obvious? The Washington Post‘s Dan Froomkin adds more evidence here regarding the profound media failures.

How did Woodward and Bernstein uncover what the Nixon criminals did since they kept it secret? It must have been impossible! How did Dana Priest uncover the CIA Black Sites in Eastern Europe without being able to go there and visit them? How did Jim Risen and Eric Lichtblau find out that the Bush administration was eavesdropping on Americans without the warrants required by law? It’s called “reporting”: the process of finding out, through investigation, that which the Government seeks to conceal. Why does that need to be explained to the “media critic” of The Los Angeles Times? If he doesn’t understand that, what does he understand?

Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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