What Foreign Policy “Debate” Means on “Face the Nation”

The fact that the nation's most watched Sunday morning news show convenes media "experts" to comment on foreign policy who are so uniform and like-minded and homogenized demonstrates how illusory is the supposed "free debate" which establishment media outlets permit.

CBS’ Face the Nation is the most-watched Sunday morning news television show in the U.S., attracting roughly 3 million viewers each week. On this Sunday morning, the show is focused on foreign policy, as it interviews Ben Carson, Jeb Bush and Lindsey Graham on the issues of ISIS and refugees. As it always does, the program has assembled a panel of “experts” to discuss those matters; one of them, Jeffrey Goldberg, proudly announced its composition this morning:


In addition to host John Dickerson and Goldberg himself, the rest of the panel is composed of former Bush 43 speechwriter and current Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, and former Bush 41 speechwriter and current Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan.

Aside from the glaring demographic homogeneity — all middle-aged-or-older white people who have spent their careers in corporatized Washington establishments — there is a suffocating ideological and viewpoint homogeneity on this panel as well, particularly when it comes to foreign policy. All of the panelists, for instance, were vocal, aggressive advocates of the invasion of Iraq (as were all three GOP presidential candidates featured on this morning’s show).

Goldberg, in a 2006 profile of Gerson, wrote that “Gerson, like Bush, has never wavered. ‘The people of the Middle East are not exceptions to this great trend of history, and, by standing up for these things, we are on the right side of history,’ he said.” Ignatius repeatedly used his Post platform to argue for the war: Eight months after the invasion, he wrote a gushing profile of Paul Wolfowitz (“a rare animal in Washington — a genuine intellectual in a top policymaking job”) and decreed, “This may be the most idealistic war fought in modern times”; in 2004, he proclaimed, “I don’t regret my support for toppling Hussein.” Noonan, in February 2003, told Slate: “I have come to the conclusion that we must move. I do not imagine an invasion will be swift and produce minimal losses. But I believe not stepping in is, at this point, more dangerous than stepping in.”

Other than Tom Friedman, Goldberg himself was probably the journalist most responsible for tricking Americans into supporting the war by circulating blatant falsehoods under the guise of “reporting,” using his New Yorker perch to legitimize claims of the non-existent Saddam/al Qaeda alliance (which he continued to tout as late as 2010) and the Iraqi nuclear program. The Face the Nation host, John Dickerson, was a reporter for Time magazine at the time and therefore pretended not to express opinions about Iraq, but he disseminated “objective” reporting like this:

Many have observed that no American journalists or pundits (let alone political officials) other than Judy Miller paid any career price whatsoever for their dissemination of falsehoods about Iraq and the use of their platforms to vocally cheer for one of the worst, most destructive crimes of their generation. That’s true, but it’s worse than that.

To this day, being regarded in establishment circles as a serious and credible foreign policy expert for a journalist or pundit all but requires that one have supported the Iraq War along with subsequent military actions. The few public figures who opposed the war and are admitted to such circles are admitted despite that opposition, and a requirement is that they opposed the invasion on pragmatic and strategic grounds, not moral or legal ones.

This dynamic is particularly thriving right now in the U.K., as scores of political and media figures who cheered Tony Blair’s invasion of Iraq malign Jeremy Corbyn, who opposed it, as an “extremist.” In order to be a serious “moderate” in Western imperial capitals, one must endorse the right of your government to invade, bomb and attack countries that haven’t attacked yours; only an “extremist” would oppose such a radical precept (anger at Corbyn is currently at its peak because he opposes U.K. bombing of Syria against ISIS). To see how this mentality works, watch this amazing 2003 BBC program as one of the U.K.’s most despised-among-the-establishment figures, George Galloway, debated the invasion of Iraq with numerous still-respected pro-war pundits; virtually everything Galloway said in opposition to the war proved prescient and virtually everything the war cheerleaders said proved utterly false, and yet they are still regarded as credible and serious while he is loathed and dismissed as an extremist.

There is, needless to say, an enormous amount of viewpoint, experience and mentality homogeneity among these Face the Nation panelists extending far beyond their vocal enthusiasm for the attack on Iraq. The fact that the nation’s most-watched Sunday morning news TV show convenes such similar “experts” to comment on foreign policy illustrates how illusory the supposed “free debate” is that establishment media outlets permit.

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