Jonathan Landay says today’s press is ready for liars

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Jonathan Landay is still in the trenches, literally and figuratively.

Landay and fellow reporter Warren Strobel spearheaded  mainstream American media’s most skeptical coverage of the post-9/11 rush to war with Iraq at a time when most U.S. reporters had traded critical thinking for credulous flag-waving. Their efforts to expose the Bush Administration’s lies about Saddam Hussein’s fictitious weapons of mass destruction are depicted in Rob Reiner’s new film Shock And Awe.

The journalist acknowledges having a hard time recognizing himself in Woody Harrelson’s performance, but his friends have assured him the actor got him pegged.

I spoke with Landay, who’s still a working journalist, mere minutes after the jaw-dropping Donald Trump-Vladimir Putin joint press conference.

What was your involvement with Shock And Awe? I understand you were on set often.

I was deeply involved. I participated in the development of the script and, while filming, I would give advice on mannerisms, how to ask questions, etcetera.

How does Shock And Awe compare to classics like All the President’s Men or Spotlight?

This one is somewhat different. At the end of All the President’s Men, Nixon was impeached. Spotlight exposed the sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. We didn’t succeed. Our stories didn’t affect public support and the invasion went ahead. I see it more as a celebration of journalism.

Can you draw any parallels between the challenges you faced covering the looming Iraq invasion and the Trump administration?

The situations are different, but I can say the mainstream media is doing a more responsible job covering the allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Not so during the presidential campaign, when networks used Trump to boost their ratings. The major difference is the emergence of right-wing alternative media — Fox News, Breitbart, InfoWars — that operate as mouthpieces for the administration.

Have you encountered sources that lied when you were investigating the case for war?

Most have faded from the scene. Of those involved, John Bolton and a few others once associated with the Bush administration now work for Trump’s.

How come you and Warren Strobel never wrote a book about your experiences?

We’re too busy being journalists. There are mortgages to be paid.

Can you identify a personal trait that helped make you the dissenting voice at the time?

Knowledge of the material. I had spent 10 years covering Iraq and Afghanistan, and the case for war made no sense. The day after 9/11, most of the discussion in the Bush administration was about Iraq, not Afghanistan. The free press wasn’t holding the government accountable and we — me, Warren Strobel, John Walcott, and Joe Galloway — felt it was our responsibility.

Is there a current story you believe the mainstream media is not covering properly, or at all?

The United States’ foreign policy. We still have 15,000 soldiers in Afghanistan and there are not enough people covering them. Because of Trump, we’re not giving enough attention to what’s going on in Syria.

Do news networks spend too much on pundits and too little on investigative journalism?

I disagree. Good investigative journalism is happening on CNN, MSNBC, and other big networks.

Do you think the Trump administration could pull off going to war under false pretenses?

I don’t know, but I’m certain the press is much more responsible and skeptical than it was in 2001. We have a much more robust mainstream media.

What has been the effect of POTUS calling mainstream media outlets “fake news”?

It has inspired journalists to be as responsible as possible. Some outlets I won’t name pushed the line so much, they started being perceived as the opposition. In Europe, there’s a tradition of media outlets being associated with political parties. We need to avoid this.

Lastly, what do you make of Trump meeting Putin for two hours without anybody but the interpreters present?

I better not go there.