The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Monday, March 22, 2004

Sulzberger circles the New York Times wagons round Judith 'WMD' Miller

Arthur O Sulzberger Jr, that is. Who, according to his pic, is nowhere near as old as I thought he was.

Sulzberger fils was talking to a bunch of students on Jayson Blair, how to slither your way into the Times - and troubled hack Judith Miller, whose reports on WMD intelligence have for some time generated criticism (trace from February 13 piece), from Jack Shafer and Michael Massing, amongst others.

Massing, in his big piece, quoted Miller as saying that
my job isn't to assess the government's information

Miller is there giving away the secret to objective journalism: a pol (or his executive underling on his behalf) can say any old bollocks and hacks like Miller will faithfully report it, without saying that it's bollocks! And explaining why.

The boy Sulzberger toes the party line on this:
The publisher defended Miller, saying he had known her "for decades," adding that she "has fabulous sources."

Then he added: "Were her sources wrong? Absolutely. Her sources were wrong. And you know something? The administration was wrong. And when you're covering it from the inside like that you're going to get things wrong sometimes. So I don't blame Judy Miller for the lack of finding weapons of mass destruction." This produced a few laughs from audience members. "I blame the administration for believing its own story line," he continued, "to such a point that they weren't prepared to question the authenticity of what they were told."

The very notion that Miller, or the Times, should have applied any form of independent judgement to these fabulous sources to assist the reader does not seem to have crossed his mind.

The sources are fabulous (a word to be endlessly recycled, with any luck) though they were not only wrong (and anonymous, of course) but part of a USG disinformation campaign (part of it self-inflicted!) designed to smooth the path towards an invasion of Iraq.

I don't even think Sulzberger believes anyone is blaming Miller for the lack of WMD: I suspect he just felt that a bad joke at that point might attract a little sympathy for him (and his rag). We are not told whether those few laughs were sympathetic or derisory.

And his saying, with an apparent straight face, that he blamed
the administration for believing its own story line to such a point that they weren't prepared to question the authenticity of what they were told
is chutzpah on a grand scale: the Times is surely the last organisation which should be criticising others for not being
prepared to question the authenticity of what they were told.

One cannot make sweeping generalisations from a single performance: but the report of Sulzberger's session with the students leads one to hypothesise that the rot at the top at the Times was by no means confined to Howell Raines and his boys.

No doubt, further evidence will come to hand to test that hypothesis in future months.

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