The Southern California Major Dailies Failed Miserably in “Commemorating” the 10 Year Anniversary of the Iraq War

The LA Times and the U-T San Diego Continue the Deception of Ten Years With Their Failure to Discuss the War

Los Angeles Times March 20, 2003

Los Angeles Times March 20, 2003

Southern California is home to two major daily newspapers – each from the major cities in this part of the country: the Los Angeles Times and the U-T San Diego.

In a review of their coverage of the ten year anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, I found them to be woefully inadequate in any discussion about “lessons learned” on the war, the invasion, or the run-up to the conflict.  I especially searched to see whether they went further and exposed the falsehoods and lies that the Bush administration told the public to convince us to go to war.

Those of us who suffer the U-T would not be too surprised to learn that the Manchester daily would not get too involved with a critique of the Bush’s deceptions and misrepresentations.  However, one would have thought the LA Times – once the bastion of liberalness on the West Coast – would have at least attempted to put together some kind of journalistic endeavor in examining all the ways that the American people were misled a decade ago.

But both papers failed utterly in educating their readers on examining the pablum fed American citizens that convinced us – as a nation – to send our fellow brothers and sisters to their deaths in a land that was not threatening us.

The U-T San Diego coverage of the ten year anniversary included a Sunday paper front page article that led to a two-page spread inside about “Scars Still Visible in U.S., Middle East” – which was about the effects of the war on veterans who served there and on the Iraqis in their country. Three days later, the commemorative piece was all about the money that flowed into San Diego because of the war(s).

The LA Times, on the other hand, ran a couple op-ed pieces on the lessons from the war, a cartoon, and a follow-up article looking at whether Iraq is now better than it was before the invasion and war.

Let’s look at both the papers’ coverage a little closer.

U-T San Diego

In its Special Report that began on the front page on the Sunday before the 10th anniversary, the paper has a large photo with Marines saluting the boots, guns and helmets of two of their fallen comrades from Camp Pendleton back in July 2004. The report then opens to a full two-page spread, with a banner headline of “Iraq: ‘It was like a one marathon, a 100-meter sprint at a time‘”.

The accompanying photos showed a Navy medic holding a traumatized Iraqi boy whose family had been caught in a cross-fire, and it showed a Marine a couple weeks after the invasion being surrounded and nearly kissed by over-joyed Iraqi men who were supposedly chanting “Long live Bush!”


What are the lessons learned?

“The Iraq War … had a profound impact on the U.S. military, adding heroic chapters to its history as well as blood-soaked lessons in counterinsurgency, tribalism and the rise of the improvised explosive device, … as Achilles heel to the superpower’s juggernaut of high-tech weaponry.”

Yet the text is all about the troubles and trials that US military men had to contend with during the first months of the war.  Generals are quoted how they were able to move their heavy forces through the desert up to the gates of Baghdad in 3 weeks.  The military’s biggest fears? Not the Iraqi army but the “stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction used to sell the war – chemical, biological and nuclear – that were never found.”

This was not followed by any analysis of how the Bushies lied, but about how the tempo of the fighting was relentless, about how the conflict intensified with time and over the years.

The article even quotes one-time gunnery sergeant now turned right-wing politician, Nick Popaditch (known by local progressives for physically harassing Bob Filner and his staff down at election central) in describing the relief he felt when Saddam Hussein’s statute was brought down by American tanks. Popaditch – on the widespread looting that followed, causing $12 Billion in damage – “It’s just Iraqis taking back what is theirs.  We weren’t supposed to intervene.” This statement reflects then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in his famous quote about how ‘freedom is messy’ in response to the looting.

The “Special Report” goes on somewhat of an historical wash of the “progress” of the war, for example, how “hard-core jihadists hopped up on amphetamines were dug in, prepared to become martyrs.” Terrorists hopped up on drugs is an echo from the Vietnam War era, where US soldiers faced scores of enemy “gooks hopped up on opium”.

It discusses how tribal leaders in Anbar province were losing control of the insurgency to a “al-Queda in Iraq organization” – which of course only reinforces the idea that Saddam and al-Queda were linked, without any explanation or solid analysis.

