The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Fred Hiatt and the Terrible Quandry of Elite Journalism

Younger readers may not remember the run-up to the Iraq war. It was a full-court push, with constant lies about Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction,” and how Iraq was a threat to the US. The media went along with it, with almost no exceptions — and those exceptions paid the price; they were fired or demoted or, at best, their careers stalled.

Fred Hiatt, the Washington Post’s opinion editor just died, and the praise is flowing in, but Fred pushed the Iraq war, hard.

This is not to deny that he may have been a wonderful person to those who knew him — kind, funny, caring, and a good boss. But none of that matters to those killed, maimed, raped, tortured, or impoverished by the Iraq war and all that came from it, which includes ISIS.

To be clear, while there was a propaganda push, it was obvious at the time that it was based on lies. I knew it, and so did millions of others. Even at the time, if you read the stories carefully, it was clear they were bullshit, and that Iraq presented no threat to the US. Saddam was a bad guy, sure, but he wasn’t a threat to much of anyone but Iraqis, and, as events later proved, he was a lot less of a threat to them than what came from a US invasion.

The ostensible job of journalists is to tell the public the truth about important matters. That’s the headline job description, and I suspect most journalists at least began their careers believing it.

(I am fundraising to determine how much I’ll write this year. If you value my writing and want more of it, please consider donating.)

But freedom of the press, as in the famous quote, belongs to those who own them, and journalists work for people with agendas, and senior members are part of the elite themselves. It wasn’t always so, but the days of working class journalists are long gone.

So, when a big propaganda push happens, there’s always a quandary: Your own class and your boss want you to push it.

This leaves journalists, especially senior ones like Fred Hiatt, with three possibilities.

1. They can be stupid and believe the lies.

2. They know they are lies, but they also know that their real job is to repeat those lies, and if that means they contribute to mass death, rape, torture, and so on, well, that was the price of admission. In this case, they have become evil.

3. They tell the truth and are then punished. If, somehow, someone like this has managed to make it to a senior, important position, they lose it. But that’s rare, because you don’t get a job like Hiatt’s without having “made your bones.” Hiatt, a former foreign correspondent, would have spread lies many times before, proving he understood the real job.

So Fred may have been a mensch, but he was either an idiot or someone who used his position of power and influence to contribute to an act of great evil.

But, really, this isn’t about Fred Hiatt. He wasn’t unusual at all, he was straight-up normal for men and women in his position, in his profession. The New York Times pushed the war hard, so did all the networks, and so on. It was elite consensus, and nobody who doesn’t bow down to elite consensus gets the good jobs at an important newspaper or on TV. If they somehow slip through and finally draw a line, they are dealt with.

This means they have, virtually to a person, all sold their souls. They’re almost all evil — well over 90 percent. They’ve made the devil’s bargain of “I will help great evil succeed in exchange for prestige and wealth in this life.”

We’ve set the system up this way, yes, but understand that it isn’t just that the system makes people do this, it is that the people who are willing to do this are those the system selects and promotes. In this regard, they very much are like street gangs wherein to join, you have to murder someone. In journalism, you just have to lie about something that will get people killed or hurt. As a Federal Reserve banker, you just have to support policies you know will impoverish (and kill) millions of people. Etc.

Good people won’t do it, and even people who aren’t that good, but aren’t bad, will eventually find a line they won’t cross.


Those people don’t make it to important positions, and that’s by design. The system runs on hurting people; Iraqis, Americans, whoever the people in power want to hurt. And if you want power and prestige in this society, you have to not just be cool with that, you must be willing to contribute.



Power, Pleasure, and Evil


Under What Circumstances Is Russia Likely to Invade the Ukraine?


  1. Z

    I think it’s instructive to note that when folks like Hiatt get complemented with the “tough but fair” label just precisely what and/or who they were tough on.

    An editor like Hiatt ought to have been “tough but fair” regarding the facts, but they were only “tough but fair” on people who they personally benefited by being tough on who had little or no recourse to cause them personal damage.

    “Tough but fair” when practiced by folks like Hiatt and his ilk is actually “cowardice and selfishness”.


  2. Feral Finster

    I recall Noam Chomsky debating some jackhole of a TV journalist, who insisted that he had never been told what to report or what line he had to take on a given story.

