McClatchy Washington Bureau Wins Another Award for Iraq Pre-War Coverage
Harvard University's Nieman Foundation for Journalism has announced McClatchy Bureau Chief John Walcott is the inaugural recipient of their I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence. McClatchy's announcement of the award includes the following:
Walcott was honored for leading a team of reporters whose skeptical coverage of the Bush administration's claims about Iraq's weapons programs in the months before the U.S. invasion in March 2003 was largely unmatched by other news outlets — and also largely ignored by policymakers.
"This is belated recognition of the powerful work done by Walcott in directing his colleagues in developing stories that were unappreciated and almost totally unnoticed at the time," Bob Giles, the Nieman Foundation's curator, said in announcing the award. "Because so many journalists fell short in their pre-Iraq war coverage, there's a real need to recognize this dogged editor who went about his business in a resolute way to challenge many of the justifications for the war that proved to be false."
The piece concludes with links to archives of the award winning reporting and a site with information about the career and life of I.F. Stone.
From Nieman's press release:
Established earlier this year, the I.F Stone Medal recognizes journalistic independence and honors the life of investigative journalist I.F. Stone. The award is administered by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard and the Nieman Watchdog Project and will be presented annually to a journalist whose work captures the spirit of independence, integrity and courage that characterized I.F. Stone’s Weekly, published 1953-1971.
In 2002, Walcott, then Knight Ridder Washington, D.C., bureau chief, and two of his top reporters, Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel, produced dozens of stories that refuted the Bush administration’s claims about the need for war and exposed the serious reservations many intelligence, Foreign Service and military officers had about the rush to invade Iraq. [Click here to review some of the stories.]
In a nutshell (also in the press release):
Murrey Marder, a 1950 Nieman Fellow and sponsor of the Nieman Watchdog Project, said, “Part of the press now recognizes that most of the news media were duped by the Bush administration’s highest officials…Walcott and two especially tenacious reporters operating as a formidable, closely-knit trio were the only journalists out of hundreds of American reporters and editors across the nation working on pre-invasion stories who ‘got it right.’ That is, producing solid stories – starting a year before the invasion began – reporting that the administration was manipulating intelligence to conceal dire forecasts that the Iraq invasion was headed into a morass to rival the Vietnam War disaster.”
Marder has a great write up, How Walcott and the Knight Ridder reporters went about their work, including this:
How did the Knight Ridder journalists avoid retaliation from the Bush White House for being the only news syndicate to challenge core elements of its Iraq war strategy? Walcott uses two metaphors to describe the Knight Ridder style of working "below the radar" with mid-level expert sources who drafted the war plans and knew its pitfalls.
In addition, the Walcott team readily accepted the role of the skunk at the garden party, so they had nothing to ask for, and nothing to hide. As one of the group explained, "We don't have the access that the big shots from the Times or the Post have. We're not on the first-call list. We're not invited to some of the inner-circle type of things."
Sounds like a team interested in getting the story instead of being a propaganda tool and megaphone for the administration. A must read simply for the stinging critique from Walcott that begins with:
...two key institutions "fell down on the job" on the road to war in Iraq—“the Congress and the press."...
and ends with:
..."that most of the elite news organizations in the country, led by the New York Times and the Washington Post were seriously, overwhelmingly wrong about Iraq, and that too many others simply followed them, like lemmings, over the cliff..."...
You won't want to miss the parts in between either.
Finally, I'll end with a couple of links to Bill Moyer's Journal. In April 2007, Moyer did Buying the War, a special "90-minute documentary that explores the role of the press in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. The McClatchy team is not only in the documentary but there is also a wonderful Q&A with Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel.