“Now they tell us,” says Michael Massing in his study of the American press and their coverage of the Iraq war, that bears the same title as his statement. His reproach is aimed at leading American newspapers who informed their readers after the Iraq war that they had not dealt critically enough with the Bush administration’s claims to legitimise the war, which was waged in March 2003. “Pre-war journalism was flawed, as too many reporters failed to independently evaluate administration claims about Iraq’s weapons program,” it says on the cover of Massing’s book. He contends that there were enough people questioning the claims of the Bush administration, including intelligence analysts, but the print media did not give them enough attention. He asks why the media admitted after the war that their work was biased and not critical enough—why could they not have done this sooner, when it might have made a difference?
Massing is reacting to the mea culpa from The New York Times and The Washington Post, published on May 26 and August 12, 2004, respectively. In this self-examination of their pre-war coverage, both declared that they should have been more sceptical towards the “evidence” that Iraq posed a threat to America because of its alleged links to al-Qaeda and suspected possession of weapons of mass destruction. The Washington Post called its own coverage “strikingly one sided at times” in retrospect and admitted that “on the key issue of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, the paper was generally napping along with everyone else. It gave readers little hint of the doubts that a number of intelligence analysts had about the administration's claims regarding Iraq's arsenal.” The editors added, however, that their newspaper did publish articles in which they challenged the White House claims, but never placed them prominently enough. The New York Times had similar self-reflective statements on its coverage during the run-up to the war: “In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged. Looking back, we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged - or failed to emerge.”
This public reflection leaves us with an array of compelling questions. How exactly did these agenda-setting newspapers report on the run-up to the war in Iraq, and why did they choose to report in this way? What precisely do the two newspapers believe they could and should have done differently? In order to shed light on these questions, I have studied the coverage of one specific incident that was a watershed in the run-up to the war: Powell’s UN-presentation on February 5, 2003. Here, Powell presented his case that Iraq posed a threat to America. He called his case “not a smoking gun,” but it is now commonly referred to as simply Powell’s “smoking gun.” In studying the coverage following this presentation, I have looked at whether the newspapers used sources to verify the claims made by Powell, and if so, which ones were used, and what credence was given to different types of sources, such as government officials and intelligence analysts. Where in the newspapers did they place articles that voiced scepticism about Powell’s assertions, and where did they place articles that seemed less sceptical? How did their editorials comment on the speech and what arguments did they use? Central to the assessment of these questions is whether their coverage was a result of any form of political bias or if it be ascribed to an inherent structural bias due to certain journalistic conventions, namely, those which tend to give governments’ opinions the highest priority, and only later on publish criticism.
In this article, I will argue that because these newspapers did not fully verify the claims made by the Bush administration in the run-up to the war, they effectively acted as a mouthpiece for the government and therefore played an important part in increasing support from Americans for the war. Even though the media cannot be criticized for publishing the claims of the Bush administration, their public appearance seemed to be essentially pro-war rather than independent because of their repeated citations of the war claims of officials. This is part of the inherent structural bias of the media, which tends to portray statements made by official sources as more true, while opposing (and usually “lower ranking”) sources are portrayed as less important. This study also reveals that there was not only structural bias involved, but that there was a general reluctance to publish critical articles on the front-page. This does not necessarily mean that there was political bias at play, for in fact the newspapers did publish articles that were sceptical, just less prominently. Nevertheless, they did not actively refute or verify the claims made by the administration, and in doing so did not comply with their task as a “watchdog over government power,” as Schell describes. Instead, they acted like a watchdog on a leash, hardly competing with the statements coming from the White House.
Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation at the United Nations in February, 2003 was a turning point in the run-up to the war on Iraq. In his speech, Powell presented to the UN Security Council what he declared to be evidence that Saddam Hussein was not conforming to Resolution 1441. This UN resolution, adopted in November 2002, stated that Iraq must conform to the UN in disarming any existing chemical, biological, nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles in its possession. The resolution further obliged Iraq to “abandon any programmes to develop these weapons of mass destruction and […] provide an accurate full, final, and complete disclosure of all aspects of these programmes.” Failing this, Saddam Hussein was to face “serious consequences.” Powell’s presentation was the final effort of the Bush administration to convince the UN that Iraq was in material breach of these disarmament obligations, in order to gain support from a majority of its members for a pre-emptive attack on Iraq. 
