Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter and Jeff Cohen founder of FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting), spoke at Ferndale’s First United Methodist Church on Saturday.
Both of the talks focused on the failure of the media in the run-up to the Iraq War and the current failure of the mainstream media in the current run up to war in Iran.
Cohen spoke first about his misadventures and eventual termination from Fox News and MSNBC where he was the senior producer for the Donahue show as well as an on-air commentator. Cohen, like Ritter was right about Iraq and the WMD’s claim.
Cohen further drove home what he called a “New York Times bias,” where they are effectively “Putting clothes on the emperor…” by giving credo to stories such as the one by Michael R. Gordon that used all unnamed U.S. officials to explain that the deadliest bombs in Iraq were manufactured by Iran. Cohen cited the mock story that had New York Times editor Bill Keller identifying Gordon as "…a voice-activated tape recorder.”
Cohen has evidence of this bias one of which is an MSNBC memo (The memo is in Cohen’s recent book.) that was written to him in the run-up to the Iraqi war that said he had to make a quota for every guest he had on. For every anti-war person, he would have to have two pro-war people on. Debates, which were a common segment with Cohen were not allowed. They opted for generals who were supposed to be “objective experts.”
Cohen claimed that when he suggested having Scott Ritter on MSNBC people whispered: “Haven’t you heard? Ritter is getting covert funding from Saddam Hussein.”
Cohen’s concern is that the people that got it wrong the first time are still prevalent in papers like The New York Times, Washington Post, and NPR, while people who were right about Iraq all along are all but shut out of the mainstream media, while the same mistake is being repeated with the run-up to war with Iran.
The one bright spot as identified by Cohen is the flourishing of independent media and the success of people like film-maker Robert Greenwald and bestselling author Jeremy Scahill. Independent media is doing well and providing net activism to effectively combat issues like net neutrality.
Scott Ritter started things out on a light note asking people to stop clapping as he was “Still suffering from Michigan hospitality.”
Ritter who served in the Marine Corps for twelve years and worked in the 1980’s with Reagan and Gorbachev to sign a treaty to ban nuclear tipped ballistic missiles. He also worked as the Chief UN weapons inspector from 1991 to1998, and was a vocal critic of the Iraq War from the beginning, going as far as making the 2002 documentary “Shifting Sands.”
Ritter cut to the point quick saying “We are on the path towards war with Iran” adding that we have a “...unitary executive that has navigated so far off from the system of checks and balances that they are indistinguishable from a dictator.”
Ritter finds that the main problem is that the Bush Administration falsely believes and keeps repeating (as they did with Saddam and WMD’s), that Iran had a nuclear program that was discontinued in 2003. This gives them the same leverage as they had with Iraq, which is if they don’t admit to what they never had, than they will be held accountable.
Ritter says that “War is almost inevitable.” He tried to remain positive by citing that war with Iran is an elective war and that it could be stopped one of two ways. The first is, stop the economic sanctions. Ritter called economic sanctions nothing but regime change; “Stop the sanctions, stop the war.” The second way is injecting the debate into politics since we are into an election cycle, if you get enough of the voting electorate worked up than war could possibly be prevented.
During the question and answer session Ritter provided a timeline for the coming Iran war. Since it is an elective war preparations need to be made, such as getting Israel to go along with the war which is already happening with Bush’s recent visit to Israel and Israel’s recent airstrike in Syria of buildings that were purported to be nuclear facilities. He predicts that in April there will be a military strike in Iran that will last 5-7 days, with troops coming later. Why April? Part of the reason is that the military’s modernization of B-1 bombers and bunker busters will be finished in late March, early April.
Ritter see’s the summer months as the best time to rally against further escalation, since U.S. troops will likely be on the ground in fall of 2008. He provides optimism by saying that “Policies change because they fail” and this policy will be no exception.
By Jason Tafilowski