    Chomsky’s response was “You would not be where you are if you had to be told.”

  3. bruce wilder

    The founding generation of radio and tv journalists came up in the 1930s as war loomed in Europe and was simmering in the Far East and FDR’s idealistic foreign policy pressed back against the threat — “foreign correspondent” became in retrospect a dramatic, romantic role, with seemingly serious responsibility. I can remember as a child in the 60’s being ever so impressed by the commentaries of Eric Sevareid (sp?) on CBS — could not understand them but the language and manner!!

    Edward R Murrow was before my time but the compulsion he felt to push back against McCarthy is legendary.

    There were a number of newspaper columnists who could be mentioned who had real weight in foreign affairs. They may have been full of themselves but they were serious, because they imagined that they mattered and the policy choices they commented on mattered.

    What impresses me most about Fred Hiatt or Tom Friedman or Jonathan Chait or any number of others is not their bloodthirstiness per se, but their fecklessness and superficiality. They choose to be stupid because they do not seem to imagine that smart or wise even matters or has consequences or that consequences matter.

    I commented elsewhere on the saber-rattling over Ukraine that it surprised and puzzled me. Can it really be that the Deep State is on auto-pilot and no politician or pundit is going to utter a critical thought on the ridiculousness!?

  4. ven

    Yes, exactly, It is what Hannah Arendt talked about in the banality of evil, and of desk-based administrators. They avert their eyes, choose not to look and mix in circles that think like them. It seems that is the human condition as soon as you get into any form of hierarchical “civilisation”.

    BTW substitute COVID vaccine mandates for Iraq WMD, and you see the strikingly similar pattern.

  5. Feral Finster

    Noam Chomsky about the way critical journalists are filtered out of from the mainstream media: “I don’t say you’re self-censoring. I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying. But what I’m saying is that if you believed something different you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.”

  6. someofparts

    I have heard that it is mainly old folks who watch corporate television news any longer. It will be interesting to see how the sellouts manage to pay the bills after the boomers die off and there is no one watching them.

  7. GlassHammer

    I think most journalist were afraid of the lable of “UnAmerican” in the days leading up to the war. They surmised that being insufficiently patriotic was a career killer and being a “fool” or “patsy” was not. Their hunch did turn out to be true for the most part.

    What gets skipped in these discussions of “the press and the truth of the war” is that the press really messed up the mental health of the average American with the 24/7 coverage of 9/11. We consumed a traumatic every day for months on end and we know what reliving trauma does to humans, it makes us worse.

  8. Ché Pasa

    My great-grandfather published a small-town rag in Indiana after the Civil War and up to about 1890 when up and left for the Big City and a twilight career as a political functionary — that is, he made political connections as a publisher and used those connections to achieve and sustain a level of comfort without a whole lot of effort.

    He never made a lot of money, and he wasn’t in the publishing business to get rich. But he was a natural story-teller, and his paper told the stories of his town. From what I know of the newspaper he published, it was almost entirely genuine local news of interest to his community; these sorts of papers hardly exist any more. Instead (?) there’s Facebook and the like that don’t serve up “news” so much as gossip, doubt, panic, and lies in service to what, exactly? Who knows?

    Hiatt and the like in haut journalism of today serve the obvious purpose of fostering and supporting the destructive, nay psycopathic interests of a faction of the Overclass which seeks absolutist dominance over the globe and whatever peoples survive their quest for power. The money is lubrication, not an end in itself.

    W and Cheney — together Hiatt and all the rest — served the same psycopathic interest, and we found out, didn’t we, that everyone who came after does so, too. They can’t seem to break the cycle, and we can’t seem to quit them, either.

    But as I mentioned in an earlier comment, these people don’t see themselves the way many of us do. They have no conception of the harm they do. It simply doesn’t occur to them.

    No, in their view, they’re doing God’s Work (h/t Jamie Dimon).

    Only their God is a monster, no?

