The Last Word | March 18, 2013
>>> the problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire a nuclear weapon , but we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud .
>> tomorrow is the tenth anniversary of the start of the iraq war , a war 53% of americans now believe was a mistake. how that mistake was made is the subject of the msnbc documentary hubris, selling the iraq war based on the book of the same title by david corn . here is bill keller , former executive editor of "the new york times" discussing the media's role leading up to the war.
>> but there was a kind of, you know, kind of mainstream view that this was real. add to that the kind of -- just the competitive urge that motivates newspaper reporters, the desire to get stories first, to get stories exclusively, to get stories on the front page , you know, all those came into play and in fact the times wrote a number of bad stories, inadequately sourced, unskeptical stories about particularly about saddam's weapons capabilities, and those stories were rewarded with lavish front page display. times also wrote a lot of very good stories, more skeptical stories, and those tended to be buried on page a-13. reporters respond to those incentives. there were some reporters, you know, went out looking to feed that hunger for scoops.
>> david corn , speaking of someone who never said anything in favor of the iraq war , i've always been kind of defensive for the media on this, and people would say to me at the time how come they're not reporting on the aluminum tubes that can be used for this -- i said the reason you know that is that you read it in "the washington post " or "the new york times" and the quibble we now seem to be into, which feels like a quibble for me, well, this story was on page one, but this was on page 18. i personally don't invest more in a page one story than a page 18 story.
>> i think it is slightly more than a quibble. i think we get into this in the book, mike isikoff, i have a story in mother jones that came out today, in any story you can pick, there tends to be a tone the coverage ends up creating, can be in favor of something or against it, ask any president about any controversy. there's an overarching tone. if you look at the reporting, the tone was very accepting of what the bush administration was claiming. so a good example would be, and not everybody is as discerning as you are, a good example, front page story in "the washington post ," use that as an example, could be anybody else. today president bush said saddam hughes and is working with al qaeda . he is here, this is the story, and they quote an unnamed analyst because they can't speak openly, who would say we have no evidence to back this up.
>> and i would seize on that.
>> you would seize on it, put on a show if you have a show at the time. but the general thrust of the matter is you worked in congress, you know that a lot of congressmen and senators don't get past the headlines, we should take what bush says with more weight. the thrust of the story should have been president bush said something, contradicted by his own government and that should have been the lead, the fact he was saying something that wasn't proven. again and again and again. colin powell , that speech he gave february 5th , 2003 , everyone remembers that, you know --
>> swayed a lot of people.
>> swayed a lot of people. the coverage was over the top . it was like writing about a rock star . then if you turned inside and kept on reading 20 inches in, you would find people saying wait a second, we don't know about this, we don't know about that. yeah. the people that dig deep can find this. i remember at the time there was a tide was hard to swim against. he would give that speech, then go on tv.
>> you had some amazing moments on tv those days.
>> a lot of fights. i said wait, the post, the times is reporting, i would talk, did my reporting, i talked to nuclear scientists about the aluminum tubes and they would say that wasn't proven. you would be laughed at.
>> it was a wise man's view. a serious man's view.
>> media consensus, tell you one story. won't embarrass the person, it is someone we both know. he told me his opinion would be determined by what thomas friedman wrote, guy wrote for a major paper we see all the time. there was a consensus that dominated.
>> i remember people surrendering opinions to colin powell and influential columnists because it was such a tricky issue and the homework was massive.
>> they didn't want to take the risk.
>> we are out of time. we will be showing hubris again on this network. david corn gets the last word. thank you, david.