Note to Bill Keller.

Note to Bill Keller.

Note to Bill Keller.

Media criticism.
May 17 2004 6:43 PM

Note to Bill Keller

Colin Powell admits he was misled about WMD. Why can't the Times?

Powell fessed up; what about the Times?
Powell fessed up; what about the Times?

Secretary of State Colin Powell confessed on Meet the Press yesterday (May 16) that he and the CIA had been hoodwinked by sources who provided the United States with inaccurately sourced, incorrect, and "deliberately misleading" information about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Powell used that information in his Feb. 5, 2003, presentation before the United Nations and expressed his regrets in the interview for using it. From the Meet the Press transcript:

When I made that presentation in February 2003, it was based on the best information that the Central Intelligence Agency made available to me. We studied it carefully; we looked at the sourcing in the case of the mobile trucks and trains. There was multiple sourcing for that. Unfortunately, that multiple sourcing over time has turned out to be not accurate. And so I'm deeply disappointed. But I'm also comfortable that at the time that I made the presentation, it reflected the collective judgment, the sound judgment of the intelligence community. But it turned out that the sourcing was inaccurate and wrong and in some cases, deliberately misleading. And for that, I am disappointed and I regret it. [Emphasis added.]

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Powell shares his embarrassment—if not his regret—with New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who was similarly taken. During the 18 months before the Iraq invasion, Miller and the Times repeatedly quoted Iraqi defectors about Saddam's various nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs. None of Miller's prewar WMD scoops were ever confirmed—unless the sarin-gas shell discovered over the weekend leads to a major weapons cache—and the Times has never explained how it came to publish so many column inches that turned out to be so wrong. (See this "Press Box" column from July 2003 for a rundown of the Miller scoops that melted.)

The Times acknowledges Powell's confession today (May 17) in a short piece that fingers the Iraqi National Congress as the conduit for the misleading information about Saddam's mobile biological laboratories ("Powell Says C.I.A. Was Misled About Weapons"). However, the Times article makes no mention of how Ahmad Chalabi, his INC, and its pack of defectors played Miller (and the Times) for the same sucker it did Powell. Confronted by the London Telegraphearlier this year about the "faulty pre-war intelligence" he fed to the United States and to journalists, Chalabi said, "We are heroes in error." He continued, "As far as we're concerned we've been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important." [Emphasis added.]

If Powell can come clean about the INC con, stating on national television that he believes he was deliberately deceived, what's keeping Times Executive Editor Bill Keller from ordering a public review of Miller's work to determine how his paper was duped? The model for this sort of self-investigation is Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes, whohumbly revisited her flawed reporting about the mobile biological laboratories in a March 7, 2004, broadcast and confronted Chalabi about the WMD bull his people fed her.

Until Keller finally assigns such a piece, we'll be occupying a bizarro world in which the secretary of state is more accountable than the New York Times.

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Maybe if Powell resigns in time, he could write the Miller piece for the Times. Send the name of your favorite candidate via e-mail to pressbox@hotmail.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)