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With Liberals Like These, Who Needs Conservatives!

With “Liberals” Like These, Who Needs Conservatives:

How Powell wowed Mary McGrory and Richard Cohen, the crème of the
Washington Post’s credulous crop
By Dennis Hans

Phil Donahue, for those of you unfamiliar with him, is a handsome white-haired gentleman who gets paid by cable channel MSNBC to interview extreme right-wing kooks, legitimize their views by giving them a platform, and plead with the kooks to acknowledge that Phil is just as patriotic as they are and thus deserving of their acceptance. It’s a dirty job, but Phil sure loves doing it (

Phil is opposed to the unprovoked invasion of Iraq that the Bush administration appears hellbent on launching. On a recent show, he lamented that Mary McGrory (the sole remaining genuinely liberal columnist at “the liberal Washington Post”) had been won over by Colin Powell’s presentation at the U.N. Security Council on February 5.

“I’m Persuaded,” the provocative headline declared, but McGrory’s closing lines were more equivocal: “I’m not ready for war yet. But Colin Powell has convinced me that it might be the only way to stop a fiend, and that if we do go, there is reason” ( ).

Phil took it hard, as he is wont to do. But the feeble-minded fellow didn’t explore why and how McGrory was wowed by Powell.

Fortunately, Paul Krugman addressed that very topic, without referring specifically to McGrory, in his New York Times column February 18 (

“At least compared with their foreign counterparts, the ‘liberal’ U.S. media are strikingly conservative — and in this case hawkish,” Krugman wrote. “[S]ome U.S. media outlets — operating in an environment in which anyone who questions the administration’s foreign policy is accused of being unpatriotic — have taken it as their assignment to sell the war, not to present a mix of information that might call the justification for war into question.”

If anything, Krugman understates the degree of media comformity: It appears that all of TV is on board, along with much of the print media.

Powell did not present his “evidence” in a vacuum. He presented it amidst a background of war fever, Saddam menace and Powell worship. In the days leading up to his performance he was lauded for his brilliance and integrity by everyone with access to the mainstream media. If McGrory was watching, it may not have dawned on her that this is less a commentary on Powell than on who our media moguls allow to speak out on the so-called “people’s airwaves.”

McGrory does not fit the predominate media mindset accurately described by Krugman. Not only is she a liberal, she’s something most every other big-name media “liberal” is not: liberal on foreign policy. In the 1980s she repeatedly denounced Reagan’s murderous global policies ON MORAL GROUNDS. She read the human rights reports of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and drew harsh conclusions about Reagan, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Elliott Abrams, John Negroponte (the current U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.) and other official supporters and apologists for some of the most vicious, terroristic rebel groups and governments the world has known — including one headed by Saddam Hussein.

Fast forward to 2003 and McGrory seems to have forgotten that Powell, too, was a gung-ho booster of cutthroats the world over. True, he thought the Iran-contra arms-for-hostages scheme was hairbrained, but he sure did love the contras themselves. McGrory need only look up her 1980s columns to have all the reason in the world to find Powell morally repulsive.

If McGrory did forget about Powell’s blood-soaked past, who in the mainstream media might remind her of what she forgot? No one. Not on the commercial networks, PBS, or the cable “news” channels. Not Brokaw, Jennings, Rather or Lehrer, let alone O’Reilly, Blitzer or Matthews. No one.

As for the Post, McGrory could hang out at the water cooler for weeks on end and not bump into a single soul who’d say, “Gee, Mary, it seems like the whole world is so busy praising Powell’s integrity and character that they forgot he’s a black man who supported Reagan’s ‘Constructive Engagement’ with white-ruled South Africa.” Or “Hey, Mary, how about that Powell condemning Saddam for gassing the Kurds? Wasn’t he a good soldier in the very U.S. administration that supplied helicopters and targeting intelligence for those attacks? Didn’t that administration then float the lie that Iran was partly responsible for the Halabja gassings? Wasn’t Powell instrumental in preventing the Senate from imposing punitive sanctions on Iraq for those crimes? Mary, how does a man like Powell sleep at night?” Or “Hey, Mary, that Powell sure has a lot of chutzpah! He tells the U.N. that what he’s about to serve up aren’t ‘assertions,’ but ‘facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.’ Then he proceeds for 90 minutes to tell one whopper after another!”

