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Ghost of Judith Miller: NYT Drinks the Kool-Aid on Claims Iran is Behind Attacks on U.S. Soldiers in Iraq

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If there's something you were thinking of apologizing for, but you were holding back on the grounds that apologizing might be taken as an implicit commitment not to make the same mistake in the future, I can now reassure you.

No less venerable an institution than the New York Times has shown the path. You can apologize, be contrite, tear your hair, rend your garments, and then do the same damn thing again.

This is what the New York Times wrote in May 2004 about its pre-war reporting on Iraq:

"information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged...Articles based on dire claims about Iraq tended to get prominent display, while follow-up articles that called the original ones into question were sometimes buried. In some cases, there was no follow-up at all."

Today the New York Times, on page A10, informs us that "Iran May Have Trained Attackers That Killed 5 American Soldiers, U.S. and Iraqis Say"

Note that:
- the claim that Iran "may have" trained attackers gets the headline and the lede. Of course, green Martians "may have" trained the attackers. The key question is: is there real evidence?
- there is not a single named source in the article.
- there is no rebuttal, no point of view different from the allegation, even though plenty of knowledgeable analysts (Juan Cole, Gareth Porter, Trita Parsi, for starters) could have easily been found to give a contrary view. A recent Los Angeles Times piece found "scant evidence" for the claim that Iran was behind attacks on U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
- no "direct evidence" exists, as the article acknowledges (further down.)
- the only "evidence" given is that the attack was sophisticated (what are they saying - Iraqis are too dumb to do this by themselves ?!) and that Iran has a motive for retaliating against the U.S. Which is no evidence at all - lots of folks have a motive for retaliating against the U.S.

In no way did this unsourced, unsubstantiated speculation deserve this article and this headline.

This is a dangerous development. Just as before the Iraq war, much of the media is drinking the Kool-Aid. That the New York Times is again drinking the Kool-Aid is particularly worrisome, given its (undeserved) role as a leader for other media.
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--Robert Naiman, Just Foreign Policy, January 31, 2007

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