No More Mr. Nice Guy at the Times

The New York Times has carefully reealuated its coverage of Iraq over the last two years, and has issued a mea culpa. The Times’ self-criticism? It hasn’t been tough enough on the Bush administration!
The Times faults itself for publishing reports of the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq without 1) expressing sufficient skepticism, or 2) doing follow-up investigation to show that the reports weren’t true. The Times’ conclusion:

We consider the story of Iraq’s weapons, and of the pattern of misinformation, to be unfinished business. And we fully intend to continue aggressive reporting aimed at setting the record straight.

In other words, between now and November we will see a constant drumbeat of articles in the Times, driving home the theme that “Bush lied!” about the weapons of mass destruction.
The timing of the Times’ self-criticism was a bit awkward, in that this morning’s paper had no choice but to also report the fact that laboratory tests have now confirmed that sarin nerve gas was found in an Iraqi artillery shell last week. Here is how the Times deals with that inconvenient fact:

Saddam’s alleged stockpile of weapons of mass destruction was the Bush administration’s chief stated reason for invading Iraq, but U.S. weapons hunters have been unable to validate the prewar intelligence that described those stockpiles.

So the sarin doesn’t count because it was in an artillery shell being used against our troops in the field, rather than remaining in a stockpile awaiting such use. Got that?
Actually, neither President Bush nor his aides ever said anything about “stockpiles” in describing the Iraqi weapons threat. The Times just made that part up. Here, for example, is President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union speech, where he gave his fullest description of the WMD threat. No reference to stockpiles. As we noted last January, President Bush’s recitation was a precisely correct summary of the U.N. inspectors’ reports: Iraq possessed materials from which a considerable quantity of illegal weapons could be produced, and it never accounted for the whereabouts of those materials.
But the Times would never do anything so banal as to actually quote President Bush when it assures its readers that Saddam’s “stockpile of weapons of mass destruction was the Bush administration’s chief stated reason for invading Iraq.”

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