The Times scoop that melted.

Media criticism.
July 25 2003 6:49 PM

The Times Scoops That Melted

Cataloging the wretched reporting of Judith Miller.

(Continued from Page 4)

On July 20, 2003, Miller published the extended apologia cited at the top of this piece. Without asking herself if the U.S. government or the defectors whom she so devotedly courted and quoted over the last 18 months might have been shoveling her bull, Miller speculates that the WMD search failed not so much because WMD were not there, but because the military relied on the wrong methods.

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What's more, the "scientist" who was supposed to be the "silver bullet" in April turns out to be a "military intelligence officer," Miller writes in her July 20 piece, without offering one word of explanation about his title change. Might we learn in a subsequent Miller dispatch that's he's really a scuba-diving instructor? And yet Miller does not give up on her ultra mysterious source, writing that what he's told authorities is corroborated by other debriefed Iraqis—that is, Iraq destroyed its stockpiles starting in 1995 but continued its WMD R & D.

Miller Caveats: At this point, every paragraph contains some sort of caveat.

Suggested Remedial Action: Miller should persuade the military to let her identify the "precursor" to a banned toxic compound mentioned in her April 21 piece. Likewise, where were the precursors buried? Why did the military intelligence officer lie and introduce himself as a scientist to U.S. forces? When did the military learn otherwise? Does this mean he lies all the time, or just selectively? Why hasn't Miller explained the meaning of his deception?

Do the military intelligence officer's other allegations listed in Miller's April 21 piece still stand? Did Iraq ship unconventional weapons and technology to Syria in the mid-1990s? Did Iraq cooperate with al-Qaida as he asserted?

The most important question to unravel about Judith Miller's reporting is this: Has she grown too close to her sources to be trusted to get it right or to recant her findings when it's proved that she got it wrong? Because the Times sets the news agenda for the press and the nation, Miller's reporting had a great impact on the national debate over the wisdom of the Iraq invasion. If she was reliably wrong about Iraq's WMD, she might have played a major role in encouraging the United States to attack a nation that posed it little threat.

At the very least, Miller's editors should review her dodgy reporting from the last 18 months, explain her astonishing credulity and lack of accountability, and parse the false from the fact in her WMD reporting. In fact, the Times' incoming executive editor, Bill Keller, could do no better than to launch such an investigation.

******

The Miller corpus is so huge I only cited a couple dozen of her stories here. If I missed something good, drop me a line at pressbox@hotmail.com.

Correction, July 30, 2003: This article originally misstated the isotope of cobalt that military investigators discovered in their search for unconventional weapons. The isotope is cobalt-60, not cobalt-80. [ Return to the corrected sentence.]

Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.

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