Powell called his evidence “not a smoking gun,” meaning that he did not have conclusive evidence that Iraq was still in production of or in possession of weapons of mass destruction, despite innumerable attempts of the UN to disarm the country dating back to 1991. He did, however, claim to present evidence that Saddam Hussein had repeatedly covered up his programs to develop and obtain these weapons, and thereby contending that Hussein was in breach of Resolution 1441. Powell also claimed that the dictator was in a “sinister nexus” with members of the al-Qaeda terrorist network, which therefore made Hussein an imminent threat to the United States, which justified a pre-emptive attack on Iraq. In his presentation, broadcasted live around the globe, Powell played audiotapes with intercepted conversations between Iraqi military personnel and showed satellite photos that he stated showed cleaned up bunkers that had been used to produce chemical and biological weapons. He also showed videos and diagrams, all of which allegedly demonstrated Hussein’s “policy of evasion and deception.” On the subject of nuclear weapons, Powell declared that Hussein was “determined to get his hands on a nuclear bomb.”
The presentation received massive media attention from all over the world, and many watched Powell’s “evidence” on live broadcast with utter astonishment, aware that an attack on Iraq was now imminent. The subjects of the presentation—threats from international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction—and the extensive scale of live media attention were typical of the post 9/11 era. The presentation marked a crucial turning point in the run-up to the war on Iraq, as it was a last failed attempt of the Bush administration to rally UN support before the war started just two months later on March 20, 2003. According to Massing, many newspapers wrote that the presentation further deepened the division between supporters and people who remained sceptical of the necessity of a pre-emptive attack. Many Security Council members were not convinced by Powell’s evidence; in their view, his speech gave all the more reason to allow more time for weapons inspections. Several foreign governments, such as those of France and Germany, were not convinced by Powell’s evidence either, and the foreign press too viewed it with great scepticism. Massing says this sceptical reaction is in sharp contrast to that of the leading American newspapers and the American public: the latter was shown in polls to give high approval ratings to the evidence presented by Powell, while the newspapers, according to Massing, uncritically accepted Powell’s claims.
The day after Powell’s presentation, The Washington Post, like most newspapers worldwide, published many articles about the historical turning point. Looking at its front page, the three articles that it presented did not appear in any way to be verifying the claims made by Powell to muster up support for the war in Iraq. The leading front-page article read: “Powell Lays Out Case Against Iraq; Evidence Shows Hussein Foiled Inspections, Secretary Tells U.N.” This article briefly described what Powell presented in the Security Council, and how several diplomats reacted to this. Significantly, the headline to this article, just like the tone of the remaining front-page articles, asserted that Powell presented “evidence” of the threat that Iraq posed to America, but this was not accompanied by another important news-item: namely, that the majority of the Security Council at this time was not convinced by it. This is only stated in one sentence halfway through the 1634 word article mentioned above. The article also emphasized the support that Powell gained by his speech, stating that “even critics of President Bush's Iraq policy are saying that Powell made a compelling case.” By placing Powell’s own statements first and then adding that much support had been gained, the article gave great weight to Powell’s “evidence,” and thereby allowed the government to frame the event. After its emphasis of these two aspects, both which appeared to strengthen Powell’s words, the article then presented displayed the first words of criticism against his presentation. It first gave the reaction of the Iraqi UN ambassador, who said that Powell’s assertions were “utterly unrelated to the truth.” Even though it was logical to first give the reaction of an Iraqi official, because it was the country against which allegations were being made, this Iraqi source would likely have been perceived as unreliable. This placement of Iraq’s reaction created the impression that predominantly questionable sources doubted Powell’s claims. By presenting the reaction of Iraq first, the paper may very well have influenced the perception of other sources mentioned later in the article.
