Thursday, May 27, 2004

The New York Times' Mea Culpa

Yesterday, The New York Times has issued a rare, if not unprecedented, broad correction for the pre-war coverage by the esteemed paper. According to the Times, "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."

In particular, the Times acknowledges shortcomings in the rigor and balance in the coverage of WMDs in Iraq and illusory ties to al Qaeda reported on in the run-up to the invasion.

While they accept responsibility for the errors and misrepresentations, the editors point to a now infamous source of misinformation upon which they relied: Ahmed Chalabi and his coterie of defectors.

"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, Ahmed 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."

So the Times admits to passing on hyped, propogandized and erroneous reports exaggerating Iraq's WMD capacities and ties to al Qaeda, and in many cases these articles were in turn relied on by other periodicals in an echo-chamber effect.

But some have suggested that this apology did not go far enough. Considering that one of the mistakes acknowledged was the failure to place articles correcting or qualifying prior articles as prominently as the original front page accusations, it is important to note that this mea culpa was also buried deep within the paper well beyond the reach of the front page.

A valuable and informative assessment of the mistakes and mishandling of pre-war coverage by the Times, as well as the Washington Post, Knight-Ridder, CNN, and other media sources can be found here. I strongly recommend it.

The rest of the article can be found here.

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