THE BLOG
02/26/2007 03:23 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Judith Miller was the Tragedy; Michael Gordon is the Farce

Byron Calame, the "Public Editor" of The New York Times, claims that Michael Gordon did a ship-shape job in his February 10th page-one article where he served as a stenographer for unnamed sources inside the Bush Administration who are seeking to lay the groundwork for attacking Iran.

Writes Calame: "Mr. Gordon has become a favorite target of many critical readers, who charge that the paper's Iran coverage is somehow tainted because he had shared the byline on a flawed Page 1 W.M.D. article. I don't buy that view, and I think the quality of his current journalism deserves to be evaluated on its own merits."

Although it is true that Judith Miller's specter continues to cast its dark shadow over the Times, Calame implies that the current criticism of Michael Gordon is just sour grapes for past mistakes. This is not true. Please see my last post, "Michael Gordon Outdoes Judith Miller."

First, Calame assures readers: "The risk that the anonymity [of sources] masked a policy-driven leak such as those that fed some of The Times's pre-war W.M.D. coverage was reviewed before the Feb. 10 article was published." So the recent leaks from the Bush Administration ratcheting up the anti-Iranian rhetoric are not "policy-driven?" Then what are they? Did the most secretive administration in U.S. history suddenly embrace the civic virtue of the public's right to know?

Second, Calame tells us: "Douglas Jehl, a deputy chief of the Washington bureau and [Gordon's] editor, told me he knew the name of each anonymous source in the article." So the same editors who vetted Judith Miller's tripe and withheld the N.S.A. spying story for a year have jotted down the names of the Bush officials who talked to Gordon. Whew! Am I relieved!

Third, Calame offers a "kinda culpa": "I do wish, however, that the article had found a way to comply with the paper's policy of explaining why sources are allowed to remain unnamed." Me too! It would have been terrific if Gordon's editors required him to state the reasons why the officials had to hide their identities, but they didn't. In 2002, Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, Scooter Libby, and other liars remained anonymous while they spun whole cloth for Gordon and Miller. Gordon's current friends in officialdom had possession of the Iranian E.F.P.s. [explosively formed penetrators], therefore, they did not have to hide their identities to protect "sources and methods" of intelligence gathering. Why then should Times readers accept their anonymity?

Fourth, Calame states: "Failing to reach out for dissenting views was a pre-war shortcoming, The Times has previously acknowledged. So even after Mr. Gordon had 'nailed' key parts of the Feb. 10 article . . . editors specifically asked him 'to talk to places in government that had been skeptical of W.M.D.,' such as the State Department." But the only non-official source Gordon quotes in his article that "nailed" the story was a fragment of a sentence from an Op-Ed piece written by Iran's U.N. Ambassador. Why couldn't Gordon pick up the phone and call the former CIA analysts Ray McGovern or Michael Scheuer? Why didn't Gordon contact someone on the Democratic-controlled Congressional intelligence committees? And isn't it possible that unnamed "intelligence officials" who want the United States to attack Iran simply told Gordon they were now "skeptical" of the earlier W.M.D. stories to give their latest information added credibility and gravitas?

"On balance," Calame continues, "The Times's E.F.P. stories of the past month . . . reflected healthy levels of skepticism and editing vigilance." This is a fine assertion, except for the fact that 1). Gordon never explained to his readers why his sources had to keep their identities hidden; 2). He made no effort to seek out non-official sources; and 3). The thrust of Gordon's entire February 10th article supports the Bush Administration's casus belli against Iran.

Calame concludes that the "lessons" learned from the Iran E.F.P. stories "could serve Times readers well if the administration should ever decide to publicly invoke intelligence assessments in its simmering struggle to restrain Iran's development of a nuclear capability." But the E.F.P. stories have nothing to do with Iran's nuclear program. The only connection between the alarmist warnings blared across the front page of the Times about Iran's E.F.P.s and that nation's nuclear activities is that it creates a cascade effect of damaging "revelations." These kind of "leaks" are designed to massage public opinion into accepting the rationale for U.S. military strikes against Iran, which is exactly what the Bush Administration did leading up to the invasion of Iraq.

Calame's defense shows that the editors and superstar reporters of The New York Times have learned nothing from the bogus W.M.D. stories of 2002-2003. The "paper of record" is aiding and abetting the Bush Administration in its pursuit of yet another war of choice. Judith Miller was the tragedy; Michael Gordon is the farce.

(Readers should contact Mr. Calame and tell him his "kinda culpa" is not good enough: public@nytimes.com; or call 212-556-7652.)