The New York Times, supposed bastion of the supposed liberal media, today admitted to having bought much of the Bush administration’s line about Iraq – weapons of mass destruction, Ahmed Chalabi, Saddam’s ties to terrorism, and more – hook, line, and sinker. Well, they may only be owning up to the hook and the line. But it’s a start:
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.
Right-wing critics of the Times have, I’m sure, already begun framing the Times admission of conservative bias as merely another sign of its liberal bias. But the record speaks for itself. And among those who should take note is the Times Public Editor, “an advocate for Times readers,” who spent his first column warning against the tendency of reporters to be overly critical of those in power. Today’s mea culpa from the Times is just a further demonstration of how backwards he – and an entire cottage industry of “liberal media watchdogs” – have it.