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Greg Mitchell Goes to War
Editor & Publisher takes aim at newspapers and their coverage of Iraq

by Ari Paul

At the millennium’s dawn, one of America’s oldest weekly magazines was in trouble. It seemed as though each issue of Editor & Publisher, the venerable newspaper-trade publication founded in 1901, was getting thinner. The magazine, which had often carried stories running a full page plus a jump, was jamming multiple stories into each page, and the once-hefty book had sunk as low as 32 pages. Stories were generally dry, covering industry conventions and business news. And the editorial staff was abandoning ship—starting in 2000, the magazine lost at least one editor or staff writer every year.

Then, in 2003, Greg Mitchell took over as Editor & Publisher’s first full-time editor (previously the job had been shared with a sister publication, Mediaweek). By the time 2006 arrived, E&P had been nominated three years in a row for the Neal Award (administered by American Business Media), advertising had returned to previous levels and there had been no staff defections in three years.

Mitchell, who had been the magazine’s features editor since 1999, made two crucial changes that invigorated E&P. Under his editorship, it became a monthly, and in 2004 it started putting more content on its website. It now claims 100,000-plus readers of the print magazine and more than a million and a half visitors per month to the website. And, most conspicuously, it has become a loud voice calling for more skeptical, crusading reporting on the war in Iraq. “It has changed,” said Howard Kurtz, media columnist for The Washington Post, “from a sleepy print magazine to a faster, harder-hitting and must-read online operation.”

Prior to Mitchell’s ascension to the magazine’s editorship, it had become clear that the U.S. military was on the verge of invading Iraq, a fact that energized Mitchell, who, before coming to Editor & Publisher, had edited and written articles and books championing progressive political causes—he had edited Nuclear Times, overseen Crawdaddy’s political coverage and co-authored the book “Hiroshima in America: Fifty Years of Denial.” As the United States started massing its troops near Iraq, Mitchell and his staff grew increasingly uneasy. “We were very skeptical of the reasons being laid out for the war,” he said.

When he took over as the magazine’s editor, it was clear that media coverage of the war was becoming a huge story, and his journalistic instincts led him to a decision to make Editor & Publisher an aggressive monitor and critic of that coverage. He saw what he characterized as a lack of questioning in the American press during the lead-up to the war. In 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a presentation to the U.N. Security Council aimed at justifying a pre-emptive invasion, stated that “Saddam Hussein and his regime are concealing their efforts to produce more weapons of mass destruction,” identifying specific WMD sites in Iraq. Just after that, Charles J. Hanley, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The Associated Press, filed stories from Iraq that said that the sites Powell mentioned had already been searched by weapons inspectors. Research by the left-wing media monitor Fairness in Accuracy and Reporting (FAIR) shows that virtually no major newspapers picked up these stories. “The press bowed down and declared [Powell] the greatest orator since Cicero,” said Michael Massing, the author of a scathing critique of the media’s Iraq coverage, in a recent interview. For example, Richard Cohen, the usually liberal columnist for The Washington Post, wrote at the time that only a fool or “possibly a Frenchman” could conclude that Iraq was not a threat after Powell’s speech.

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