Commentary and links relating to media coverage of war; both before, during, and after.

William A. Dorman is Professor of Government at California State University, Sacramento, and has taught a course in War, Peace and the Mass Media since 1970.

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War, Peace, and the Mass Media
Wednesday, June 02, 2004  
Mini Culpa
The New York Times finally concedes its WMD errors

By Jack Shafer
May 26, 2004

Blog editor's note: Shafer is Slate's media analyst and writes one of the best informed and most insightful "columns" of media criticism available. As the reader can tell from his use of "Mini" in the headline, his assessment of the Times' finally coming clean on its Iraq reporting is not entirely effusive.

The biggest news in today's New York Times appears on Page A-10 under the header, "From the Editors: The Times and Iraq," in which the newspaper's editors concede that some of its coverage in the run-up to the Iraq war "was not as rigorous as it should have been." The Times "criticize self" session goes on, with the editors wishing the newspaper "had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged—or failed to emerge."

The note attributes the Times' failure to its dependence on Iraqis (exiles, defectors, and informants) "bent on 'regime change' in Iraq" as sources, sources whose credibility continues to plunge. The Iraqis' accounts were often "eagerly confirmed" by U.S. officials, who now say they "fell for misinformation" from these sources.

The note avoids blaming specific reporters, saying editors at "several levels" were also culpable because they should have challenged their reporters. It criticizes the paper for showcasing "dire claims about Iraq" while burying more skeptical follow-ups. It discusses five specific stories and lists their deficiencies. And it promises that the Times will set the record straight about Iraq weapons and the pattern of misinformation.

As someone who has harangued the Times for better than 14 months to acknowledge its reportorial shortcomings, I applaud the paper for finally crawling out from under its rock and confirming the true verdict. Granted, the note is more "mini culpa" than mea culpa, but at least it's a start. Granted, the note is months late in arriving. Granted, it doesn't take a lot of courage to dump on the Iraqi defectors a couple of days after the U.S. government gives former exile in chief Ahmad Chalabi the big kiss-off. And granted, it is not the note I would have written. But as a demonstration of accountability, it exceeds what most of the rest of the errant press corps has done by a factor of 100.

To read the rest of this column, see SLATE

6:57 AM

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