Wednesday, October 27, 2004

New York Times Fights Back

The New York Times was playing defense Tuesday night as questions emerged about the paper's Monday exclusive on the disappearance of 380 tons of high explosives from the massive Iraqi weapons base at Al Qa Qaa. Meanwhile, the Pentagon backed away from its position that the weapons had been removed from the base by the time American troops arrived.

The paper issued a statement. And an editorial:

President Bush's misbegotten invasion of Iraq appears to have achieved what Saddam Hussein did not: putting dangerous weapons in the hands of terrorists and creating an offshoot of Al Qaeda in Iraq...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.
Conservatives seized on an NBC broadcast which reported that American soldiers and an NBC embedded unit had been to the base in the first days of the invasion, on April 10, 2003, and had not observed the stockpile.

But it turns out that the soldiers were only at the huge facility for 24 hours on their way to Baghdad and "the unit's commander said in an interview yesterday that his troops had not searched the site and had merely stopped there overnight."

The biggest issue appears to be no more glamorous than the sheer timing of the story. One week before the election, publishing a story that is essentially over a year old is inherently suspect, but the revelation that CBS 60 Minutes was planning to air their report (the investigation as a joint NYT/CBS affair) only two days before the election did not help the Times' case.

Nevertheless, regional papers like the Oregonian picked up on the story.

It has been interesting that the Times' follow-up stories (latest here) has centered on the political implications of its story, not the substance or latest news about where the 380 tons actually are today.

Wrapping up: according to CNN the timeline goes something like this:
March 3, 2003 - IAEA last confirms the existence of the 380 tons of high explosives at Al Qa Qaa.
March 20, 2003 - The war begins.
April 10, 2003 - The 101st Airborne arrives at the huge base with the NBC imbed. No sign of the explosives, but they weren't really looking and had other things on their mind - like toppling Baghdad.
May 2003 - IAEA relays concerns to US government.
May 27, 2003 - US exploitation team looking for WMD finds the 380 tons missing after searching the base's 32 bunkers and 87 buildings.


Blogger nightgrapefruit said...

speaking of the shortcomings of the US media, another J school student just sent me this on last night's speaker, Mr. BBC:

Was anyone else aware that we were being prereleased newsworthy information?

October 27, 2004 at 10:38 AM  

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