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NYT: Don't blame us

The New York Times has a rather bizarre article today that at first glance is an attempt to be a meta-correction for some of it's Iraq coverage. But that's not what the article does.

The Times, like many in the media, made numerous mistakes in its coverage of Iraq. Perhaps the most (in)famous of all was the series of "Strategic Pause" stories. The stories, which ran only a few days after the start of the war, claimed that American forces were bogged down in Iraq and were forced to pause for a few weeks to regroup. "The war plan had failed" was a favorite quote of the day. Apparently the Pentagon missed the stories because just 2 weeks later, Iraqis were dancing in the streets and pulling down statues of Saddam as American tanks rolled thru Baghdad. The Times never did explain how it blew that story.

The fall of Baghdad lead to perhaps the second biggest gaff of the Iraq war reporting- that the Baghdad museum had been looted. The Times breathlessly reported that the museum had 170,000 items looted or destroyed. They also reported that the administration failed to put guards at the museum but had placed guards at the Oil Ministry's office. None of those stories were true.

Most of the museum's relics were in the basement and a few were removed by the curators. The last count I remember was that out of 170,000 items in the museum, only 37 were unaccounted for. Again, the Times never felt called upon to apologize for that one.

Curiously, the Times did not use this soul cleansing article to apologize for those mistakes. Instead, it apologized for not being more critical of the information that lead to the war. No mention was made of their calamitous coverage of the war itself.

And even then, they placed the blame elsewhere...

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.

So the rule of the day is that only the stories based on Iraqi defectors are eligible for potential correction. The editors seem to take the motto, "If our reporters blew the story, we ignored it."

In fact, the rest of the article only covers areas where the Times should have been more critical of the information that the Administration was using as a basis for war.

Incredibly, according to the editors, in thousands of stories in over 2 years of coverage, the only corrections required were to stories that helped the administration. The editors would have us believe that not a single error was found in any stories that harmed the administration. A coincidence too far fetched to be taken seriously. Indeed, I cite two such mistakes.

The editors portend a soul baring correction of their Iraq coverage. What we got instead was bias, partisan pandering and editorializing. (and a promise of more to come!)

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.

If the editors of the New York Times really want to set the record straight, I'm all for it. I just happen to know of a few hundred people who would help them on a volunteer basis. Indeed, if the Times wants some volunteers all it needs to do is ask its legal department where to find them.

But, I guess that's not what they had in mind.


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