A few reflections on the recent mea culpa on WMDs offered up by the New York Times and its relationship to the widely perceived notion that we have a liberal press.
First, the early reporting by Judith Miller (the major pieces in question) made a compelling case that there were WMDs in Iraq. In fairness to the NYT, almost everyone in the media bought into the notion of WMDs, which made sense on one level (many intelligence organizations were indicating that the programs existed) but needed a lot more proving out (Paul Wolfowitz and others had described the need to stop these programs as the best way to convince the American people that an invasion was necessary).
I don’t want to get into an analysis of the Times’ coverage as it compares to other news outlets, nor am I knowledgeable enough about the inner workings of her newspaper to know what role Judith Miller’s personal characteristics played in the decision to publicly denounce her work.
I want to focus on the faulty notion of a liberal press and how it may have impacted this story at every stage.
First, let’s look at the original series of articles by Miller and others that left little doubt that there were in fact WMDs in Iraq. Sound like a liberal press to you? In fact, the supposed enemy of the Bush dynasty and red state conservatism bought the very story the administration was selling. In the biggest move of his presidency, the New York Times provided Bush with all the news that fit his own argument.
Why did the Times prove to be so supportive? Perhaps because those who were selling the story either believed it or sold it convincingly enough. Perhaps reporters at the Times unconsciously succumbed to the constant pressure to be patriotic and fair and balanced. See we’re not liberal. We believe! Or maybe Chalabi just duped them all (but I doubt it).
Whatever the reasoning behind the coverage, one thing is clear. At the very time the O’Reilly Gang and the Limbaughtomites were being most aggressive in their descriptions of the liberal press, the very emblem of that liberal press was making the case for their man in White House (and remember, we’re talking about news coverage, not opinion pieces, which in the case of those outside of the Murdoch and Moonie cults is still an important distinction).
Now let’s move forward in time to the Times’ apology for their coverage. This was one of the few stories offered up by the newspaper that was not criticized for being a left-leaning political move. But it may have been the instance when the Times was being most political.
If the New York Times feels the need to apologize for being duped about the WMD issues, then what does that say about the Bush team? There are only three possible answers: One, the Bush administration was – like the Times – duped by those who provided information. Two, the Bush team was unable to effectively manage the intelligence gathering process and to assimilate the various pieces of incoming information into a story that was on the mark. Or three, they lied.
Essentially the NYT apology has backed the Bush administration into a corner.
If the press were really all that liberal, they would see that this is the case an focus all of their attentions not on the NY Times apology but on getting to the bottom of how and why the administration came up with their story and proceeded to market it to the American public via an all too eager media.