The relegation of experts: non-experts first
The tendency to give American government officials first priority- thus letting them to frame the event through the “inherent structural bias” of journalism that the Center for International and Security Studies (CISSM) describes- was readily visible on the front page of The Washington Post . In a 2003 CISSM study entitled “Media Coverage of Weapons of Mass Destruction”, Susan. D. Moeller describes the tendency of the American media to prioritise the opinion of top American officials over “lower-ranking” sources as an “inverted pyramid,” as “basic breaking news stories” should lead with what the most “important’ player” - the President or the Prime Minister, for example - has to say.  This makes it easy for them to “dominate news coverage by setting the terms of public discussion,” as described in the preface of the study. It seems likely that the structure of the front-page article, where Powell’s opinion was given first priority, can be attributed to this structural bias, because Powell is an “important player.” However, as a result of this journalistic convention the public got a more one-sided view of the political discussion, mainly from the perspective of the Bush administration. Even though the newspaper may very well not have been politically biased in placing Powell’s claims so prominently, their professional convention resulted in the public hearing the Bush administration’s stance before any other, thus giving their perspective more importance. Though the Iraqi official is the first to give criticism and is thus an “important player,” as mentioned before, placing Iraq’s critique first creates the impression that essentially unreliable sources rejected Powell’s claims, once again lending more credibility to his assertions.
As a result of this “inverted pyramid,” the front page message of The Washington Post- from the lead article to the headline, to the other articles presented there, did not appear to reflect doubts about the claims made by Powell. These doubts were indeed present, but were buried more deeply in the articles. Only at the end does the article mention the doubts voiced by Security Council members—for example, that one senior council diplomat said that “key elements, particularly the communications between Iraqi officials allegedly trying to hide nerve agents and mobile biological weapons facilities, were less convincing.” The other front-page article in The Washington Post, “Satellite Images, Communications Intercepts and Defector’s Briefings,” also expressed a significant degree of doubt concerning Powell’s claims, but it also voiced its doubts towards the end of the article. This is notable because these doubts were coming from several expert sources: the article stated that “a number of European officials and U.S. terrorism experts have said that Powell's description of the Iraq-Zarqawi-al Qaeda nexus appeared to have been carefully drawn to imply more than it actually said.”
Judith S. Yaphe, a senior fellow at the National Defence University who worked for 20 years as a CIA analyst said: “You're left to just hear the nouns, and put them together. It doesn't take me yet to the point where I can say I've seen evidence which convinces me that Saddam Hussein supports al-Qaeda.” What is significant about this article is that it downplayed the doubts expressed, despite the fact that they were coming from important actors, albeit none as high ranking as Powell. However, considering the expertise of the sources and the gravity of their doubts, the article could have chosen to voice these opinions more prominently. Due to the layout of a newspaper and its restricted print space, the headline often can only contain the most “newsworthy” aspect of the article, generally not the opinion of the “most important player.” Often, it is not the journalist who decides what the headline reads, but it is made to fit the lay-out which is restricted by print-space. This often does not leave much room for nuance or detail. Because these doubts were only quoted towards the end of the article, this cannot really be seen as a structural bias. I believe that these experts’ doubts where downplayed because the newspaper felt a great reluctance to publish criticism of the government’s claims as a major news item, and therefore chose to place it later on in its articles or within the newspaper.
There is an important insight that should be added to the CISSM’s conclusion that the newspapers’ responses were greatly due to journalism’s structural bias. Considering the massive scale of media attention and significant number of people viewing the actual event on live broadcasts one can question if the standard journalistic convention of the “inverted pyramid” can be applied to this circumstance. It is most likely that at the time that readers bought their copy of either The New York Times or The Washington Post, they were seeking feedback, an encapsulation, or background information regarding the event that they had seen or heard about the previous day. Considering that many would have heard the headlines that evening on the news, the newspaper’s role in this situation was not that of news breaker. This situation is somewhat comparable with the articles in the newspapers on September 12, 2001. By the time the public buys a newspaper after such an event, it is necessary that the paper is equipped with a full–scale summary of background information, but they are not obliged to place the basic news-facts so prominently in their opening front-page articles. This indicated that on the day after Powell’s presentation, there would have been more space to publish many background articles, and give the basic news-facts less prominence. Again, this signifies the great hesitance with which the newspapers responded towards actively refuting the government’s statements.
