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Journalists work off each other's stories. It's no secret; we all do it. There is not one journo alive who hasn't taken a morsel from someone else's story, accepted it as fact, filed it in his head, then coughed it up in his own work at some time.

Usually we get away with it because most of us are at least fairly diligent at checking facts before we publish them. But not always - which means that we copy each other's mistakes and fabrications too, and spread them. Sometimes, the result is merely laughable, like the established "fact" that 150,000 women in the USA die of anorexia nervosa every year, finally exposed as a fabrication by author Christina Hoff Sommers. That one had a great run: it started as a blurb by some ignorant or unscrupulous journo but soon rose to the status of conventional wisdom repeated in scores of news articles, and even women's health literature.

Sometimes, the consequences are serious and far reaching. It's one thing if misinformation causes us to overreact to anorexia: we look foolish and waste money and overdiagnose it. But when we are encouraged to overreact to terrorism, the consequences can include invading an impotent Middle East dictatorship and destroying it completely, acquiescing to government demands for powers not granted by a national constitution, and allowing politicians and bureaucrats to manipulate us with fear.

How did the Bush Administration get away with leading the US and its allies into the most self-defeating "war on terror" that could possibly be waged? How did it get away with invading Iraq on false pretences? How did it get away with assuming powers not granted by the US Constitution? How does it continue to get away with fighting a meaningless war in Iraq while the real al Qaeda smirks with satisfaction from the Pakistani villages where it operates? How does Bush get away with saying that the US is in Iraq fighting al Qaeda, when it is doing no such thing?

In a recent column criticising the Administration, Paul Krugman proposed that Bush is insulated from responsibility and even knowledge of his manifold tragic blunders and crimes by Washington loyalists, who Krugman calls the president's "enablers".

I say rubbish. The press has been the worst culprit in "enabling" the erosion of sane US domestic and foreign policy in the wake of 9/11. From that day, the entire American print and TV news corps resigned en masse, and took new assignments as dealers in unfiltered government propaganda.

The Bush Administration said that Saddam Hussein was acquiring nuclear weapons, and the media repeated it without bothering to wonder if it was true. The Bushies said Saddam had vast stockpiles of chemical and biological "weapons of mass destruction". No mainstream reporter questioned it: they'd all read New York Times hack Judith Miller's fantastic account of Saddam's secret chem/bio programmes. Every word of it was fiction - thousands of words in fact, article after article - fed to her by Ahmed Chalabi and his cronies, presumably at Dick Cheney's urging. Miller sucked it up like nectar, and everyone else in the press simply assumed that she'd verified the information.

Yes, the Bushies asked for the war, and yes, Congress authorised it, but the mainstream news industry enabled it. They literally sold it. The Iraq war could not have been undertaken if the American press had the spine to do their jobs, and had tried to verify what the Administration was claiming. The press would soon have discovered that the White House's story could not be verified. If American reporters had simply done what they're paid to do, the front page headlines of America's newspapers would have read: "No Credible Evidence of Bush WMD Claims", instead of "Shock and Awe".

The USA is stuck in Iraq, mired in a hopeless struggle against armed, violent people who were not their enemies four years ago, and it's all because the American press did not have the courage to research the Administration's claims. They did not seek because they did not want to find. They didn't want to learn the truth, because they knew that they wouldn't have the courage to speak the truth if ever emerged, inconveniently, before their eyes. If they had encountered the truth, they would have had to experience their own cowardice for not telling it. So they simply didn't ask.

They said they felt an obligation to encourage the American people to come together as they grieved for the atrocities of 9/11. They said this is why they did not look for, or report, the more unpleasant facts of life after a terrorist attack. They would support the government and redistribute its lies, because they did not want to make it more difficult for Americans to feel good about themselves, and their country, and their bumpkin president so tragically out of his depth.

I say rubbish. This is no different from the reason why journalists in repressive dictatorships keep silent; in the end, it boils down to two words: "I'm afraid". Certainly, when the threat is a bullet in the back of the head, being afraid is no disgrace. But when the threat is merely being called unpatriotic, or insensitive, the disgrace is, or should be, worse than any self-respecting adult would ever invite.

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