How did the New York Times botch the weapons of mass destruction story so magnificently? According to the editors' mini culpa of May 26, 2004, many of the stories the Times published during in the run-up to the war
… shared a common feature. They depended at least in part on information from a circle of Iraqi informants, defectors and exiles bent on "regime change" in Iraq, people whose credibility has come under increasing public debate in recent weeks. Complicating matters for journalists, the accounts of these exiles were often eagerly confirmed by United States officials convinced of the need to intervene in Iraq. Administration officials now acknowledge that they sometimes fell for misinformation from these exile sources. So did many news organizations—in particular, this one.
The most prominent of those exiles was Ahmad Chalabi, "an occasional source in Times articles since at least 1991," who "introduced reporters to other exiles" and "became a favorite of hard-liners within the Bush administration and a paid broker of information from Iraqi exiles." And one of the most prolific chroniclers of Chalabi's views and those of his Iraqi National Congress camp was Times reporter Judith Miller, who wrote or co-wrote at least nine of the "problematic" stories the Times cited in its mini culpa.
Miller was detailed to the oil-for-food scandal by the Times after its self-examination, but she emerged from the woodshed yesterday (Jan. 30) to appear on Hardballwith stunning news that, if true, belongs in the New York Times, not on cable TV as talk show filler.
Citing unnamed "sources," Miller claimed that the Bush administration had recently made "belated and sudden outreaches" to Ahmad Chalabi, "to offer him expressions of cooperation and support." She continued, "And according to one report, he was even offered a chance to be an interior minister in the new government. But I think one effect of this vote is going to be that the Iraqis themselves will decide who will hold."
These revelations stunned Hardball host Chris Matthews and a nation of Miller skeptics.
Matthews: Wait a minute. When you say—Judy, when you say administration, do you mean the alliance party leadership or Allawi over there, the current prime minister? Who are you talking about?
Miller: We are talking about the administration officials who have been reaching out to …
Matthews: You mean Americans? [Italics in the MSNBC transcript.]
Miller: ... [Ayatollah] Sistani's—yes, American officials who have been reaching out to Sistani's party. Because Dr. Chalabi is on that list.
Matthews: So where—so we have an election over there. And the same day we're holding an election, the same week, we are plotting which ministries to give to Chalabi, the guy who talked us into the war in the first place.
Miller: No, no. There were expressions. There was apparently an effort to determine whether or not he would be interested in assuming a certain portfolio.
Matthews: Why are we in the business of deciding or even negotiating cabinet ministries in a foreign government?
Miller: No. Well, you know, Chris, first of all, this is just one report. But I think what is very clear, according to people I talked to today, is that they have been attempting to mend fences with him. Now understanding that as a tent [phonetic transcription] on that Sistani list, the Shia list, he will be an important person in Iraq. And I think that there will have to be a lot of rethinking on the part of the Americans with whom they want to deal.
Matthews: … the idea that the man who won his country back through the vice president's office, Ahmed Chalabi, finds his way now through all this electoral process to end up as oil minister or finance minister, as you say, interior minister—and I think he has higher ambitions than that—makes the electoral process come down to the guy who started the war, ends up winning the war, irregardless of how people vote over there.
Miller: Well, you know, I think the interesting thing was the up and down, was the kind of rise and fall of Ahmed Chalabi in this administration. On one hand, in the beginning, he was the person supported adamantly by the Defense Department. He was opposed by the State Department and the CIA …
Miller: ... who said he had no popular support in the country...
Miller: ... and he wouldn't be able to hold a coalition together. We've now seen that, in fact, he played a pivotal role in putting together, helping to put together the list which we don't know yet, but it may very well have done extremely well, if not won the vote.
Once again, amazing if true, and if true worthy of inclusion in the Times. But Miller's claim did not make today's (Jan. 31) New York Times' news pages. An op-ed describes Chalabi as "now disowned by the Americans who sponsored him. …"
Why isn't it in the Times? Miller tells Matthews that she hasn't talked to her newspaper and is "on vacation in Florida."
On vacation in Florida? She has the second-biggest Iraq story of the day (after the successful election) and vacation is keeping her from phoning in this scoop?!