NYT Apology for WMD
Jack Shafer reports,
Sources inside and close to the New York Times say that the newspaper is preparing an “Editors’ Note” that will reassess its pre-Iraq War coverage, particularly its coverage of weapons of mass destruction. The note is said to address the reporting failures of Times staffers, including Judith Miller, and could be published as early as tomorrow (Wednesday, May 26).
Miller’s work on WMD in the Times deserves special scrutiny because so many of her sensational stories never panned outÃ¢€”from a December 2001 piece about now-discredited Iraqi defector Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, who claimed inside knowledge about a score of Iraq WMD programs and storage facilities, to a December 2002 scoop about a possible Russia-Iraq smallpox collaboration, to a January 2003 eve-of-war piece reiterating the defectors’ stories of Iraqi WMD. Miller’s credulous reporting turned absolutely hyperbolic when she joined the search for WMD on the ground in Iraq, embedding with the U.S. military’s Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha. In an April 21, 2003, piece, Miller claimed that an Iraqi scientist had led the military to a cache of precursor compounds for a banned “toxic agent.” She told The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer the next day that the scientist was more than a “smoking gun” in the WMD search, he was the “silver bullet.” But by July 2003, still no WMD had been found in Iraq. Instead of blaming the defectors and inside sources who had led her astray, Miller put the onus on the poor logistics of the weapons search! [Hyperlinks omitted]
It’s clear that Miller was a bit sloppy in her sourcing, often relying on only one source and sources with a rather obvious agenda. Then again, isn’t almost all reporting on matters closed to the public done in that manner? Almost all political scoops are sourced to one or two (usually nameless) insiders who have an axe to grind. One would think foreign reporting–especially when the country involved is a totalitarian regime and those involving highly technical matters far beyond the expertise of the reporter–is almost always going to be suspect. Reporters report what they know–which, often, isn’t much–at any given time and have to produce stories on deadline. Journalism is the first rough draft of history. There are usually many revisions before the final version hits the books.
Hat tip to Kevin Drum, whose commenters have a somewhat different take on the situation.