It goes on and recounts how generals were so pleased with the progress on how Iraqis came out and voted in “open, free elections”, and nothing about how so many Iraqis and Americans were killed and maimed needlessly.  The tenor of the report is basically how tough it was for the Americans to fight through all those years, but it was all worth it because the Marines defeated the insurgents in Anbar, and how this experience led to more victories in other provinces, and then progress later in Afghanistan.

The article sums up, quoting a general: “The Iraq War ‘matured the [Marine] force in terms of our capability, outlook and education. Now the $64,000 question is – what’s the next war going to look like?”

This Sunday spread is followed by another article that same day about how change is slowly returning to Iraq – a divided country.

On Monday, March 18th, the U-T led off with another front page piece in their continuing series of “The Iraq War”, but this time all about the thousands of Iraqis who have migrated to San Diego County, and especially El Cajon.  That was it. We do learn that there are 40-50,000 Iraqis living in El Cajon, and that 13,000 have migrated here since the war began.

When Tuesday, the 19th rolled around – the actual ten year anniversary date – the U-T had nothing, no front page piece, no photos, no editorial or op-ed piece.

The next day, Wednesday, there was a front page piece, entitled, “War Brought Billions to San Diego”, which described it all.  We’re told that the Iraq war “quickly led to an explosion in San Diego County’s military contracts as billions of dollars were spent to support U.S. and coalition efforts.”

Money spent in our county on local companies for Iraq work “exceeded $20 billion between the start of the Iraq War and the end of 2011 ….”  We learn that SAIC, “the county’s largest defense contractor, had nearly $3 billion in Pentabon contracts in 2008 alone”.  One of the biggest local beneficiaries of Iraq War spending on contractors, it is explained, was Stu Segall who converted his Kearny Mesa property into a mock Iraqi village, and using locals as insurgents, his company Strategic Operations reportedly trained more than 700,000 troops since the beginning of the war.  The article doesn’t ask the obvious question of why a civilian did this and not the US military itself.

Duncan Hunter, Sr, is dragged out of retirement for choice quotes on the war. “The goal was to take down a brutal dictator who was murdering his own people,” he stated, continuing the narrative that the reason we went to war was to topple a vicious authoritarian.

So, that’s it for the U-T’s observation into the ten years since the invasion.  No editorial denouncing the Republican administration for deceiving the public – actually, I didn’t see any U-T editorial from a cabal of editors who are quick to daily denounce a liberal mayor.  No reflection. No genuine musings on what happened.  Simply we’re given recounts of how difficult it was for the American military, and how courageous it was going up against so many odds, and how much money our local, fellow citizens made from the war in contracts.

The Los Angeles Times

With big hopes that at least the LA Times, a once venerable liberal bastion, would lay bare the lies and misrepresentations handed us by the Bush administration, by Condy Rice, by Dick Cheney, by the entire gang, and we could breath a little sigh of relief for getting some truth, at last …. but these hopes were quickly dashed when I actually read what the paper offered in their retrospect.

On the Sunday before the tenth anniversary of March 19th, we are given an op-ed piece by one of their regular columnists, Doyle McManus, who asked “Iraq war: Lessons learned?”

timeMcManus at least was asking questions that the U-T didn’t even get hint at, yet even he was using terms such as “blunder”, “exaggerations”, “premises proven false” in recounting that George W Bush and his top aids still to this day “maintain that the invasion was a good idea”.

McManus at least acknowledges that the “debate over who deserves blame – is still under way,” and outlines “three big things [that] went wrong”. He lists hubris – but we’re now over it, and “flawed intelligence” about Saddam’s WMDs caused “crushing professional failure” to CIA analysts, and thirdly, “the politicization of intelligence information”, citing the Bushies repeated exaggerations of all those reasons to go get Hussein.

Yet, still no suggestion that the public was intentionally lied to.

On the actual anniversary day, March 19th, the LA Times had nothing on its front page, although it went with a full page and half about the new pope. It had no editorial, but it did have another op-ed piece, this one by Max Boot, an irregular conservative columnist from the Council on Foreign Relations.  And it also ran a cartoon about how every member of Congress who voted for the war should war a commemorative dunce hat.

