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Is the Fog of Pre-War Again Descending on ‘The New York Times’? | The Nation

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Leslie Savan

Politics, media and the politics of media.

Is the Fog of Pre-War Again Descending on ‘The New York Times’?

nytimes building

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

If you suspect that The New York Times still hasn’t learned all it should from its hawkish coverage in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, you’re right.

Back then, the Times, led by the self-admitted “testosterone”-drugged Bill Keller, tilted heavily toward publishing pro-war op-eds as well as misleading front-page pieces, most notably and disastrously by Judith Miller, now of Fox News.

Surely now, as we decide what to do about the current Iraq crisis, the Times would check its reflex to again hand valuable real estate over to the neocons. You know, fool me once…

But no. As the Times public editor Margaret Sullivan wrote Sunday, readers on “high alert” about the fog of pre-war again descending on the paper are right to worry.

Readers, she writes, have been complaining “that The Times is amplifying the voices of hawkish neoconservatives and serving as a megaphone for anonymously sourced administration leaks, while failing to give voice to those who oppose intervention.”

Sullivan cites documentary filmmaker Robert Greenwald, who tweeted: “Another day, another NYT article about a neocon and Iraq! Where are the articles about hundreds of thousands against escalation?”

So she counted:

I went back with the help of my assistant, Jonah Bromwich, and reread the Iraq coverage and commentary from the past few weeks to see if these complaints were valid. The readers have a point worth considering. On the Op-Ed pages and in the news columns, there have been very few outside voices of those who opposed the war last time, or those who reject the use of force now.

But the neoconservatives and interventionists are certainly being heard.

She found that today’s anti-interventionist arguments are largely in-house, from Times editorials and columnists, some of whom have changed their minds since 2003. For instance, Sullivan says, Thomas Friedman “was a leading voice for intervention last time, and has since said that he was wrong. He wrote recently: ‘For now, I’d say stay out of this fight…’” (I’d watch out for that “for now.”)

Sullivan ends on the hope that “the editors—on both the news and opinion sides—will think hard about whose voices and views will get the amplification that comes with being in The Times.”

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Only days later, however, the Times ran a front-page story on Ahmad Chalabi that, as Eric Boehlert writes, indicates the paper is still struggling with its own history:

Here’s what the Times left out of its Chalabi story today and here’s what the newspaper continues to grapple with eleven years after President Bush ordered the costly invasion of Iraq: Chalabi was reportedly the main source of bogus information that former Times reporter Judith Miller used in her thoroughly discredited work about Iraq’s supposedly brimming stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. It was Chalabi who wove [the] Saddam Hussein fiction and it was Miller, then a widely respected Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, who gave it the Times stamp approval as the paper did its part to lead the nation to war.

While the Times published “something of a mea culpa about its war coverage” in 2004, acknowledging “its flawed reliance on Chalabi as an ‘occasional source’ for its stories,” Boehlert writes, it “never mentioned Miller by name…”

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