5 of the Worst Pundits Spreading Propaganda About the Middle East


Iraq is burning, and the U.S. media is doing an awful job of adequately covering the growing violence in the country.

It sounds like 2003, when the U.S. media piped government talking points through the airwaves to justify the invasion of Iraq. But it's 2014, and the media is still distorting and obfuscating, while Iraq devolves into chaos following a Sunni militant takeover of various cities. Add in media coverage of bloodshed in Israel/Palestine to the mix, and you’ve got a veritable recipe for bad-tasting Middle East news.  

From CNN to Time to ABC, the mainstream media is absolving the U.S. of blame for Iraq, and allowing pro-Israel pundits to get away with falsehoods. Here are five of the worst pundits and hosts talking about Middle East crises.

1. Bill Kristol. The neoconservative scion and 2003 Iraq war booster—who is editor of the Weekly Standard, and a frequent TV pundit on Fox and ABC—is back at it again. Mainstream television networks are all too happy to hear what Kristol has to say, despite his role in constructing the intellectual scaffolding that led to the U.S. war. 

One exchange that received attention occurred on June 29 on ABC’s "This Week," when Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel told Kristol he should “enlist in the Iraqi army” if he’s so keen on more American intervention in the country. On that same show, Kristol argued that it was President Obama who was to blame for the current crisis in Iraq, which began when the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) took over swathes of Iraqi territory after the army melted away. Kristol claimed that the Bush administration “left things peaceful” in Iraq--despite that administration destroying Iraqi society and planting the seeds of a sectarian civil war.

Earlier in June, Kristol clashed with journalist John Heilemann over Iraq on MSNBC. Kristol argued that the U.S. should forcefully intervene in Iraq again.

2. Paul Wolfowitz. Bill Kristol isn’t the only neoconservative Iraq war booster to get air time in recent weeks. Wolfowitz, as deputy secretary of defense under Donald Rumsfeld, was a key architect of the war. With Iraq in crisis, news outlets have had Wolfowitz on repeatedly, despite his direct role in the mess. On June 15, NBC's “Meet the Press” had him on, with Wolfowitz claiming a U.S. troop presence would have prevented the Iraq violence. On June 24, he was on Fox News, where both he and host Brian Kilmeade referred to ISIL as Al Qaeda. In fact, Al Qaeda has disavowed ISIL for being too extreme. Wolfowitz also suggested that the U.S. should intervene more in Syria, where ISIL has also seized territory.

3. Michael Crowley. On June 19, Time magazine’s cover story, “The End of Iraq,” was published. Crowley, a foreign affairs correspondent for the magazine, set out to explain the roots of the fighting in Iraq. But as Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting’s Peter Hart pointed out, Crowley’s piece obscured more than it explained.

Crowley wrote that “ancient hatreds are grinding the country to bits...What's happening in Iraq is the work of centuries, the latest chapter in the story of a religious schism between Sunni and Shi'ite that was already old news a thousand years ago.”

This is a favored trope in the U.S. media: that the U.S. has nothing to do with the conflict because it’s rooted in age-old blood feuds. While the fighting in Iraq does have a sectarian character, it has little to do with a religious schism. Instead, it’s primarily about politics and power.  The U.S. invasion of Iraq upended an old order, when sectarian prejudices were not flowing through Iraq, though it is true dictator Saddam Hussein favored Sunnis over Shias.  

Still, it was the U.S. overthrow of the Iraqi government that gave Shias disproportionate power over Sunnis, who have used that power to discriminate against Sunni Iraqis and throw many in jail on trumped-up terrorism charges. Power and resources explains the fighting and Sunni support for ISIL far more than religious conflicts.

4. Wolf Blitzer. The bearded, bespectacled CNN host of the "Situation Room" has been on top of the recent crises in the Middle East. But he’s had on the people who got Iraq wrong--and has also framed fighting in the country as a blow to the U.S., rather than a byproduct of wrongheaded U.S. policy.

As FAIR’s Hart pointed out, here’s what Blitzer said on June 10: “This is heartbreaking. The United States spent 10 years there. We assumed that Iraq would emerge a peaceful, stable democracy after the hundreds of billions of dollars the US invested, the 4,500 US troops killed, tens of thousands who came home without arms or legs or burned, post-traumatic stress, and look at this disaster.”  

There was no mention of the fact that bombing a country is not the best path to democracy, and that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians died as a result. Blitzer’s show has also been dominated by pundits and analysts who favored the 2003 Iraq invasion: not exactly the kind of people who give the best analysis.

5. Michael Oren. In January, after Oren stepped down as Israeli ambassador to the U.S., he joined CNN as a Middle East contributor. Since then, he has appeared on CNN to shamelessly spin events in favor of Israel.

Oren was on twice in the aftermath of the June 30 discovery of the bodies of three Israeli youths who were kidnapped and killed. He blamed Hamas, the Islamic group that rules Gaza, for carrying out the murders, despite news reports showing that rogue fighters loosely affiliated with Hamas likely carried them out, and that the leadership of Hamas did not order the attack.

Even worse was Oren’s conduct in late May, after Israeli soldiers killed two Palestinian teens at a protest marking Nakba Day. Appearing on Wolf Blitzer’s show, Oren claimed nobody knows what happened, despite video showing that Israeli soldiers gunned down the youths in cold blood.

He also made a galling claim after Blitzer voiced a simple fact: two Palestinian teens, Nadeem Nouwarah and Mohammed Mahmoud Odeh Salameh, were killed. “We don't know that for certain,” Oren said. “The many, many inconsistencies, you see two young people who were supposedly shot, one to the chest, one through the back but they both fall in the same way. They fall forward which is inconsistent with what we know about combat deaths.”

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