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May 27, 2004

Newspaper of record. “Now They Tell Us,” by Michael Massing, The New York Review of Books, February 26, 2004:
Before the war, for instance, there was a loud debate among intelligence analysts over the information provided to the Pentagon by Iraqi opposition leader Ahmed Chalabi and defectors linked to him. Yet little of this seeped into the press. Not until September 29, 2003, for instance, did the New York Times get around to informing readers about the controversy over Chalabi and the defectors associated with him. In a front-page article headlined “Agency Belittles Information Given by Iraqi Defectors,” Douglas Jehl reported that a study by the Defense Intelligence Agency had found that most of the information provided by defectors connected to Ahmed Chalabi “was of little or no value.” Several defectors introduced to US intelligence by the Iraqi National Congress, Jehl wrote, “invented or exaggerated their credentials as people with direct knowledge of the Iraqi government and its suspected unconventional weapons program.”

Why, I wondered, had it taken the Times so long to report this? Around the time that Jehl’s article appeared, I ran into a senior editor at the Times and asked him about it. Well, he said, some reporters at the paper had relied heavily on Chalabi as a source and so were not going to write too critically about him.

“Not Fit to Print,” by James C. Moore, Salon, May 27, 2004:
It turned out that the aluminum tubes were covered with an anodized coating, which would have been machined off to make them usable in a centrifuge. But that change in the thickness of the tube wall would have rendered the tubes useless for a centrifuge, according to a number of nuclear scientists who spoke publicly after [Judith] Miller’s story. Aluminum, which has not been used in uranium gas separators since the 1950s, has been replaced by steel. The tubes, in fact, were almost certainly intended for use as rocket bodies. Hussein’s multiple-launch rocket systems had rusted on their pads and he had ordered the tubes from Italy. “Medusa 81,” the Italian rocket model name, was stamped on the sides of the tubes, and in a factory north of Baghdad, American intelligence officers later discovered boxes of rocket fins and motors awaiting the arrival of the tubes of terror.

The probable source for Miller’s story, in addition to U.S. intelligence operatives, was Adnan Ihsan Saeed, an Iraqi defector Miller was introduced to by Chalabi. Miller had quoted him in a December 2001 report when Saeed had told her he had worked on nuclear operations in Iraq and that there were at least 20 banned-weapons facilities undergoing repairs. Of course, no such facilities have been found—meaning Saeed was either lying or horribly uninformed. […]

The Times plays an unequaled role in the national discourse, and when it publishes a front-page piece about aluminum tubes and mushroom clouds, that story very quickly runs away from home to live on its own. The day after Miller’s tubes narrative showed up, Andrea Mitchell of NBC News went on national TV to proclaim, “They were the kind of tubes that could only be used in a centrifuge to make nuclear fuel.” Norah O’Donnell had already told the network’s viewers the day before of the “alarming disclosure,” and the New York Times wire service distributed Miller’s report to dozens of papers across the landscape. Invariably, they gave it prominence. Sadly, the sons and daughters of America were sent marching off to war wearing the boots of a well-told and widely disseminated lie.

“Media Mix,” by Peter Johnson, USA Today, May 26, 2004:
Martin Kaplan, dean of the Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication, says that “for people who are serious and thoughtful, the Times is a gatekeeper of quality in terms of what’s credible and believable. When it published those pieces, it sent signals which legitimized our going to war and calmed people’s fears that we were rushing. It turns out that the Times was hoodwinked just like the rest of the country.”
Get Your War On:
Just so we could keep sitting at the tough guys table
[09:46 PM]
Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Newspaper of record.:

Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2004, 10:09 PM:

Given what we now know, I conclude that I had better high school teachers fact-checking my papers than the Times editors turned out to be.

Ray Radlein ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2004, 10:32 PM:

I remember the debate about the aluminum tubes, and I remember noticing that some folks claimed they were centrifuge parts, and some folks claimed they were rocket parts.

I also remember noticing that the folks who were experts on centrifuges and the folks who were experts on rocket parts were the ones who were saying that they were rocket parts, and the folks who didn't know anything specific about either were the ones who were saying they were centrifuge parts.

Funny the way that worked, huh?

Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2004, 10:59 PM:

The Times' new "public editor" (who is actually a columnist) wrote about the phrase "Newspaper of Record" on April 25th. He concludes that the Times has not been a paper of record for a long time. We learn that the phrase came about via an essay contest in 1927:

"Newspaper of record" did not originate with the editors. According to Times archivist Lora Korbut, the phrase first appeared in 1927, when the paper sponsored an essay contest to promote its annual index. Entrants were asked to elaborate on the contest's title, "The Value of The New York Times Index and Files as a Newspaper of Record." (This probably did not attract as many contestants as "The Apprentice.") Somehow what began as a promotion for an index service soon adhered to the skin of the paper itself, perhaps because the meticulous presentation of the acts of officialdom was long one of the ways The Times distinguished itself in an eight-newspaper town.
Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2004, 01:57 AM:

Yet another "They get paid for this shit?" moment.

Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2004, 03:35 AM:

The Seattle PI, one of the two Seattle papers printed a"Note to Readers" article on Page 2 of the paper. (For some reason they renamed it "Correction" in the online version.)

They apologized for blindly printing some of the NY Times articles and burying or not printing follow-up articles. The cascade effect of inaccurate NY Times articles in spreading disinformation is scary.

Tom Scudder ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2004, 04:05 AM:


Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2004, 08:11 AM:

That, or:

"They talk out of their asses so much their cushions are probably deaf. I'd learn more about the future of Iraq if I read a Golden Book Encyclopedia upside-down in the dark."

Donald Johnson ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2004, 08:47 AM:

Martin Kaplan to the contrary, people who are "serious and thoughtful" never took the self-image of the NYT seriously, not if they thought about it. Kaplan's "serious, thoughtful" people who expect the NYT to be a gatekeeper of quality in terms of what is credible or believable are and always have been suckers. They wanted someone to tell them what respectable mainstream people are supposed to think.

I don't think people should concede anything to the NYT beyond the obvious. It's a big paper with more resources than anyone else, but given those resources, they don't deserve any grade higher than a gentleman's C.

Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2004, 09:21 AM:

(Deliberatly using a couple of trigger phrases, because I'm still pissed off.)

You know, folks, I normally don't say this. But I'm saying it now.

I told you so.

I caught a metric assload of flack, on this very weblog, for saying that I refused to read the NYT, in print or online, because I was tired of giving ad revenue to the neo-con's best weapon.

The so-called liberal New York Times, acting as the so called "Paper of Record" has done more to destroy this country than almost any other factor in the media. Until the NYT picked it up, Whitewater wasn't a story. Until the NYT picked it up, Iraq's WMDs weren't a story. Fox could rant all it wanted, but America didn't buy it until the Grey Lady said so.

Then, of course, it was Page One. Forever.

Why do you think the right-wingers keep attacking the paper? Because it's vitally important that you think of it as a liberal rag. Then, when the publish something that helps the right wing, they can solemly intone. "See, even the New York Times is running this story." And America goes "it must be news. I mean, if both Fox and the NYT are reporting it...."

I'm glad that people are waking up to this, and I only wish you'd done so about, oh, EIGHT FUCKING YEARS AGO.

mattH ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2004, 10:55 AM:

Assholes. Fucking assholes. All of them.

These lazy editors, in all of the papers, who do less fact-checking than my nine year old, uncritically regurgitating anything that comes out of the New York Times, articles that violate even the sorry excuse they consider "balanced journalism", they deserve every bit of blame for not doing their jobs and essentially feeding us administration propaganda. Tools.

Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2004, 12:58 PM:

Back in 1968, I was at Columbia University when police ejected the demonstrators from 5 buildings on campus. Think what you will about it, it was a quite violent confrontation, with dozens of heads busted. As I wandered the streets of Morningside Heights that morning, encountering person after bandaged person in bloodstained clothing. And then I saw the fresh bundle of NY Times copies: COLUMBIA REBELS OUSTED--NO VIOLENCE REPORTED (or something to that effect). I realized several things: Not only was the story inaccurate, but because of the timing it could only have been written before the actual events. Further, this meant that the story was written in cooperation with the police, essentially taking their word for what would happen. (The Times' publisher was a trustee of the university, which is presumably how this all happened to take place.)

Ever since then, I've never trusted anything I read in the Times.

Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2004, 05:15 PM:

Yesterday the Times printed several letters in response to their WMD non-apology.

Not one mentioned Judith Miller's name.

Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2004, 08:55 PM:

OK - The Times is a patsy for the conservative establishment. So this is news?

Unfortunately, the only US-based alternative is the Wall Street Journal, which has a limited but surprisingly independent news section and the most horrific, rabid, hateful editoral section of any credible paper. (The New York Post doesn't count as credible.)

So, do I continue reading a paper I mistrust, but often enjoy, or do I add still more sources (all biased in one way or another) to try to fill in the gap? I already hit maybe six news sources on a regular basis (including British and German media) and I have no time to add more.

By the way. my pet peeve about the Times is that they had it in for my old neighborhood. Whenever they needed a model for racist, working-class boneheadedness, they came to Canarsie. Some of the criticism was fair, but most of it reflected their own bias, dating back to the schools boycott of the early 70's - a bit of civil disobedience that the Times both reviled and misunderstood.

Anna in Cairo ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2004, 07:09 AM:

Several years ago my mother sent me Judith Miller's book, God has 99 Names. At this time I had been studying Islam for a period of several years and had been Muslim for only slightly less. I told myself that mom meant well and tried to read it. I have never yet been able to and it is sitting in pristine condition on the bookshelf.

I have never seen writing that so loudly screams "I have an agenda" as Judith Miller's. I could hardly get past the first chapter of her book. I can't read an article she has written. The only other journalist I feel this strongly against would be Friedman and even he did write a good book once (From Beirut to Jerusalem when he was middle east bureau chief for the newspaper of record).

It is so, so, so good to see her raked through the coals like this. I can't remember feeling such pure joy at the comeuppance of someone I despise, ever before. God, did she deserve it.

I am reminded of one of my favorite passages in Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody Egyptological mystery series, when she has Amelia Peabody say, "Revenge is sweet, says the old adage. Revenge is a feeling unworthy of a Christian woman, say the scriptures. In this case the scriptures err." Yes. The Muslim scripture too (it says that "mercy is better." No it isn't.)

Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2004, 10:36 AM:

Anna: So you don't like the pity lady?
The Times' "public editor" weighs in:

In some instances, reporters who raised substantive questions about certain stories were not heeded. Worse, some with substantial knowledge of the subject at hand seem not to have been given the chance to express reservations. It is axiomatic in newsrooms that any given reporter's story, tacked up on a dartboard, can be pierced by challenges from any number of colleagues. But a commitment to scrutiny is a cardinal virtue. When a particular story is consciously shielded from such challenges, it suggests that it contains something that plausibly should be challenged.

He commented on NPR this morning, also. (The link is "WMD Reporting" near the bottom of the page; the clip is not online yet, as of 10:36am.)

Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2004, 10:37 AM:

Whoops, the NPR link is "Editor Recounts 'New York Times' Flaws on WMD" near the bottom.

the talking dog ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2004, 10:02 PM:

The Times treats these things
as Rumsfeld treats Abu Ghraib:
SORRY-- to get caught.

Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2004, 01:58 AM:

Anyone have an opinion on the Washington Post?

Anna in Cairo ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2004, 04:19 AM:

Re the WP, their news section is not quite so editorially biased as the NYT's, especially in international analysis. However they are not consistently high quality. Some stories they cover well and others they don't.

My attitude is that if I read a news story by regular beat reporters for the WP (such as Mike Allen, Dana Priest etc.) I also try to read another version of it preferably from a non-US source (the Guardian online for example). That way I can see what the spin is, if any.

As for editorials, I don't really think the Post has that much of an edge on the Times. For good op/ed sections I don't know where you can go in the US. The only editorial guy I regularly read anymore that I have any respect for is Jimmy Breslin of Newsday (he's online). The other pundits have about a 50/50 or less chance of saying anything worth listening to and I find it really insulting to my intelligence that they somehow expect me to read them daily on the off chance they'll say something intelligent once a week. (Tom Friedman, MoDo, and others like that are who I am talking about.)

Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 09:43 AM:

A lushed-up drama critic named Jed Leland mails an envelope full of scraps of paper to the Times. They flutter to the ground as Judith Miller sits screeching about the reviews of her singing. "Rosebud," the publisher later mutters, heard only by the butler.

