IT occurs to me at times, such as this one, that so many years have passed since the U.S. invaded Iraq — seven years and two months, to be exact — that a whole generation of young people probably scratch their heads or surf to a new page when they read "Judith Miller" or "WMD" or "aluminum tubes" or "run-up to war." This is sort of the way I felt about college students who came after me in the early 1970s regarding the U.S. escalation in Vietnam seven years earlier.
Perhaps I am reminded of this because of the approach of Memorial Day, when the media used to publish or read off the names of all of the U.S. dead in Iraq (when the number was not so high), and the recent publicity about the upcoming Hollywood film about the Plame/CIA leak case.
In any case, it may be useful to reprint below a Judy’s-turn-to-cry column I wrote for Editor & Publisher six years ago today, after The New York Times finally owned up, at least partly, to some of its gross errors of omission and commission during that notorious "run-up" to the Iraq invasion. Jack Shafer at Slate famously called it a "mini-culpa." The Washington Post later did its own, also inadequate, self-critique.
Younger readers may learn something from what follows. Old and young alike may be reminded that we are still paying dearly for the gravest journalistic malpractice–some paying far more than others. And Judy Miller still gainfully employed–at Fox News, natch.
AFTER months of criticism of The New York Times’ coverage of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq — mainly directed at star reporter Judith Miller — the paper’s editors, in an extraordinary note to readers this morning, finally tackled the subject, acknowledging it was "past time" they do so. Following the sudden fall last week of Ahmad Chalabi, Miller’s most famous source, they probably had no choice.
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.
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, clearly, even in the Times’ 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.