Eric Boehlert: Could Twitter Have Prevented the Iraq War?

tags: Twitter, media, Iraq War, Eric Boehlert



Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

Responding to a barrage of criticism he received for a factually inaccurate and flawed column he wrote this month about the sequestration battle, New York Times columnist Bill Keller wrote a follow-up blog post to detail how critics had hounded him online, especially via Twitter.

Denouncing the social media tool’s tendency to produce what he called mean and shallow commentary, Keller lamented Twitter’s suddenly pervasive power. “It is always on, and it gets inside your head,” he wrote, adding, “there is no escape.” Indeed, within days of writing his column, Keller felt compelled to pen a lengthy piece about his Twitter encounter.

The columnist painted an unpleasant picture of being hounded and “bull[ied]” on Twitter for merely expressing “an unpopular view.” But as the tenth anniversary of the United States-led invasion of Iraq approaches, I couldn’t help thinking back to when columnists like Keller, and newspapers like the New York Times, where Keller became executive editor in July 2003, helped cheer the nation to war. To date, that conflict has claimed the lives of nearly 8,000 U.S. service members and contractors and more than  130,000 Iraqi citizens, and is projected to cost the U.S. Treasury more than two trillion dollars. (The Times’public editor later called the paper’s prewar coverage “flawed journalism.”)

Thinking about the historic failure of the Times and others in the media a decade ago, I couldn’t help wish that Twitter had been around during the winter of 2002-2003 to provide a forum for critics to badger writers like Keller and the legion of Beltway media insiders who abdicated their role as journalists and fell in line behind the Bush White House’s march to war. I wouldn’t have cared that recipients might have been insulted by the Twitter critiques or seen them as mean and shallow, the way Keller does today. Sorry, but the stakes in 2003 were too high to worry about bruised feelings....




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