  9. elkern

    I agree with Glass Hammer’s point about the way US Media – especially TV – exacerbated the collective trauma of 9/11. I had the sense to avoid watching that coverage (much), but I’d bet that most Americans alive then watched the towers fall well over 100 times, on average. And yes, that trauma was the psychological key to the US invasion of Iraq. (Too many) Americans supported the invasion primarily as an act of vengeance for 9/11. The fake WMD, the crocodile tears over Saddam’s Human Rights violations, Powell’s Anthrax hoax at the US – all were just Lawyer Theater to justify the invasion, harnessing the pent-up fear & anger.

    All of those were transparently false – especially the purported links between Saddam & Al Qaida.

    Journalists are generally smart people (I’ve known many, including one who worked for the NYT). I have a hard time believing that all of them actually believed all the lies. I suspect that a small cadre of writers (like Judith Miller) were responsible for a large portion of the more egregious lies & blatant propaganda; other journalists could have maintained their sense of integrity by staying in their lane (reporting on other subjects reasonably responsibly). Much of the propaganda was spread merely by (“factually”) repeating lies spewed by the Cheney Regime; in those cases, the “journalists” have a technical defense (“just reporting what they said”), but the Editors had to understand that printing lies without counterpoint makes them complicit in lying. At some point up the corporate hierarchies, that complicity had to be conscious.

    I have no proof that Fred Hiatt was aware of this, but it’s hard to believe that he wasn’t.

    IMO, this whole issue deserves more detailed scrutiny. Many very different organizations promoted the invasion; how did they all screw up, so baldly, in the same way?

    Some vaguely blame “corporations” for this, but that doesn’t hold water. Sure, NBC was owned by GE at that point, and GE stood to profit from selling planes & weapons. But the NY Times – and most other outlets – had no direct financial connections to the MIC; why did they ALL propagate the same lies?

    I’ve heard that some MSM feared losing “access” to high government officials if they printed counterpoint to the official lies. OK, I can see how that would have warped the judgement of *some* ambitious journalists, but it doesn’t explain the larger picture: the agenda which drove editors & publishers to push for the invasion.

    Glass Hammer (above) also reminded us of the excuse that MSM feared being labeled “Un-American” if they didn’t go along with the plan. Yeah, I can imagine journalists, editors & publishers being thin-skinned about that. The GOP noise machine will attack anybody who doesn’t profess their bloodlust loudly enough. MSM may have imagined that they were protecting their profits by avoiding boycotts from the right wing, but they lost all those customers to FOX anyway. But how could they not know that sacrificing their [claim to] objectivity would doom them – and us?

    IMO, the invasion of Iraq was the moment when the US “crossed the Rubicon”: before then, we were a (troubled) Republic, but since then, we have behaved as a (farcical but dangerous) Empire.

  10. Chiron

    Anyone who still trust the Western and especially the Anglo-American media is a fool.

  11. bruce wilder

    that turn to empire that elkern puzzles over is also a turn to bull, that species of sophistry that simply disregards truth as irrelevant. most professional journalists are not employed by publishers or broadcasters per se, they are employed by PR agencies or corporate departments — the ratio of PR hacks to reporters-editors-pundits is on the order of 4 or 5 to one (1). most of what you see on teevee or read on newspaper websites originated in a PR shop as a draft article or “fact sheet” or video clip. Political campaigns are dominated by PR hacks cum political operatives who are skilled at placing and controlling narratives aimed at manipulating voter behavior. Controlling the story is winning and winning is not the most important thing, it is the only thing. That is the mentality and it is a mentality fostered from the corporate / billionaire top of the economy as financial results flow from belief not substantive results. (See Elon Musk)

    A naive person might think factual truth might matter critically to being able to suceed on some mission and that it was important to gain intelligence on the true state of affairs, the science if you will. But that is not how things work now. Witness the COVID19 pandemic under two Presidents of supposedly opposed Parties. One wanted to reduce the case numbers by testing less and be brave and ignore precautions, live in denial and the other wanted to blame the unvaccinated and also not test. Crazy, competing narratives neither of which is an accurate account of risks and consequences. Because accurate assessments of objective reality are no part of wielding power.

  12. willy robinson

    “In this regard they very much are like gangs where to join, you have to murder someone. In journalism you just have to lie about something that will get people killed or hurt. As a Federal Reserve banker you just have to support policies you know will impoverish (and kill) millions of people. Etc…”

    Nicely written.

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