These journalists got the Iraq war right – even as colleagues called their stories 'fake news'
On May 1st 2007, U.S. President George W. Bush landed on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln off the California coast and delivered a speech in which he claimed major combat operations in Iraq over as a giant “Mission Accomplished” banner hovered overhead.
Those claims, like the Bush administration’s justifications for the Iraq war, often went unchecked by the overwhelming majority of media organizations.
But two journalists got the Iraq war right – and they did so even as their own colleagues followed the drumbeat of war and called their stories “fake news.”
“Shock and Awe,” a new film directed by Rob Reiner tells the true story of Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel, reporters at the now-defunct Knight Ridder newspaper chain, who were among the journalists to question the truthfulness of the Bush administration’s claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was acquiring nuclear weapons in the lead-up to the Iraq war.
They were right.
Landay and Strobel, who now work for Reuters, told CTV’s Your Morning that they hope the film – the latest in a resurgence of newspaper movies – is a timely inspiration for young or inspiring journalists and a tribute to investigative reporting at a time when press freedom is under attack by another Republican president who frequently labels news stories he doesn’t like “fake news.”
“Fifteen years have passed and it’s a story a lot of people don’t know,” Strobel, who is played by James Marsden in the film, told CTV’s Your Morning. “We had a wonderful experience working with Rob Reiner on the movie. The movie is coming out at a time when the coalition of truth is under assault by the Trump administration.”
Strobel and Landay, played by Woody Harrelson, told CTV’s Your Morning that other newspapers and television networks frequently acted as “stenographers” for then President George W. Bush and the intelligence agencies as they delivered falsehood after falsehood when making the case for war.
“Part of the movie is about how lonely it was when we were doing the reporting and sometimes wondering and questioning why no one else was reporting what we were reporting,” Landay told CTV’s Your Morning. “It was frustrating particularly because we worked for a chain of newspapers that doesn’t exist anymore called Knight Ridder that owned 31 newspapers and some of its own newspapers wouldn’t run our stories.”
The reporting pair told CTV’s Your Morning that reaction to the film has been much different from the reaction to their reporting.
“We’ve had a lot of good feedback from American soldiers who served in Iraq who lost buddies,” Strobel said.
Landay said that when their former editor, played by Rob Reiner, saw the movie in a theatre outside Washington, D.C., his daughter told the audience that the movie was about her father. A man who served six tours in Iraq sought him out after the film to thank him.
Strobel and Landay told CTV’s Your Morning that they hope the movie’s message about the importance of press freedom and investigative reporting resonates as President Donald Trump labels the press the “enemy of the people” and describes stories he doesn’t like as “fake news.”
“This is an administration that is much less transparent than any one I can remember and much more hostile to the news media,” Strobel told CTV’s Your Morning, noting that the Trump administration is not releasing visitor logs or readouts of calls between the president and other world leaders. “As this movie shows, it just makes it all the more important for us to continue doing what we do no matter how hard that may be.”