I conclude thusly because doubts about Powell’s claims were evident and expressed in articles, but were not present in their headline or leads. Again, I shall take the example of the article mentioned above that concerned the alleged link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. This article is the only one on the front page which does not allow the Bush administration frame the event, as it is placed in a broader context, and indicating that the administration had spent most of that past year trying with “little success” to establish a convincing link between Hussein and al-Qaeda’s leader Osama bin Laden. The article also suggested that Powell’s conclusions about the link “went far beyond conclusions European officials investigating the plots have drawn,” and added that the majority of the Security Council was not in favour of ending the weapons inspection. This information, together with the statement that “a number of European officials and U.S terrorism experts” were not convinced of the link with al-Qaeda, made Powell’s claims seem more debatable than in the opening article. This again raises questions as to why these doubts were buried so deeply in the articles and not announced in the headline, sub-heading or in the lead. By placing them later in the article without an earlier announcement, the newspaper gave them less weight than they would otherwise have had.
One detail that was added at the end of the lead article in The Washington Post is particularly striking. It stated that Powell had “left out information that he felt would be too difficult for non-experts to understand.” This implied that the satellite photos, diagrams, and intercepted conversations in Arabic in his presentation should be comprehensible for “non-experts,” such as Security Council members, journalists reporting on the event, and the public. In fact, the diversity of and sometimes even dichotomy in reactions indicates that quite the opposite was true—that there was no single, simple understanding of what Powell presented. To properly judge the content and authenticity of his presentation, one would have to be an intelligence analyst or a terrorism expert. Unfortunately, it was exactly these people whose opinions were relegated to the end of the article, after “non-experts” such as Security Council members, diplomats, government officials, journalists, and columnists. The reason for this remains puzzling, as there seems to have been a deliberate decision to privilege these “non-experts” ahead of terrorism experts and intelligence analysts.
Only the German Foreign Affairs Minister Joschka Fischer raised awareness of this problem in the lead article of The Washington Post, when he said that he “lacked the technical expertise to assess whether the intelligence presented to the council by Powell was convincing.” Instead of letting intelligence analysts debate about the content of Powell’s presentation, sources that were less qualified to evaluate its content were given a prominent voice on the front page. In almost all cases it was these “non-experts” who were convinced by Powell’s presentation that the dictator posed a threat to the United States and was cooperating with the al-Qaeda network, while the terrorism experts and intelligence analysts were often the ones who voiced doubts on the certainty of these specific claims. This is also illustrative of the possibility that the newspaper felt hesitant to publish stances that contested the claims made by the government; moreover, this does not correspond with the notion of structural bias as defined by the CISSM.
The New York Times also had a tendency to give people with less expertise a prominent place in the analysis of the content of Powell’s presentation in the newspaper the following day. Overall, The New York Times appeared to be more convinced by Powell’s presentation than The Washington Post at this point in time. For example, above each article on the subject of Iraq the papers placed a “streamer” entitled “Threats and Responses.” By doing this, it stated that Iraq posed a threat, a matter that was still debatable at this crucial time before the war. By placing “threat” above each article that concerned Iraq, it is likely that the public would have gained the perception that Iraq was a threat to America. This might not necessarily have been the intention of the newspaper, as it could also have intended to imply that Saddam posed a threat to his own country. However, the streamer gave the subject a sensationalist feel, stifling the debate in the readership of The New York Times and making it an incontrovertible assumption that Saddam Hussein was posing a threat.
In their front-page articles The New York Times seemed to be in disagreement with The Washington Post over what part of the presentation deserved to be emphasized and was most newsworthy. While the presentation did not actually prove that Iraq was in possession of nuclear weapons, Powell stated that the intelligence agency possessed various secret records which indicated that Hussein was in the process of making nuclear weapons. The Washington Post did not mention this aspect of the presentation in its front-page articles, while The New York Times placed the emphasis on its leading front-page article “Security Council; Powell, In U.N Speech, Presents Case To Show Iraq Has Not Disarmed,” which very early on quoted Powell saying that “various records and intelligence showed that Mr. Hussein was making nuclear weapons and developing rockets and aircraft to deliver all his weapons.”  It also added Powell’s quote that “leaving Saddam Hussein in possession of weapons of mass destruction for a few more months or years is not an option, not in a post-September 11th world” which The Washington Post chose to not place on the front-page. The other front-page article described the presentation as an “intelligence breakthrough” of the Iraq, al Qaida-al-Zarqawi connection that “went further than many had expected.” Putting all of these separate pieces of information closely together on the front page could have created the impression that Hussein was already in possession of nuclear weapons, and has ties with terrorists. There was no mention of the fact that actual proof of this was not shown during the presentation, but that Powell claimed to be paraphrasing from secret intelligence files. The article left little room for discussion about the significance of these quotes from secret intelligence sources.