Ms. Jen ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 12:45 AM:

Folks in the 1960s were quoted as saying, "Don't trust anyone over 30."

I say, "Don't trust a newspaper without a comics section."

If one can't laugh at oneself, the world, and all its foilbles, how can one say sorry? Who can trust a paper that doesn't run Boondocks, La Cucaracha and Family Circus all on the same page?

Anna in Cairo ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 05:15 AM:

Well, that is an important point against the NYT. And in favor of the WaPo. It does indeed have comics, although I believe it counts Doonesbury as an editorial cartoon, which I think is a sort of bias.

Also, Erik V. Olsen, I'm late but I wanted to say more power to you for your comment -- the NYT has sucked for years, and it's not just that Judith Miller is a hack with an agenda (or is that redundant?) but that, in fact, the entire NYT has for decades slavishly followed the government line (anyone remember how long it took them to jump on board re: Watergate?) and abdicated its role as the 4th estate/watchdog (if indeed the press in the US ever did really have that role after the 18th century ended).

I myself read the NYT articles because it is kind of amusing to see people use often very impressive language and style to make really mind-bogglingly stupid arguments (op/ed) or to paraphrase government spokespeople (news analysis).

Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 07:30 AM:

Actually, the WaPo puts "Doonesbury" on page three of the Style section (the other cartoons come a few pages later in the same section). And they put "Dilbert" in the Business section.

I'm sort of surprised they don't put "Rhymes with Orange" in the Food section.

Anna in Cairo ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 07:44 AM:

Well, you can tell I have not read the print edition of the Wa Po for several years. That is funny. Dilbert in the business section? Anyhow it is still an improvement over not having comics at all.

Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 02:03 PM:

Lots of papers have some comics seperated into sections where they think they will be more read.

The LA Times has Dilbert in Business, and Tank MacNamara in Sports.

I forget where they keep Doonesbury, but apart from Sunday it isn't with the rest of the comics.

The, not uncommon, placing of Doonesbury with the editorial section is because Trudeau has won a Pulitzer, for editorial cartooning.

Michael ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 06:05 PM:

I prefer newspapers with a unified comics section so that when I pick one up in McDonald's I don't have to sort through all the chaff to get to the only useful part of the paper.

I curse the day I discovered political blogs, thus sucking me into the gaping maw of caring what happened in the world around me. Or, more precisely, in the world not just around me.

OT: just finished John Barnes's "The Sky So Big and Black" and had a jolt at the author's note, where he thanks his editor -- our gracious host. That was kind of a Ped Xing moment.

BykerSink ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 06:53 PM:

The media is complicit in all of this.

Murdoch owns 177 newspapers worldwide and every last one is in favour of the war.

How's that for editorial control.

And who let's Murdoch get away with owning so much of the media in the USA and the UK. Bush and Blair of course. Support for the war was payback time.

Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 05:21 PM:

BykerSink: There are and never have been any laws in the U.S. about how many newspapers someone can own. I think this is called "freedom of the press."

If you don't like the local paper, you're free to start your own. There are no regulations on how many newspapers a city can have. And if you can't afford a printing press, there's always blogging.

There have been laws, or at least regulations, about how many TV and radio stations one person or company can own, the theory being that the radio and TV bands of the airwaves are finite and need to be regulated so you don't have 20 stations all trying to broadcast on, say, channel 2. Those regs seem to have gone by the wayside thanks to the current FCC leadership, so, for example, we now have at least three or four Clear Channel stations in the Pittsburgh area. (I've lost count since I only listen to two of them myself, though even there I tend to listen to competitor stations more.)

Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2004, 11:30 PM:

don't know where to comment, but a while ago I made a comment that I sincerely believed that Saddam and bin Ladin had really not ever been in contact.

Someone here told me I was seriously deluded. 'poor poor thing' was the tone.

It appears my take was true. Just think about their modus operendai, their beliefs. Saddam believed he was a modern leader leading his people in the right direction. Bin Ladin is a religious zealot who had no time for folks like Saddam Hussein. Cheney really, really wants to believe it, but I do not think it's a real thing. Sorry.

Just ny 2, I don't remember who pooh-poohed me.