Monthly Archives: May 2004

There it is — as big as Virtual Life: “The Times and Iraq.” Whodathunk it? A Mea Culpa from the “Newspaper of Record” for it’s fraudulent Weapons of Mass Destruction stories, shamelessly pimping the Bush adminstration’s line for waging war with a nation that not only hadn’t attacked us, but never ever possessed the means of doing so.

“Unprecedented,” ain’t it?

But hold the phone. What’s really going on here? Isn’t the Times’ “apology” more on the order of that hallowed Nixon-era phrase, a “limited, modified hang-out” ?

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.

No shit, Sherlock!

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.

Really? Maybe that’s the way it “normally” unfolds at the Times these days, what with its’ fradulent stories helping to put nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee in prison

in solittary confinement

in shackles

for nine months

without access to a lawyer

So peddling BushCo lies about WMD’s is really “Busines As Usual,” isn’t it? So why apologize?

Maybe because the war is a compete failure. Not that the Times cares about the war and those who’ve killed in it and/or been killed for it.

It cares only for itself. Its “reputation.”

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.

Oh really?

Does the name Judith Miller ring a bell?

The problematic articles varied in authorship and subject matter, but many shared a common feature.

Judith Miller !

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.

Eventually.

And love the notion of Chalabi as “an occasional source”!

As anyone who has read the Times with any care knows, the Gray Lady was dragged kicking and screaming into the harsh light of Truth, unable to resist the Crack Cocaine of “Insider” info being peddled by —

Judith Miller !

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.

Well of course. As always, It’s the Editors, Stupid!

But that fact shouldn’t deflect the spotlight from Judith Miller , even as the Times declines to mention her name EVEN SO MUCH AS ONCE in this screed.

Accounts of Iraqi defectors were not always weighed against their strong desire to have Saddam Hussein ousted.

By who? Donald Rumsfeld? The man who only a few years ago considered the now-deposed dictator a trusted client?

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.

Love the “sometimes.”

Invariably is more like it.

In some cases, there was no follow-up at all.

The Truth at Last!

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.

Was he wearing a baseball cap perchance?

It is still possible that chemical or biological weapons will be unearthed in Iraq,

And it’s still possible that the Bluebird of Happiness will fly out of the testosterone-engorged neck of The Creature From the Blog Lagoon

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.

–who unless they were either on the Richard Mellon Scaife payroll, or blithering idiots, guessed the truth long ago.

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.

The Brightest and the Best, no doubt.

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.

Oh my. The Times’ editors had so much trouble reading all of those words ! Can you blame them for being flummoxed?

Don’t answer that.

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.”

And where did they get that fanciful turn of phrase? Why from an NYT story penned by

JUDITH MILLER !

Five days later, The Times reporters learned that the tubes were in fact a subject of debate among intelligence agencies.

While anyone with internet access found out in about five minutes.

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.

Oh my. What editor made this unfortunate placement decision?

Now don’t all rush up at once.

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.

“highly controversial” = Fucking Lie.

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.

And why was that?

Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole is starting to look more like a documentary every minute.

A sample of the coverage, including the articles mentioned here, is online at nytimes.com/critique.

My how thoughtful. And whose name appears on the byline of the overwhelming majority of these stories?

JUDITH MILLER !

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.

But does She Who is Not to Be Named have a statement to make?

The silence is deafening.

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.

Do you?

Think of Monica Vitti verballing sparring with Dirk Bogarde in Modesty Blaise (a film of enormous ironic import to the current crisis) when pronouncing that last query.

Think also of noted neo-fascist bisexual tosspot Chrisopher Hitchens, who may at this point consider his April 24, 2003 Slate magazine piece “Lay Off Chalabi
Iraq could do much worse”
a mistake.

Or, knowing Hitchens, maybe not.

Far more responsible souls like Greg Mitchell at “Editor & Publisher”
find the whole affair distressing, especially in light of the fact that despite the Mea Partial Culpa’s allusions to future procedural alteration “Nowhere does the Times suggest that it is penalizing any editors or reporters in any way.”

In an “On-Line Exclusive” Amy Goodman and David Goodman, hard-pressed to hide the cat-that-swallowed-the-canary grisn that are surely (and deservedly) spread across their faces explain what’s really been going on in a manner everyone save a NYT editor can understand.

Tom Wolfe once wrote about a war-happy correspondent in Vietnam (same idea, different war). The adiministration was “playing[the reporter] of the New York Times like an ocarina, as if they were blowing smoke up his pipe and the finger work was just right and the song was coming forth better than theycould have played themselves.” But who was playing whom? The Washington Post reported that while Miller was embedded with MET Alpha, her role in the unit’s operations became so central that it became known as the “Judith Miller Team.” In one instance,she disagreed with a decision to relocate the unit to another area and threatened to file a critical report in The Times about the action. When she took her protest to a two-star general, the decision was reversed. One Army officer told the Post, “Judith was always issuing threats of either going to the New York Times or to the secretary of defense. There was noting veiled about that threat.”

And thus the NYT’s reluctance to mention Miller, much less toss her scuzzy lying ass out of the building.

You can’t treat a star like that! She’s won a Pulitzer! She’s been in a Marcel Ophuls movie!

No, no The Judy Miller Show MUST go on — even if it resembles The Judy Miller Show. Otherwise Rummy Spank.

So The Judy Miller Show (the one without Gilda) is “on hiatus,” as they say in TV-Land,with the NYT handing Chalabi-coverage to other reporters. But she’ll be back. How can she not?

Like Joe Pesci in Goodfellas and Casino, she’s Made.

Ah, but will she enjoy Pesci’s fate ? Stay tuned.