In an article on Thursday, Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz interviews Bill Keller, editor of the New York Times. Within the course of the piece we learn, first, that Keller ran a piece containing the supposed revelation that 377 tons of explosives in Iraq “vanished sometime after the American-led invasion last year,” then we learn that Keller doesn’t know if the explosives went missing after the invasion. Kurtz asked Keller if the explosives could have disappeared while Saddam Hussein controlled the country. “Sure there’s a possibility,” said Keller, “and I think the original story accounted for that possibility.”
What amazing dishonesty. Go back and look at how Keller’s editorial page used that story on Tuesday. It did not account for the possibility that Saddam Hussein moved the explosives. No, it declared authoritatively that a blundering U.S. military effort accounted for the lost explosives. “James Glanz, William J. Broad and David E. Sanger reported in The Times yesterday that some 380 tons of the kinds of powerful explosives used to destroy airplanes, demolish buildings, make missile warheads and trigger nuclear weapons have disappeared from one of the many places in Iraq that the United States failed to secure,” stated the Times editorial titled “Making Things Worse.” Where in this statement is the “possibility” that the explosives vanished before U.S. troops arrived?
The Times editorial used the news story to crow about U.S. fecklessness. The U.N. monitored the explosives before the war, but American troops lost them after it, the Times editorialized: “The United Nations inspectors disdained by the Bush administration had managed to monitor the explosives for years. But they vanished soon after the United States took over the job.” Donald Rumsfeld’s military couldn’t “guards things like the ammunition dump,” it wrote.
The Times editorial acknowledged, for the purposes of embarrassing Bush in this case, what the paper had previously denied, the existence of weapons of mass destruction in pre-war Iraq, so that it could open a new line of attack on him: “It’s been obvious for months that American forces were not going to find the chemical or biological armaments that Mr. Bush said were stockpiled in Iraq. What we didn’t know is that while they were looking for weapons that did not exist, they lost weapons that did.”
They lost weapons that did. Given Keller’s admission to Howard Kurtz, shouldn’t the Times now run one of its precious corrections about this editorial? It could go something like this: “Our Tuesday editorial, ‘Making Things Worse,’ did not adequately take into account the possibility that the explosives went missing during Saddam Hussein’s control of the country.”
The Times is now desperately trying to prove Monday’s story so that readers will forget its initial dishonesty of treating as certain what it didn’t know for certain. Dan Rather pulled this trick. After Bill Burkett made him look like an ass, Rather searched for a new source, a more credible source, to say roughly what Burkett had said, and he found one in the anti-Bush, ex-Jerry Killian secretary who gave Rather the line that the forgeries were fake but an accurate reflection of Killian’s feelings.
One can hear the death groans of the dinosaur media in Keller’s plaintive tone with Howard Kurtz. “Beating up on the so-called elite media has a nice populist ring to it, and some of it is calculated,” he said. Like Rather, Keller has to question the motives of his critics rather than their information. The woe-is-us line continued in the Times‘s whiny news story (?) on Thursday, “Web Offers Hefty Voice To Critics of Mainstream Journalists.” This piece approvingly quoted Tom Brokaw’s defense of Dan Rather against a “political jihad.” Brokaw has also lent his voice to the defense of the New York Times. (He quickly clarified NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski report, saying it was not “conclusive proof that the weapons had been removed before the Americans arrived.” His impending retirement has given him the freedom to spend his waning hours on the job preserving the reputations of his liberal friends at competing news outlets even if that means undercutting the impact of a colleague’s work.)
About the reaction to Rather’s use of forged documents, Brokaw said, “I think there were people just lying in the Internet bushes, waiting to strike, and I think that particular episode gave them a big opportunity.” This is a very childish line of reasoning, akin to a juvenile delinquent complaining about the existence of cops.
Brokaw used to burble about afflicting the comfortable as the highest duty of a journalist. Why isn’t that a mission worthy of Internet journalists? Why is what he and Rather do to Bush “investigation” and what bloggers do to Rather “jihad”? Because in this case the comfortable are liberal journalists who grew rich off defrauding the American people. Their unquestioned privilege is finally questioned and all they can do is moan.