“Since the end of the war, journalists have found no shortage of sources willing t criticize the administration. (Even Colin Powell, in a recent press conference, admitte that, contrary to his assertions at the United Nations, he had no ‘smoking gun’ proof of a link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.) The Washington Post has been especially aggressive in exposing the administration’s exaggerations of intelligence, its inadequate planning for postwar Iraq, and its failure to find weapons of mass destruction. Barton Gellman, who before the war worked so hard to ferret out Iraq’s ties to terrorists, has, since its conclusion, written many incisive articles about the administration’s intelligence failures.
The contrast between the press’s feistiness since the end of the war and its meekness before it highlights one of the most entrenched and disturbing features of American journalism: its pack mentality. Editors and reporters don’t like to diverge too sharply from what everyone else is writing. When a president is popular and a consensus prevails, journalists shrink from challenging him. Even now, papers like the Times and the Post seem loath to give prominent play to stories that make the administration look too bad. Thus, stories about the increasing numbers of dead and wounded in Iraq–both American and Iraqi–are usually consigned to page 10 or 12, where they won’t cause readers too much discomfort.”