No task is more important for any newspaper than to impart the news convincingly to the people and their government that a war is wrong, futile or, ultimately, lost. The United States has been militarily defeated in Iraq. It has no sane options left. All talk of troop "surges," of the need for a "continuing presence," of the feasibility of training an Iraqi army, of any constructive capacities for the central Iraqi "government" is as hollow as kindred talk in Vietnam in the early 1970s. There is no light, of any sort, at the end of the tunnel. The failure of the major newspapers in 2005 and 2006 to disclose the United States's defeat in Iraq has been as disastrous as the earlier failure to challenge the claims of the Bush administration on Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction.

            Because of Judy Miller's high profile in the WMD fabrications, other Times reporters like Michael Gordon have garnered little of the criticism they richly deserve. Gordon has played a particularly pernicious role. Having co-written with Miller the infamous aluminum tube story of Sept. 8, 2002, that mightily assisted the administration in its push to war, Gordon has consistently misreported what is actually been happening militarily in Iraq. In the latter part of 2006, he became the prime journalistic agitator for a "surge" in troop strength.

            In late July, Gordon laid down a preliminary salvo in a story about Gen. John Abizaid's plans to move more troops into Baghdad. "It is not yet clear," Gordon wrote, "whether the increased violence will prompt American commanders to modify their longer-term plans for troop reductions."

            On Sept. 11, Gordon was more emphatic, in a story eliciting the headline "Grim Outlook Seen in West Iraq Without More Troops and Aid." Gordon cited a senior officer in Iraq saying more American troops were necessary to stabilize Anbar. A story on Oct. 22 emphasized that "the sectarian violence [in Baghdad] would be far worse if not for the American efforts … " There were, of course, plenty of Iraqis and some Americans Gordon also could have found eager to say the exact opposite.

            When Rep. John Murtha -- advocate of immediate withdrawal -- was running for the post of House majority leader in the new Democratic-controlled Congress, Gordon rushed out two stories, both front-paged by The New York Times. In "Get Out Now? Not So Fast, Some Experts Say" (Nov. 14), Gordon sought out the now retired Gen. Anthony Zinni and others, who "say the situation in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq is too precarious to start thinning out the number of American troops," while "some military experts said that while the American military is stretched thin, the number of American troops in Iraq could be increased temporarily … "

            The next day, Nov. 15, 2006, a second Gordon story was headlined "General Warns of Risks in Iraq if GI's Are Cut." Gordon cited Gen. Abizaid's warnings that phased withdrawal of troops would lead to an increase of sectarian violence, and that more troops might be necessary temporarily.

            By Dec. 4, with the Iraq Study Group about to issue its report, Gordon returned to General Zinni. In a report headlined "Blurring Political Lines in the Military Debate," Gordon embraced Gen. Zinni's plan for temporary increase of troops to offset Iranian influence, suggesting that any precipitate would destabilize the Middle East and leave Iraq in chaos.

            On Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Day, Gordon was at it again, flailing away at Baker and Hamilton's report. Headline: "Will it Work on the Battlefield?" Lead: "The military recommendations issued yesterday by the Iraq Study Group are based more on hope than history and run counter to assessments made by some of its own military advisors." Precipitous withdrawal, Gordon charged, would leave Iraqi armed forces unprepared to take over security burden.

            Reporters with a propaganda mission can always find the mouthpieces to say what they want. Gordon's "troop surge" campaign was particularly striking -- and politically much more influential in Congress than the mad-dog ravings of the right-wing broadcasters.

            At the Washington Post, which also editorialized against Murtha's bid, David Ignatius similarly fostered the impression of feasible options in Iraq. "With enough troops and aggressive tactics," Ignatius wrote earlier in 2006, "American forces can bring order to even the meanest streets." In Iraq, in March, Ignatius claimed to find "unmistakable signs here this week that Iraq's political leaders are taking the first tentative steps towards forming a broad government of national unity that could reverse the country's downward slide." His keen eye detected a "new spirit of accord."

            So here we have the Times's and Post's lead reporter/commentators on the war diligently promulgating the core fantasy: that the United States has options beyond accepting defeat. The vast majority of Iraqis want U.S. forces out. Militarily, the United States has been defeated. There is nothing sane left for the United States to do, beyond remove its troops at the earliest possible moment. The politicians will always be reluctant to accept the facts of life. They yearn for the upbeat message. The press's duty is to tell them that there is no light amidst the darkness. That takes courage and intelligence.

            Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at COPYRIGHT 2006 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.