THE BLOG
08/22/2005 07:20 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The New York Times Falls off the Wagon

It's hard to believe, but the New York Times is back on Chalabi. Not unlike Courtney Love, the paper of record swears it's going to go straight, stop using, be responsible, really change this time, and then it happens again. For whatever reason, the paper falls off the wagon. It's an addiction. And addicts embarrass themselves again and again. And you feel stupid for ever having given them the benefit of the doubt.

And they try to hide it. Just look at today's above-the-fold, front-page story on Iraq's constitution. It's headlined "Leaders in Iraq Report Progress on Constitution."

Who are those "leaders"? Once again, Ahmad Chalabi and an American official speaking "on condition of anonymity." And Chalabi is simply identified as "the deputy prime minister."

The deputy prime minister? That's it? That's like doing a piece on the energy bill and citing one of your main sources as "Ken Lay, a prominent Houston businessman."

They could at least have added a sentence from their own newspaper of May 26, 2004: "[Chalabi] became a favorite of hard-liners within the Bush administration and a paid broker of information from Iraqi exiles, until his payments were cut off." Or, here are a few other descriptions they could have used:
  • Ahmad Chalabi, who used the United States to try to regain power in Iraq and then bragged "we are heroes in error."
  • Ahmad Chalabi, the man who bamboozled the Pentagon while pocketing $340,000 a month from the US government.
  • Ahmad Chalabi, who introduced Curveball, another phony source on WMD, to the intelligence community, and whose chief aide was Curveball's brother.
  • Ahmad Chalabi, who tried to sabotage the efforts by the United Nations to put in place an interim government in Iraq.
  • Ahmad Chalabi, who gave faulty intelligence to Times reporter Judith Miller in an attempt to mislead the American people and thus make it easier for the Bush Administration to invade Iraq.
Adding any one of these descriptions would have meant leveling with the Times readers in a way that simply describing Chalabi as the "deputy prime minister" did not. It's not surprising that the LA Times story, which did not use Chalabi as a source, turned out to be a much more accurate prediction of what happened on Monday.

LA Times: "SUNNIS CALL FOR DELAY IN CHARTER"

NY Times: "LEADERS IN IRAQ REPORT PROGRESS ON CONSTITUTION"

At least we know it wasn't Judy Miller's fault. The one good thing about prison is that it gives you a great alibi.

The Times will have to bottom out before it decides to go straight. It's not as if we're not rooting for them. I mean, I really believed they were sincere when they said, in their war-reporting mea culpa:

The problematic articles varied in authorship and subject matter, but many 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. (The most prominent of the anti-Saddam campaigners, Ahmad Chalabi, has been named as an occasional source in Times articles since at least 1991, and has introduced reporters to other exiles. He became a favorite of hard-liners within the Bush administration and a paid broker of information from Iraqi exiles, until his payments were cut off last week.)


And the mea culpa ended with:

We consider the story of Iraq's weapons, and of the pattern of misinformation, to be unfinished business. And we fully intend to continue aggressive reporting aimed at setting the record straight.


They probably meant it at the time. But the question is: how many chances do they get?