Sunday, April 16, 2006

Editorial: Further Disgrace for The New York Times

The New York Times ran another mea culpa this week. From A10, "The Times and The Green Zone:"

In our haste to scoop the competition and to provide readers with fresh content from Iraq, it is now becoming obvious that some of the writing that has been labeled "reporting" should have run under the heading of "creative writing." Monday, The Washington Post reported on the governments efforts to conduct a PSYOPS operation on Iraqis and Americans. In that article, Times writer Dexter Filkins was named. Mr. Filkins explained, via an e-mail, to The Post that he had suspicions about the validity of the claim given to him by the U.S. military and no way to verify it. We realize now that, under those conditions, printing such an article might not be a way to strive for excellence in journalism. We depend on our editors to fact check the reporters underneath them so we will add the name John F. Burns to the list of those involved in the publishing of that article. It has come to our attention that Mr. Filkins' award winning piece of journalism was delayed for many days before making it into print. Questions have arisen as to why that happened? While we cannot yet confirm that, as rumored, Mr. Filkins submitted his article to the military for pre-publication approval, the delay between when the events Mr. Filkins is writing about occurred and when the story was actually ready for publication are an issue of concern. We have no idea why he did not report on the use of White Phosphorus in Falluja if he was, indeed, there as claimed. We are also troubled by the fact that a recent article by Mr. Filkins was based upon documents (unverifiable by Mr. Filkins) provided to him by an interested party on the U.S. government's payroll and that the issue of being on the payroll of the government was not noted in the article.
As a result of those details and others emerging, we are conducting a comprehensive investigation into reports filed by (in whole or in part) Dexter Filkins. Previously, when we had a problem, we blamed 'the system.' We wrongly assumed that readers would grasp that we were speaking of editorial staff in whole because indeed we are the system. Due to space constraints, we cannot list everyone that is at fault in this latest mess we have found ourselves in (a mess some have likened to a "quagmire"); however, if you check the masthead, you can assume that each and every name listed on it (in all departments) is responsible in part for the sorry state that we once again find ourselves in. Mea-culpa. If it helps any, we've decided to take refresher courses in ethics (general) as well as some basic journalism courses.

That A10 note ran . . . in an alternate universe because, despite the fact that Dexy was involved (knowingly or not) in a PSYOPS program that targeted Iraqis and Americans, the paper of record has yet to correct Filkins 2004 report.

From Democracy Now!:

US Exaggerating Zarqawi Role in PR Effort
The Washington Post is reporting the Pentagon is conducting a propaganda campaign to magnify the role of al-Qaeda figure Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq. Some military intelligence officials believe the campaign may have exaggerated Zarqawi's importance and helped the Bush administration link the Iraq war with the September 11 attacks. The propaganda effort has also been reportedly used to build sentiment against non-US foreigners in Iraq. One military briefing was entitled: "Villainize Zarqawi/leverage xenophobia response." Another document lists "U.S. Home Audience" as a target audience for the campaign.

When the media was ready to plant their story, whom did they go to? Dexter Filkins.

From Thomas E. Ricks' "Military Plays Up Role of Zarqawi" (Washington Post):

One slide in the same briefing, for example, noted that a "selective leak" about Zarqawi was made to Dexter Filkins, a New York Times reporter based in Baghdad. Filkins's resulting article, about a letter supposedly written by Zarqawi and boasting of suicide attacks in Iraq, ran on the Times front page on Feb. 9, 2004.
Leaks to reporters from U.S. officials in Iraq are common, but official evidence of a propaganda operation using an American reporter is rare.
Filkins, reached by e-mail, said that he was not told at the time that there was a psychological operations campaign aimed at Zarqawi, but said he assumed that the military was releasing the letter "because it had decided it was in its best interest to have it publicized." No special conditions were placed upon him in being briefed on its contents, he said. He said he was skeptical about the document's authenticity then, and remains so now, and so at the time tried to confirm its authenticity with officials outside the U.S. military.

A general told Ricks, "We trusted Dexter to write an accurate story, and we gave him a good scoop." At a time when journalists are targeted in Iraq and when the administration repeatedly attacks journalists and journalism, exactly how did Filkins earn the "trust" of U.S. military in Iraq?

That, like his rah-rah-rah reporting on the slaughter of Falluja in November of 2004 will apparently not be dealt with by the paper. But readers should wonder and they should grasp that it is the very emobiment of the Green Zone, embed "reporter" that has kept us in Iraq by not informing readers long ago that they were confined to the Green Zone, that they need a military escort to leave, that sections of Iraq were not under the "control" of the occupation and that the slide into chaos and violence finally being noted started long, long ago.

Judith Miller, so the argument goes, got us into war. As C.I. has repeatedly noted, it's the likes of Dexter Filkins that kept us there.
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