Weapons of mass destruction as a “monolithic menace”
It is remarkable that these two leading newspapers differed in their emphasis on the proof of nuclear weapons, as the issue was central to the question of whether Iraq posed a threat to America. If there were discrepancies between the journalists, politicians and expert’s interpretations of the presentation, why then were more experts not given breathing space to engage in a debate, and why was criticism treated with such a great degree of caution? If it was not possible to verify the claims that Powell made about Iraq’s nuclear weapons program, the newspapers were entitled to emphasize that they themselves could not verify this. Because The Washington Post wrote more cautiously of the proof as presented by Powell on Iraq’s nuclear weapons, it seems that The New York Times in this case was not making a clear distinction between the alleged proof of the possession of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. The New York Times seemed to be clumping all three types of weapons into one monolithic threat, with no distinction observed between shown “evidence” that experts could comment on, such as the proclaimed satellite pictures of biological and chemical weapons facilities, and the alleged nuclear weapons program, which could only be found in secret intelligence dossiers which were paraphrased by Powell.
The CISSM concludes that one of its major findings was that most media outlets “represented WMD as a monolithic menace, failing to adequately distinguish weapons programs and actual weapons or to address the real difference among chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological weapons.” Moeller further notes that “both US and UK media tended to report uncritically the Bush administration’s conflation of all ‘weapons of mass destruction’ into a single category of threat, an error that leads the public to mistakenly equate the destructive power of, say, chemical weapons with that of nuclear weapons”.  The article in The New York Times previously mentioned seems, indeed, to not clearly distinguish the vital nuances in “evidence” as provided by Powell concerning the chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and does not stress that Powell did not actually provide evidence of the alleged nuclear weapons, but rather was quoting secret intelligence sources. This ambiguity of the quote about it being very dangerous for Iraq to possess these nuclear weapons in a “post September 11th world,” creating a strong impression in The New York Times that the evidence entailed more than it actually was said to be by key experts.
The CISSM also found that “many stories stenographically reported the incumbent administration’s perspective on WMD, giving too little critical examination of the way officials framed the events, issues, threats and policy options,” and once again saw this as part of the “inverted pyramid” of journalism.  Because the lead article of The New York Times provided only quotes from Powell without letting experts or any other sources comment on his presentation, the newspaper was letting Powell frame the event. It only published what Powell stated in his presentation, and did not place it in a larger context or have experts verify or comment upon it. It stressed Powell’s point of view and excluded any other, thus creating the impression that Powell’s statements were not debatable. For example, it placed much emphasis on Powell’s perspective of the consequences of his presentation: “We have an obligation to our citizens; we have an obligation to this body to see that our resolutions are complied with… We must not fail in our duty and our responsibility for the citizens of the countries that are represented by this body.”  By simply reporting Powell’s opinion in this article, The Times did not give the public the impression that there was a debate over its factuality, and it placed its primary emphasis on Powell’s argument. By doing so, it once again failed to engage in the debate about what the presentation actually entailed.
The editorials: ready to strike
In both newspapers, many opinions on the content of Powell’s presentation were represented. However, there were once again many examples of people with less expertise on the content of the presentation, such as journalists, columnists and government officials, who commented, while the doubts of experts such as intelligence analysts were downplayed though reduced prominence in the discussion. This was especially apparent in both the newspaper’s editorials. Here, there seemed be a loss of nuance in the interpretation of Powell’s presentation. The Post’s front-page editorial attempted to distance itself from the content of Powell’s claims by stating that the Security Council at the UN was a “political theatre.” However, the editorials inside were extremely convinced, with headlines such as “A Winning Hand For Powell” and “Persuaded”. In The Times, on the other hand, one encountered the headline “Irrefutable and Undeniable.” The latter is the name of the column placed in section A36 the day after Powell’s presentation, where Donald Rumsfeld was quoted as follows: “it is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.” Even more overtly confident, the author wrote that “any country on the face of the Earth with an active intelligence program knows that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction,” and added that “even diplomats from France and Germany do not dispute this claim.” Most editorials of both newspapers would have left readers with the sense that not attacking Iraq at this point in time would be a cowardly and dangerous act. Most of the editorials pushed for war, stressed that Hussein had been ignoring UN resolutions for decades, and insisted that now was the time for action. The editorials built up the pressure exerted by the government to attack Iraq by reinforcing the impression that it was now or never to act against Hussein.
