When it comes to cable news punditry, there are apparently no consequences for being spectacularly and horrifically wrong. Look no further than Judith Miller.
As the United States and Iran seem to be on a collision course following President Donald Trump’s decision to kill Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, Fox News on Monday turned to Miller—arguably the reporter most disgraced by the Iraq War—for insight on the Iran crisis.
During her appearance on America’s Newsroom, the former New York Times reporter and current Fox News contributor was asked to provide analysis on whether rising tensions in the Middle East will lead to an all-out war. Furthermore, throughout the 10-minute panel segment, she was pressed to weigh in on Democratic opposition to the administration’s rationale for assassinating the Iranian general.
A news network turning to Miller for analysis on a Mideast conflict, however, seems especially strange considering her background.
Miller’s reporting on Saddam Hussein’s mythical cache of weapons of mass destruction in 2002 and 2003 was heavily cited and relied upon by senior officials in the Bush administration during the run-up to the Iraq War. Her blunderous reporting, which was often plastered at the top of the Times pages, is often viewed as having made the case for what ultimately turned out to be a war based on lies, misinformation, or half-truths.
In Sept. 2002, for instance, a Miller piece pointed to the interception of “aluminum tubes” headed for Iraq to assert that Saddam was looking to enrich nuclear material and expand his WMD arsenal. Her articles, which often cited multiple anonymous Bush administration officials, would then be publicly trumpeted for months by Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, among others, to legitimize their calls for war with Iraq on the basis that Saddam was pursuing nuclear and biological weapons.
Following the Iraq invasion in spring 2003, Miller reported on claims passed to her by the U.S. military that an Iraqi scientist had told them that “Iraq destroyed chemical weapons and biological warfare equipment only days before the war began.” According to the military, Miller wrote, “the scientist led Americans to a supply of material that proved to be the building blocks of illegal weapons, which he claimed to have buried as evidence of Iraq's illicit weapons programs.”
Miller would later tout her story to insist that the American military had found its “smoking gun” when it came to WMDs, claiming the unnamed scientist was their “silver bullet.” The report would eventually become something of an embarrassment for Miller’s Times colleagues, who were dismayed that her “wacky-assed piece” was both submitted to the military for approval and peddled unsubstantiated claims that Miller could not actually corroborate.
It would later be discovered that much of Miller’s reporting relied heavily on exiled Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi, who was also providing intelligence to the Bush administration—which turned out to be almost entirely false—alleging Saddam had WMDs and was tied to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.
Days after the government cut ties with Chalabi in 2004, the Times editorial board published a mea culpa on its coverage of Iraq, noting that many of its articles had leaned too heavily on Chalabi’s claims. While refusing to place blame on any individual reports, the board expressed “regret” that the paper had pushed “controversial” allegations that were left “unchallenged.”
A year later, Miller would be forced out by the Times. In a 2015 book, she attempted to defend her shaky reporting, placing a large portion of the blame on her editors while also claiming she was shocked the Bush administration would ever trumpet her articles so loudly.
But Miller, who has been a paid Fox News analyst for more than a decade, is not the only Bush-era Iraq cheerleader upon whom cable news outlets seem eager to ask for Iran insight.
In fact, several ex-Bush officials emerged as top boosters of Trump’s escalatory actions following last week’s slaying of Soleimani.
For example, just moments after the Pentagon acknowledged that Soleimani was killed by a U.S. airstrike, former Bush senior adviser Karl Rove and ex-White House press secretary Ari Fleischer—both members of that administration’s war propaganda organization dubbed the White House Iraq Group—popped up on Fox News’ Hannity to applaud the airstrike.
Rove, now a Fox News contributor, called it a “major victory, not only for the United States of America, but also for the cause of stability in moderation in the Middle East.” Fleischer, also a paid network pundit, echoed the Bush White House’s 2003 promise that Americans would be greeted by Iraqis as liberators.
“I think it’s entirely possible this is going to be a catalyst inside Iran where the people celebrate this killing of Soleimani and puts pressure on the Iranian government to stop the terrorism, stop supporting all of the various terrorist movements it has around the world,” proclaimed the former Bush spokesman, now an ardent Trump supporter.
In fact, it seems that few, if any, of the Bush era’s biggest Iraq War boosters or flacks have suffered much consequences in the way of cable news airtime. Two Bush spokeswomen, MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace and Fox’s Dana Perino, currently host daily cable news shows that will undoubtedly tackle the Iran crisis in weeks to come. Former Bush speechwriter David Frum (a former Daily Beast columnist best known for writing W’s “Axis of Evil” speech), routinely appears as a pundit, most recently this Sunday on CNN’s Reliable Sources.
And while not having officially worked for the Bush White House, key Iraq War boosters like John Podhoretz, Max Boot, and Bill Kristol have had thriving cable punditry careers. Podhoretz appeared recently on MSNBC to all-too-predictably defend Trump’s airstrikes as a necessary deterrence.
While it may seem odd for cable news outlets to rely upon such voices in analyzing yet another potentially endless Middle East conflict, the truth is: They never actually went away.