But again, we are showered with words and phrases like “error”, “miscalculation”, “mistakes”, “we were wrong”, “misinformation”, that we were unprepared, we blundered, we didn’t know how to pick up the pieces of the destroyed Iraq nation, and even “near-miraculous turnaround” of the war thanks to Generals Petraeus and Odierno.  But nothing on lies or intentional misrepresentation by the president, the vice-president and both their staffs.

This is woefully inadequate from a major daily – one of the major “liberal” newspapers in the country.

Letter writers who responded to the Max Boot piece were much more on prescient. One wrote and asked, “What if Boot had led off his piece with a reminder of the bogus assertion by the Bush administration that Hussein and Osama bin Laden were linked? What if Boot reminded us that many of the United Nations weapons inspectors declared before the U.S. invasion of Iraq that they doubted Iraq had a weapons program?”

Another writer – who took Boot to task for laying a bunch of  “what if’s” in his argument, suggests that if Al Gore had won the election in 2000, there never would have been a Iraq war at all, “and all that blood and treasure – unpaid for, as it was – would never have been wasted.”

On March 20th, the front page of the LA Times had a large photo of the statute of Hussein in front of burning government buildings – a very impressive image. I thought, well, this will be the article, the mother of all articles on why and  how we ended up in Iraq.  The Times will redeem itself, I thought. Then I read the headline:  “Legacy of war lives on in Iraq”. Oh no, not another one of these.

It turned out to be a good-sized piece, but only how focused on ‘much has changed since the invasion, but is it for the better?’ It goes on to quote a number of Iraqis and how they perceive the differences between now and before the war.  It discusses in individual stories of  the current conflict between the Shittes now in power and the Sunnis not in power.

No discussion on how the American people were deceived by their government.  I threw the paper down in disgust.

That was it – the two major dailies in our part of the world failed miserably in recounting for us how we were lied to ten years ago.  It was almost expected that the U-T would glorify the war, talk up the tribulations of our very own soldiers and marines and tell us how much we benefited in dollars because of the war.

But the LA Times? Why no grandiose editorial? It spread many more words on anticipating the new pope than it did in preparing us for any new lies or government sleighs of hand when it comes to war.  It’s retrospective focused on the current scene in Iraq, not on the decade-old series of lies and the grand design of deceit planned out by the Bush administration. Nothing in either paper on how the American people were manipulated with false claims to spill the blood of our children and the guts of so many Iraqis.

These papers’ coverage of this historic marker is unconscionable.  At the very least, both the LA Times and the U-T San Diego because of their absolute lack of coverage of the real reasons we went to war, carry on the white-wash and cover-up of this horrible era of our time, called the most disastrous foreign policy “blunder” of American modern history.

Not a trace or hint of the idea that maybe we should hold those who lied to us responsible for so much waste of lives and treasure. How can we hold leaders accountable if they simply made “errors” or “miscalculations” or held premises “proven false”?

The corporate media – which, of course, both the LA Times and the U-T are part of – made us a monumental dis-service when it failed to adequately hold the needed discussions in the run-up to the war. And now, ten years after, they continue the lies and deceptions by not discussing them.

We need more from our “fourth estate” – and now we must demand more.  No wonder the blog world exploded after the failure of the media to inform us on the real reasons Bush and Company wanted to go to war. And they can’t figure out why people look elsewhere for the truth. But search we must.

A lawyer and grassroots activist, I was finally convinced by Patty Jones to start the OB Rag, a blog of citizen journalists, after she got tired of listening to my rants about the news. Way back during the Dinosaurs in 1970, I founded the original Ocean Beach People’s Rag - OB’s famous underground newspaper -, and then later during the early Eighties, published The Whole Damn Pie Shop, a progressive alternative to the Reader.


  1. avatarJoe says

    I was taught at Columbia J school that anniversaries are not considered newsworthy events. By definition, my teacher said, any story that you can predict, and plan in advance, is not considered news. He called it “lazy journalism.” So why make a big deal out of this. Any news organization could have written about Iraq at any time, and not waited for an anniversary. The anniversary is a date significant only to journalists. It wasn’t on the minds of regular people.