The editorials of both newspapers had similar statements. Many of them argued that Powell had proved in his presentation that Hussein was in possession of chemical and biological weapons. On the subject of the al-Qaeda-Iraq connection and Hussein’s nuclear weapons there were doubts ranging from disbelief to uncertainty. What is significant, however, is that despite the doubts that most editorials had about the al-Qaeda-Iraq connection and Hussein’s possession of nuclear weapons, the commentators still were almost all in favour of attacking Iraq. This is primary because these two arguments were at the heart of Powell’s case that presented Iraq as an imminent threat to America. Apparently, the editorialists were not convinced that the evidence that Hussein aided al-Qaeda terrorist and had nuclear weapons was conclusive, but they still believed that the dictator should be removed. For example, “A Winning Hand for Powell” stated: “if Powell failed in any area it was in proving that Iraq has a nuclear weapons program that poses an imminent—or even proximate—threat. That appears not to be the case. Its program seems no different from those of many other nations. It is almost impossible to hide a true nuclear weapons program.” This journalist clearly did not seem convinced that Iraq was a threat, but still chose to emphasize the support that Powell had gained with his presentation. The editorial stated that there was “no choice” but to act against Hussein now, in spite of its lack of conviction for despite being unconvinced by the initial arguments to start a war.
Even though a smoking gun had not been presented, the editorials that did not believe that Iraq had nuclear weapons still stated a firm belief that Iraq was in “possession of weapons of mass destruction.” No distinction was made between the different types of weapons in these articles. Instead they made them into, as the CISSM describes, one “monolithic” threat, in which the journalists equated the threat of a biological or chemical weapon with that of a nuclear weapon. This confused the public, which did not distinguish between the destructive powers of chemical and nuclear weapons. According to their study, the media “failed to insist on a differentiation between the different types of weapons,” which “allowed the calculated muddle to become accepted wisdom.” By adopting the terminology of the administration, the media did not adequately distinguish the threat of nuclear weapons from other weapons, which possibly made the threat appear greater than what was indicated by Powell’s evidence.
Some editorials caused further confusion with their use of loaded terms such as “ smoking gun”. Despite the fact that Powell himself said “not a smoking gun,” some editorials simplified this statement by merely talking about “a smoking gun,” a phrase that in itself may cause confusion. For example, an editorial from The Times said that Powell “made the case with a half dozen smoking guns of an Iraqi cover-up.” This statement was bound to cause confusion, because Powell had definitely declared that the cover-up of weapons programs that was “not a smoking gun.” The headline for one editorial in The Post also freely used the term “smoking gun” without indicating that Powell had clearly said that they did not have one. The headline here read “An Old Trooper’s Smoking Gun”.
But this editorial did more than simply add to the confusion over the inconclusiveness of Powell’s evidence. The first line read that “Powell did more than present the world yesterday with a convincing and detailed x-ray of Iraq’s secret weapons program and terrorism programs.” This statement is significant, because the CISSM has found that oftentimes the media have “been to quick to connect the two issues of terrorism and WMD with each other, as there has not been enough evidence that there was indeed a correlation between the two. The first sentence in “An Old Trooper’s Smoking Gun” can be seen as an example of this presumption. The New York Times’ “Threats and Responses” streamer is another clear example of how it adopted the government’s conflation of WMD and the “War on Terror.” However, the streamers adopted another claim that the Program on International Policy Attitutes called a “misperception,” for it trumpeted “Threats and Responses: The Terror Network” above any article pertaining to the Iraq al-Qaeda connection, thus accepting the government’s assertion that there was a connection. 
