[Marxism] NY Times slaps its own wrist

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed May 26 07:54:10 MDT 2004

(Fascinating. In this self-criticism, the name "Judith Miller" does not 
appear once.)

NY Times, May 26, 2004
The Times and Iraq

Over the last year this newspaper has shone the bright light of 
hindsight on decisions that led the United States into Iraq. We have 
examined the failings of American and allied intelligence, especially on 
the issue of Iraq's weapons and possible Iraqi connections to 
international terrorists. We have studied the allegations of official 
gullibility and hype. It is past time we turned the same light on ourselves.

In doing so — reviewing hundreds of articles written during the prelude 
to war and into the early stages of the occupation — we found an 
enormous amount of journalism that we are proud of. In most cases, what 
we reported was an accurate reflection of the state of our knowledge at 
the time, much of it painstakingly extracted from intelligence agencies 
that were themselves dependent on sketchy information. And where those 
articles included incomplete information or pointed in a wrong 
direction, they were later overtaken by more and stronger information. 
That is how news coverage normally unfolds.

But we have found a number of instances of coverage that was not as 
rigorous as it should have been. In some cases, information that was 
controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently 
qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged. Looking back, we wish we had 
been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged 
— or failed to emerge.

The problematic articles varied in authorship and subject matter, but 
many shared a common feature. They depended at least in part on 
information from a circle of Iraqi informants, defectors and exiles bent 
on "regime change" in Iraq, people whose credibility has come under 
increasing public debate in recent weeks. (The most prominent of the 
anti-Saddam campaigners, Ahmad Chalabi, has been named as an occasional 
source in Times articles since at least 1991, and has introduced 
reporters to other exiles. He became a favorite of hard-liners within 
the Bush administration and a paid broker of information from Iraqi 
exiles, until his payments were cut off last week.) Complicating matters 
for journalists, the accounts of these exiles were often eagerly 
confirmed by United States officials convinced of the need to intervene 
in Iraq. Administration officials now acknowledge that they sometimes 
fell for misinformation from these exile sources. So did many news 
organizations — in particular, this one.

Some critics of our coverage during that time have focused blame on 
individual reporters. Our examination, however, indicates that the 
problem was more complicated. Editors at several levels who should have 
been challenging reporters and pressing for more skepticism were perhaps 
too intent on rushing scoops into the paper. Accounts of Iraqi defectors 
were not always weighed against their strong desire to have Saddam 
Hussein ousted. Articles based on dire claims about Iraq tended to get 
prominent display, while follow-up articles that called the original 
ones into question were sometimes buried. In some cases, there was no 
follow-up at all.

On Oct. 26 and Nov. 8, 2001, for example, Page 1 articles cited Iraqi 
defectors who described a secret Iraqi camp where Islamic terrorists 
were trained and biological weapons produced. These accounts have never 
been independently verified.

On Dec. 20, 2001, another front-page article began, "An Iraqi defector 
who described himself as a civil engineer said he personally worked on 
renovations of secret facilities for biological, chemical and nuclear 
weapons in underground wells, private villas and under the Saddam 
Hussein Hospital in Baghdad as recently as a year ago." Knight Ridder 
Newspapers reported last week that American officials took that defector 
— his name is Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri — to Iraq earlier this year 
to point out the sites where he claimed to have worked, and that the 
officials failed to find evidence of their use for weapons programs. It 
is still possible that chemical or biological weapons will be unearthed 
in Iraq, but in this case it looks as if we, along with the 
administration, were taken in. And until now we have not reported that 
to our readers.

On Sept. 8, 2002, the lead article of the paper was headlined "U.S. Says 
Hussein Intensified Quest for A-Bomb Parts." That report concerned the 
aluminum tubes that the administration advertised insistently as 
components for the manufacture of nuclear weapons fuel. The claim came 
not from defectors but from the best American intelligence sources 
available at the time. Still, it should have been presented more 
cautiously. There were hints that the usefulness of the tubes in making 
nuclear fuel was not a sure thing, but the hints were buried deep, 1,700 
words into a 3,600-word article. Administration officials were allowed 
to hold forth at length on why this evidence of Iraq's nuclear 
intentions demanded that Saddam Hussein be dislodged from power: "The 
first sign of a `smoking gun,' they argue, may be a mushroom cloud."

Five days later, The Times reporters learned that the tubes were in fact 
a subject of debate among intelligence agencies. The misgivings appeared 
deep in an article on Page A13, under a headline that gave no inkling 
that we were revising our earlier view ("White House Lists Iraq Steps to 
Build Banned Weapons"). The Times gave voice to skeptics of the tubes on 
Jan. 9, when the key piece of evidence was challenged by the 
International Atomic Energy Agency. That challenge was reported on Page 
A10; it might well have belonged on Page A1.

On April 21, 2003, as American weapons-hunters followed American troops 
into Iraq, another front-page article declared, "Illicit Arms Kept Till 
Eve of War, an Iraqi Scientist Is Said to Assert." It began this way: "A 
scientist who claims to have worked in Iraq's chemical weapons program 
for more than a decade has told an American military team that Iraq 
destroyed chemical weapons and biological warfare equipment only days 
before the war began, members of the team said."

The informant also claimed that Iraq had sent unconventional weapons to 
Syria and had been cooperating with Al Qaeda — two claims that were 
then, and remain, highly controversial. But the tone of the article 
suggested that this Iraqi "scientist" — who in a later article described 
himself as an official of military intelligence — had provided the 
justification the Americans had been seeking for the invasion.

The Times never followed up on the veracity of this source or the 
attempts to verify his claims.

A sample of the coverage, including the articles mentioned here, is 
online at nytimes.com/critique. Readers will also find there a detailed 
discussion written for The New York Review of Books last month by 
Michael Gordon, military affairs correspondent of The Times, about the 
aluminum tubes report. Responding to the review's critique of Iraq 
coverage, his statement could serve as a primer on the complexities of 
such intelligence reporting.

We consider the story of Iraq's weapons, and of the pattern of 
misinformation, to be unfinished business. And we fully intend to 
continue aggressive reporting aimed at setting the record straight.


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