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What the Times Did was Bad; What It Didn’t Do was Worse


Amid important corrections about Carole King’s high school and the spelling of a Pixar executive’s name, Times editors at last saw fit to mention the paper’s coverage of Iraq in the months preceding the war. After a modest round of 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 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 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, to name a few, about 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? The Times obliged not only by hanging the window dressing but by supplying fancy material.

About which the May 26 “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 other explanations for the hell-bent rush to war into mainstream discourse 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.

JON BROWN lives in New York City. He can be reached at:

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