Sunday, June 29, 2014

Public editor wary of NYT Iraq coverage

It's great to have Margaret Sullivan at the New York Times. She's done a bang-up job as public editor. Mind you, as a progressive, I want more. (We always do, you know.) But she points an accusatory finger at the Times, when merited -- and for that, I am grateful.

Her column in yesterday's NYT harkens back to the paper's terrible coverage of the lead-up to the Iraq war. That was a gutless time for all journalism but one expected more from the NYT. Amazingly, it failed to include voices against the war, while making quite sure the warmongers were heard -- every day, loud and clear. It was all hawks, all the time at the NYT. And Sullivan says it's happening all over again.

First, she reminds us of the past:
The lead-up to the war in Iraq in 2003 was not The Times’s finest hour. Some of the news reporting was flawed, driven by outside agendas and lacking in needed skepticism. Many Op-Ed columns promoted the idea of a war that turned out to be both unfounded and disastrous.
Then she jumps to the present:
Many readers have complained to me that The Times is amplifying the voices of hawkish neoconservatives and serving as a megaphone for anonymously sourced administration leaks, while failing to give voice to those who oppose intervention.

I went back with the help of my assistant, Jonah Bromwich, and reread the Iraq coverage and commentary from the past few weeks to see if these complaints were valid. The readers have a point worth considering. On the Op-Ed pages and in the news columns, there have been very few outside voices of those who opposed the war last time, or those who reject the use of force now.

But the neoconservatives and interventionists are certainly being heard.
Let's hope this sends a chill into the hearts of the NYT editors. Journalism ain't much, these days. But it would be nice if the "paper of record" got it right this time. Still, I wonder if anything will change. The NYT is so in bed with whatever administration is in power, including this one. When I read their stories, it sometimes seems like they were written by White House or Pentagon staffers.

Americans don't want any new wars. Given our history over the last 50 years -- and the helpful refresher course we had during the Bush years -- we are wary of war. Apparently, this news hasn't reached the NYT.

Still, kudos to Sullivan for putting it out there. (It's also great that the New York Times hired her. They knew what they were getting: a no-holds barred, ethical public editor. So who knows? Maybe there is hope.)