The Iraq War Was Not A Media Failure

Ten years ago, on March 18, 2003, Tony Blair delivered a speech to parliament prior to a vote that resulted in MPs authorising war on Iraq. The war began two days later.

Last month, a Guardian leader recalled Blair's role:

leader described Blair's March 18 performance as 'an impassioned and impressive speech by the prime minister which may give future generations some inkling of how, when so many of his own party opposed his policy so vehemently, Tony Blair nevertheless managed to retain their respect and support…'

The editorial added:

sanctions; a country that represented precisely zero threat to the West.

Like the rest of the corporate media, the Guardian had been unable to declare the 'threat' from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction the fraud it clearly was. The 'WMD issue' was a classic 'necessary illusion' required to justify a war that the United States, with ruthless opportunism, had decided to fight shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks. WMD provided a fictional but functional link to 9/11, allowing US neocons to exploit the suffering of that day to enable this second, very much larger atrocity. As Alan Greenspan, former chair of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, wrote:

general election:

reported that the former prime minister was the 'star guest' at a Labour party fundraiser, which 'provided the perfect opportunity for Blair's return to frontline British politics'.

"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>The 'Giant Club' Responds

The day after his speech, the Guardian's Simon Hoggart wrote of Blair:

assertion that politicians and journalists constitute 'a giant club'. The 'club' has enormous influence and often reaches a broad consensus, but can by no stretch of the imagination be considered 'mainstream'.

In a leader titled, 'Master of the House,' the Daily Telegraph commented:



commented at the time:

reported that Iraq had been 'fundamentally disarmed' of 90-95 per cent of its WMD between 1991-98, without the threatening 'stick' of war – the 'carrot' of lifted sanctions had been sufficient. In March 1999, a UN panel described how 'the bulk of Iraq's proscribed weapons programmes has been eliminated'. Blair clearly understood that the ignorance and conformity of the British press was such that even a lie of this magnitude – one which was itself 'contrary to all history and intelligence' – could pass unchallenged. 

Blair also said:

who had died under US/UK sanctions, not the one million Iraqis about to die as a result of Blair's war. In May 2000, senior UN diplomat, Denis Halliday, who had set up and run the UN oil for food programme in Iraq, told us of US-UK policy:

different view, one that was effectively banned from the media in 2002-2003:

reported that 655,000 Iraqis had lost their lives as a result of the invasion. This was rejected out of hand by the Bush and Blair governments (although not privately; the UK Ministry of Defence's chief scientific adviser considered the Lancet study 'close to best practice' and 'robust'). The corporate media were happy to swallow the UK government's alleged 'reservations', to the extent that a recent Guardian news piece claimed that the invasion had 'led to the death of almost 200 British troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis'.

In response, Canadian media analyst Joe Emersberger challenged the Guardian readers' editor, Chris Elliott, arguing that it is beyond dispute that 500,000 Iraqis have died as a result of the war. Elliott replied:

this article all suggest that Joe's comments are valid.

condemned and not considered adequately respectful of those who died.


said, al-Qaeda violence was a direct response to the horrors the US had visited on Iraq through war and sanctions before 2001, and on the Palestinian people over decades.

In his speech, Blair also dismissed the idea that Western sanctions had caused the mass death of Iraqis, claiming Saddam Hussein was solely to blame for the suffering. As we have seen, the senior diplomats who actually ran the sanctions programme, and who resigned in protest at its disastrous effects, had dismissed the claim as nonsense.


"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>Conclusion – Hard-Wired Not To Resist

What was truly shocking in March 2003 was that Blair was able to weave this obvious web of deceit and be greeted, not even with whispers of dissent, but with thunderous applause and praise by the political-media 'club'.

It was this appalling speech that had 'helped to restore the integrity of parliament', according to the anti-war Mirror. Blair's 'patent sincerity has impressed, banishing his reputation as a fickle politician without convictions', according to the Independent. And yet, for any rational viewer or reader, the cynicism, and the silence about that cynicism, was jaw-dropping.

Much has been made of different newspapers being 'for' and 'against' the war in Iraq. But in fact all newspapers and broadcasters failed to raise even the most obvious objections to the case for believing the war was necessary, legal or moral. In March 2003, the way journalists feign fierce dissent while tossing feeble challenges for political executives, fellow 'club' members, to swat away, had never been more obvious.

The Iraq war showed how the 'free press' is structurally hard-wired not to obstruct US and UK regimes bent on war. The corporate media – entrenched in the irrational and dangerous assumption that it should accept frameworks of debate laid down by 'mainstream' political parties – took key illusions seriously. As a result, the fraudulent discussion about Iraqi WMD raged on and on with the real world left far behind.

And this was no passive media 'failure'; it was an active, resilient determination to promote 'the view from Downing Street' and Washington. In 2002 and 2003, hundreds of Media Lens readers and other media activists – including journalists, academics, lawyers and authors – sent many hundreds of rational, referenced emails to newspapers and TV stations. Time and again, their crucial evidence and sources were simply ignored. The idea that coverage of the Iraq war represented a terrible 'failure' for the corporate media is an exact reversal of the truth. Iraq was a good example of how these media consistently excel in their structural role as defenders of powerful interests.

The real 'failure' was the emergence of undeniable evidence that the media had all along been boosting Bush-Blair lies. But even this would have mattered little in the absence of Iraqi resistance and the vast death toll generated by the US determination to divide and conquer that resistance. If Iraqis had quietly accepted the conquest, the talk would not have been of 'media failure' but of 'humanitarian success', with all criticism dismissed as 'carping'. This was indicated very clearly by the BBC's then political editor Andrew Marr in April 2003, when he commented that the quick 'fall' of Baghdad, with Iraqis 'celebrating', had put an end to all 'these slightly tawdry arguments and scandals. That is now history'. (Marr, BBC 1 News at Ten, April 9, 2003)

It is a bitter, even surreal, irony that the media 'failure' on Iraq is being lamented by journalists who have since repeated the same performance on Libya, Syria, Israel-Palestine, Iran, Venezuela, WikiLeaks, climate change, and much else besides.

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