It’s no reflection on the good people of Washington, D.C. that McGrory wouldn’t have heard such comments at the Post’s water cooler. Rather, it’s a reflection on the people the Graham family hires to work at the Post. That’s G-R-A-H-A-M, the family that has done more to ruin American journalism and shift our public discourse far to the right than any other family — even the Murdochs.

The Post is located in a city that’s predominately African American. Rest assured there are plenty of residents who remember Constructive Engagement and have made moral judgments about Powell for his role in legitimizing that policy. But the Post generally doesn’t hire those kinds of blacks, and if it slips up and does, such a black will not be allowed to write about foreign policy. He or she will either get with the Post program, like a good little Juan Williams, or be made to feel very uncomfortable.

The fact that McGrory and her dimwitted, ultra-credulous colleague, fake liberal Richard Cohen (, wrote rave reviews for the very-next-morning’s Post points to another absurdity: Powell was in New York, but he wasn’t starring in a Broadway play. He was making a case for the prosecution on matters of war and peace. McGrory and Cohen are the equivalent of jurors who hand down a verdict after listening to the prosecutor’s opening statement!

It’s debateable whether McGrory and Cohen would be capable of evaluating Powell’s claims a year from now, let alone hours after he made them. They’re not experts on Iraq’s WMD programs and the extent to which they still function, if at all. They’re not experts on weapons inspections and inspectors. They’re not experts on al Qaeda, Osama, Saddam or Zarqawi and thus are in no position to render snap judgments on “links” based on bits of “evidence” selected by Powell and the sinister neoconservative hawks who helped him assemble his case. And they’re too lazy to do the necessary research to develop even a smidgen of expertise on any of those matters.

Most importantly, McGrory and Cohen aren’t experts on U.S. disinformation operations, even though they’ve lived through, and been victimized by, quite a few. You’d think these columnists would realize their own limitations — they’ve been grown-ups for quite a few years now — and that if they didn’t, an editor would clue them in. But we’re not talking about a real newspaper; we’re talking about the Washington Post.

Readers who are curious as to how an actual expert initially reacted to Powell’s presentation can turn to Glen Rangwala, Lecturer in Politics at Cambridge University, who works with the Labor Party opposition to Tony Blair. Here is his hastily assembled “first response”:

Note from the following excerpt that, right off the bat, this trained observer caught on to Powell’s bait-and-switch technique:

Powell “makes strong claims about Iraq's retention and development of non-conventional weapons, but the claims that he provides substantive evidence for are either tangential or the evidence is ambiguous. An example would be how Powell claimed: ‘We know that Saddam's son, Qusay, ordered the removal of all prohibited weapons from Saddam's numerous palace complexes ... We also have satellite photos that indicate that banned materials have recently been moved from a number of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction facilities.’ If Powell had been able to show any evidence for either of these claims, that would have constituted much more plausible proof of the US claims.

“However, instead of providing proof of any of those claims, Powell instead produced photos of al-Taji ammunition storage facility that shows a small shed and a truck adjacent to the bunker. Powell claimed that these are ‘a signature item’ for chemical bunkers. This seems on the face of it to be a wholly implausible claim: a picture of a truck and a shed by themselves reveal nothing about the contents of the adjacent bunker.

“In summary, Powell didn't provide evidence for the stronger claims that he made, instead displaying a satellite photo that reveals very little. This would indicate that the evidence for the stronger claims is either non-existent or contentious.”

Rangwala has since offered two additional detailed and highly damning analyses:

“Sixteen discrepancies between Powell’s claims and the evidence of Blix and ElBaradei”:

“The 44 claims made by Secretary Powell to the UN on Iraq, 5th Feb 2003 — and their evaluation”:

Regular readers of the Post’s editorial and oped pages will of course be baffled by Rangwala. One can imagine quite a few looking perplexed and blurting out, “He seems to be operating under the assumption that Powell is not a god whose integrity and credibility are beyond challenge. How dare he!”

Actually, Rangwala has done what any self-respecting journalist should have been doing from the moment Powell completed his presentation: judging Powell’s claims against all the available, credible evidence on the public record. The fact that so few American print or television “journalists” have done so speaks volumes about our spineless, lazy, Powell-worshipping and power-worshipping news media.

# # # /// ENDS \\\ # # #

© 2003 by Dennis Hans

Bio: Dennis Hans is a freelance writer who has taught courses in mass communications and American foreign policy at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg. You can read his essay “Lying Us Into War: Exposing Bush and His ‘Techniques of Deceit’” at these sites:; He can be reached at

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