Times Watch for May 26, 2004
The Times' WMD Mea Culpa
The Times engages in some unusual self-criticism in a long Wednesday Editor's Note titled "The Times and Iraq"-accusing itself, believe it or not, of excessive gullibility regarding WMD in Iraq. The unnamed focus is on stories by reporter Judith Miller, long under fire from anti-war critics for being too receptive to Allied arguments regarding the threat posed by Saddam Hussein and being too credulous of claims by Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress.
From the Times note: "Over the last year this newspaper has shone the bright light of hindsight on decisions that led the United States into Iraq. We have examined the failings of American and allied intelligence, especially on the issue of Iraq's weapons and possible Iraqi connections to international terrorists. We have studied the allegations of official gullibility and hype. It is past time we turned the same light on ourselves".we have found a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been. In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged. Looking back, we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged-or failed to emerge."
Among the general self-criticisms (which lead to more detailed examinations of particular articles dating back to 2001) the editors admit: "Editors at several levels who should have been challenging reporters and pressing for more skepticism were perhaps too intent on rushing scoops into the paper. Accounts of Iraqi defectors were not always weighed against their strong desire to have Saddam Hussein ousted. Articles based on dire claims about Iraq tended to get prominent display, while follow-up articles that called the original ones into question were sometimes buried. In some cases, there was no follow-up at all."
In a heads-up article before the Note's release, Slate's Jack Shafer discusses the elephant in the room, Judith Miller, arguing that "so many of her sensational stories never panned out."
Such self-criticism by news organizations should be encouraged-though for the paper to focus on alleged gullibility over WMD strikes Times Watch as showing oversensitivity to its liberal readership. (If the Times ever wants to indulge in further contrition over flawed reporting, Times Watch has a few modest suggestions.)
For the full mea culpa, click here.
" Editorial | Iraq War | Judith Miller | WMD
NYT Giving Liberal Readership What It Wants
A new survey of journalists by the Pew Research Center singles out the New York Times as the national daily news organization most often mentioned as having a liberal point of view.
Sunday's Times brought another indication the Times serves as a reliable home base for liberals. Thomas Feyer, editor of the Letters page, emerged from behind the curtain to answer some questions from Times readers, including this one: "You've said that the letters page 'does not have a political coloration of its own.' Yet liberal opinion seems to dominate, and conservatives seem to have a lesser voice. Why?"
Feyer responds: "In selecting letters, I try to present a fair sampling of reader opinion, as well as a balance of views, pro and con. Writers to The Times-by no means all, certainly, but a clear majority-tend to be liberal, often vociferously so. Among our letter writers, critics of the Bush administration, especially over the war in Iraq, outnumber its defenders by a substantial margin. On same-sex marriage, to cite another example, proponents far outnumber opponents among our letter writers. But there is more of a divide on other national issues, like abortion, affirmative action and immigration. We welcome opinions from all sides: the majority, the dissenters, the contrarians. While I naturally have to use my judgment, it's not my opinion that determines the complexion of the page, it's yours."
For the full Feyer essay, click here.
" Thomas Feyer | Letters to the Editor | Liberal Bias