May 30, 2004

Weapons of Mass Distraction (Again...)

Finally the New York Times's Daniel Okrent (the NYT's public editor or ombudsman) writes about the elephant in the room -- the NYT's disgraceful behaviour over the WMD issue (and the Iraq war in general). I'm a long-time NYT subscriber, and it's good to see him try to help salvage the NYT's credibility.

However, he writes:

"The editors' note to readers will have served its apparent function only if it launches a new round of examination and investigation. I don't mean further acts of contrition or garment-rending, but a series of aggressively reported stories detailing the misinformation, disinformation and suspect analysis that led virtually the entire world to believe that Hussein had W.M.D. at his disposal." (The Public Editor, page 2 of the NYT's Week In Review section, 30/5/2004).

Well, no. "[V]irtually the entire world" did not believe that Hussein had WMDs at his disposal; a significant proportion of the rest of the world did not believe that Hussein had them at all any more, or at least in usable form. I read the NYT, London's The Guardian, and The Sydney Morning Herald on a regular basis (I'm from all three countries in one way or another), and at times it was difficult to believe the NYT was covering the same stories as the other two papers. Even though the SMH syndicates the NYT stories regularly, that paper at least had the wit to question the obvious disinformation coming from anonymous US and other sources, and the SMH's commentary was skeptical in the way the NYT's should have been. Needless to say, the Grauniad's reporting was much more robust. I won't hammer away at the point too much, but in all the showy soul-searching and breast-beating apparently going on in the NYT's editorial offices (and in parts of the US in general), one thing's being lost: we weren't all fooled. And those in the media or government who were, typically fooled themselves.

As for his other point, well, it's spot on. The NYT's poor showing and disgraceful behaviour over the past few years on this issue is -- or should be -- front page news, and the NYT owes itself and its readers the duty to report it as such. Continuously and in depth, too.

[If this reads like a letter to the (NYT's) editor, that's because it is -- or at least it's a lightly-edited version of one that was actually sent -- JL]


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