    • avatarAnna Daniels says

      Joe- I think we need to expand “lazy journalism” to include egregious boosterism evidenced by such luminaries as NYT and WaPo ten years ago when Bush/Cheney were beating the war drums. Ok, maybe that’s not lazy-perhaps cowardly or venal would be more apt. Unless you can stop the likes of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld from unapologetically pushing revisionist history on the tenth anniversary, then I’d say journalists have their work cut out for them.

    • avatar says

      Joe – what is newsworthy is how the media was used to manipulate the American people into going to war, and so any self-examination by that very same media is extremely important to a democracy – and without it, we, the American people, are left on our own again without the so-called 4th estate investigating whatever the government and the rich corporations say. It’s BS to call this “lazy journalism” and so perhaps your Columbia School professor is part of that same media-establishment that went with the mar mongers, and is part of an institution that is no longer serving who they are supposed to be serving.

  2. avatarbob dorn says

    War language. We go halfway around the world to deploy our troops, planes and rockets there, and then call the people who object to our presence in those countries, “insurgents.” Of course, the major Orwell.Huxley money term is “Defense Department.” Drones? Torture (oops, “enhanced interrogation”)? We have “preemptive wars” now, which means we don’t need to have any provocation before we start killing our own soldiers and the civilians of other countries.

  3. avatarGoatskull says

    I remember when this whole thing started. I was stationed onboard the USS Peleliu. We were in port here in San Diego and we were being trained on how to deal with angry groups of war protesters attempting to crash the gate. It was rather comical in a tragic sort of way. The military in all its infinite wisdom did its usual overkill training service members on mob mentality that of course never happened. It made for some interesting afternoons to say the least. Most of us were baffled at to why the U.S. invaded Iraq but sadly went along with the program. Luckily for me I never had to deploy out that way anymore as I was on the last few month of my sea tour then transferred to Balboa Naval Medical center for my twilight tour before retiring. I even quietly took part in a couple protests myself on the weekends.

    • avatar says

      When I was in the Army during the Vietnam war days, our unit was to march in NYC, and we were similarly instructed in what to do if these “crazy, hippie protesters” tried to come up to us.

  4. avatar says

    I can’t speak about the U-T because I only read what friends send me. But The LA Times on 3/19/13 ran that excellent Wuerker (Politico) cartoon of Congressional dunces who voted in favor of the war in 2003. Remind me: What was the vote tally, by name, among the San Diego delegation? That would be interesting to remember.

    Also, on 3/23/13 there was an op ed color photo from Y 2003 at the President’s Crawford TX ranch: evildoers with dog. President George W. Bush, Condoleeza Rice followed by W’s beagle, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and Air Force General Richard Myers. Only “W” and Condi show their faces; the other three are looking down, studying their shoes. The bold headline underneath the picture says “Errors or Lies?

    The LA Times has presented searing photo and print coverage of the U.S. invasion of Iraq over the decade. (And I’m not talking about the “embedded” niche reporting of Tony Perry on the Marines from Pendleton.) We’re outta there now, but the mischief lingers on, with Iraq funneling arms from Iran to Syria’s embattled strongman Assad.
    A crime and mess. That would make a good headline.

  5. avatar says

    The American people should be reminded at every turn of the way we were lied into war by the Bush administration. You’ve done an excellent job, Frank, with this article. Nothing good has come from this war. I repeat: ABSOLUTELY NOTHING GOOD HAS COME FROM THIS WAR. The VA has a backlog of returned veterans who can’t get services for from 1 to 3 years. 4 million Iraqis are displaced. Hundreds of thousands dead. (Some estimates put it at millions.) A country in turmoil.

    From a geopolitical viewpoint we’ve forced Iraq into the arms of Iran, exactly the thing no sane American would want. Saddam was a bulwark against Iran.

    Oil was supposed to pay for the war. Yeah, sure. We were supposed to be greeted as liberators. Yeah, sure.

    It was supposed to be over in a few months. Yeah, sure. It was only over when Obama decided it would be over. For the Iraqis it still goes on. We’ve totally destabilized the country and the region.

    So we are left with death and destruction plus a few trillions in bills which could have been spent at home rebuilding infrastructure, but Republicans, who will spend trillions on death and destruction in an absolutely futile and fruitless war won’t spend a penny on rebuilding America.