'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Spring Cleaning 

Didn't think I'd live to see this. The New York Times somewhat feebly owns up to the errors of Judith Miller's Greatest Hits from 2003 but mostly lets her off the hook:

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.

[ ... ]

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.

The rest of the article offers a number of examples of assertions made by or in the New York Times that were false: that Saddam Hussein trained Islamic terrorists at a secret camp where biological weapons were produced, that Saddam Hussein, as recently as 2002, renovated secret biological and chemical weapons facilities hidden in villas and underground wells. I had forgotten the extent and specificity of the lies of Chalabi's stooges. This whole story -- of Chalabi and the neocons and the government of the United States of America and the New York Times -- truly is a scandal of the highest order. The timing of this thing is quite funny. The editors confess above that they wish they had been more "aggressive" which is why they finally admit that Ahmed Chalabi had sold them a line of crap only after the Bush administration turns its back on Chalabi. Very aggressive.

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