Integrity in journalism? Public Editor for The New York Times Daniel Okrent puts forward a devastating critique of how his own paper handled the Iraq WMD story. Okrent unleashes a vivid self-criticism of The Times that really highlights the weight and folly that such media superpowers can deliver in shaping world events. A compelling read…
The Times’s flawed journalism continued in the weeks after the war began, when writers might have broken free from the cloaked government sources who had insinuated themselves and their agendas into the prewar coverage. I use “journalism” rather than “reporting” because reporters do not put stories into the newspaper. Editors make assignments, accept articles for publication, pass them through various editing hands, place them on a schedule, determine where they will appear. Editors are also obliged to assign follow-up pieces when the facts remain mired in partisan quicksand.
The apparent flimsiness of “Illicit Arms Kept Till Eve of War, an Iraqi Scientist Is Said to Assert,” by Judith Miller (April 21, 2003), was no less noticeable than its prominent front-page display; the ensuing sequence of articles on the same subject, when Miller was embedded with a military unit searching for W.M.D., constituted an ongoing minuet of startling assertion followed by understated contradiction. But pinning this on Miller alone is both inaccurate and unfair: in one story on May 4, editors placed the headline “U.S. Experts Find Radioactive Material in Iraq” over a Miller piece even though she wrote, right at the top, that the discovery was very unlikely to be related to weaponry. The failure was not individual, but institutional.