For the past few days I’ve been spotlighting the high media crimes and misdemeanors committed in the run-up to the attack on Iraq, almost exactly ten years ago, featuring “treasured” journos such as David Brooks and Bob Woodward or even newspapers as a whole (The Washington Post). But it’s The New York Times and Judith Miller, among others, who will truly live in infamy—partly because of the paper’s outsized (perceived) influence.
It’s instructive to review what happened when the paper belatedly owned up to (some) of its misdeeds, in May 2004, more than a year after its misconduct. Jack Shafer famously called it a “mini-culpa.” Bill Keller had replaced Howell Raines as executive editor but Judy Miller was still on board. Jill Abramson now has the top job and Keller writes a column. Michael Gordon is still a star reporter at the paper. Miller, naturally, toils at Fox News. Go here to see what Keller wrote two years ago when he tried to explain why he had been a “reluctant hawk” on Iraq.
The following is excerpted from my book, which was published last week in an updated, expanded e-book edition, So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits—and the Media—Failed on Iraq.
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After months of criticism of The New York Times’s coverage of WMDS and the run-up to the war in Iraq—mainly directed at star reporter Judith Miller (left)—the paper’s editors, in an extraordinary note to readers this morning, finally tackled the subject, acknowledging it was “past time” they do so. While it does not, in some ways, go nearly far enough, and is buried on Page A10, this low-key but scathing self-rebuke is nothing less than a primer on how not to do journalism, particularly if you are an enormously influential newspaper with a costly invasion of another nation at stake.
Today’s critique is, in its own way, as devastating as last year’s front-page corrective on Jayson Blair, though not nearly as long. Nowhere in it, however, does the name of Judith Miller appear. The editors claim that the “problematic articles varied in authorship” and point out that while critics have “focused blame on individual reporters … the problem was more complicated.”
Yet, even in the Times’s own view, Miller was the main culprit, though they seem reluctant, or ashamed, to say so. This is clear in analyzing today’s critique. The editors single out six articles as being especially unfortunate, and Judith Miller had a hand in four of them: writing two on her own, co-authoring the other two with Michael Gordon. The only two non-Miller pieces were the earliest in the chronology, and they barely receive mention.
While refusing to name Miller, the Times’s critique plainly and persistently finds fault. In referring to one of the bogus Miller pieces, the editors explain, “It looks as if we, along with the administration, were taken in.” Then, just as tellingly, they add: “And until now we have not reported that to our readers.” No kidding.