The editors are unrepentant

Observations on Iraq and the media by <strong>David Cromwell and David Edwards</strong>

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post have acknowledged their failure to challenge western government propaganda on Iraq. The NYT editors, for example, accept that: "In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged." But leading UK editors are completely unrepentant. David Mannion, chief of ITV News, told us: "The evidence suggests we have no need for a mea culpa. We did our job well."

You have to admire the chutzpah. To sample from a very long list, on 27 August 2002, ITN's Washington correspondent, Robert Moore, described the problem facing George Bush: "As Dick Cheney, his vice-president, warned, Iraq may soon be armed with a nuclear weapon." On 9 April 2003, ITN's John Irvine won all prizes for power-friendly wishful thinking when he observed: "A war of three weeks has brought an end to decades of Iraqi misery." On the same day, ITN's Michael Nicholson looked on with glee as US troops toppled a statue of Saddam Hussein: "They've covered his face in the Stars and Stripes! This gets better by the minute . . . Ha, ha, better by the minute."

Roger Alton, the editor of the Observer, told us: "I think our reporting on Iraq was exceptionally fair . . . We faithfully reported claim and counter-claim in the build-up to Iraq." Yet, in late 2002, we reported that Denis Halliday - who set up the UN's oil-for-food programme in Iraq and who subsequently resigned, describing western sanctions policy as "genocidal" - had never been mentioned in the Observer up to that point. Out of 1,881 articles that mentioned Iraq in January and February 2003, the Guardian and Observer gave Halliday, his successor Hans von Sponeck and the former chief UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter (who claimed Iraq had been "fundamentally disarmed" of 90-95 per cent of its WMDs by December 1998) just eight mentions, all of them in the Guardian.

The Observer's David Rose wrote in-vestigative articles linking Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda and to the anthrax attacks in the US. Rose recently commented that he looks back "with shame and disbelief" on his "misplaced and naive" support for war. We share his pain.

Roger Mosey, head of television news at the BBC, said: "We interviewed Scott Ritter many, many times - honest!" Last year Richard Sambrook, then head of BBC News, told us Ritter had been interviewed twice: on 29 September 2002, for Breakfast With Frost, and on 1 March 2003 for BBC News 24 - the latter broadcast at about 3am. The Newsnight editor Peter Barron told us that his programme had interviewed Ritter twice on the WMD issue: on 3 August 2000 and 21 August 2002.

Michael Williams, deputy editor of the Independent on Sunday, told us: "You misread us if you think we are engaged in a process of dialectics!" A 15 December 2002 IoS editorial declared: "The Prime Minister, to his credit, has so far shown caution, wanting to give diplomacy a chance." By contrast, a new report by the academics Glen Rangwala and Dan Plesch (www.impeachblair.org) points to clear evidence that Blair "recognised that the work of Unmovic to verify Iraq's disarmament would not be allowed to substitute for an invasion". This was clear to all non-media dialecticians at the time.

The Financial Times editor, Andrew Gowers, told us: "In my own internal assessment with colleagues, we were notably more sceptical in respect of possible WMDs in Iraq in the run-up to war than many other respectable news-papers." In fact Ritter, for example, was mentioned briefly six times in FT articles between 2002 and 2003. Von Sponeck and Halliday were mentioned three and zero times, respectively.

Power without responsibility, influence without accountability: the "corporate free press" is an oxymoronic disaster for justice and freedom.

David Cromwell and David Edwards are editors of www.medialens.org