June 1, 2004
Unfit to Print
BUZZFLASH READER CONTRIBUTION
Amid important corrections about Carole King’s high school and the spelling of a Pixar executive’s name, Times editors on May 26 at last saw fit to mention the paper’s coverage of Iraq in the months preceding the war and shortly thereafter. Following an obligatory round of modest self-congratulation, the editors venture into darker waters, filled with imaginary chemical and biological weapons reported, in banner type, by the Times. Now it appears the threatening shapes were without substance, hoaxes and illusions foisted upon an otherwise capable, even exemplary staff of doughty professionals who did their utmost to present "an accurate reflection of the state of our knowledge at the time."
Garbage. Here is what was obvious at the time, though not at the Times. The entire discussion of WMD was a canard, a red herring, a decoy, call it what you will. Allow me to refresh the paper’s institutional memory: The inspectors, with full access, were finding no evidence of weapons stockpiles or active programs; the U.S. intelligence community was dubious of claims put forward with alarming stridency by political appointees; and sources like Chalabi and the INC, the brainchild of lie factories like Rendon and Hill & Knowlton, were likely to churn out more imaginative -- and wholly untrue -- tales of babies thrown from incubators to have their way. All of which was duly reported in the international press.
What did the Times do? In editorial after editorial, report after report, the vaunted newspaper of record framed the Iraq debate as a question of WMD, making its coverage inseparable from Bush administration propaganda. The war was never about WMD. That was obvious to all but the most cravenly stenographic of so-called journalists from the get-go. It was about, to name a few, midterm elections, military bases, crackpot imperialist ideology, Israel, payoffs to cronies, and even, though you’d never, ever guess it from the New York Times, plentiful, cheap oil. But WMD? An imminent threat? Calling for a "preemptive" war outlawed in the UN charter? When the shelf life of brash official claims (uranium! aluminum tubes!) couldn’t match the expiration date on a quart of milk? As a New Yorker, if not the New York Times, might say, you playing with me?
Yet the Times went on dignifying administration arguments, not least by excluding discussion of other, more plausible motives for which ample evidence was in plain view. Why? Apparently because for the Times, if the Bush administration said the war was about WMD, then clearly it was about WMD, which in turn called for months of solemn rumination: Does he (i.e., Saddam, butcher of Baghdad, ally of al Qaeda, er ... they’re all Arabs, aren’t they?) or doesn’t he? That was the question -- in essence the only question—for the New York Times. This despite the exposure of glaring "mistakes" by officials whose absolute commitment to the truth was already highly questionable. That’s not to say the Times need attribute every statement by, say, a Dick Cheney or a Condoleeza Rice with the phrase "and a known liar," though it would not be inaccurate to do so. That might interfere with all-important access to the known liars. No, it’s to stand in wonder at the newspaper’s willful refusal to print alternative versions given the state of common knowledge and, even more, common sense at the time. For instance, when, might I ask, did the Times forget the most rudimentary advice to the political journalist: to follow the money? (Hey, what manner of lowlife would trick out a war for a measly couple hundred billion -- certainly not the virtuous former lobbyists and corporate executives populating the Bush administration.) At the Times, money was no object; certainly it was no subject. That role WMD held virtually exclusively. Again, why? Craven bootlicking? Profound ignorance? Farcical incompetence? Whatever the causes, the Times not only hung the window dressing for a war but supplied among its fanciest fabrications.
About which the "correction" is dead silent. So let me give the Times something to put in its next mea culpa. The paper was complicit in a war of aggression that led to the death and mutilations of tens of thousands -- that bears repeating, the death and mutilation of tens of thousands -- mounted for stupefyingly cynical, shortsighted, vicious reasons. Its dogged refusal to stray from the Bush administration script about WMD and admit into mainstream discourse other explanations for the hell-bent rush to war is nothing less than a monumental journalistic disgrace.
What the Times did was bad enough; what it failed to do was perhaps worse. It’s past time to see a correction about that.
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