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FROM THIS EPISODE

For KCRW, this is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun with Minding the Media.

Now that the media has stopped obsessing about Paris Hilton... Oh, wait, I must have lost my mind: The obsession is alive, thriving and relentless. Just turn on any cable news show.

What's remarkable is how much energy our hapless young heroine has sucked out of more important issues.

Take, for instance, the fact that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has become a political casualty of the Iraq war. It received only a fraction of the coverage given the Paris sob story.

Same goes for the debate over whether Scooter Libby should get a presidential pardon.

And how about Mitt Romney's analysis of why the United States went to war in Iraq. Media Matters for America described him as "shockingly ignorant."

Now that would have been worth some serious coverage. During CNN's Republican candidates' debate a week ago, Romney said we went to war because weapons inspectors were prevented from entering Iraq.

Hello? Romney doesn’t know that not only were United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq prior to our invasion in 2003, but they reported not finding any WMDs!

Amazingly, Romney said, "We wouldn't be in the conflict we're in" if Saddam Hussein had "opened up his country" to the inspectors.

The media watchdog organization Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting reminds us that after a Security Council resolution was passed demanding that Iraq allow inspectors in, they were given complete access to the country.

They spent months in Iraq, issuing reports on Saddam's compliance "that were a crucial part of the debate over whether to invade Iraq."

Before they could finish their job, however, Bush said he was going to invade anyway, and the inspectors had to be pulled out.

Romney's error was "little noted by the mainstream media," although, on CNN, Democratic strategist Paul Begala called it a "huge mistake... like saying the Mexicans bombed Pearl Harbor."

"If this were a general election debate, [it] would be a disqualifier," Begala said on CNN.

Media Matters noted that, after last week's debate, The Washington Post gave their "Gaffe of the Night" award to candidate Mike Huckabee, for getting Ronald Reagan's birthday wrong.

For The Post to focus on Huckabee's minor error and ignore Romney's serious goof about what led to the Iraq War is evidence that "the bad media habits that helped install the worst president ever in the White House haven't changed a bit," columnist Paul Krugman wrote in The New York Times.

"But if the press were to admit that rewriting of recent history was cause for alarm, they might have to acknowledge that George W. Bush has done the same thing," FAIR said its analysis. "On July 14, 2003, Bush declared of Saddam Hussein, 'We gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in.'"

"If the current occupant of the White House is given such a pass," FAIR said, "perhaps it's no surprise that the same treatment is given to Republican candidates looking to succeed him."

It's amazing to me that the candidates aren't more careful, given our collective experience in the last six years. Have they forgotten Bush's claim that Hussein tried to buy uranium, supposedly to reconstitute his nuclear weapons program? That lie started the pack of lies that landed Scooter Libby in court.

Never mind Bush's claim that the United States had "prevailed" in Iraq, or that the U.S. had "removed an ally of Al Qaeda." Or, as he said on Polish television, that "we found the weapons of mass destruction."

That's the sort of lie the candidates should avoid, and it's the kind of thing the responsible media should be focused on, every day.

Paris can fend for herself.

This is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun, Minding the Media on KCRW.

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