Saturday, February 07, 2004

What He Said


Two days later, Pincus, together with Dana Milbank, the Post's White House correspondent, was back with an even more critical story. "As the Bush administration prepares to attack Iraq this week," it began, "it is doing so on the basis of a number of allegations against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that have been challenged?and in some cases disproved ?by the United Nations, European governments and even US intelligence reports." That story appeared on page A13.[4]

The placement of these stories was no accident, Pincus says. "The front pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times are very important in shaping what other people think," he told me. "They're like writing a memo to the White House." But the Post's editors, he said, "went through a whole phase in which they didn't put things on the front page that would make a difference."

The Post was not alone. The nearer the war drew, and the more determined the administration seemed to wage it, the less editors were willing to ask tough questions. The occasional critical stories that did appear were, like Pincus's, tucked well out of sight.

The performance of the Times was especially deficient. While occasionally running articles that questioned administration claims, it more often deferred to them. (The Times's editorial page was consistently much more skeptical.) Compared to other major papers, the Times placed more credence in defectors, expressed less confidence in inspectors, and paid less attention to dissenters. The September 8 story on the aluminum tubes was especially significant. Not only did it put the Times's imprimatur on one of the administration's chief claims, but it also established a position at the paper that apparently discouraged further investigation into this and related topics.

The reporters working on the story strongly disagree. That the tubes were intended for centrifuges "was the dominant view of the US intelligence community," Michael Gordon told me. "It looks like it's the wrong view. But the story captured what was and still is the majority view of the intelligence community?whether right or wrong." Not only the director of central intelligence but also the secretary of state decided to support it, Gordon said, adding,

Most of the intelligence agencies in the US government thought that Iraq had something. Both Clinton and Bush officials thought this. So did Richard Butler, who had been head of UNSCOM and who wrote a book about Iraq called "The Greatest Threat." So it was a widely shared assumption in and out of government. I don't recall a whole lot of people challenging that.
Yet there were many people challenging the administration's assertions. It's revealing that Gordon encountered so few of them. On the aluminum tubes, David Albright, as noted above, made a special effort to alert Judith Miller to the dissent surrounding them, to no avail.

Asked about this, Miller said that as an investigative reporter in the intelligence area, "my job isn't to assess the government's information and be an independent intelligence analyst myself. My job is to tell readers of The New York Times what the government thought about Iraq's arsenal." Many journalists would disagree with this; instead, they would consider offering an independent evaluation of official claims one of their chief responsibilities.

There you go. Our investigative reporters think that the job of the investigative reporter is to report whatever the government tells them.

The whole article is pretty incredible. Whores be damned.

Ah, 3:46. Perhaps it's not too early for a drink. Jeebus.