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Sorry, Judy... Everybody Didn't Get it Wrong on WMD

10/21/2005 12:50 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In the Times' Sunday Judy-Culpa, Judy Miller said of her woeful pre-war reporting: "WMD -- I got it totally wrong... The analysts, the experts and the journalists who covered them -- we were all wrong."

To which a growing number of journalists are responding: No, we weren't.

Among them is Joe Lauria, a reporter who has covered the UN since 1990 for a variety of papers, including the London Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph, and the Boston Globe. He bridles at Miller's claim. "I didn't get it wrong," he told me. "And a lot of others who covered the lead up to the war didn't get it wrong. Mostly because we weren't just cozying up to Washington sources but had widened our reporting to what we were hearing from people like Mohamed ElBaradei and Hans Blix, and from sources in other countries, like Germany, France, and Russia. Miller had access to these voices, too, but ignored them. Our chief job as journalists is to challenge authority. Because an official says something might make it 'official,' but it doesn't necessarily make it true."

This is no time for rewriting history, or for allowing those who helped the Bush White House market the war to fall back on the comfort and safety of a collective "we all screwed up." After all, as Jack Shafer pointed out on Thursday, even in the New York Times there were "at least four non-Miller stories published during the war's run-up that glower with skepticism about the administration's case and methods."

So here are the beginnings of an honor roll. (I would love to keep adding to it, so please send any additions you remember or can find in your spare-time LexisNexis searches.)

Joby Warrick. Check out this excerpt from Warrick's January 23, 2003 Washington Post article, "U.S. Claim on Iraqi Nuclear Program Is Called Into Question":

After weeks of investigation, U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq are increasingly confident that the aluminum tubes were never meant for enriching uranium, according to officials familiar with the inspection process. ...

Moreover, there were clues from the beginning that should have raised doubts about claims that the tubes were part of a secret Iraqi nuclear weapons program, according to U.S. and international experts on uranium enrichment.

Warrick's story ran on page one. But it wasn't the New York Times.

Colum Lynch. Here's what he wrote in his January 29, 2003 Washington Post article, "U.N. Finds No Proof of Nuclear Program":

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, said today that two months of inspections in Iraq and interviews with Iraqi officials have yielded no evidence to support Bush administration claims that Iraq is secretly trying to revive its nuclear weapons program.

ElBaradei said in an interview that "systematic" inspections of eight facilities linked by U.S. and British authorities to a possible nuclear weapons program have turned up no proof to support the claims. "I think we have ruled out . . . the buildings," he said. ElBaradei also cast doubts on U.S. claims that Iraq has sought to import uranium and high-strength aluminum tubes destined for a nuclear weapons program.

Bob Simon. Also giving the lie to the "we were all wrong" routine is this exchange from a December 8, 2002 60 Minutes segment, in which Simon interviewed David Albright, a physicist who was a weapons inspector in Iraq during the 1990s:

SIMON: It seems that what you're suggesting is that the administration's leak to the New York Times, regarding aluminum tubes, was misleading?

ALBRIGHT: Oh, I think it was. I think -- I think it was very misleading.

SIMON: So basically what you're saying is that whatever nugget of information comes across, the Bush administration puts it in a box labeled 'nuclear threat,' whereas it could go many other places.

ALBRIGHT: That's how it looked, and that they were selectively picking information to bolster a case that the Iraqi nuclear threat was more imminent than it is, and in essence, scare people.

Ian Williams. On January 31, 2003, Williams wrote a piece in LA Weekly titled "Missing Evidence: Poking holes in the case for war":

Demetrius Perricos, chief inspector of the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), commented, "What we're getting and what President Bush may be getting is very different, to put it mildly."

The events of the last weeks make it seem likely that in the best Texan death-row tradition of first deciding verdict and sentence, and only then looking for clues, the White House does not in fact have any substantive evidence.

...One sign of desperation was when both Brits and Americans began to say that instead of looking for the smoking gun or the bubbling vat of botulin, the Security Council should draw conclusions from the "cumulative" buildup of clues that Iraq was in flagrant material breach, and therefore the Security Council should attack.

However, even much of what has been brandished as part of this pattern has not held up under examination. The aluminum tubes for nuclear weapons materials were in fact for artillery rockets. Even people with UNMOVIC think that the empty chemical warheads discovered were in fact mislaid rather than concealed.

Walter Pincus. On March 16, 2003, days before Shock and Awe, the Washington Post's Pincus, who also played a part in Plamegate, reported on the growing skepticism in the intelligence community:

Despite the Bush administration's claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, U.S. intelligence agencies have been unable to give Congress or the Pentagon specific information about the amounts of banned weapons or where they are hidden, according to administration officials and members of Congress.

Senior intelligence analysts say they feel caught between the demands from White House, Pentagon and other government policymakers for intelligence that would make the administration's case "and what they say is a lack of hard facts," one official said. ...

The assertions, coming on the eve of a possible decision by President Bush to go to war against Iraq, have raised concerns among some members of the intelligence community about whether administration officials have exaggerated intelligence in a desire to convince the American public and foreign governments that Iraq is violating United Nations prohibitions against chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons and long-range missile systems.

John MacArthur. In June 2003, while Judy Miller was still getting it totally wrong -- and immaculately conceiving "Valerie Flame" in her notebook -- Harper's publisher MacArthur was getting it completely and frighteningly right... about Iraq, Judy, and her cozy relationship with the Bush administration, in the Globe & Mail:

Take the case of staff reporter Judith Miller, who covers the atomic bomb/chemical-weapons-fear beat, and hasn't heard a scare story about Iraq that she didn't believe, especially if leaked by her White House friends. On Sept. 8, 2002, Ms. Miller and her colleague Michael Gordon helped co-launch the Bush II sales campaign for Saddam-change with a front page story about unsuccessful Iraqi efforts to purchase 81-mm aluminum tubes, allegedly destined for a revived nuclear weapons program.

Pitched to a 9/11-spooked public and a gullible, cowardly U.S. congress, the aluminum tubes plant was a big component of the "weapons of mass destruction" canard, which resulted in hasty House and Senate war authorization on Oct. 11. ...

When officials leak a "fact" to Ms. Miller, they then can cite her subsequent stenography in the Times as corroboration of their own propaganda, as though the Times had conducted its own independent investigation. On Sept. 8, Dick Cheney cited the Times's aluminum tubes nonsense on Meet the Press to buttress his casus belli.

More recently, on May 23, former CIA director and Bush apologist James Woolsey was challenged by CNN International's Daljit Dhaliwal in very un-Timesian fashion about the absence of weapons and the world's resulting skepticism. Mr. Woolsey replied, "Well, I think the key thing on that is the very fine reporting that's been done by Judith Miller of The New York Times. The first article on the front page was three or four weeks ago, about this Iraqi scientist who was captured by the Americans, who was in charge of a major share of the nerve gas program, and was apparently ordered just as the war began to destroy a substantial share of what he had and to hide very deeply the rest."

And this is just the beginning of the honor roll. Remember to send me your additions.

In the meantime, Judy Miller needs to find a new rationalization. The "everyone was wrong, so no one was wrong" line is as thoroughly discredited as the administration's prewar claims... and Judy Miller's obliging reporting of them.

I'll be discussing all this tonight at 11 p.m. with Bill Maher on HBO's Real Time.