BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. There's been a lot of talk of apologies these days. Richard Clarke started the ball rolling with his mea culpa to the American people for intelligence failures that led to the tragedy of 9/11. At the president's recent primetime press conference, the press corps took turns trying to pry an "I'm sorry" out of the Commander in Chief both for 9/11 and for poorly planning the Iraq war.
REPORTER: Richard Clarke offered an unequivocal apology to the American people for failing them prior to 9/11. Do you believe the American people deserve a similar apology from you, and would you be prepared to give them one?
BOB GARFIELD:"It is a pity," declared The Nation magazine last week, "that the major news media have not convened a commission of inquiry to examine their own mistakes and derelictions. Recently, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius wrote about his own performance with some regret. David, welcome to the show.
DAVID IGNATIUS: Nice to be with you, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: Your column on Tuesday was titled Red Flags and Regrets. An apology? What do you have to apologize for?
DAVID IGNATIUS: Well, I don't know if it's an apology. It certainly is an attempt on my part to talk honestly about what I think I got wrong in looking at 9/11, at looking at Al Qaeda before 9/11, and in thinking about Iraq and what post-war Iraq would be like, and you know, I just am struck by things that I wish I'd thought in more detail about, and since we're always demanding that kind of accounting and accountability from the people we write about, seemed to me it was appropriate to focus a little bit of it on my own profession.
BOB GARFIELD:I read a lot of newspapers in the lead-up to the war, and every possible scenario for what could go wrong was, in various places, well laid out, and while there's been a, a lot of criticism of the American media for participating in the drumbeat to war, nobody can say that all of the down side was not covered, or even predicted. Didn't you read those stories?
DAVID IGNATIUS: I read the stories. I wrote some of them myself. I mean I - you know, I talked before the war began about the likelihood that Iraqis would hate the occupation, and that we should be ready for that. I don't think that's the point. I mean I think that we can go back and find that all the things that we should have noted were there. The point is that they weren't there in a way that was powerful enough to really force a national debate about this issue.
BOB GARFIELD:You made a reference in your column to the coverage of the original World Trade Center bombing in '93 which characterized Al Qaeda at that time as a sort of gang who couldn't shoot straight, and kind of rolled its eyes at the government's notion that this was a very dangerous organization that could eventually come back to haunt the West.
DAVID IGNATIUS: I think our skepticism often was focused on the government. You know, were they hyping the threat of Al Qaeda? Were prosecutors over-stating the evidence that they had about the bombing in '93, about the embassy bombings in '98 -- I think that all that healthy press skepticism tended to lean in that direction, and, and we just didn't see what was in front of our noses just the way it was in front of that of President Bush, of the administration. With Iraq, I think the issue is obviously different. Were we too accepting of the evidence that they put out? As I say in this column, at the time, I believed that it was morally and in every sense the right thing to go to war to remove Saddam Hussein as leader of Iraq. I haven't changed that view. I don't regret it. I don't apologize for it. I still hold it. What I do regret is that I and my profession as a whole didn't look more carefully at what would happen afterwards and didn't push the government, help citizens push the government to, to make that more of an issue than it was.
BOB GARFIELD: You say in your column that the media were victims of their own professionalism. What are you talking about there?
DAVID IGNATIUS:Well, you know, I think we have rules of our game, you know, one of them is that we don't make the news; we just report the news -- that tend to make it hard for us to tee up an issue, you know, to do reporting about an issue without a news peg -- in other words, if Senator so and so hasn't criticized post-war planning for Iraq, then it's hard for a reporter to write a story about that, cause he says, well, you know, I can't make the news on this -- I have to wait for somebody to, to make a statement, and then I'll report on the statement. And I think that's a professional rule that we really ought to examine. Another part of what I was trying to say is that I think professionally we tried to get ready to cover a war that we knew was coming, you know we could pretend that there was a debate, but we knew the president intended to go to war, we wrote that in the paper often. And I think that we spent those last 3 months before the war started working very hard to make arrangements to get embedded to cover the war, to get our reporters and, and other people trained in the use of chemical weapons gear, etc. And there's a question: should part of that time have been used to be more aggressive in, in writing about the issues that would be involved in the war, not getting ready to cover it.
BOB GARFIELD: What will you personally do differently in the future?
DAVID IGNATIUS:I think, for myself, I want to make sure that when I write about issues that involve the country going to war, that I've been as skeptical as I can about some of the issues that could lie around the corner that are not immediately visible, and I suspect that that's shared widely in the profession. I'm, I'm sure I'm not the only one who's feeling that.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, David Ignatius, thank you very much.
DAVID IGNATIUS: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: David Ignatius is a columnist for the Washington Post. He spoke to us from his home in Paris. [MUSIC]