NYT & WMD: Profiles In Timidity

Spread across two columns of the front page, two full pages inside and within a scathing editorial, The New York Times gave comprehensive coverage to the report of the presidential commission studying intelligence on WMD.

They left out just one little detail: themselves.

The Times duly discusses the doubts about once key U.S. source on Iraq, codenamed "Curveball.", and notes that we still don't know whether Dubya and Rummy cooked the case for war. In an editorial titled "A Profile in Timidity," the editorial board hammers this point home, saying the report "utterly ignored the way President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his team, and Condoleezza Rice, as national security adviser, created that environment by deciding what the facts were and saying so, repeatedly."

But remarkably, in 6,600 words of news and opinion, the Times does not mention its own much-maligned role in selling the idea that Iraq posed a threat. There is not a single word on that.

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When the United States was hurtling toward the war in Iraq, Americans looked to the press—and especially the newspaper of record—to separate fact from hype. The Times failed to deliver. Instead, it provided coverage that amplified the pronouncements of the war's salesmen.

There was the September 8, 2002 story about Iraq buying thousands of aluminum tubes "which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium," which also reported that "President Hussein has met repeatedly in recent months with Iraq's top nuclear scientists and, according to American intelligence, praised their efforts as part of his campaign against the West."

In November 2002 there was the piece about Iraq ordering "large quantities of a drug that can be used to counter the effects of nerve gas." A month later, word that "The C.I.A. is investigating an informant's accusation that Iraq obtained a particularly virulent strain of smallpox from a Russian scientist who worked in a smallpox lab in Moscow during Soviet times."

Even after the war started, Times readers heard about the supposed Iraqi scientist who "told an American military team that Iraq destroyed chemical weapons and biological warfare equipment only days before the war began" and said that "weapons experts that Iraq had secretly sent unconventional weapons and technology to Syria, starting in the mid-1990's, and that more recently Iraq was cooperating with Al Qaeda."

There were lots of others. Sure, some Times stories asked questions about the administration's case, but many didn't ask enough. Last year the newspaper acknowledged it had blown it.

The Times didn't make the United States go to war. And maybe we would have gone to war even if Judith Miller had been covering, say, the bond market instead of Ahmed Chalabi.

But that doesn't matter. The Times lent its credibility to a false case for an unnecessary conflict, which is, like, a major boo-boo, and a major part of the history of the war. As long as the paper was going to continue raking the Bush administration over the coals today, it should have mentioned its own role in constructing that hollow rationale.


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