CBS’s Couric: Iraq War Coverage ‘One of the Most Embarrassing Chapters in American Journalism’

Still Shot of Katie Couric, May 28 On Wednesday’s CBS "Early Show" evening news anchors, ABC’S Charles Gibson, NBC’s Brian Williams, and CBS’s Katie Couric, were all on to promote an upcoming cancer research telethon, but near the end of segment, co-host Harry Smith asked about former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan’s new book in which McClellan claims the media did not ask tough questions leading up to the Iraq war and Couric agreed:

I think it's a very legitimate allegation. I think it's one of the most embarrassing chapters in American journalism. And I think there was a sense of pressure from corporations who own where we work and from the government itself to really squash any kinds of dissent or any kind of questioning of it. I think it was extremely subtle but very, very effective. And I think Scott McClellan has a really good point.

Perhaps a better example of "one of the most embarrassing chapters in American journalism" would be Couric’s predecessor, Dan Rather, using fraudulent National Guard memos to attempt to smear President Bush just prior to the 2004 election.

By contrast, Gibson disagreed with McClellan’s characterization: "No, I think that the media did a pretty good job of focusing and asking the questions." Williams offered a similar diplomatic answer: "I think people have to remember the post-9/11 era and how that felt and what the president felt he was empowered to do and that Colin Powell speech at the U.N."

Smith then replied to Williams: "And what the mood of the country was." At that point, Couric once again shared her thoughts: "Definitely. But you know, our responsibility is to sometimes go against the mood of the country and ask the hard questions." Of course, when Couric interviewed General David Petraeus last month she did not seem interested in going "against the mood of the country": "Finally, general, in our latest poll, 54 percent of Americans think the war is going badly -- more than half, obviously. How can you sustain this effort without more popular support here at home?"

Here is the full transcript of the "Early Show" segment:

7:36AM SEGMENT:

HARRY SMITH: Hey, can we talk about Scott McClellan's book which is in stores now and he talks about the failure of main stream media to hold the Bush Administration's feet to the fire in the run-up to the war. Is that an allegation that feels to you like it has merit or not? Charles?

CHARLES GIBSON: When I write my book, I will take exception to that, but I won't write my book. No, I think that the media did a pretty good job of focusing and asking the questions. We were not given access to get into the country, to go along, as Brian was talking about earlier, to go along with the inspectors. But the questions were asked. The questions were asked. It was just a drum beat from the government, and I think it's convenient now to blame the media, but I don't.

KATIE COURIC: I think it's a very legitimate allegation. I think it's one of the most embarrassing chapters in American journalism. And I think there was a sense of pressure from corporations who own where we work and from the government itself to really squash any kinds of dissent or any kind of questioning of it. I think it was extremely subtle but very, very effective. And I think Scott McClellan has a really good point.

SMITH: Brian, we have ten seconds left.

BRIAN WILLIAMS: I think people have to remember the post-9/11 era and how that felt and what the president felt he was empowered to do and that Colin Powell speech at the U.N.

SMITH: And what the mood of the country was.

WILLIAMS: Absolutely.

COURIC: Definitely. But you know, our responsibility is to sometimes go against the mood of the country and ask the hard questions.

SMITH: There you go. Thank you all for being here this morning. Great to see you.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC