Too little, too late

The Times owns up to what most of you understood a year ago: their pre-war coverage was full of crap.

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, Ahmad 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.

— snip —

On Oct. 26 and Nov. 8, 2001, for example, Page 1 articles cited Iraqi defectors who described a secret Iraqi camp where Islamic terrorists were trained and biological weapons produced. These accounts have never been independently verified.

On Dec. 20, 2001, another front-page article began, “An Iraqi defector who described himself as a civil engineer said he personally worked on renovations of secret facilities for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in underground wells, private villas and under the Saddam Hussein Hospital in Baghdad as recently as a year ago.” Knight Ridder Newspapers reported last week that American officials took that defector — his name is Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri — to Iraq earlier this year to point out the sites where he claimed to have worked, and that the officials failed to find evidence of their use for weapons programs. It is still possible that chemical or biological weapons will be unearthed in Iraq, but in this case it looks as if we, along with the administration, were taken in. And until now we have not reported that to our readers.

It goes on. You should read it. I can’t really express the disgust I’m feeling this morning. I can’t tell you how many times those New York Times articles were thrown in my face by supporters of the war. Don’t you UNDERSTAND? Saddam is training TERRORISTS! We KNOW he has secret WMD facilities! Blah blah fucking blah. It’s the Wen Ho Lee fiasco on a larger scale. It’s what a lot of us wacko lefties have been saying since way before anyone ever heard the word “blog”: in order to preserve their precious access to power, the Times, and papers like it, too often serve as stenographers to said power. Doing so this time has left them with serious blood on their hands, and I hope they are deeply ashamed.