The Iraqi perspective
Both newspapers in the days after the presentation sought to explore an Iraqi, European and several other perspectives on the subject. While The New York Times seemed to have been more convinced by Powell’s presentation—emphasizing Powell’s statements sometimes without the balance of expert’s commentary and criticism—it did offer a broader array of other articles than The Washington Post did the day after the presentation. For example, The New York Times presented the subject from many different perspectives inside the newspaper, such as one article that summed up the opinion of the Security Council members, and another that presented the perspective of Europe, written from the stance of the “convinced European politicians” and the “unpersuaded” European public. It also published an article that contained the opinions of New Yorkers, called “Disagreement on Specifics, but Unanimity That There Is No Going Back.”
While The Washington Post cited an Iraqi official in their front-page article, The New York Times devoted a whole article to what Hussein’s advisor thought of the UN presentation. The Times also published a column written by Barham A. Salih, the co-prime minister of the Kurdistan regional government in Iraq. The presentation of the article implied that it offered an Iraqi voice. This impression began with its headline that pleaded “Give Us a Chance To Build a Democratic Iraq.” There are, however, certain facts that should be taken into account when reading the article that were not mentioned. It is, for example, important to note that this part of Iraq was, freed from Hussein’s control at that time. An attack on Iraq would likely have not had the same impact on this region of the country that would be felt in the rest of the country, for example, Baghdad. Therefore, this article could very well give the impression that it presented the perspective of the Iraqi people, even though it was a very particular perspective, from a region that presumably would be in less danger if attacked.
The column also did not mention that the Kurds had been attempting to overthrow Saddam Hussein for a great period of time due to reasons that where not related to Powell’s claim that the country posed a threat to America. The author speaks with confidence about “Iraq’s efforts to build WMD and its ties with terrorist organizations; “Salih calls these “excellent reasons to overthrow Saddam Hussein.” However, Salih’s call for freedom in Iraq was not accurately distinguished from the “evidence” that Iraq was in possession of WMD and had links to al-Qaeda in the article. The debate about the need to free Iraqis was a highly important aspect of the discussion prior to the attack on Iraq, of course, but it was a distinctly separate argument from the question of whether or not Hussein attempted to or already possessed WMD and had ties with terrorist organizations. Furthermore, the phrase “terrorist organisations” is used to signify the “monolithic menace,” as this general term is not specified: which terrorist organizations exactly does the author mean? Does this imply terrorist organizations that could attack the Kurds in Iraq or terrorist organizations that posed a threat to America, such as al-Qaeda?
On the day after Powell’s presentation, the two agenda-setting papers seemed astonished by the war claims made at the United Nations Security Council. This sense of overwhelming threat likely caused the newspapers to let the administration frame the news-value of this event, and thus made them more inclined to accept the government’s link of Iraq’s possible possession of WMD and the “War on Terror.” In doing so, they also did not distinguish between the various types of these weapons, which have substantial and relevant differences. The editorials in both newspapers were striking, for they seemed to have lost any sense of criticism. While they sometimes questioned the evidence that had been presented by Powell, they also fused arguments together and advocated war in spite of their reservations. Their opinionated and persuasive articles were possibly more convincing than the hard-news stories that usually covered the front pages. As a result, the newspapers made the threat of Iraq look as intimidating as the Bush administration wanted it to appear, even though many prominent sources expressed an array of doubts about the actual proof that Saddam posed a threat to America.
It is likely, therefore, that the newspapers played an important part in establishing the connection between Iraq, al-Qaeda, and weapons of mass destruction in the minds of the American people, who would as a result, according to the PIPA, be much more likely to support the attack on Iraq. By continually allowing the administration to frame the news, the media let themselves be used as a mouthpiece for the administration, thus shoring up public support for the government’s battle. In the newspapers’ defense, their placement of articles was not necessarily due to political bias, since the focus on their articles was not strictly related to the government alone, and many articles were present that voiced the doubts that many had at the time. There certainly was an effort made to verify the claims made by the government, and many experts’ opinions were provided that voiced serious critiques; nevertheless, this study reveals the way in which criticisms of the war claims were consistently given a lower level of priority.
This tendency suggests that there was something else involved than mere structural bias, as it shows that the newspapers felt a sustained and significant hesitance to publish critiques directed toward the government. Even though this does not necessarily illustrate that the newspaper’s decisions stemmed from any form of political bias, it does raise questions as to what other factors, aside from political and structural bias, might have contributed to the choices that were made by the editors and journalists in the period between the presentation and the start of the war on Iraq. Had the newspapers wanted to actively counter the government’s beliefs, they would have provided their doubting experts a far more prominent position. chosen a far more prominent placement for expert’s doubts, as readers had to actively read deeper into the articles and deeper inside the newspaper to get a clear picture of how much accumulating doubt there truly was. Instead, when the newspapers did publish critical positions, they were so deeply buried that their readers could not help but think that these newspapers were advocating an attach upon Iraq. By responding in this manner they acted like a watchdog on a leash, barely an animal to be reckoned with.
 This article is an abridged chapter from the master’s thesis from the University of Utrecht “Watchdog on a Leash: The coverage of The Washington Post and The New York Times during the run-up to the war in Iraq, 2003” written in August, 2005 by Marianne Ingleby.
It is available at: <http://igitur-archive.library.uu.nl/student-theses/2006-0324-081538/Watchdogonaleash.doc > . (April, 2006).
 Michael Massing. Now They Tell Us; The American Press and Iraq (New York: The New York Review of Books, 2004)
 Massing. 25
 This is written in the newspaper article by Howard Kurtz, “The Post on WMDs: An Inside Story; Prewar Articles Questioning Threat Often Didn't Make Front Page,” The Washington Post, August 12, 2004.
 “The Times and Iraq,” The New York Times, May 26, 2004, (editorial).
 This theory of inherent structural bias involving “lower ranking” officials is described in a study by Susan D. Moeller, “Media Coverage of Weapons of Mass Destruction.” Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland, March 9, 2003.
 Orville Schell, “Preface” in Massing. iii.
 In order for a resolution to pass in the United Nations Security Council, none of its five permanent members can vote against.
 “Timeline of the war in Iraq.” The Guardian. Retrieved June, 2005. Available at: <http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/page/0,12438,793802,00.html>. This timeline states that on April 6, 1991, Iraq adopted the UN resolution requiring it to end production of weapons of mass destruction and to allow monitoring by the UN special commission inspection team.
 Transcripts of Powell’s presentation. Available at:
 Massing. 56.
 According to the electronic database LexisNexis Academic, The Washington Post published 36 articles containing the search terms Powell and Iraq on February 6, 2003.
 Glenn Kessler and Colum Lynch, “Powell Lays Out Case Against Iraq; Evidence Shows Hussein Foiled Inspections, Secretary Tells U.N” The Washington Post, February 6, 2003. A Section, page. A01.
 Moeller. 3.
 Glenn Kessler and Colum Lynch.
 Karen DeYoung and Walter Pincus. “Satellite Images, Communications Intercepts and Defector’s Briefings” The Washington Post, February 6, 2003, A Section; Page. A01.
 DeYoung and Pincus.
 Glenn Kessler and Colum Lynch.. “Powell Lays Out Case Against Iraq” The Washington Post, February 6, 2003, A section Page. A01.
 Kessler and Lynch.
 Steven Weisman, “Security Council; Powell, In U.N Speech, Presents Case To Show Iraq Has Not Disarmed,” The New York Times, February 6, 2003. Section. A, Column 6, Foreign Desk; Pg. 1.
 Patrick E. Tyler, “Threats and Responses; Terror Network.
Intelligence Break Led U.S.” The New York Times, February 6, 2003, Section A; Column 4; Foreign Desk; Pg. 1.
 Michael Dobbs. “At Council, Political Theatre” The Washington Post, February 6, 2003. A section Pg. A01.
 William Safir. “Irrefutable and Undeniable” The New York Times, February 6, 2003 Section A; Column 1; Editorial Desk; Pg. 39.
 Cohen, Richard. “A Winning Hand for Powell” The Washington Post, February 6, 2003 Editorial Pg. A37.
 S. Kull, C. Ramsay, S. Subias, E. Lewis, P. Warf. “Misperceptions, Media, and the Iraq War,” conducted by Program on International Policy Attitudes. 2003, October.
Available at: http://www.pipa.org. (August, 2005).
 Barham A. Salih, “Give Us a Chance To Build a Democratic Iraq.” The New York Times. February 6, 2003, Section A; Column 2; Editorial Desk; Pg. 27.
 Kull. 2.